Three questions for: José Ángel Salazar

In September, we welcomed José Ángel Salazar as the very first Artistic Director of el Sistema Greece. Hailing from Caracas, the talented conductor and violinist – alumni of the Venezuelan El Sistema – has already attracted widespread critical acclaim and media attention from the likes of LA Times and the Guardian. Having worked with the Dream Orchestra in Sweden as well as with communities of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, José Ángel’s contribution to our project is essential. But how does he think about it all? What does he like about his new life in Athens? We asked him to find out.

Now that you’re “settled in”, what are the challenges and things you’re looking forward the most?

I am still in the process of knowing all classes and extension of ESG, but I must tell that everyday I learn something new from this project and new ideas to develop come into my mind. My main goals in the artistic direction is to bring people together and building the necessary organizational and pedagogical structures to work towards the same objectives, which are the use of music education and choral/orchestral training to foster social integration and development, as well as promote collective musical training of the best quality for the children and youth, no matter the backgrounds. I am very looking forward to collaborate and ease the ideas for expanding El Sistema’s philosophy and methodology all over Athens and other cities of Greece, and inspiring other countries to create and adapt models of El Sistema, and thus accomplish Jose Antonio Abreu’s last dream, “to have a global Sistema with orchestras and choirs all over the planet”.

You’ve worked with children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds before, how has your previous experience shaped you and how is it different this time?

Working with children and youth at risk has changed my life totally. As a music performance student before, I did not recognize how important music education can be, but after working with specialist in this area, I realized how music used as a tool to educate can transform lives and realities, how it can enhance and be a path to improve our society. El Sistema model of music pedagogy not only seeks for forming and educating musicians and ensembles with great level, but also to foster and teach how the teamwork, joint effort, solidarity and respect for each other build the ideal society we want. El Sistema has also proven to have a marvelous adaptability, and this fact has shaped the way I plan, teach or conduct. In every different country, the reality is different and so are the needs, but adapting the musical contents, and methodology to fit properly with the cultural and educational context is one of my objectives as well.

How are you enjoying your time in Athens? Favourite restaurants, cafés, galleries etc?

Both me and my wife have fell in love with Athens. It is a very energetic and vibrant city, with marvelous food and a magnificent historical and cultural heritage. We have not decided yet our favorite places to go, but definitely we can tell we love gyros and souvlaki, Greek cheeses, Greek dishes, flea markets and culture. I think we will not rest until we know all Athens fully, and being aware that it might take a good while, we will enjoy our life together here.

Aged 21, José Angel Salazar Marín is a rising star amongst young conductors and pedagogic leaders. Praised by the likes of The Guardian, BBC or LA Times for his wunderkind talent, his artistic experience has been formed by the famed El Sistema as well as numerous appearances with orchestras in Europe. As an alumni of the revolutionary Venezuelan programme where he focused on music theory, orchestral conducting and special workshops, he spent several months as an exchange student of the Music Performance Program at the University of Gothenburg in cooperation with El Sistema Sweden and Fundamusical. Come see him at one of our upcoming events this December.