By Jay Harvey
As an example of what music can do for poor kids, Venezuela’s El Sistema has inspired many other musical education programs around the world with social purposes behind them. Its Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra brought to prominence conductor Gustavo Dudamel, now music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
One of the fruits of El Sistema’s success is NEOJIBA/the Bahia Orchestra Project, which sits atop a similar pyramid of musical training in the Brazilian state of Bahia. Conducted by its founder, pianist Ricardo Castro, the 100-member youth orchestra, established in 2007, will be near the end of a two-and-half-week North American tour when it appears at the Palladium.
But to build the orchestra, Castro had to sacrifice a promising European piano career – which he says he doesn’t miss.
“My life is so more interesting now that the quality of my presence on stage has never been so high,” he said.
The Bahia Orchestra Project is already known in Europe, having played concerts in Berlin, Lucerne and London (where its featured guest artist was superstar pianist Lang Lang).
For its Carmel appearance, it will welcome another well regarded, if not quite as famous, pianist as soloist – Jean-Yves Thibaudet. He’s a native of France now living and performing in the U.S.
Thibaudet will be featured in Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. That’s one of two piano showcases on the program. By special request of Center for the Performing Arts management, the Bahia ensemble will also play George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” with Castro as soloist.
Center spokesman John Hughey said the request was made to highlight the location of the Feinstein Initiative and its Great American Songbook vocal competition at the Palladium, and because Gershwin is considered among the greatest American songwriters.
Other works on the Palladium program are Peter Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture, two movements from Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileira” No. 2 and Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon 2.”
The latter two works — by Brazilian and Mexican composers, respectively — represent the Bahia Orchestra Project’s commitment to Latin-American repertoire.
“The mixture is a sign of overture to all cultural influences and richness we advocate at NEOJIBA,” Castro said. “A symphony orchestra is such a tool to approach different epochs and styles that the possibilites are endless. The repertoire we play today is made by works that allowed our orchestra to show its capabilities, having a great stage experience at the same time. With this mixture we are building more complete humans but also our strength, versatility and reputation.”
Bahia is a historically significant part of eastern Brazil, with geographical diversity crowned by a famous 685-mile coastline. It’s one of 26 Brazilian states and its largest city, Salvador, was established in 1599 and became the country’s historical capital.
Two important cultural traditions of Brazil — the carnival and the samba — originated there.
“An important politician in Bahia heard about (El Sistema) and called me to implement the same in our state,” Castro said. “The idea that music can be an instrument of social change without loosing the quality modified the way we see our profession. El Sistema creates a new profession as our kids are not only good performers looking for a job in a professional orchestra as soon as they can, but musicians growing collectively and thinking collectively on how to include more and more kids.”
Bahia Orchestra Project ● Brazilian youth orchestra, conducted by Ricardo Castro; with piano soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet ● 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 ● The Palladium in Carmel ● Tickets start at $40. ● For more information call 843-3800 or visit www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.