martes, agosto 19, 2014

The end of the Barenboim marathon: a summing up

      The 2014 Daniel Barenboim saga began on August 3 (Sunday) and finished on August 13 (Wednesday), for a grand total of ten concerts and a dialogue with Felipe González, an exhausting schedule even for such an incredibly energetic 72-year-old musician and for his young West-Eastern Divan Orchestra..

           As is well-known, Barenboim´s career in Argentina has been indelibly associated with the Mozarteum Argentino, and of course now there were two concerts (with identical programme) for their cycles. Either as conductor or as pianist, he was here as a

 Mozarteum artist in 1980, 1989, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010. Those of 2005 and 2010 were with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, present now in all but one of the concerts (the joint piano presentation of Martha Argerich and Barenboim; she was a part of two other concerts). He also squeezed in a visit to the President joined by González. All events were at the Colón, except an unscheduled short Ravel concert at Puente Alsina (open-air and rather bad weather).

            The programme for the Mozarteum repeated most of what had been heard at the first concert of the Barenboim raid, for it included the Overture to Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro" and the four Spanish-inspired pieces by Ravel: Spanish Rhapsody, Alborada del Gracioso, Pavane for a dead infanta and Bolero. The difference was that in that initial session Argerich played Beethoven´s First Concerto, whilst at the Mozarteum we heard two world premières: "Resonating sounds" by the Israeli Ayal Adler, born 1968, and "Ramal" by the Syrian Kareem Roustom ( b. 1971). Even the encores were similar: the Prelude to Act 3 of Bizet´s "Carmen" and the tango "El firulete" as arranged for brass by José Carli.

             Of course, the premières were a Barenboim gesture following his integration policy, and the composers were present. Frankly I didn´t find them of special quality and probably many people felt that there are plenty of masterpieces waiting in the aisles, but I understand the sense of what the conductor did, and the composers are good professionals with experience outside their own area: Adler has a Doctorate from Montreal´s excellent McGill University, and Roustom is an eclectic creator that has worked with both the Philadelphia Orchestra and Shakira, as well as being the author of

music for films and TV, but also has an interest in Arabic traditional music.

            As the composer explains, "Resonating sounds" refers to the echo or sound reminiscence persisting after  vast chords that slowly vanish. It is divided into two sections plus a final recapitulation. Clusters, contrasts, variety of timbres...all techniques quite common in contemporary usage.  On the other hand, "Ramal" refers to one of the sixteen  metric patterns utilized in pre-Islamic times in classical Arabic poetry; applied to music, it is the following metric succession: 7/8, 5/8, 7/8, 8/8. The music seeks violent rhythmic effects, and according to the author reflects "Syria´s devastating current situation".

            Without a score I can´t vouchsafe for the exactness of the interpretations, but Barenboim´s gerstures seemed to have an immediate response in the musicians and I venture to say the pieces sounded much like what the composers pretended.

            The rest of the music sounded very well with practically no change from what I had heard in the  first  Barenboim concert; the Orchestra again showed that apart from transparent fortissimi it has very good soloists in melodic material, and Barenboim´s affinity with Impressionism and with such a different style as  Mozart was again evident.

            Make no mistake, I am a great admirer of Barenboim, but I don´t always agree with his decisions, and in this series I have had some serious reservations:

a)     As I intimated already, I would have preferred more important pieces in the First Part of the Mozarteum concerts.

b)     They played the Ravel combo no less than four times, not taking into account that many Mozarteum subscribers had also bought the Colón´s Abono Especial for they also wanted to hear Argerich, thus duplicating the Ravel pieces.

c)      Although I respect the high quality of the compressed concert "Tristan", I repeat that this is the third consecutive year that we don´t hear a complete Wagner at the Colón.

d)     A strange Barenboim whim added Mozart´s Concerto Nº 27 to the last "Tristan" performance. I knew of this on Monday and he played it the following day; I didn´t hear it for I had a previous engagement, but I don´t doubt that he played it beautifully. However, that isn´t the point: a completely alien element was introduced into an opera subscription series, and only one of these series had the privilege.

            We are already promised Barenboim festivals for 2015 and 2016 and of course there are still no details. Probably again with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Please let us have more varied symphonic programmes. Would Argerich come back? Naturally it would be again the hit of the year. Time will tell.

            A final reference to Barenboim´s astounding stamina: in 24 hours he played and conducted with Argerich and Les Luthiers, conducted the open-air concert at Puente Alsina, did the compressed "Tristan" and the González Dialogue on the Israeli-Palestine problem. I am tired by just imagining this sequence...

For Buenos Aires Herald

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