He was considered a child prodigy at the conductor’s desk. But Gustavo Dudamel says he owes his success solely to the visionary economist, musician and politician José Antonio Abreu, who founded Venezuela’s El Sistema in 1975. Just four decades later, around half a million children from predominantly socially disadvantaged families had received Venezuela’s unique music training. Dudamel, the son of a trombonist and a singing teacher, came to El Sistema as a four-year-old, where he first learned the violin. “One day,” he says, “I was at a rehearsal and there was no-one at the conductor’s desk because he was sick. So I thought, okay, and took up the baton.” At the age of 15, Dudamel then became the conductor of what is now the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and, because of his exceptional talent, received lessons from El Sistema founder Abreu. When he won the Bamberg Symphony’s international Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition, he gained international attention. What followed was a breathtaking career that took the exceptional musician to the major international orchestras. Since the 2009/10 season, Dudamel, who still leads the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, has been music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he founded the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, modelled on El Sistema. In addition, the artist, who has been a regular guest conductor with the Berliner Philharmoniker since 2008, took over the musical direction of the Paris Opera in August 2021.