An orchestra is a small world. About a hundred people live a communal life led by a Principal Conductor, and they depend on a complex public and/or private administration and sponsorship. Theirs is a busy, sometimes hectic life, in which they are in close contact with the transforming marvels of music but also with the miserabilities of practical problems, psychological tugs-of-war both internal and external and the communicative give-and-take with their audiences.
Three orchestras with different characteristics were heard in our city during recent weeks: the Moscow Symphony under Jorge Uliarte at the Coliseo, the Buenos Aires Philharmonic conducted by Jorge Bertazza at the Colón, and the National Symphony led by its Principal Conductor Pedro Calderón at the Auditorio de Belgrano. I will start with the Muscovites.
Moscow has almost always been a city with plentiful professional orchestras, at least half a dozen and sometimes more. They were strongly impacted by the implosion of the USSR; some survived, others went under and still others were born, to a new world where state funds had dwindled precipitously; but gradually private sponsors appeared and state support augmented.
The Moscow Symphony was founded in 1989 and is, according to its "biography" included in the hand programme, "the first Russian independent orchestra developed exclusively with private resources". Their main sponsor isn´t a Russian concern but Nestle (!). The MS has made more than a hundred recordings and has often been abroad.
Their visit to BA is the result of the vast organizational and persuasive powers of Argentine conductor Jorge Uliarte, founder of the astonishing Ushuaia Festival, and their concerts (two with different programmes) were an anticipation of their six evenings in Ushuaia, where they played among other things the complete Tchaikovsky symphonies. The MS is an accomplished outfit, as shown in their second night, an all-Russian combination of standards: the Overture to Glinka´s "Ruslan and Ludmilla", the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto with Vitaly Pisarenko and Tchaikovsky´s Fourth.
I feel that Uliarte (who also brought here the Berlin Symphony in recent years) is a well-grounded, correct maestro, lacking the vital spark that separates the average from the upper level. The MS is very Russian in its sound, rather brash and with a touch of stridency in trumpets and trombones, but it also has communicative, well-tuned strings. The very clipped phrasing of Uliarte and some slow tempi robbed the Fourth of some dramatic values.
I was well impressed by the young Pisarenko (no biography in the programme), who did Rachmaninov with very adequate command and good taste, although some bits could have sounded more exciting; the rather disheveled accompanying didn´t help him much. The encore was the First Act Waltz from Tchaikovsky´s "Swan Lake" and it was a very pleasant ending. Their other concert was comprised of three orchestral pieces: the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin´s "Prince Igor", Liszt´s "The Preludes" and Tchaikovsky´s lovely and seldom played First Symphony ("Winter Dreams").
The vicissitudes of the two Colón orchestras are well-known to Herald readers. As I said in my latest article, althought the conflict persists they are now rehearsing. However, the first session of the B.A.Philharmonic, dubbed as "Aperture Concert", was utterly changed compared with the original planning: Arturo Diemecke, its Principal Conductor, didn´t come, and the Assistant Conductor, Carlos Bertazza, was in charge. Moreover, the very interesting programme was wholly scrapped: Mahler´s Sixth Symphony ("Tragic") and Michael Torke´s "Rapture" with Ángel Frette as percussion soloist. And it was replaced by a hackneyed and shortish late-Nineteenth Century French programme: three pieces from Bizet´s "L´Arlésienne", the Overture to Offenbach´s "Orphée aux Enfers" (as concocted by Carl Binder; it includes the famous Can-Can), and the Franck Symphony (included in last year´s subscription series).
The only enticing fact was that finally the Phil was playing, but as time went on, I began to feel rather happy, for personable young Bertazza, certainly anxious to please the players and the audience, proved to have the preparation and the conviction to give us a very well-wrought interpretation of the dense, powerful Franck symphony, as well as the brio for Bizet´s "Farandole" (in the Prelude there were misadjustments in tricky places). It was a nice night, after all. Who knows what will happen next, however.
After a pre-season concert at the Bolsa de Comercio, the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) started in earnest at their recovered (in 2010) home, the Auditorio de Belgrano, with its fine acoustics. Always with Calderón at the helm (still reasonably fit in his late seventies), the programming for the year has had minimal publicity, and already there have been changes in the first three concerts, one of them as the result of an odious practice which I ingenuously thought had been abolished: the accumulation of debt with the main provider of scores, Melos (exRicordi). Concerts are still free, simply because they have no structure to build a subscription series.
But the orchestra remains good, sometimes very good. After the rather too prolix Second Overture (1892) by Alberto Williams, there was a beautiful performance of Schumann´s Piano Concerto by the sensitive Agustina Herrera, notwithstanding a minor accident in the treacherous last movement. And the concert ended with a Calderón specialty, Mahler´s First Symphony, masterfully built and detailed by the conductor. Apart from some horn fluffs and the lack of true "pianissimi", it was a powerful performance in this Mahler year (centenary of his death).