November 27, 2011
We had no presuppositions about Caracas except that it would be hot and green and have Chavez all over it. It is amazingly green; anything and everything grows without help in its fertile soil. Chavez is the huge mistake the country made 14 years ago and will be paying for in the next 5-10 transition years after his demise. But, hot is not a word I would use for this blessed warm Spring-like atmosphere (okay, they say that December (SUMMER) is really hot... but the rest of the year is blessed with continuous Spring. Caracas is so overpopulated, this east-west valley into which approximately 4 million people are stuffed, that it also possess eternal infernal traffic. Traffic of a kind only experienced during rush hour on the Long Island Expressway, except, ALL THE TIME! It is not something I think I could get used to. Everyone has a "driver"....if they can afford it.
The Jewish community is split between Sephardim and Ashkenazim about 50-50. We visited the huge and oh so beautiful Sephardic synagogue that is now not where the Jews live any longer. Before Chavez, there were about 12,000 Jews in Caracas. Now, they have 8,000. Part of the reason is the attack on this Asociacion Israelita de Venezuela synagogue by the Chavez leftists (no one hurt, but the synagogue was defaced and the signs were very clear). Of course, the community built yet another building to add to its 28 congregations! Everyone is waiting for people to return to this beautiful country once the political situation returns to "normal"-- whatever that is in South America.
The biggest surprise and blessing of this country is its musical culture. Dr. Abreu, an economist, but really a visionary who was considered a crackpot in the 1950's when he first started spouting his theory about music education, completely changed the direction of the youth of this country. He was told it could not be done; take children from as young as 6 yrs. and put them through a System of education that would stress each of them learn an instrument and play in an orchestra. To make a very long story short, there are now 168 youth orchestras in Venezuela, backed by the World Bank of the Americas and private industry. Because the government bought and runs almost everything public, he also built a state of the art music center with a 2,000 seat hall that is perfection (there is also a smaller hall and two more being planned abutting them) and 300 classrooms that teach music to children from all over South America. This system of orchestras and choirs for youth and children has had 300,000 children go through it and has taken young people off the streets and given them a purpose.
Finally, working with the amazing composer and maestro, Krszyztof Penderecki, is a blessing each time I am honored to do so. The program I was on (singing his 2009 composition, KADYSZ - in memory of the Lodz Getto) also included his 1967 composition, DIES IRAE (in memory of the victims of Auschwitz), the Bruch Kol Nidre and some of Maestro Penderecki's a cappella settings of Catholic Latin texts. Maestro Penderecki is a devout Catholic with a very large heart. I hope we will someday have the privilege to hear these works in Chicago. On to Buenos Aires..........