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Bahia Orchestra Project, the pride of Brazil (w/video)

  • A portion of the members of Neojib√°, performing as The Bahia Orchestra Project at Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo. The youth orchestra will be performing this Sunday at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park. (photo courtesy of Neojib√° / Facebook)

When Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes backed out of this weekend's Green Music Center concert due to an injury, some thought the show would be canceled. But considering he was sharing the bill with the globetrotting, 100-strong Bahia Orchestra Project from Brazil, there should be plenty left to treasure on stage.

Making their U.S. debut, the small army of symphonic samba players, ages 9 to 29, have been making their way across the country, lighting up concert halls from Indiana to Arizona, before arriving in Rohnert Park on Sunday.

It's a chance for American audiences to learn what European fans already know, especially those who saw the Bahia Orchestra Project team up with acclaimed Chinese pianist Lang Lang in London in 2011. When you take kids from the streets and teach them classical music while also letting their natural samba rhythms come out, the result is intoxicating.

And not to worry. In place of Valdes, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet leads on the keys.

Here are the Top 5 things you need to know about the Bahia Youth Orchestra before they play the Green Music Center on Sunday:

1. They call their music training “El Sistema” — a concept modeled after Venezuelan youth music orchestra compounds. In the same way that young Brazilian soccer (or futebol) players are groomed at an early age by professional team youth academies, students as young as 7 in the eastern state of Bahia are given a government-funded opportunity to learn music in a long-term program known as Núcleos Estaduais de Orquestras Juvenis e Infantis da Bahia.

2. When conductor Ricardo Castro founded the Bahia Orchestra Project in 2007, his goal was to “put all his efforts to insert the collective practice of music in the daily life of Brazilian children.”

Part of his intense regimen is to push students to master music from around the world. To get a feel for the complexity and the global reach of Sunday's program, know this: They play Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy,” French composer Maurice Ravel's “Piano Concerto in G Major,” Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas' “Semsemayá,” Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos' 3rd and 4th movements from “Bachianas 4” and Mexican composer Arturo Marquez's “Danzon 2.”

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