sábado, agosto 06, 2011

From crossover to the Sixties´ avantgarde


            Crossover has a long history, although the word has become trendy only in recent decades. It goes both ways: from Classical to Popular and viceversa.  And it has been going on for centuries. When Mozart wrote reams of contradances for the Viennese people´s balls he was doing the same that Johann Strauss Senior and Junior would do with the waltz during the Nineteenth century. As time went by, however, their waltzes became classical.

            There are two sorts of crossover: composers that cross either way, or interpreters that mix genres. The best Twentieth-Century example of a great crossover composer could be heard in a recent National Symphony concert: Gershwin´s "Rhapsody in blue" in Grofé´s orchestration ( of "Grand Canyon" fame) played by an admirable pianist, Ralph Votapek, long associated with the best classics but also a Gershwin specialist. And in a year where our city also welcomed Andrea Bocelli, we heard Katherine Jenkins in her local debut (at the Coliseo).

            She has a good deal going for her: truly beautiful even at close range, the Welsh mezzo has a voice of ample register and fine timbre, and she sings in tune, very professionally. Her charm is partly manufactured, but I liked the way she assumed a memory lapse with total spontaneity. And she wears her tasteful and splendid wardrobe with grace.

            But…Why an artist blessed with looks and vocal means that could have led to an important operatic career has chosen a path of bland, sappy arrangements of mostly mediocre songs, sung with microphone in a theatre and accompanied with an also wired symphony orchestra, in a theatre where music can be heard without intermediaries that soup up the sounds bathetically? Well, because she´s a howling success and earns a lot of money and seems happy with her well-planned destiny. She sings with full, operatically placed voice; alas,  all seems alike, in a level of total superficiality, always going from pianissimo to fortissimo, in interpretations that never go beyond a standardized traversal of music and text. Of course, the unnamed arrangements are also to blame (the extremely poor hand programme didn´t mention the repertoire, the arrangers, not even the conductor, the efficient Anthony Inglis).

            There were of course some fine tunes in this bland Muzak, for we heard authors like Bacharach, Morricone or Lloyd-Webber ( a song from "Love never dies", the sequel to "The Phantom of the Opera"), or the Traditional "Amazing Grace". And she sang plausibly two fragments from "Carmen", only presentation of opera that night. For many, the musical cocktail was what they wanted, and in its own terms it was well done.  The local ad-hoc orchestra was alright.

            Back to Gershwin, the most amazing transculturation example imaginable: the son of Odessa jews became the greatest creator of jazz-influenced songs, of symphonic jazz and of  Negro opera, "Porgy and Bess". His "Rhapsody in blue", abetted by the skills of Grofè, remains a marvel of inspiration, as are the Concerto in F or "An American in Paris" (by that time he was a fine orchestrator as well). And played straight (as it should be) by Votapek and by the National Symphony under Alejo Pérez, we could again rejoice in its fresh innovation. Gershwin has remained one of a kind, all imitators have disappeared. It was a pleasure to welcome back Votapek, still splendid and young after four decades of visits; what a pity that this was his only appearance.

            The concert was completed with an interesting reading of Debussy´s "La Mer", and  a premiere:  "Continuar esperando…" by Dante Grela on a disenchanted text by Oliverio Girondo. Its 27 minutes combine a soprano with the orchestra and electroacoustic sounds in a complex and unrewarding net of contemporary techniques. Susana Caligaris did what she could with this tough material, apparently well conducted.

            Which leads me to the recent celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Centro Latinoamericano de Altos Estudios Musicales (CLAEM): "International Festival Music at the Di Tella – Resonances of Modernity". Doubtless that was a very important experience for Latinamerican scholarship holders; during several years, the Alberto Ginastera-led experiment allowed them to be in touch with some of the greatest names in composition at that time: Olivier Messiaen, Yannis Xenakis, Luigi Nono, Luigi Dallapiccola, Roger Sessions  and others.  Now Eduardo Kusnir and Gerardo Gandini have concocted a total of two symphonic concerts with the National Symphony at the Auditorio de Belgrano, and six chamber concerts at the Centro Cultural Borges. They attempted a vast panorama of scores written by those that at the time studied with such illustrious creators.  I heard the initial symphony concert and the fifth chamber concert, so my view is partial. But I have to be sincere, I enjoyed very little of what I heard.

            I will single out as interesting the "Concierto ornamental" by Alejandro Núñez Allauca, and of some quality "Tartinia MCMLXX" by Jorge Antunes. And in the chamber concert, "Divertimento" by Antonio Mastrogiovanni and "Playas rítmicas Nos. 1 y 2" for piano by Jorge Arandia Navarro. I disliked and won´t mention the rest.  So I have to record that the results were less than what Ginastera had envisaged, but that adventure remains valid in its aims and shouldn´t be forgotten. The sad conclusion:  after the Fifties musical creation (exceptions apart) has fallen into a trough; why should the young Di Tella composers be any better?
For Buenos Aires Herald