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Beethovenfest

Sinfonica Heliopolis embarks on European tour

Youth orchestra Sinfonica Heliopolis draws attention wherever they go. Now the young musicians are in Europe for the first time, with performances in Bonn, Berlin, Dresden, Munich, Amsterdam and London.

Sinfonica Heliopolis performs in Dresden following the Beethovenfest

Sinfonica Heliopolis appeared in Dresden's Kreuzkirche on October 8

In 1996, conductor Silvio Baccarelli came to Sao Paulo's largest favela (shanty town) to create a space for classical music education amidst the poverty. Baccarelli's vision was to give kids the chance to escape the vicious cycle of poverty, drugs and violence by way of playing Mozart and Beethoven.

The conductor established a private foundation called the Instituto Baccarelli and managed to convince local politicians to give him an old factory building on the Estrada das Lagrima ("Street of Tears") for the project. Baccarelli also campaigned in Sao Paulo's schools until he had found the 36 students who would become founding members of the Sinfonica Heliopolis orchestra.

Today, around 1,000 highly gifted young people are educated at the Instituto Baccarelli, and they come from favelas from across Brazil. Baccarelli's project is now well-known, and many parents realize that a scholarship and education at the institute may be the only chance for their children to escape a life of poverty. But that wasn't always the case, said one orchestra member.

"When we first started going to the institute, all of the other kids would laugh at us, and the other parents would look at us like we were crazy," said bassoonist Felipe dos Santos Arruda. "But when I tell people today that I play in Sinfonica Heliopolis, everyone is amazed and says, 'You've done it - you're going to make it out of here.'"

Support from a countess and a prince

The process of finding teachers, establishing scholarships and procuring instruments and music took more than just idealism - it also required a lot of money. That's what a German countess from Hannover named Sabine Lovatelli took care of. Lovatelli has lived in Sao Paulo since 1971 and helped establish several music projects in the last four decades, partly by securing sponsorship.

It's on account of her initiatives that the orchestra was invited to the Beethovenfest 2010 in Bonn. And it was clear that the trip shouldn't end there.

"The kids," as Countess Lovatelli refers to the 13 to 24-year-old members of the orchestra, "should have the chance to do their first real European tour."

Together with long-time friend Prince Alexander of Saxony, who has lived in Mexico for many years, Lovatelli forged initial plans and contacts.

"When Countess Lovatelli told me that the Heliopolis youth orchestra was based on the same principle as El Sistema, which Jose Abreu founded in Venezuela, I was thrilled. I definitely wanted to see this Brazilian youth orchestra appear in my hometown of Dresden," recalled the 57-year-old Prince Alexander, great-grandson of the last Saxon king, Frederick Augustus III.

German nobles Prince Alexander and Sabine Lovatelli

Two German nobles now living abroad offered big support to the ensemble

Giving back to Dresden

When Dresden pastor Joachim Zirkler heard about Prince Alexander's plans, he immediately gave the green light for a concert in the city's famous "Kreuzkirche" (Church of the Holy Cross). The two also came up with the idea of using Sinfonica Heliopolis' performance as a benefit concert, with the proceeds going towards the restoration of the church's bell frame.

"For the last year and a half, Dresden has been missing its usual chiming of bells," explained Pastor Zirkler. "The belfry desperately needs to be renovated, and we need a lot of money to do it. The bells are a hallmark of the city and are the third largest in all of Germany. They've managed to survive both World Wars."

On the afternoon before the concert, the sounds of Portuguese were in the air in Dresden. A few orchestra members went straight to the Kreuzkirche to marvel at the bell tower.

"I've never seen such a beautiful church," said one flutist from the ensemble. "I can hardly believe that we're going to get to play in such a famous church tonight."

German nobles Prince Alexander and Sabine Lovatelli

Two German nobles now living abroad offered big support to the ensemble

'Chili peppers in their fingers'

Despite competition from a televised qualification round for the European Football Championship with Germany versus Turkey, around 500 guests headed to the Kreuzkirche for the performance. The program included Brazilian composer Andre Mehmari's "Cidade do Sol," which had its debut a few days before at the Beethovenfest Bonn, and the "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4" by Heitor Villa-Lobos, delivered with enormous rhythmical drive and boundless excitement.

"They don't just have music in their blood, they have chili peppers in their fingers," said one listener of the orchestra's fiery playing.

High points included the performance of Antonin Dvorak's Eight Symphony and the encore: a medley titled "Aquarela do Brasil" (Watercolors of Brazil), an arrangement of Brazilian songs and dance by Chiquinho de Moraes. Following their very special concert, Sinfonica Heliopolis received a violin as a token of thanks, a gift from the Heinrich Schuetz Conservatory in Dresden.

Author: Marita Berg (gsw)
Editor: Rick Fulker

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