Impact of smoke on the air quality at the NAC


March 27, 2018 – OTTAWA – The National Arts Centre and Ottawa’s Sistema-inspired program, OrKidstra are mourning the death of Maestro José Antonio Abreu, founder of Venezuelan El Sistema youth orchestras, and of the El Sistema philosophy of social development through music. The project has saved thousands of Venezuelan children from crime and poverty and inspired similar programs all over the world, which have transformed the lives of countless children. Maestro Abreu was 78.

The National Arts Centre (NAC) has lowered its flag at half-mast in memory of Maestro José Antonio Abreu.

“José Abreu’s important work with youth at risk in Venezuela captured the hearts of educators around the world,” said Genevieve Cimon, Director of Music Education and Community Engagement at the NAC. “In Canada, we are seeing the impact of his vision and approach as thousands of young people enjoy opportunities in music and in life that have enriched them and their communities. This humble man’s legacy will bear fruit around the world for generations to come.”

OrKidstra, a social development through music program for children aged 5 to 18 living in under-served areas of Ottawa, was inspired by the El Sistema program. OrKidstra began in 2007.

“This extraordinary man is leaving a legacy that will continue to change millions of lives through music,” said Executive & Artistic Director of OrKidstra Tina Fedeski, M.S.M. “It isn't just the children's lives he is changing, but the families, teachers, volunteers, leaders and entire communities throughout the world. I see every day in front of my eyes how the powerful ripple effect of this remarkable man transforms lives. Maestro Abreu's El Sistema is the direct inspiration for OrKidstra and his spirit will remain part of our essence forever. Our entire OrKidstra family sends our love to Dr. Abreu's entire family throughout the world. Thank you, Maestro, for all you have done. You have changed the world.”


Abreu was born on 7 May 1939 in the small Andean city of Valera. He began his musical studies at the age of nine and moved to Caracas to study composition. Abreu founded the globally acclaimed El Sistema, or The System, in 1975 in a garage with nine musicians. From that, the network expanded to 300 choirs and orchestras that received awards from the Royal Swedish Academy and UNESCO. His many honours and awards include the prestigious Glenn Gould Prize in 2008, and an honorary degree from Carleton University in 2012.


OrKidstra is a charitable social development program for children aged 5 to 18 living in under-served areas of Ottawa, Canada. The organization’s mission is to empower kids and build community through the universal language of music. Inspired by El Sistema, OrKidstra carries out its mission by providing more than 600 children from 42 cultural and linguistic backgrounds with free group and individual music lessons, as well as the chance to learn important life skills like respect, compassion, teamwork and responsibility through playing and singing together. Alexander Shelley, Music Director of Canada’s NAC Orchestra, has served as an OrKidstra Ambassador since October 2016. Learn more:



Carl Martin
NAC Director of Communications (acting)
613-947-7000, ext. 560