Musician and economist Jose Antonio Abreu, winner of the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts for creating the world-renowned Venezuelan National System of Orchestras music program, died Saturday, sources from El Sistema told EFE. He was 79.
The program, created by Abreu in 1975 and reproduced in other countries, aims to fight poverty through the teaching of music, creating widespread opportunities to study classical music.
Abreu's death, known in Venezuela as "the teacher," was confirmed by El Sistema, although no details were provided.
Venezuelan Minister of Culture Ernesto Villegas lamented the loss on Twitter, saying "Musicians and the homeland mourn the loss of the teacher, Jose A. Abreu, who always stood out because of his intelligence, his virtuosity and his leadership."
Julio Borges, former president of the Venezuelan National Assembly and member of the opposition, also lamented the loss, saying "the country is in debt to him for his extraordinary work: creating the System of Orchestras, which has trained outstanding musicians for over 40 years."
Abreu is one of Venezuela's most important musicians, receiving several recognitions from UNESCO, as well as the Order of the Rising Sun, the Polar Music Prize presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, along with other awards.
During an interview with EFE three years ago, "the teacher" talked about his conviction that children who are born with social disadvantages can benefit greatly from learning how to play an instrument, which can "open a luminous path," "ennoble" and "dignify" them, as well as fill their families, their neighborhoods and themselves with pride.