miércoles, agosto 03, 2016

Our youth orchestras justify state support

                       Sixty years ago Radio del Estado had a youth orchestra conducted by the notable composer Luis Gianneo and it did yeoman service, but later it was discontinued. Many seasons went by until Mario Benzecry brought to our city what he had learnt in Venezuela about Abreu´s system, that incredible pyramid of youth orchestras capped by the Simón Bolívar that visited us under Gustavo Dudamel. Here there was no pyramid;  Benzecry had to start from scratch and with no state support.

            With admirable perseverance he managed to keep alive his project. The UBA´s Facultad de Derecho´s Main Hall had been the home of a great idea that brought first-class conductors to our city: the Symphony Orchestra of Radio del Estado. It too was scrapped after many years of important work. Then and now, the acoustics were and are bad, very resonant, but the Facultad allowed its free use and the place is big; Benzecry presented a plan to reuse it as a concert hall in Saturday afternoons and it was accepted.

            That was in 1994 and the Orquesta Juvenil Nacional José de San Martín (the current name, Nacional being added in 2013 when it began to have the auspices of the Ministry of Culture) is still playing there on the first Saturday of each month of the musical season. And as the years went by, the Facultad filled up every Saturday with other orchestras, mainly from Greater Buenos Aires but also with another example of perseverance, the Orquesta Estudiantil led by Guillermo Zalcman, the conductor to which we owe an incredible number of premières.

             Then last year came the Blue Whale and  the concerts of the Facultad of the Juvenil San Martín were repeated there; even with the stridency of the new hall it was acoustically a betterment: the mushy became clear though too incisive.

            A needed parenthesis: Benzecry´s example began to have followers, and gradually youth (and children) orchestras sprouted; now there are many, both in our city and elsewhere. I single out the most developed, the Orquesta-escuela of Chascomús under Valeria Atela.  And I have to mention with anger that the net of youth and children orchestras of our capital is in dire peril since last year, when its creator Claudio Espector was unaccountably thrown out of his post and the financing was stopped. The new Culture Minister must put things right as soon as possible.

            On the other hand, during recent years Andrea Merenzon has been organizing huge international concerts here and at Iguazú, bringing over chidren from diverse countries to fraternize with ours and play either separately or all together.

            Back to Benzecry: on July 17 there was a valuable concert at the CCK, maybe one of the best homages to Ginastera in his centenary year. It was supposed to be done at the Blue Whale, but it was played instead at the Sala Argentina, for the Whale was used for a children show.

            It turned out to be a blessing, at least for me: the Sala Argentina (often used by President Macri for political acts) is splendid: a rectangular graded wooden hall with a stage that can hold a symphony orchestra, it has warm acoustics (far better than the Blue Whale) in its 600-people capacity, with perfect sightlines. I didn´t know it and although it is considered a chamber hall I found it excellent for orchestras.

            The programme centered on Ginastera´s first manner, still close to our folklore although with Bartókian influence except in a student work whithout opus number, the short "Impresiones de

la Puna
", written at 18 and already accomplished. The flute part was nicely played by Sofía Guerrero. "Ollantay" is a ballet of Inca ambience written in 1951 and the three movements are intense and powerful, in transition to his second manner, with colorful indigenous percussion.

             There was a very special and in a way incredible fact: we heard for the first time in concert the complete ballet "Estancia", whose suite is enormously popular, particularly the final Malambo. Some years ago it was recorded by a British orchestra; I have that CD and was very interested at the time, but music always sounds different in live performance and it was fascinating to hear it.

            Curiously for a ballet it includes a gaucho talking and singing (the veteran baritone Luis Gaeta in superb form). The suite only has four fragments: there are twelve, one of them a difficult fugue, and several dreamy and beautiful, but also the Ginasterian blend of strong rhythmic impulse and modern harmony.

            Benzecry, who gave us useful comments, is spry and energetic at 79: he proved the perfect conductor for this music and got notable quality from an attentive and talented orchestra (ages 14 to 27): and I was glad to be able to appreciate it in really good acoustics.  The orchestra is big: 98 players! Part of their notable improvement also comes from a 12-member professor corps of first rank.

            Just a week before I heard them at the Facultad under invited conductor Francisco Varela, with solid preparation both here and in Pennsylvania. The pleasant "Danzón Nº2" by Arturo Márquez was very well played. Then came a minor Weber piece, "Andante e Rondo ungarese", with a correct viola soloist, Priscila Rodríguez. And an accurate version of Beethoven´s Third Symphony ("Heroic"), conducted firmly though a bit rigidly. Flexibility will come with time.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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