lunes, julio 11, 2016

The Usina del Arte and the ambulatory Philharmonic

 

            The very mixed record of Darío Lopérfido as the Colón´s Artistic Director does have some good points. One of them involved Lopérfido as the city´s Minister of Culture: he programmed at the Usina del Arte eleven concerts of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and seven of the Colón´s Resident (Estable) Orchestra, and with different repertoire from that heard at the Colón. Thus he filled the gaps on the calendar of both organisms, too often unoccupied at their mother institution.

            But of course, as he  as Minister named Marcelo Panozzo as Director of the Usina del Arte, it stands to reason that the latter had to honor the dates announced by the Colón already in March, in the book that contains the whole 2016 activities of the Colón either there or elsewhere. But recently the Usina wasn´t the venue of two of those concerts: the third of the series, with conductor Andrés Tolcachir and violinist Xavier Inchausti, was derived to the Coliseo. The fourth did take place at the Usina and I attended it: conductor Roberto Paternostro and pianist Paula Peluso. However, the fifth, where Paternostro presented fragments of Johannn Strauss II´s "The Bat" ("Die Fledermaus") with talented youngsters from the Colón´s Institute of Art,  happened at the Auditorio de Belgrano.

            There was no explanation either from the Usina or the Colón. And, as already explained in another article for the Herald, programming at the Usina is erratic, with no yearly plan, and announced only on Internet and quite late: one week before the first day of July the site for that month was still unavailable. Maybe there´s a sunny side: the Phil has been playing at four different venues in one month, so they had to adapt to different acoustics; and that´s the sort of flexibility that you need if you go on tour, so  this can be taken as training...

            But I can only ascribe to Lopérfido as erstwhile Minister the strange fact that reviewer´s tickets are provided by Festivales de Buenos Aires, a completely different institution that should have no interference in matters of the Usina. I asked for an explanation, I was given none. I don´t know what happens with the general audience.

            Now to Paternostro´s concert  at the Usina. You will probably remember that he was one of García Caffi´s conductors and he had the redoubtable task of leading the Colón Ring; quite apart from the essential wrongness of that venture, he proved an experienced Wagnerian with the stamina to last the 6½ hours of the compressed Ring and give sense to the music played by two consecutive orchestras.

            Well, his programme at the Usina needed an orchestra of moderate size and was based on the First Vienna School: Mozart, Haydn and Schubert. From the latter, the delightful "Rosamunde" Overture (in fact, that of the melodrama "Die Zauberharfe" –"The Magic Harp"). Mozart was represented by Piano Concerto Nº23, a perfect score of his mature style. And Haydn, by the peculiar Symphony Nº 100, called "Military" due to the enlarged percussion of the second movement (a unique case in his abundant production):

            Paternostro has an Italian surname but he is Viennese and he has imbibed the proper style from Swarowsky,Von Dohnányi and Von Karajan. However, he also follows recent trends: rather fast speeds and firm solid sound, leaving aside dainty wispiness. His phrasings are musical, the attacks and releases clear, and he knows how to maintain a living pulse. The Phil played well for him.  And Peluso is an accomplished classicist with very clean articulation; however, I missed a bit more accent and roundness to her tone.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

Baldini brought true symphonic renovation to the Argentino


            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 


Renée Fleming returns: the autumnal charm of a great artist

            

            August 18, 1991. First performance at the Colón of the revival of Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro" in a new production by Sergio Renán. An Argentine-Spanish cast except for the Countess: a beautiful young American called Renée Fleming at the start of her international career. With a crystalline lyric soprano timbre and impeccable line, she proved to be a charming actress as well.

            Unfortunately, that was her only operatic role in BA. We missed her in such operas as Massenet´s "Thaïs" and Dvorák´s "Rusalka", but especially in Straussian parts (the Marschallin in "Der Rosenkavalier", Arabella, the Countess in "Capriccio"), for she was a leading interpreter of all the mentioned operas. It´s useless to speculate about the reasons, but the Colón has had strong ups and downs and established artists want reliable theatres. After two decades, she finally came back during the García Caffi years; however, it was for a recital. It was quite successful and varied, and the voice was still in good condition. 

            And now she came back, inaugurating the so-called Abono Verde. This time the charm and the savvy are still there, but her career has entered the autumnal phase, as demonstrated by what´s happening at New York´s Met, her home for so many years: last season she didn´t sing a difficult opera but an operetta, Lehár´s "The Merry Widow"; and now she has announced her goodbye to opera, with May 2017 performances at the Met of "Der Rosenkavalier" (fortunately it will be seen here on the Met´s direct transmissions at the Teatro El Nacional organized by the Fundación Beethoven).

