Conductor Gustavo Dudamel's Musical Mission

Bob Simon Reports on Dudamel's Ambitious Music Education Plans for America

There's something about Gustavo Dudamel. Maybe it's the hair? Maybe it's the joy he exudes when he's conducting. At the age of 29, he's classical music's reigning rock star. Everything is going for him - critical international acclaim, recording contracts, and last fall, he took over the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Ask him about it, and he'll tell you he owes it all to a remarkable program in his native Venezuela, a social program that has used music to change his own life and the lives of millions of children there. Venezuelans call it "El Sistema" - "The System," and Dudamel wants to bring it to the U.S., where he believes it can work wonders.

But before we tell you about it, we want you to see why Dudamel is simply the most exciting conductor in the world. It's probably because, for him, music is not just his profession. It's not even just his passion. He couldn't get through the day without it.

Extra: Gustavo Dudamel Inspiring Children
Extra: Dudamel's Most Embarrassing Moment
Extra: Gustavo Dudamel In Rehearsal

"It's something that I need. It's like the air. It's like water. It's like food. I need music," he told "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon. "I have to be, you know, always around the sound and the magic.

When "60 Minutes" was there, it was a huge day for this kid from Venezuela - his first rehearsal on his first day as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

At 29, he's by far the youngest maestro of any major orchestra in the world. But age is not the only thing that distinguishes him from the other guys: there is something about Dudamel that is primal, something that makes people describe him as a "conducting animal."

He coaxes his musicians. He inspires them. And he amuses them.

He was rehearsing Gustav Mahler's turbulent 1st Symphony for the most anticipated conducting debut in decades - his own!

"If you ask me if I'm nervous, I'm not nervous, never," Dudamel told Simon.

Asked if he's ever been scared, Dudamel said, "About music? No."

When Gustav Mahler reaches his crescendo, so does Gustavo Dudamel, conducting.

He and Simon headed to Hollywood, not a bad place for a guy loaded with talent and charisma. Dudamel was so sought after he could have conducted almost anywhere. He chose Los Angeles in part because he thought it was a good place to transplant the system to the U.S.

It's the first time Dudamel and his wife have both lived in the U.S. They believe that teaching classical music can transform the lives of thousands of L.A. kids.

"You know can you imagine classical music for everybody? You know, this is a crazy dream. But it's true, because it's happening," Dudamel explained.

Asked what he wants to build for the future, Dudamel told Simon, "To build a better life through the music and I think speaking with music you can do many things."

A better life through music! That's the idea behind "YOLA," The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. Dudamel wanted it and he got it - an orchestra with an ambitious social agenda.

"We wanna develop extraordinary human beings, one by one," explained Gretchen Nielsen who, as the philharmonic's education director, runs YOLA.

Asked what she hopes to accomplish, Nielsen said, "I think we're really striving to change the landscape of Los Angeles. We wanna see these kids graduate. We want to see them just connect to the world in ways that they might not have normally otherwise. And we wanna see it across this city."

"You're speaking of something which resembles a revolution in this community," Simon remarked.

"It feels like a revolution because it builds," she replied.

  • CBSNews

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