It's been a few weeks already, but still the memory of this visit to the Instituto Baccarelli persists - the energy, the incredible talent, the intensity of the work ethic. The Instituto is located in the favela of Sao Paulo, and the children who attend the school live among drug dealers, prostitutes, the most needy and the most troubled of the incredibly huge city.
In the spirit of the Youth Orchestra program that was created in Venezuela, many South American countries have established musical/social programs, with the idea that the work ethic necessary to excel at playing an instrument can guide a child through difficulties, both personal and environmental.
Joshua Bell and I were on tour in SA, and the morning of our recital in Sao Paulo, we were scheduled to visit this school. In the middle of a tightly-packed tour, this visit most certainly felt like an obligation - something both Joshua and I do with the idea of encouraging young musicians, young audiences - but there was a moment of revelation, when we realized that what we were dealing with was something much greater than just a neighborhood social program. Instead, we were enthralled by such beautiful music-making, especially on a group level. These young musicians (teenagers, at most early 20's) were listening to each other and working together on a completely professional level.
Joshua said to them, after an enthusiastic performance of Mendelssohn's Finghal's Cave Overture, that he had not heard that kind of inspired and intense music-making in most of the professional orchestras he plays with.
They caught Josh in the right mood at the right moment, and he accepted to play some of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with them on the spot. It turned out to be not just a part, but in fact the entire piece, and Joshua put in what I felt was a bit of extra energy and focus, being carried on the shoulders of these young musicians.
We left the school, being pried away by our chaperons from the crowds of kids demanding pictures and autographs, and stepped into cars that drove us past graffiti-covered buildings, shacks and trash, and finally into the nattier parts of town. We saw a number of students at the concert later that evening, and I wondered if they had been there at the school in the morning. If so, then the school had really succeeded in their mission of converting people and place through the practice of music.