            In this recital she was admirably accompanied by Gerald Martin Moore (debut), an expert singing teacher who has worked with Fleming for many years (and with several other famous artists) and has prepared operas for the Met, Covent Garden, Opéra Bastille, La Scala, and such festivals as Glyndebourne and Aix-en-Provence. What a coincidence that his first name and his surname should be the same as those of the ultra-famous Gerald Moore, the greatest accompanist during golden decades. Anyway, G.M.M. gave precious support during the Colón evening.

            I have my reservations about some of the choices in the programme. First, I was sorry that there were no Lieder, not even from Richard Strauss. Second, I believe that singers in recitals should stick to their sexes: a woman should sing texts clearly designed for women, and a man those that are evidently masculine; self-evident, the reader may think, but often disregarded by artists; and there were several instances in this case.

            Third, she is a singer for joyful or melancholy music, but not for stark drama: the terrible content of "L´altra notte in fondo al mare", from Boito´s "Mefistofele", in which the mad Margherita , imprisoned, says that she was wrongly accused of killing her baby and her mother, needs a true tragedian such as Callas was. Finally, there was a bit too much Broadway in her gestures on certain pieces, in themselves rather crossover. A moot point is whether you like or not that artists should speak to the audience; I think it is a wrong trend, concerts are just that, music played or sung. She talked a good deal in a very American way (like Joyce Di Donato).

            She started with, yes, "Porgi amor", the initial aria of the Countess in "The Marriage of Figaro", in evident reminiscence of her Colón debut; the result was tasteful but the voice was not settled yet.  Two Händel arias followed: a fast, humoristic one from "Agrippina", early and Venetian-influenced; and the lovely "V´adoro pupille" sung by Cleopatra in "Giulio Cesare in Egitto"; she did well in both.

            Then, two welcome Massenet items: "C´est Thaïs, l´idole fragile" from the homonymous opera (neglected by the Colón since 1952), and the sad "Adieu, notrre petite table" (with its previous recitative) from "Manon". She felt quite comfortable in both.

            Saint-Saëns wrote 120 songs but they are little-known; "Soirée en mer", strophic, on a Victor Hugo text, seemed to me beautiful and fluid; both artists were fine. And then, a tribute to that delicious 1930s singer, Yvonne Printemps: the sensual "Je t´aime quand même" from the operetta "Les trois valses"; in it Fleming waltzed, singing with abandon.

            The pithiest part of the night was the fine selection of Neo-Romantic songs by Rachmaninov, who deserve wider recognition; of the five songs I mention three: "Oh cease thy singing, maiden fair", an orientalised melody (I have the recording of tenor John McCormack); "Lilac" contrasts a fast piano segment with an airy soprano tune, and "Spring waters" is expansive and better-known  as a Russian miniballet. Fleming was really good in all this group, her voice firm and brilliant.

            Apart from the Boito, the Italian pieces were light and though agreeably sung not idiomatic: "O del mio amato ben" (Donaudy), "Aprile" (Tosti) and "Mattinata" (Leoncavallo). I liked Fleming in the famous song "Estrellita" by the Mexican Manuel Ponce (the tune fits her like a glove) but she was over the top in "La morena de mi copla" by Carlos Castellano Gómez.

            Encores: lovely in the "Moon aria" from Dvorák´s "Rusalka" and melting in "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi", but not convincing in "I could have danced all night" from Loewe´s "My fair lady" (Julie Andrews was the right one for this). A nice sweet evening.


For Buenos Aires Herald

Kremerata Baltica: talented excentricity

 

            Few artists have had such a prolonged and successful career as Lettish violinist Gidon Kremer, born at Riga in 1947. By 1965 he was studying with no less than David Oistrakh at Moscow. In his early twenties he started on a sui generis, maverick way  that alternated the standard repertoire with innovative new material, some of it impregnated with the impish humor of a Shostakovich. His virtuosity impressed, but in a leaner, more modern style than his teacher´s.

            A gregarious man, he soon made friends among colleagues such as Argerich and they recorded brilliant Beethoven. Emulating our pianist´s love for chamber festivals with artists she appreciates, the violinist founded his own Lockenhaus Festival in Austria: there he often experimented with new composers along with the great classics, but he also did humoristic concerts (there´s a truly funny CD of that Kremer trait). And it was at Lockenhaus that he presented in 1997 the string orchestra he called Kremerata Baltica, integrated by 23 youthful interpreters from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the three Baltic countries liberated when the USSR imploded.

            Kremer was 50 then, he is now 69. His Kremerata (in itself a playful denomination) visited (according to the "biography" in the hand programme) 50 countries in 600 cities (!), offering a thousand concerts and recording 20 CDs. And they have their own Festival in Sigula, Latvia.

            During his young years Kremer did concertos with symphony orchestras, recitals with piano and chamber music. He came to BA with his pianist wife of that time and showed his double nature playing such curious things as a piece called "Ferdinand the Bull"! Biographies in our hand programmes have the nasty habit of giving no information about previous visits of the artists presented by the institution; they are just translations of an international short biography that often leaves out important information, and to boot sometimes are poorly translated. I can´t believe that Kremer should be described as the violinist with the most traditional career when he is quite the opposite, but that´s what´s printed...Anyway, although I don´t have an archive, I can vouchsafe that Kremer visited us several times, either in recitals or at least once with the Kremerata.

            Kremer (counting those of the Kremerata) has recorded 120 CDs and has premièred a great number of scores, especially from Russia and the Baltic countries. His contribution has been quite valuable and a reviewer has to take a trajectory into account. However, what we heard at the Coliseo for Nuova Harmonia was a prime example of talented excentricity, something rarely seen at that conservative concert association.

            So the evening was at turns fascinating and arbitrary. As playing I anticipate a verdict: bingo for the Kremerata, a crack group of fantastic players; but an uneven Kremer, sometimes below his reputation. And in the choice of scores, ear-opening novelties alternated with anodine ditties or bad arrangements.

            The Polish composer Miecyslaw Weinberg (1919-96) was known in the USSR as Moses Vainberg; a man of real creative power, friend of Shostakovich, his career was ruined by the detestable Cultural Commissar Andrei Zhdanov: Vainberg was arrested in 1953, for his composing was in "Jewish nationalist bourgeois style"... After Stalin´s death the artist was rehabilitated and gradually some of his music was recorded, but he is still little-known. In an incomprehensible mistake, the hand programme lists that we heard his Concerto for violin  and orchestra; no, it was the Concertino for violin and strings published posthumously in 2007; and in three movements, not four! It is a  beautiful work in a style that respects tradition but always has a personal touch, and it turned out to be the best interpretation from both Kremer and his orchestra.

            Although the audience went wild, I can´t agree about the strange arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov called "Quadro porteno", based on Piazzolla´s "Las Cuatro Estaciones porteñas"). The arranger mixes our composer with Vivaldi (bad joke) and veers from the Piazzolla style with winks to Salgán or Pugliese. Kremer´s playing was often harsh but the orchestra was splendid, especially the cellist Giedre Dirvanauskeite.

            The high point of the evening was the very skillful arrangement for strings by Jacques Cohen (b. 1969) of Mussorgsky´s wonderful "Pictures at an Exhibition", though the addition of percussion by Andrei Pushkarev (member of the Kremerata, along with a colleague, for just this score) wasn´t always helpful. But the playing of the orchestra was memorable, goaded by the extraordinary concertino Dzeraldas Bidva: not just technical perfection but an ideal understanding of each picture´s content.

             Here comes the moot point. For Kremer did a strange thing: he asked the audience not to applaud until the last item and started the Second Part playing Tchaikovsky´s "Melancholy Serenade" in a correct arrangement by Desyatnikov played lightly by Kremer, without the rich tone such music requires; he went discreetly off the stage and Mussorgsky started. And as the tremendous fortissimi of the last measures of "The Great Gate of Kiev" subsided to a pianissimo (!), Kremer came subtly back and played Valentyn Silvestrov´s slow short "Serenade" for solo violin, in this case appropriately softly...and that was the end!

            The encores, with soloist and orchestra, were disparate and opposed: a small Oriental melody, very quiet, "Umebayshi", by Jumi Lee; and what seemed like Shostakovich in his most unbridled sarcastic humor but turned out to be Vainberg´s music for a cartoon, "Bonifacio´s vacation", brilliantly played.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

Three interesting concerts in two days


             Choice is difficult in our intense musical life, especially for a reviewer. I miss several worthwhile events every week, generally due to collisions. Last Tuesday I didn´t have a problem and I went to the so-called Impressionist Gala of La Bella Música. But on Wednesday I was present at 1 pm at the Mozarteum Midday Concert, at 5 pm I relished a Shakespeare in Symphonic Music session at the Colón, and at 8pm, same place, I saw the ballets of "Contemporary night". And I missed what must have been a delectable concert of Slavic songs by Daniela Tabernig and Alexander Panizza organised by the Fundación Música de Cámara at the Museo de Arte Decorativo at 7 pm.

            La Bella Música gives its concerts this year at the Brick Hotel (ex Caesar Park) in an ample First Floor hall of acceptable acoustics. They presented the Cuarteto Petrus, surely one of the best we have, in the two emblematic quartets of Impressionism, those of Debussy and Ravel. A short but pithy programme (57 minutes), a typical coupling of vinyl LP times. And a hard one to supplement, for the French production of quartets is lean, and those that come to  mind aren´t Impressionistic. Outside that aesthetic line options could be relatively short quartets by Roussel, Milhaud or Fauré (a late, autumnal and severe score).

