Jose Antonio Abreu is a Venezuelan pianist, economist, educator, activist, and politician. Born in the western city of Valera,Venezuela in 1939, Abreu was trained as an economist. He holds a PhD in petroleum economics from the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello and did some graduate work at the University of Michigan. He served as a deputy at the Chamber of Deputies in the old Congress of Venezuela. After his political career, he also worked as a professor of economics and law at Universidad Simon Bolivar and his Alma Mater. He would return to politics briefly in 1983 to serve as Minister of Culture.
In 1993, El Sistema was awarded the famous IMC-UNESCO International Music Prize in the institution class. UNESCO also appointed Abreu as a Special Ambassador for the Development of a Global Network of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs in 1995 and as a special representative for the development of network of orchestras within the framework of UNESCO's "World Movement of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs". This project was created in the context of an inter-disciplinary project "Towards a Culture of Peace". He co-ordinates the program through the UNESCO office in Caracas. He was also designated a Goodwill Ambassador by UNESCO in 1998.
In 2001, Abreu was honored with a Right Livelihood Award and the World Culture Open Creative Arts Award in 2004. Among his numerous awards are the 1st Class Order of the Rising Sun Grand Cordon (Japan, 2008), the Glenn Gould Prize (Canada, 2008), the Puccini International Prize (Italy, 2008), the Q Prize with former student and protege Gustavo Dudamel (USA, 2008) and honorary memberships at the Royal Philharmonic Society (2008, United Kingdom) and the Beethoven-Haus Society (Germany, 2008). In 2009, he received the Crystal Award of the World Economic Forum and the TED Prize. On May 12, 2009, Jose Antonio Abreu was awarded the Polar Music Prize, given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.