Jose Antonio Abreu was a beloved figure in Venezuela — a man whose youth orchestra program aimed to lift people out of poverty. The president has ordered three days of national mourning.
Venezuelans mourned the death of Jose Antonio Abreu in a ceremony on Sunday that marked the life of the man behind a worldwide network of youth orchestras.
Abreu was the award-winning founder of El Sistema, or The System, a program that pulled thousands of Venezuelan children from poverty to music.
President Nicolas Maduro ordered a three-day national mourning period after the 78-year-old died of undisclosed causes. Maduro paid tribute to the composer in the capital Caracas saying: "The maestro has passed away. Thank you for everything you've given us."
Read more: DW interview with Jose Antonio Abreu
'Art is a universal right'
The concert hall of the El Sistema program was converted into a chapel for the service, where his coffin was delivered with military honors. Thousands of people filed past his coffin as music students took turns to play pieces by Bach, Beethoven and other composers.
His most famous protege, conductor Gustavo Dudamel, mourned for his former master in a post on social media.
"The music and arts have lost one of its brightest figures. Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu taught us that art is a universal right and that inspiration and beauty irreversibly transform the soul of a child making them a better, healthier and happier human being, and in turn, a better citizen," Dudamel wrote.
"For me, Jose Antonio Abreu was an inspiration, an artist, a friend, a father, and a teacher. He gave me the arcana of music with the same vehemence with which he taught me that the right to beauty is inalienable. He approached the universal classics with the same passion that got me closer to my roots."
Abreu was an economist by profession and found success as a composer, pianist, harpsichord player and organist. In 1975 he founded his state-funded music education program, creating a network of youth orchestras.
The program aimed to gave young people a way out of poverty and hopelessness through music. However, critics have argued that the program's ability to effect social change was limited and the structure exploited its participants.
aw/jm (AP, Reuters, dpa)