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El Sistema Founder José Antonio Abreu to Speak at SMTD Commencement


Maestro José Antonio Abreu will be the featured speaker at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance's commencement on Friday, May 2, at 2:00 PM in Power Center. Dr. Abreu is a world-renowned composer, conductor, educator, economist, and founded the acclaimed music education program National System of Youth and Children's Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela, better known as El Sistema, 39 years ago. Since then, El Sistema has trained more than a million young Venezuelan musicians through a network of orchestras, choirs, and other musical organizations. 

Born in Valera, Venezuela, Abreu studied piano, organ and harpsichord, graduating from Venezuela's National Conservatory of Music. He earned two degrees from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, an undergraduate degree in economics and a doctorate in petroleum economics. He also studied at U-M. Abreu pursued successful parallel careers in music and economics, earning the prestigious Symphonic Music National Prize of Venezuela in 1967 and teaching at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello and the Universidad Simón Bolívar.   

Since its founding in 1975, El Sistema has established more than 320 training centers throughout Venezuela, and has been inspiring similar programs internationally, including Ann Arbor. SMTD's collaboration with the School of Social Work and School of Education, recently launched a pilot inspired by El Sistema at Ann Arbor's Mitchell Elementary Schoola as part of the University's "Third Century Initiative," established to inspire innovative programs that enhance learning and develop creative approaches to the world's great challenges. The program was recently featured in an article on the school district's website. 

Dr. Abreu has received many honors, including the Glenn Gould Prize, Puccini International Prize, and honorary memberships in the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Beethoven-Haus Society. The Royal Swedish Academy of Music awarded him the Polar Music Prize in 2009, and in 2013 he received the Culture of Peace Special Award from the Goi Peace Foundation.  He may now add a U-M honorary degree to be received at our University Commencement on Saturday, May 3.



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Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower