sábado, julio 18, 2015

The Blue Whale comes into action: a new era begins


            May 22, 2015: an essential cultural tool is unveiled. Two Ministers, Julio De Vido (Planification) and Teresa Parodi, officially inaugurate the Centro Cultural Kirchner. As happened both with the reopening of the Colón and with the Usina del Arte, it was a partial inauguration: though De Vido said that 93% was finished, the feeling that I and colleagues had was that the figure was more likely to be 70%. But what was almost completely finished was the star of the enormous building: the Blue Whale, a 1750-capacity concert hall.

            The matter of having an auditorium specifically built as a concert hall has a long and frustrating history. Although the Colón has marvelous acoustics and beauty, it is essentially an opera house, but of course it has remained as the only completely satisfactory venue for the great concerts. Both the Coliseo, the Auditorio de Belgrano and AMIJAI are reasonable alternatives, but what Buenos Aires needed was something similar to London´s complex of concert halls led by the Royal Festival Hall, and that was the model of the project that was brewed in the late 1960s by Jorge D´Urbano; it came very close to being accepted, but the disastrous 1973 ruined the idea, never implemented.

            Both the Usina and the CCK are imaginative reworkings of preexistent buildings: in the first case both the symphonic and the chamber halls are functioning; at the CCK we will have to wait several months before the chamber auditorium will be finished; and the same applies to other important matters such as the rehearsal halls, especially the symphonic one. This means that the new home of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional (National Symphony) still lacks rehearsal facilities separate from the auditorium.

            I won´t get involved in the controversy about the Center´s name; if you are pro-Government you will probably agree, if you aren´t you will reject it. And you can also legitimately feel that the total cost has been very high and have doubts about whether the construction could have been of similar quality spending less.

             However, I certainly believe that there´s no place for manicheism in what seems to me an absurd conundrum: the argument that because we are in a crisis and lack adequate sewers, hospitals or housing, the CCK shouldn´t have been done. When WWII ended both Germany and Austria rebuilt their bombed opera houses in the worst conditions: that is because culture is essential, not a luxury.

            So both the Usina and the CCK are destined to change substantially the musical life of our city. It was of course a stupid announcement of the Macri government when years ago they announced that the Usina would be the "permanent home of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic", whose proper place is of course the Colón. But I do believe that the rightful place for the National Symphony is the CCK.

            On May 22 I witnessed a short rehearsal by the NS under its Principal Conductor Pedro Calderón for a concert which was given the following Sunday for a restricted audience invited by the Presidency. I heard Dances from Ginastera´s "Estancia" and a Piazzolla score, plus Horacio Lavandera in the final movement of Beethoven´s "Moonlight Sonata" and Mario Videla in Bach´s Toccata in D minor playing at the gigantic organ, not yet fully tuned. My aural impression was that the hall was too resonant when the music was fortissimo though the sound was clean in its projection and powerful.

            I was taken by the beauty of the auditorium, with the graded rows providing fine sightlines, and by the good taste of its features. However, even if the acoustics experts are the same ones that worked at the Colón and the Usina, I wondered whether the sound shouldn´t be more veiled, less strident.  From the outside the Blue Whale looks like one, indeed, a massive piece of skillful architecture.

            However, the real activity began on June 12. That day the NS started its season for the general public. An important programme was presented by two first-rate artists; Xavier Inchausti, our most virtuosic violinist; and the German conductor Günther Neuhold, who has worked in another seasons with the orchestra. Sibelius´ Concerto is one of the most difficult and beautiful. Its stark Romanticism needs the terse, controlled and perfectly tuned phrasing provided by this player, well accompanied by the orchestra. The encore was a piece that Inchausti plays admirably, the intricate and thoughtful Sonata-Ballade Nº 3 by Eugène Ysaÿe.

            And then, a true blockbuster, the massive Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss, a 50-minute tone poem in 22 fragments joined together. It calls for a huge orchestra, 123-strong, including an offstage hunting fanfare, wind machine and organ. The latter fact allowed us to hear the fantastic organ in several passages. We go all the way to the glorious top of the mountain passing by cascades, and then descend through a tremendous tempest until a gloomy night ends  the work as it had started.

            It was a mighty challenge well met, with a conductor fully in command and an attentive orchestra. I premièred the score I bought last year in Munich, marveling at Strauss´ inexhaustible imagination and uncanny orchestrating ability.

            I do have to add that again I felt that the sound is overbright and resonant, this time with a full audience. Can the specialists find a way to correct it?


For Buenos Aires Herald