Fireworks with Gustavo and the Bolívars in Scotland

Last night Scottish Venezeuelan relations were on fire – in every sense of the word. A drab cold wet Stirling summer evening did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of thousands who turned out to see a historic first: the young musicians of Big Noise Sistema Scotland performing on the same stage as the famed Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela with their music director, Gustavo Dudamel. You can still catch it on the BBC iplayer although somehow I doubt it will really deliver the quality of event the live audience was treated to.

Earlier, at a pre concert reception, a smaller but equally stunned audience heard El Sistema’s Director Maestro José Antonio Abreu, in a classic Abreu fiery oration, anounce an invitation for Big Noise children to visit Venezuela in 2013. When he spoke you could have cut the air with needles. He was preceded by another great orator, Richard Holloway – Chair of Big Noise – who gave an equally impressive address, demonstrating yet again that with thought, intelligence, commitment and passion a speech can be an occasion for stimulation and inspiration rather than (as is so often the case with our anodyne would be leaders) the moment to consult your blackberry, nip to the loo or simply fall asleep. Several politicians – from north and south of the border – also took the occasion to speak. This morning they should all be back in public speaking training, having heard masters of the quality of Abreu and Holloway. Jeremy Hunt in particular looked for all the world like an incomer who, having just discarded their parachute in – not enemy but alien – territory, was left without much of a paddle for comfort. Words, but not much in the way of passion or belief.

Above all this was an evening of real generosity from the Venezuelans, and a great and unforgettable night for Big Noise, Stirling and Scotland. Big Noise CEO Nicola Killean and her doughty team will live off and develop from this event for years to come. And for the Venezuelans, next stop London and a week’s residency that will see the Royal Festival Hall turn into a pop up Nucleo. Catch the live webcast of the opening concert tomorrow night courtesy of the Guardian at

first three pictures: Gustavo Dudamel and the Venezuelans lighting up the Stirling night

Last two pictures: Stirling Castle as if on fire for the occasion.


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