One of the world's most well-recognized youth music programs is under fire after a scathing report launched by UK musicologist Geoffrey Baker alleges gross corruption and misconduct within El Sistema, a program in Columbia that has been getting disadvantaged youth in the nation involved with classical music for more than 40 years.
It must be clarified first that "El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela's Youth" operates largely on the testimony of anonymous sources, and Baker has refused to provide the names of those he spoke to. Although this doesn't make any of his claims false necessarily, it will make further looks into El Sistema an uphill battle.
Baker began researching "The System" following a concert he saw by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra during 2007. His intent wasn't to find a seedy underbelly but those details struck him, as his sources claimed corruption at the top, including renowned leader José Antonio Abreu, as well as favoritism within the program and even inappropriate sexual encounters between organizers and participants.
Abreu founded El Sistema more than 40 years ago and later served as a cabinet minister for the government preceding the 1992 socialist takeover. It does raise eyebrows that he was able to convince the new government to continue funding to the organization, which plays music many within socialism see as symbols for the despised capitalistic systems of the West. Whether any dealings with the government amount to anything worth public outcry remains to be seen.
Yahoo News spoke to Marshall Marcus, a musician who observed the growth of El Sistema during the '70s. He says that while Abreu may be overly close to the government, it's hardly the nightmare Baker claims.
"It may be an autocracy but it's one that has allowed thousands of people to flourish," he said. "If that's a tyranny, it sure doesn't feel like one."
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor and music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and perhaps the most recognizable figure in American classical music, is a product of El Sistema.