jueves, agosto 29, 2013

Professional and student orchestras: quality and renovation?

            We have in our city three major orchestras: the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, the Colón  Resident Orchestra and the National Symphony. All three of them can give very good quality, sometimes in an international level.    There also many youth orchestras, the best being the two Academics (the Colón´s Institute´s and the independent one under Calleja) and the Libertador San Martín (led by Mario Benzecry). Also, small orchestras of different types. And a strange and special case, the Orquesta Estudiantil de Buenos Aires under Guillermo Zalcman. Today I will be reviewing  sessions by the Phil, the National and the Estudiantil.

            Of course, the Phil operates under the best conditions, for their subscription series is offered at the Colón, with a valuable Artistic Director about which I have written repeatedly, Enrique Arturo Diemecke, and they have a reasonable budget to bring us international conductors and soloists and to pay for scores.

            I have mentioned elsewhere the silly titles someone gives to each concert; few can be sillier than "Popular and brilliant" applied to Mahler´s monumental Fifth Symphony; true, it is often played (this year three times!) but "popular" has other implications, and of course it has some brilliant passages, along with a majority of others that are tragic or sublime. It does apply, however, to that quintessence of crossover, Gershwin´s "Rhapsody in blue", played in the First Part.

             I find it unfair to bill it just by this composer, for the orchestration was done by Ferde Grofé, the author of the "Grand Canyon Suite", and the Rhapsody surely owes a lot to his clever ideas, beginning with the initial clarinet "glissando", perfectly played by Mariano Rey, or the "wah-wah" trumpet beautifully done by Fernando Ciancio. In fact the Phil was splendid, and Diemecke undestands the idiom (after all, he has been for 25 years the Principal Conductor of the Orchestra of Flint, Mich.).

            Cuban pianist Marcos Madrigal made an acclaimed local debut; he has swing and big technique. As the Rhapsody is short, he had leeway to give us three encores: two pieces by Ginastera (an overfast ·Danza del gaucho matrero" and a sensitive "Danza de la moza donosa") and a virtuoso "Malagueña" by Lecuona.

            Mahler´s Fifth became famous because of the use of the Adagietto in Visconti´s "Death in Venice", but the rest of the Symphony is just as important: the tremendous power of the  Funeral March combined with the turbulence of the Second movement, the inspired quirkiness of the Scherzo and the contrapunctal marvels of the final Rondo fuse into a magnificent 70 minutes of great music. Although I admired a lot of what Diemecke and the Phil did, there were some smudges and disjoined passages, and the conductor sometimes distorted certain rhythms, but by and large this was a successful traverse of tremendously difficult music.

            Administratively the National Symphony is in the lethal hands of the Culture Secretariat. In August they still haven´t settled the problem of the hand programme, so we were given just a miserable flyer: on one side the programme with omissions of vital data, on the other the list of the  responsible (?) functionaries. So I thank Google for some information about the Bulgarian conductor who made his local debut, Martin Panteleev (one of the very few of the season; understandable, those of last season a month ago hadn´t been paid!).

            In the First Part I had my doubts about him. Although his gestures were clear, some of the playing in Roberto García Morillo´s "Ricercar-Chorale" for strings (good, solid music from a now neglected composer)  was rather murky. And the accompaniment in Beethoven´s Concerto Nº 5, "Emperor", was too subdued (and there were poor bassoon and horn solos). The pianist, the American Derek Han, has been here before. Very nervous, his sound was too percussive, and although he has an important mechanism, there were many mistakes, especially at the end of the slow movement.

            But the Second Part was admirable and showed Panteleev to be a dynamic and intelligent leader. "Petrushka" is one of the two best scores ever written by Stravinsky (the other, of course, is "Rite of Spring"), and again I was overwhelmed by his endless innovation. The orchestra played quite well and redeemed itself. They played the 1947 suite.

            The Orquesta Estudiantil de Buenos Aires is a "rara avis" created twenty years ago by Zalcman. Which conductor has presented more premieres in the last two decades? Pedro Calderón? Wrong: Zalcman. His taste is tonal and basically privileges the 1880-1930 period. The orchestra was for many years quite bad; it now is barely acceptable and I can´t understand the presence of a line of saxophones, surely not needed. But the conductor is enthusiastic and undertakes a very needed renovation.

            The concert they offered in the good acoustics od AMIJAI was passably well played. But the main value is in the selected works, quite typical of the way Zalcman programmes: "The Land of the Mountain and the Flood" written in 1887 by the Scot Hamish MacCunn (premiere); the Concertino for flute, clarinet and strings by Bloch (premiere); the Suite from Rimsky-Korsakov´s "Tsar Saltan"; the "Comments for ´Romeo and Juliet´" by López Buchardo, and the charming suite of the ballet "Les Biches" ("The hinds" or "The female stags") by Poulenc. What a pleasure it would be to hear exactly the same works by the Phil or the National...

For Buenos Aires Herald