August 12, 2013

Brave New World: NWS and the Colombian Comeback

New World Center

Colombia, a country torn by internal conflict for so many years, is bouncing back.

Economic statistics are moving in a favorable direction. Increased international investment shows a new optimism from outside the country. There are other indicators of progress. The Fundación Mi Sangre, established by Juanes, has decided it can begin to redirect its funds from disarming land mines to proactive peace initiatives. In this spirit of revival and progress, leaders of the professional orchestras and music education programs of the country have begun a conversation about the future.

The New World Symphony has joined that conversation.

In September 2011 and with the generous support and leadership of the SaludArte Foundation, the New World Symphony established an exchange program with the Academia Filarmónica de Medellín. Selected Fellows spend four one-week residencies in Medellín each season. Twice yearly, some of the finest Academia players are integrated into the New World Symphony for a week of rehearsals and performances. Between visits, in true New World Symphony fashion, the educational work continues via the internet. After only two years, we have established a strong and productive working relationship.

Our dialogue with leaders of Colombia’s primary music institutions intensified this summer.

Last month, I made a presentation at the Ecos Sinfónicos Conference in Bogotá, a two-day exchange of ideas about music education and performance. Attendees included the Colombian Minister of Culture, executive directors of the country’s major orchestras and educational programs, and representatives from the American Embassy and the media. The Conference goal was to identify strengths and weakness, then create a plan for collaboration.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Dedicated to the traditions of classical music and the Colombian culture, a few of these leaders are reinventing their orchestras; finding new revenue streams, adjusting the internal balance point between authority and responsibility, and marketing to new audiences. On the education side, La Batuta and La Red are driving music education deeper into the culture with after school programs that serve a social function (think El Sistema) but go a step further in talent identification. With lively professional orchestras and systems to introduce youngsters to music making, the challenge in Colombia is to organize the educational space in between.

The Academia Filarmónica de Medellín sees the New World Symphony as a model for filling this gap. In Medellín, La Red serves 5,000 children with after school programs in nearly all of the grade schools of the city. Even a few years ago, the best of these players had no clear training path when their independent skills and aspirations took them beyond La Red’s capacity. Most drifted away from music, with only a handful making the transition to college and/or professional life. The Academia is now taking charge. Working with La Red, they are building a bridge for that young talent. Using an orchestral regime augmented by individual lessons and chamber music, 80 of the finest young players in Medellín are part of a sustained program that requires discipline and provides the collegial and musical rewards that are part of youth orchestra culture.

And, through the partnership with the New World Symphony, the Academia can accelerate the learning process thanks to online lessons and coaching sessions.

When we designed the Academia/New World program, we were optimistic that online teaching would be effective. This is now a proven concept. Using the connectivity of Universidad EAFIT (Colombia’s MIT), we can maintain instructional energy in the periods between the in-person residencies. In the old days, the Academia would have been an outpost, with teachers and artists making occasional visits. Now, Academia students are part of the worldwide network of musicians and teachers who are responsible for the vitality of classical music. In fact, Academia students are in the first generation of young players who will work to a global standard thanks to internet connectivity.

New World Symphony is enthusiastic about the future of our partnership with the Academia Filarmónica de Medellín and the Colombian music community.

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Posted in: Brave New World

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