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Beethovenfest

From the slums to international stages

Sinfonica Heliopolis was founded by Silvio Baccarelli in one of Latin America's poorest districts. Today, it is among the world's best youth orchestras and enjoyed an international debut at the Beethovenfest.

The members of Sinfonica Heliopolis

Sinfonica Heliopolis stepped on stage in Bonn to the sounds of a samba

Life in the orchestra seems a bit like in the barracks: getting up early, checking in with the superiors, repeating the same drills over and over, following commands - and being ready to shoulder the blame when something goes wrong.

Maintaining that kind of discipline is especially hard when you're a teenager from the land of sun and fun, as Brazil likes to view itself. But that's just what the members of Brazilian youth orchestra Sinfonica Heliopolis have been doing day in and day out for the last five years. The 13 to 25-year-old musicians take pleasure in music through disciplined practice.

Changing lives

The orchestra began as an initiative of conductor Silvio Baccarelli. He founded the Center for Music Education in 1996 in Heliopolis, located in the middle of Sao Paulo and Latin America's second largest slum. Establishing the center in an impoverished area didn't just change the perspectives of the young musicians involved, it changed the entire community.

22-year-old violinist Pedro Almeida Andrade began his musical training at the Instituto Baccarelli in 2000. Now, along with a young man named Dan Rafael Lira Tolomoni, he shares the position of first violin - the highest in the orchestra's hierarchy. As a Heliopolis resident, Pedro has seen stark changes in his community first hand.

Contrabass player Agton dos Santos

Orchestra members range in age from 13 to 25

"Culture and music - those things help people get through tough times. When you see a bunch of kids wearing the institute's t-shirt and rushing through the streets of the slum to go to practice, it's impossible not to be moved. The parents support them, and so does the community - it's like everyone is pulling together."

The tricky genius of Villa-Lobos

In the second half of 2010, Sinfonica Heliopolis is making its first appearances outside of Brazil with performances in Germany, England and the Netherlands. Roberto Tibirica, Bacarelli's successor, conducts during the tour.

One pillar of the orchestra's repertoire is the work of Brazilian composer Heiter Villa-Lobos, particularly a piece titled Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4. Tibirica explains why that work remains so difficult to play, 50 years after the composer's death.

"Villa-Lobos was a genius and self-taught in everything: He played cello and guitar, he conducted and composed, but everything just seemed to flow forth from him naturally. For us, that means technical difficulties. It's not as if he had no idea about the instruments for which he composed. But he would just sit down at the piano and play whatever crazy phrases occurred to him, and then he'd write them down for violin or whatever. Every Villa-Lobos work has a passage in it that's complicated, and I always like to say that not even an ensemble of angels could play it perfectly."

Star soloist Schlomo Mintz performs with the orchestra

Star soloist Schlomo Mintz joined Sinfonica Heliopolis on stage in Bonn

Triumph of joy

Sinfonica Heliopolis' international trial by fire at the Beethovenfest Bonn 2010 showed just how far along the path to musical perfection the orchestra has traveled. The program contained a world premiere titled Cidade do Sol (City of Sun), a work commissioned by Deutsche Welle in which Brazilian composer Andre Mehmari creates a portrait of the Sinfonica Heliopolis itself. The orchestra also performed Beethoven's Eighth Symphony in a rendition that touched even the contemporary conductor Zubin Mehta.

In Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto the orchestra was joined by soloist Shlomo Mintz, one of the most celebrated violinists of his generation. During the intense and careful rehearsals, the Russian virtuoso praised both the musical and personal qualities of his young colleagues.

"It's a fine orchestra, actually, I have watched them work before. And I think their love for music and their great, keen interest in improving themselves is the most important component and the most important asset that they have. And they're such nice guys!"

But those who know the Brazilian soul know that it's not enough to just be good, you also have to get attention. And that's what the boys and girls from Heliopolis did as they made their way on stage at Bonn's Beethoven Hall - to the rhythms of the samba. The choreography was full of spontaneity, led by whirling cellos and horns tossed in the air.

From the first moment, the audience and musicians found themselves in the land of sun and joy - with no trace of the barracks.

Author: Augusto Valente (jm, gsw)
Editor: Rick Fulker

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