Hi Gustavo, how are you?
I’m great, just spending time in LA with my son recovering from an amazing experience.
You must be pretty happy with the Super Bowl 50 performance?
Happy yes, but pride in the YOLA kids is the major feeling. They were so professional and composed and didn’t miss a beat — literally and figuratively.
How did you and YOLA come to be involved in Coldplay’s Halftime Show?
Chris Martin and I had become friends and one of the things that binds us is that we both believe music can be a vehicle for the greater good. YOLA does that, El Sistema in Venezuela does that and both of us are committed to changing the world — to making it better. When he was given the opportunity to create the Super Bowl halftime show he reached out and the rest is history!
Could you tell us more about the YOLA project and your involvement with it?
YOLA is modelled after El Sistema in my native Venezuela. It takes kids from underserved neighbourhoods and provides them free instruments, rigorous musical training and academic support to help them become better leaders, learn collaboration and to have brighter futures. It was started concurrently with my tenure at The LA Philharmonic and is one of my proudest achievements.
So once you’d agreed to be part of Coldplay’s show, what did the process involve for you and YOLA?
It operated on many levels. First, there were orchestrations written for us; then intense rehearsals; and finally a grand performance.
How did you find it working with [Coldplay string arranger] Davide Rossi?
Davide is amazing. He captured the beauty of Coldplay’s music and added depth and beauty with the orchestrations he added. It was an honour and a delight. And since the strings were such an important part of what we played he was able to offer important mentoring and lessons for the YOLA kids.
Did you enjoy the experience of working with Coldplay in rehearsals?
I loved it, of course, but the kids loved it even more. Chris, in particular, was very generous with his time and his wisdom and the children were made to feel like rock stars.
How much pressure did you feel ahead of the Super Bowl performance? Were you nervous?
I was nervous — this was a totally new experience for me. I left a little wiser, with a few more grey hairs and overwhelmed with gratitude.
How did it feel conducting an orchestra in front of such an enormous worldwide audience?
I tried to focus on the moment because imagining more than 100 million people watching is almost incomprehensible. But afterwards, when I saw the amazing response on social media and in the press I realised how expansive it really was. It was such an important moment and I came to this realisation that, “Oh my God—our music is is truly relevant.”
What did you think of the Halftime Show? Were you able to enjoy it as you conducted?
Honestly I was so in the moment and I had so much to do that my focus was on my job. But after, when I saw the show replayed on television, I was blown away by the beauty, originality and expression of love that it expressed an was touched and honoured to be even a small part of it.
And how did you and the YOLA kids feel afterwards?
We felt like we had won the Super Bowl!
Did you celebrate on Sunday night?
I had a quiet dinner with my amazing team and then went to thank Chris and Coldplay at their after party.
What’s coming next for yourself and YOLA?
I have a very full international schedule ahead of me and the kids will continue to play and prepare for their future performances. Plus they have to do well in their studies. And practice, practice, practice. We have a special show this autumn we’re working on as part of a tour — the work never ends.
Finally, what’s your favourite Coldplay song?
Of course it’s Viva La Vida. It comes from a stunning Frida Kahlo painting and celebrates life in spite of the many obstacles thrown at you along the way. Plus its title is in Spanish. And musically it’s deep, melodic and really showcases the poignant beauty of the strings. How could I not love the song and the magnificent message?
Click for more information on Gustavo and YOLA.