martes, junio 19, 2007

A bumpy orchestral traversal

In recent weeks the panorama of orchestral concerts as been rather bumpy. Quite apart from the scandal of the total paralyzation of all musical organisms dependent on the National Culture Secretariat –of which more below- we've had uneven concerts from the Buenos Aires Philharmonic (the Phil) and a couple of visitors of not quite first rank.

To leave behind the bad taste in my mouth, a brief reference to the cultural disaster that affects in the most Kafkian terms official national culture. It has happened before, but perhaps never in such an extended scale. A labor conflict of the technicians assigned to all national organisms has effectively stalled all activity at the National Symphony, the two big choirs (Polifónico Nacional and Nacional de Jóvenes) , two specialized outfits of social implications (Coro Polifónico de Ciegos and Banda Sinfónica de Ciegos), the Orquesta de Música Nacional Juan de Dios Filiberto and the Teatro Nacional Cervantes. And the matter is small and ridiculous: the State gave years ago to the administrative workers and the technicians the same working hours, which means that the latter can't be present at the evening shows; easy enough to fix what is a blatant idiocy, but nobody does it, neither the Labor Ministry, the Economics Ministry or the Culture Secretariat. Could some workers be hired to permit the realization of concerts? No, it would affect the sacrosanct solidarity among labor unions... Meanwhile, as much as five millions pesos have been paid this year by the State to players and singers that don't play and don't sing! And there's no solution in sight.

Back to something less sad, concerts that effectively take place. One was the visit of the Berlin Symphony prior to performing at the amazing Ushuaia Festival. This Orchestra is of course no match for the great Berlin organisms: the Philharmonic, the Deutsche Symphonie (ex Radio Orchestra) or the Staatsoper led by Barenboim. But it can be considered a very professional outfit. This was their third visit here; in the first, in 1970, Fritz Weisse offered Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" with the Berlin Concert Choir and foreign soloists; in the second, a few years ago, they came with their then Principal Director, Eduardo Marturet. This third is rather amazing, for according to the biography in the hand programme, the young Argentine Jorge Uliarte has been recently named their Principal Conductor (and he is the "alma pater" of the Ushuaia Festival). On the basis of what I heard, I can't understand it, for Uliarte seems to me a limited musician of barely correct technique and scant communication. Apparently his powers of organization and persuasion are greater than the musical ones, for after all the founding of the Ushuaia Festival is quite a feat of imagination.

They gave a concert at the Coliseo with hackneyed repertoire: Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture", Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Dvorák's Ninth ("New World"). All decently done, no more. I have my doubts that the Berlin Symphony has only 59 players, for such was the number listed; it probably boasts about 90 players back home. Apart from the lack of personnality and dynamism , their music making with Uliarte was acceptable, but one needs more in such overheard pieces.

I was much happier with the debut of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra led by Adam Flatt at the UBA's Facultad de Derecho Main Hall. Denver is of course home to the prestigious Colorado Symphony Orchestra, but it can be proud of this youth organism for it seems one of the best of its kind. They number 57 but in the overbright and resonant hall they sounded like a hundred, also because they play with such intensity and involvement, and with a technical quality that many adult orchestras don't have. And they are led with outstanding precision and style by Flatt, a young artist in the best American tradition. Minor blemishes hardly affected my pleasure. Both in the Overture for Sheridan's "The School for Scandal" by Samuel Barber and in Tchaikovsky's difficult Fourth Symphony they kept to a high standard. Also they accompanied well the 18-year-old Hannah Robbins in Elgar's Cello Concerto; she played nicely except for some lapses of intonation in high positions. The encore was interesting: an excellent arrangement by Kenneth Harper of Mariano Mores' "Tanguera".

The Phil completed the first section of its subscription series at the Gran Rex with a concert conducted by Ronald Zollman, who made his debut here last year and left a good impression. The session had a special attraction, the premiere of a rather strange Haydn Symphony, No. 60, "The absent-minded" ; the habitual four-movement structure is abandoned and instead we have six movements, several of them with humoristic details such as the "scordatura" in the last movement. And this is because in fact it was used as incidental music for a play of the same title as the symphony, written by Jean-Francois Regnard. I'm sorry to say that the music sounded wan in the undernourished acoustics and that Zollman didn't catch the humor, even making a pronounced pause between the two last movements when it is of the essence that both should be played without any interruption.

The rest went better: an agreeable version of Ravel's "Ma Mere l'Oye" and a professionally handled Dvorák Sixth Symphony, lacking however in the infectious gaiety of the Bohemian folk rhythms.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald