domingo, abril 14, 2013

Controlled primitivism, mystic minimalism

            In 48 hours the Colón was guest to the most extremely dissimilar symphonic experiences. There was the most welcome return of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela conducted by Gustavo Dudamel in two masterpieces of controlled primitivism: Igor Stravinsky´s "The Rite of Spring", and "La noche de los mayas" by Silvestre Revueltas. And in a concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic led by Arturo Diemecke with soprano Carla Filipcic Holm we were given the strange phenomenon of Henryk Górecki´s "Symphony Nº 3, of the sad songs", a supreme example of mystic mimimalism. The astonishing technical and emotional range of symphonism was ideally expressed in such programming.

            This was the third visit of the Orchestra and Dudamel, who at 32 is probably the best conductor of his generation and a brilliant result of Venezuela´s unique System of children and youth orchestras, imagined by José Antonio Abreu (now about 90, present in the stalls) more than 40 years ago. The pyramidal structure of orchestras from all over the country means that the members of the Bolívar are the very best  in a pure meritocracy. Great European conductors like Rattle and C. Abbado have been stunned and declare that interpretive symphonic renovation comes from Venezuela. Considering that so much goes wrong in that country, the Bolívar Orchestra is even more astonishing.

            And no less so is the fact that Dudamel at 32 has been their Musical Director for 14 years! Now he holds the same post at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He and the Bolívar Orchestra are now exclusive recording artists for Deutsche Grammophon, and their most recent CD couples the two works they  played  in BA. When they first came here ten years ago two things were stressed: they dressed with the colors of the Venezuelan flag; and the Bolívar  was called Youth Orchestra. Their second visit was more sober: they played for the Mozarteum and featured Mahler´s Seventh Symphony; the "Youth" was dropped, and so it was in this third time. Now they dress normally in dark suits  and they don´t dance on stage, as they did with Bernstein´s mambo the first time around.

            However, their exuberance remains unmatched: they are probably the most exciting orchestra on earth (not quite the best, though in the golden bunch of them). They may have occasional fluffs (especially the horns) but one´s blood tingles hearing them, for they are inhabited by rhythm. The orchestra is still youthful, even if one sees some prematurely balding and silvery heads; and there are plenty of girls among the men. They are an enormous orchestra: the hand programme lists 163 players against the habitual 100, which only makes sense if the players take turns (certainly 15 trumpets would otherwise be an aberration). And no soloists are identified.

            It is amazing to think that "The Rite of Spring" is centenary, for this score (maybe the most important of all in the Twentieth Century) remains astoundingly modern, and its fascinating rhythmic revolution has been unmatched ever since. As perfectly described by Pola Suárez Urtubey based on Messiaen´s analysis: the composer takes minimal units (e.g., a quaver) and multiplies them into asymmetric complexes, a true polymetry, the exact reverse of what had been the procedure during centuries.  

            The first introductory minutes were a trifle cold, but the orchestra soon found its stride and I was lashed with boiling rhythms served with electrifying precision and vast sound; Dudamel tightly controlled the proceedings with clear gestures and great respect for the composer.

            It was a pleasure to hear again "La noche de los mayas", premiered here (very well) by Enrique Ricci and the Buenos Aires Phil more than twenty years ago. We have to thank José Ives Limantour, who in the Sixties remodelled the music composed by Revueltas in 1939 for a movie directed by Chano Urueta. Revueltas is the great Original of Mexican music, and his fresh ideas are expressed with the richness of a Villalobos in this strong half-hour piece, culminating in the "Noche del encantamiento" with an impressive array of indigenous percussion instruments (nine percussionists!) in an aleatory section where Dudamel stopped conducting. The audience was almost floored by the unleashed decibels of the last five minutes.

            In the encores there were two admirable homages to Wagner in his bicentenary: an exuberant Prelude to the Third Act of "Lohengrin", and a deeply introspective "Liebestod" from "Tristan und Isolde", demonstrating that the Bolívar can match such contrasting textures as those of Stravinsky and Wagner. I would have preferred to stop there, for it was jarring to go from "Tristan" to "Alma llanera", the famous Venezuelan song, although agreeable in itself. And finally, a celebration of Argentina, with the most dashing Ginastera Malambo (from "Estancia") I´ve ever heard. Immense success.

            Górecki´s Third Symphony is a strange phenomenon.  Lasting 48 minutes in Diemecke´s interpretation, it is based on three sad texts: a lamentation by the Virgin, an appeal to her mother by an incarcerated teenager, and the dirge of a mother about the murdering of her son. The musical language is tonal and minimalist, based on age-old forms as the canon. Premiered in 1977 with a rather uncomprehending reaction from an avantgarde-conditioned audience, the work took flight with the recording by soprano Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Zinman, selling a fantastic two million copies especially in the USA. It struck a hypnotic, Nirvanesque chord in people. Deeply spiritual and introspective, it was offered with concentration and musicality by Diemecke and the Orchestra, and Filipcic Holm was fine in her songs. The Symphony was premiered by Calderón and the National Symphony some years ago, with Mónica Philibert as soloist.

            I was sorry that the concert started with Britten´s "Simple Symphony", charming in itself but quite incompatible with Gorecki. It was nicely played, but something deeper and longer was needed, like the English composer´s "Sinfonia da Requiem".

Por Buenos Aires Herald

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