sábado, diciembre 07, 2013

The National Symphony´s erratic course

Longtime readers will scarcely be surprised by the title of this article, for the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) is a prime example of state negligence through the decades, the Sisyphus myth incarnate (the orchestra sometimes progresses and then loses what it won). Started in 1948, it had brilliant early years: Rafael Kubelik and Sergiu Celibidache in 1950, and from 1951 to 1955  Conciertos Daniel ran it and great conductors were at the helm: Horenstein with Backhaus and Rubinstein, Erich Kleiber, Georg Solti, Igor Markevich, Malcolm Sargent, Rudolf Kempe, Eduard Van Beinum,  Heitor Villalobos and Paul Kletzki.

Then came the wonderful period led by Juan José Castro, years of fascinating repertoire and great conductors or conductor-composers such as Hermann Scherchen, Ernest Ansermet, Jean Martinon, Carlos Chávez, Willem Van Otterloo and Igor Stravinsky (with the Mozarteum). But at the end of 1960 Castro resigned accusing the stifling bureaucracy: "Kafka must have known us". From then on, the National Symphony never recovered although it had some flashes. You will look in vain for a similar roster of great names in this half century, and the progressive spirit that led to so many important premières also  slackened greatly. Some good points: Witold Rowicki (1961), Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (1963), Pablo Casals (1964, with the Mozarteum), Stanislav Wislocki (1967), Charles Dutoit (1968), the première of Penderecki´s "St Luke´s Passion" (1969). Teodoro Fuchs, Simón Blech, Jorge Fontenla did good work over the years.

A conflict paralyzes the Orchestra in 1972, affecting the good plans of Principal Conductor Jacques Bodmer.  1974, Franz-Paul Decker. 1979: Leopold Hager and Hans Wallat. 1986: good programming. 1987-94: very opaque years. But Pedro Calderón, designated Principal Conductor, tackled great projects in the following years with the Asociación Wagneriana: Schönberg´s "Gurre-Lieder", Mahler´s Eighth, the Berlioz Requiem. And Francisco Rettig premièred Messiaen´s "Turangalîla Symphony".  However, after the crisis of 2002 the Orchestra has had poor seasons.

The current administration and the preceding one have both been negative, affecting Calderón´s plans. Some general bad points: a) The wrong idea of having the orchestra playing for free, fact that certainly diminishes its status: no important organism can develop and take its proper  place based on populist plans. b) The negligent and infuriating policy of paying the visiting artists as much as a year after their performances, determining that most of them refuse to come back (Rettig is a case in point). And this also applies to payments of orchestral parts, practice that most European and American editing houses refuse to accept, thus leading to mediocre programming. c) As a consequence, constant changes in the yearly programs: unreliability. d) Plus bad managing: late steps to arrive to an agreement with the Auditorio de Belgrano, hand programmes chaotically handled: incomplete, not enough of them or altogether absent.

The orchestra needs: 1) An autarchy law with much better budget; 2) A subscription series with reasonable prices; 3) A high-speed administrative machine that works according to a decent chronogram and pays in time, d) A permanent hall; this is promised for 2015: the Post (Correo) is being internally rebuilt as a cultural center and will have a big concert hall of about 2.000 seats. The National Symphony has lost technical quality in recent months, perhaps because the players have grown tired of so much mismanagement. But it was for a time our best orchestra. Only with drastic changes can it compete in the future.

I heard two concerts  in the final part of the season. In the first Swiss conductor Emmanuel Siffert made his debut replacing Rettig. He showed good capacity and his versions of two great Impressionists were useful: Ravel´s "Alborada del Gracioso" and Debussy´s "La Mer". The great Dvorák Cello Concerto Op.104 had a splendid soloist in the Bulgarian Stanimir Todorov, who has been very active here in recent years, though he is now first desk of the Montecarlo Philharmonic. A beautifully terse sound, an uncanny intonation and sensitive phrasing were the marks of a master cellist, and he was well accompanied.  From the young Argentine composer Cristian Axt we had the première of "Camino a la Peña, Introducción y malambo", which shows a firm hand and a tasteful modernisation of folk-inspired material.                                                                            Carlos Vieu is one of our best conductors. His programme had as "pièce de résistance" the two Verdi Sacred Pieces written for mixed choir and symphony orchestra: "Stabat Mater" and "Te Deum". Tremendous music from an octogenarian who was still innovating, the music goes from hushed mystery to cataclysmic fortissimi; the ideas are esoteric and searching. The Coro Polifónico Nacional under Darío Marchese was in very good shape, the Orchestra did have some fluffs in horns and trumpets, though Vieu´s interpretations were insightful.                                                                 I was very favorably impressed by José Daniel Robuschi, assistant concertmaster of the Orchestra, as an accurate and strong exponent of Shostakovich´s tough Second Violin Concerto; he is solid and sensitive. Again the brass had some trouble. The concert included two Argentine composers. From Piazzolla in excellent arrangements by José Carli, "Decarísimo" and "Fuga y misterio", the best playing of the Orchestra. And a mediocre mini-cantata, "De folhas novas", world première) by Amanda Guerreño, with the Coro Polifónico Nacional. Pretentious and inflated, I felt it unnecessary in an otherwise attractive programme, the last at the Auditorio de Belgrano, though the orchestra will play several times in localities of the Gran Buenos Aires.              I can only wish them a better, less troubled 2014
For Buenos Aires Herald