FOJI: Growing Orchestras across Chile

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FOJI: Growing Orchestras across Chile

Miguel Farías, Executive Director, Fundación de Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Chile (FOJI)


The National Youth Symphony Orchestra performs with Maestro Paolo Bortolameolli. Photo: FOJI.

Chile is a unique country. Its territories are incredibly diverse, from the driest desert (Atacama) to the mountainous, brisk lands at the continent’s southernmost point (Magallanes, Aysén). This adds a layer of complication to our work at Fundación de Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Chile (FOJI), where we strive to make it possible for musicians in every region to participate in ensemble music performance—even if it requires multi-day trips by sea, land, and air.

The Metropolitan Students Orchestra (Santiago) performs. Photo: FOJI.

At FOJI, we see orchestral practice as a tool for both the betterment of society and the development of arts education. As such, we create and promote orchestras across Chile, generating courses in orchestral conducting, lutherie, cultural management, music production, and music theory, to name a few. At our Orchestra School in Santiago, we train musicians at every level, from beginners to those who need support as they pursue professional opportunities. Throughout it all, courses are accompanied by psychosocial programs designed to help young people deal with the stresses of musical performance—as well as whatever else they are facing in their lives.

This programming has reached every corner of Chile: we have at least one orchestra in each region of the country (15 in total), including three in the Santiago Metropolitan Region, home to our nation’s capital. We also collaborate with a network of 500 orchestras throughout Chile, supporting them in various ways throughout their development (in some instances helping orchestras take their first steps). Remaining present across the territory is both our greatest achievement and our greatest challenge; in order to be an effective organization, we must respect the artistic, structural, and social customs of each orchestra with whom we work.

Rehearsal of the Orquesta Pre-Infantil Metropolitana (OPIM), comprising students ages 4–8. Photo: FOJI.

Our top orchestra is the National Youth Symphony Orchestra (OSNJ), which has toured internationally and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Musicians who now play in different orchestras around the world, and many important soloists of international renown, have passed through our orchestra. In addition, it has been conducted by great conductors such as Gustavo Dudamel, Simon Rattle, Maximiano Valdés, and many more. Its principal conductor is currently the renowned Chilean conductor Paolo Bortolameolli. And we continue adding important milestones: just last month, the OSNJ was the orchestra that accompanied the incredible Björk in her concert in Chile.

We are proud of these renowned performers, but much of our work takes us closer to the ground, where community members lead the way. Such is the case for the Orchestra of Alto Hospicio (Tarapacá Region, where the Atacama Desert begins; the town is located at the beginning of a huge pampa, or glassy plain). This orchestra was formed almost 20 years ago by a group of mothers, who continue to maintain the orchestra. Elsewise, orchestras such as that of the San Carlos School have succeeded in organizing international tours simply through the efforts of local management.

Visiting an orchestra school in Southern Chile’s Aysén Region. Photo: FOJI.

Chile’s size and topographical diversity make it harder for music organizations to travel and collaborate, but that only makes it more special when they do. Recently, we held a meeting of school orchestras from all over Southern Chile. One orchestra came from Puerto Natales. This orchestra includes a violinist who lives in Puerto Williams—the southernmost violinist in the world! She rehearsed for months online until she traveled and joined the orchestra to make her debut at the renowned Teatro del Lago in Frutillar.

We are fortunate to have a model orchestra in Curanilahue—one of the first in the country and one of the first linked to FOJI—which has helped shape generations of musicians and professionals in different areas. The Curanilahue model has influenced the entire country’s musical community, receiving support from foundations and private companies for years in addition to political support. This impressive rural orchestra is currently made up of more than 100 children.

The National Youth Symphony Orchestra performs with Bjork. Photo: Santiago Felipe.

We are preparing a concert to celebrate the OSNJ’s 30th anniversary, during which we will perform Mahler’s 8th symphony for the first time in Chile. For this event, we are summoning musicians who have been part of this orchestra at some point in the past 30 years to join the concert and celebration. The event is a culmination of three decades of learning, fellowship, and, yes, plenty of travel. But if we have observed anything over that time, it’s that music can traverse any distance.


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