domingo, junio 30, 2013

The wonderful world of youth orchestras

            One of the great events of the last decades has been the growth and expansion of youth orchestras. Some of them are world-class and can compete with the very best of the world: we had a sample when the Simón Bolívar under Dudamel was here some months ago. (The same orchestra came back with another conductor and gave a combined concert with our Orquesta Juvenil Libertador San Martín led by Mario Benzecry, now made National).

            Let me write a few paragraphs on organisms of this sort, for there is a whole range of them. The purely infantile are made up of kids not older than fifteen and some of them are below ten: these have an immense sociological value but rarely are able to play pieces beyond the really easy. In fact, they should be steps to graduate after 14 to the juvenile or youth orchestras, and there you have those that are purely teenager, roughly between 14 and 19, and those that extend to young maturity (20 to 30): such is the Simón Bolívar.

            There is a tendency to be lenient concerning the faults of young groups, and this is logical enough for the children, but frankly only discipline, natural talent and strong training make a first-rate orchestra, and we shouldn´t settle for less, e..g., in the matter of tuning and sound. There are other matters, such as the quality of the instruments,  adequate financing, the right social context, and they all help to obtain a high level.

            The New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra gave an admirable account of themselves for the Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex. True, they have a solid conductor of long trajectory, Hugh Wolff (he has held posts at Radio Frankfurt, New Jersey and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra), whose orthodox interpretive views and firm command got the best out of his very young charges, all between 13 and 18 according to the hand programme. One astonishing fact: they have played the Mahler Ninth in Vienna´s Musikverein!

            The dim acoustics of the Gran Rex didn´t help to obtain the full impact of that extraordinary score, the Fantastic Symphony by Berlioz, but there was no gainsaying the concentration, accuracy and good taste displayed by everybody: these 88 boys and girls featuring many Orientals were a constant source of pleasure and wonder. Before, they executed the Argentine Osvaldo Golijov´s "Last Round", for strings (1996), "an imaginary last chance for Piazzolla´s spirit to fight once more" (it is based on a short story by Cortázar about a boxing match). And after, as encore, the exciting "Hoe-down" from Copland´s "Rodeo".

            This was a venture of FUNDECUA ("Fundación para el desarrollo, la cultura y el arte"), led by Edgardo Zollhofer and Andrea Merenzon, who are being very active in promoting youth orchestras.

            The members of the Texas Christian University Symphony Orchestra are based in Fort Worth and naturally are a bit older (roughly 18 to 23). The programme chosen by their conductor, Mexican Germán Gutiérrez, was much lighter but it did require brilliance and at least two scores are quite demanding: "Till Eulenspiegel´s merry pranks" by R. Strauss and the Overture to "Candide" by Bernstein. The 75 players combine WASPS, Latinos and Orientals in total harmony. Four chaperones are part of the tour!

            The other pieces: Elgar´s "Nimrod" (from the Enigma Variations); the Danzón Nº 2 by Márquez (instead of the announced Borodin "Polovetsian Dances"); "Taquito militar" by Mores with Oscar de Elía in an ugly-sounding clavier. And the last two programme selections plus the  encore were with Opus Cuatro, the veteran Argentine quartet of singers, keeping well (they have done a CD together with this orchestra): "La flor de la canela" (Granda), "Libertango" (Piazzolla), "El día que me quieras" (Gardel). Gutiérrez has been the conductor of the Texan institution since 2000 and he has command, empathy and a firm sense of direction; his players are good and enthusiastic.

            The Orquesta Académica del Instituto Superior de Arte del Colón had a conflictive birth, for it replaced the older  Académica under Carlos Calleja, now independent and called Académica de Buenos Aires. It seemed very high-handed on the part of Colón Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi, but gradually the new Académica has been playing better and justifying its existence. A recent concert combined two young talents: conductor Federico Sardella (a UCA disciple of Scarabino and Vieu with a lot of European operatic experience) and the best Argentine pianist of his generation, Antonio Formaro (in his late thirties).

            They started with a clean and energetic performance of that quintessential Rossini, the Overture to "La gazza ladra" ("The thieve magpie"). The concentrated and expressive Second Concerto by Mendelssohn had a magisterial performance from Formaro, who intimately knows the whole of this composer´s trajectory. Technique and insight were ideally fused, with good accompaniment from Sardella.

            It´s a common mistake to refer to Beethoven´s First Symphony as influenced by Haydn and Mozart; not so: at 30  the composer´s style is already strongly marked, especially in the dynamics (accents are insistent and characterful).  Sardella showed comprehension and style, whilst the organism played attentively and clearly.

            The Academic´s concerts are few and generally occur at 5 p.m. on certain Thursdays.  Out of them haved already come a good number of players that are now part of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and of the Colón Resident Orchestra.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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