Venezuelan musicians pursue world's largest orchestra record

Hundreds of violins, violas and double basses sounded at Venezuela's military academy Saturday, then woodwinds, brass and percussion gradually joined in — and thousands of musicians, mostly children and adolescents, were playing with a single goal: setting the record as the world's largest orchestra.

Members of the National Orchestra System gather to try and break a Guinness World Record for most instruments used in a piece of music, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (Photo: AP)

The musicians, all connected to the country's network of youth orchestras, performed a roughly 10-minute Tchaikovsky piece outdoors under the watchful eyes of independent supervisors with the job of verifying that more than 8,097 instruments were playing simultaneously, which would break the current record. The country's music network, known as "El Sistema," had hoped to gather 12,000 musicians.

"This means that all these years that I've been with the orchestra were worth it, all those hours of rehearsing and all those hours of practicing, which were many," said Angele Barraoeta, a 15,-year-old viola player who has been part of The System since she was 4 and usually plays with a regional group of about 230 people.

"So many people around you," she added. "It's an incredible feeling to be part of something historic. We hope to break the record."

The Guinness World Records will determine within 10 days whether a record was set. More than 250 supervisors were each assigned a group of musicians to observe during the record attempt. For the musicians to set a record, more than 8,097 had to be tallied playing at the same time during a five-minute period of Tchaikovsky's "Slavonic March."

The Venezuelan arm of the accounting firm KPMG will audit the results. Managing partner Ramon Ostos said the existing record belongs to a Russian group that played that country's national anthem.

Members of the National Orchestra System play a 12-minute Tchaikovsky piece to try and break a Guinness World Record in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (Photo: AP)

The musicians, ranging in age between 12 and 77 and wearing black pants, white shirts and pandemic-mandated face masks, attempted the record during a patriotic, one-hour concert. The repertoire included "Venezuela" by Pablo Herrero and Jose Luis Armenteros, the South American country's national anthem and Pedro Gutierrez's "Alma Llanera," which Venezuelans consider their unofficial anthem.

Each musician was given a numbered bracelet and an assigned seat based on their instrument to facilitate counting. The "Slavonic March" is part of their musical education throughout their time in the youth orchestra network. Still, they began rehearsing it with their regional groups ahead of the concert two months ago.

"If a string breaks, I don't stop. If the partiture falls, I play by memory," director Enluis Montes reminded the musicians, whose enthusiasm could be seen as they gently and rhythmically moved in their seats.

The rules they had to follow included not sharing instruments and being directed by a professional. That honor belonged to Andrés David Ascanio Abreu, who was projected onto huge screens so that every musician could see his directions.

"Well, it is a gigantic challenge, of course, a very complicated challenge, but full of great pride, of great passion," Abreu said. "And today, what we are seeing here is a minimal representation of what we are: We are 1,012,000 children and young people in El Sistema."

After finishing the "Slavonic March," the musicians erupted in cheers while lifting their instruments and waving Venezuelan flags.

"The largest orchestra in the world," they exclaimed.