Venezuelan Renaissance man Jose Antonio Abreu — an accomplished musician, economist, politician and children's rights activist — has won the 2008 Glenn Gould Prize, organizers announced in Toronto Thursday.

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Venezuelan musician, educator, economist and former politician Jose Antonio Abreu is the 2008 winner of the Glenn Gould Prize. ((Courtesy of the Glenn Gould Foundation))

A prominent jury that included British director Anthony Minghella and Canadian tenor Ben Heppner chose the 68-year-old Abreu as the recipient of the $50,000 prize, which honours a leading international figure in the realm of music, the arts and communications.

The jury praised Abreu's "contribution to creating a cultural renaissance in Venezuela and making a marked impact on an entire generation of youth through music."

In a statement from Caracas, Abreu expressed "endless gratitude" for the prize.

"I accept such a great distinction on behalf of all Venezuelan dedicated music teachers," he said. "I want to put emphasis on my ongoing commitment and dedication towards the cause of youth and young adults."

Resumé long and varied

Abreu is a conductor, composer and organist who founded the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and Venezuela's National Symphony Youth Orchestra. The latter is admired around the world for its method of drawing from a nation-wide program of smaller ensembles that introduce music to children from low-income families.

Abreu has also been involved with a UNESCO project to create youth and children's orchestras and choirs worldwide.

He holds a Ph.D. in petroleum economics and taught at several Venezuelan universities. Beginning in 1983, he served a five-year stint as Venezuela's minister for culture and president of its National Council for Culture.

He has received a host of international honours, including the Right Livelihood Award from Sweden, a lifetime achievement prize from Italian group Coordinamento Musica, an honorary doctorate from the New England Music Conservatory and a special ambassadorship from UNESCO.

Abreu to choose winner of protege prize

As part of winning the Glenn Gould Prize, Abreu will name a promising artist to receive the related $10,000 City of Toronto Glenn Gould International Protege Prize in Music.

Abreu and his protege will be honoured at a gala in Toronto later this year.

Established in memory of acclaimed Canadian pianist and documentarian Glenn Gould and handed out every three years, the prize has previously been awarded to André Previn, Pierre Boulez, Yo-Yo Ma, Toru Takemitsu, Oscar Peterson, Yehudi Menuhin and R. Murray Schafer.