La Plata´s Teatro Argentino is a big institution, the only rival for the Colón. The huge brutalist building is young but already needs repairs, and that even applies to the stage of the great Ginastera Hall. It also has a chamber one, the Piazzolla, and an equivalent to the CETC, the Centro de Experimentación y Creación (TACEC), and of the Colón´s Art Institute, the Escuela de Arte y Oficios. Totally integrated, it has an orchestra, two choirs, a ballet, production technicians, administration and a Foundation. There´s only one difference; the Colón has two orchestras, the Argentino one.
La Plata depends on an impoverished Province, so there are budgetary problems; arguably the structure is too expensive for current conditions and anyway the Argentino has a much smaller possible audience than the Colón, even if the betterment of the thruway makes it easier for porteños to travel to the Province´s capital.
The orchestra has been growing absurdly during the last decade: the hand programme lists 118 players, a number that can be used in very few scores (e.g., Mahler´s Eighth), particularly when the orchestral pit´s capacity was poorly calculated and can only hold about 85 players, less than the hundred needed for Wagner or Strauss´ "Elektra". The orchestra has been trying to obtain for the last thirty months that all of them should have permanent status ("estables"); no, two things should have been done previously and weren´t: amplify the pit to a hundred and pare down the orchestra to the same number; only then give the players that category.
On the other hand, the improvement in quality of the orchestra and its renovation with young people have been going on steadily, even before Alejo Pérez took charge during the Lombardero years. The Orchestra´s Principal Conductor nowadays is the talented Carlos Vieu, equally proficient in standard opera and concert repertoire. But the new General and Artistic Director, Martín Bauer (still in charge of Colón Contemporáneo), followed his bent and brought Christian Baldini to the Argentino for two very difficult and special concerts of XXth-XXIst Century music.
I have no doubt that they have been very positive both for the orchestra and the mostly young audience, even if both football and weather conspired against greater attendance. For the combination was surefire: a young Argentine conductor who is having a brilliant career at San Francisco and has the technical savvy and the affinity with extremely complex music; and a perfect choice of programmes lasting one hour but of colossal density. To boot, players willing to learn and put their best effort in a hard endeavor.
The first Sunday concert offered two premières for La Plata and only the second performance there of the seminal symphonic Twentieth Century score "par excellence": Stravinsky´s "Rite of Spring". György Ligeti´s "Lontano" (1967) follows his micropolyphony style in which the orchestra subdivides in multiple groups obtaining a compact timbric texture. Juan Carlos Tolosa, who was in the hall, is a composer born in Córdoba (1966) who has lived in Brussels a long time, absorbing teachings from famous contemporaries. "Dimmi chi fosti" ("Tell me who you were"), the work played, is inspired on verses from Dante´s "Divine Comedy": we are our past. The three brief movements reminisce such composers as Berio, Ellington, the spectralists or Xenakis, not as quotations but as "déjà vus" on Tolosa´s musical psyche; rather interesting.
The second concert was even more important. The La Plata première of Edgar Varèse´s "Amériques" in its second version (1927) is an event of prime significance; I confess I don´t recall a performance in our city. He was French but emigrated to the USA in 1915 and became an American citizen. Before WWII there were two great misunderstood visionairies in the USA: Charles Ives and Varèse; both saw far into the future and stopped composing for long periods. Varèse, born 1883, destroyed all his youthful works; so the initial version of "Amériques" (1920-21) is the first score he recognised as valid. He accepted a revision of the incredibly massive original orchestration, and this was premièred in 1926). It is still stunning, with nine percussionists including a siren, reinforced brass and a full complement of woodwinds and strings.
Would you believe it in such a huge orchestra as the Argentino´s? There were 15 added players! But I´m pretty sure that all the 118 didn´t play; so?
Description: fiercely dissonant chords; rhythmically complex polyphonies; continuous evolution with recurring short motifs juxtaposed without development; self-contained blocks of music against one another; enormous climaxes; the ominous siren adding tension. That´s the New York of the Twenties for Varèse. Twenty-three minutes written ninety years ago and seem penned yesterday. The impact of hearing it is electric and unforgettable.
There was another high point: the beautiful Third Piano Concerto by Bartók finished by Tibor Serly (just the last 17 measures). More lyrical, less motoric than the other two, it had a convincing performance by Helena Bugallo (a La Plata musical family: there are three Bugallos in the orchestra!), who has led a distinguished career in Europe; she lives in Basel since 2003 and has had particular experience in contemporary music. Her playing was neat, powerful and sensitive, and she was abetted by the dynamic conducting of Baldini.
Two short pieces preceded the longer ones: Silvestre Revueltas´s tellurian "Sensemayá" and Bernstein´s brilliant Overture to his operetta "Candide"; they had fine performances.
For Buenos Aires Herald