London's media were out in force at the RFH first thing today to welcome the Bolivars to their long awaited residency at the South Bank. Not surprisingly, since they have been lauded almost non-stop since their Proms debut two years ago, the Simon Bolivar open rehearsal this morning was packed to the rafters. As big a draw is their chief conductor Gustavo Dudemal who ran through Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.4. Fortunately (or not) Dudemal didn't rehearse them that much, a bit of tinkering with the balance here and there but otherwise the lucky old audience were treated to pretty much a complete rendition of the work. It's an impressive sound; what you're getting is two orchestras for the price of one since most of the positions are doubled up. This made the symphony's opening brass fanfares even more blistering than usual, almost brash if I'm honest. But there's no question this is one hell of a band that really does live up to the hype.
The success of what the Venezuelans call El Sistema, the project that feeds the Simon Bolivar orchestra, has got a lot of tongues wagging about our own music education system. What slightly depresses me, and others I spoke to, is that we talk about introducing El Sistema here as though we don't have (or did have, depending on where you live) a thoroughly good structure in place through our own music authorities. I'm all for El Sistema being rolled out here, as it already is in Scotland but a decent music authority should be doing - and in many cases is doing - many of the same things El Sistema is famed for. Perhaps we'll notice this a bit more once our love-in with the Venezuelans is over.