Every child prodigy is faced with a point at which it’s time to figure out how to navigate adulthood. But you don’t often see this phenomenon happen to an entire orchestra.
The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra has been playing under conductor Gustavo Dudamel for 17 years. Note, carefully, the name of the ensemble. It used to be the Bolivar Youth Orchestra, the flagship calling-card of the Venezuelan music-training program known as El Sistema, devoted to saving kids from questionable backgrounds by teaching them to play in orchestras.
The thing was, the orchestra got really famous, and the kids got really good, and it seemed kind of mean to shove them out when they hit a certain age. So the administrators took away the orchestra’s “youth” appellation instead.
The resulting orchestra, now without the special protection afforded by tender years, amassed on the stage of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Tuesday night at the midpoint of a five-city American tour.