            Debussy´s Quartet was written when he was 31, mulling over his first orchestral masterpiece, "Prélude à l´après-midi d´un faune". The Quartet is beautiful and complex, making the most of small melodic cells; however, its textures are a bit dense now and then. Ravel´s dates from 1903, ten years later, and it shows: at 28 he handles the medium with greater skill; the sounds are more aerated and special uses of the strings are more often employed. It is a fascinating score, quite Impressionistic.

            Cellular phones were heard rather often during the Debussy performance; in the brief interval La Bella Música´s President Patricia Pouchulu scolded the offenders, and the first violinist Pablo Saraví said "we don´t want competition". Was this a factor in the relatively less accomplished Debussy performance as compared with the Ravel? Perhaps. But these first-rate professionals emitted some rather harsh sounds and omitted subtleties that were needed, with the exception of violist Adrián Felizia, who maintained a lovely timbre and perfect technique in both scores. Saraví, Hernán Briático (second violin) and Gloria Pankaeva (cello) were below their considerable best in Debussy, but fortunately found their form in Ravel, which went very well. As did their encore, not Impressionistic indeed, a typical Piazzolla piece.

             The Indiana University Virtuosi have visited us before, though it isn´t mentioned in the hand programme, and at the same place, the Gran Rex.  They were here on June 20, 2013. The Jacobs School of Music Virtuosi is in Bloomington, the biggest of the eight campuses of this great university (115.000 students). The group that came now was stunning: nine violinists (boys and girls between 14- and 18-years-old) playing with total unanimity, splendid timbric quality and exact tuning. No wonder they have so many admirable orchestras in the USA: many youngsters have natural talent but they also undergo intensive and well-oriented training such as this school provides.

            Mimi Zweig is the Directress of the String Academy, though in this tour the players were accompanied by two Co-Directresses, Brenda Brenner and Susan Moses, and in concert by pianist Wonmin Kim, always clean and well coordinated with the violinists. One astonishing thing: the kids didn´t use scores, everything was committed to flawless memories.

            Two pieces were played by soloists with piano: Sydney Hartwick (a girl) in a clever arrangement of Saint-Saëns´ "Dance macabre" and Maria Sanderson in Wieniawski Polonaise Nº1; both were very good. Kreisler´s Neo-baroque Prelude and Allegro and Telemann´s truly Baroque Concerto for four violins were both played by the nine violinists with no change in the scores. After a folk interlude (the Russian Gypsy "Two guitars") and the solo pieces we heard a well-conceived arrangement by Atar Arad of Bartók´s Sonatina for piano, here for nine players divided in threes. Then, three scenes from Bizet´s "Carmen" in an idiomatic arrangement by Gilles Tremblay and a North South Medley by Francisco Cortés-Álavrez that includes two tangos. And of course some Piazzolla for encore...

            The Orquesta Académica del Instituto Superior de Arte del Colón gives free concerts at the theatre on certain afternoons. This time Guillermo Scarabino, who has a vast career and has been associated with the Académica since its foundation, chose with intelligence three scores inspired on Shakespeare: a selection from the music for the Kozintsev film "Hamlet" (1964) by Shostakovich; the three "Comentarios para ´Romeo y Julieta´ " by Carlos López Buchardo (incidental music for a 1934 staging of the play); and the Suite from the music for the film "Henry V" by William Walton as compiled by Muir Mathieson, who was the conductor of the soundtrack for Laurence Olivier´s fine direction (1944).

            The Shostakovich pieces are stark and impressive, with ominous orchestrations ("The Ghost", "Poisoning Scene"); López Buchardo gives us images of youthful love before the tragedy in nice, very tonal music; and Walton alternates soft melodic pieces with others connected with the Globe Theatre and the Battle of Agincourt (citing its famous old tune). All was played rather well in this short (47 minutes) concert, presented and conducted by Scarabino with professional aplomb.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

“Contemporary night”, a quartet of dissimilar ballets

            In recent seasons the Colón Ballet offered  varied Contemporary Trilogies, changing them each year. This time what we have is a quartet: two premières commissioned by the Colón to Argentine choreographers, and two famous works by established choreographers which hadn´t been seen at our great house.  The results were uneven but sufficiently valid to justify the evening. And all four were very different from each other.

            The start wasn´t very enticing. "Amor, el miedo desaparecerá" ("Love, fear will disappear") is the work of Walter Cammertoni, who hails from Córdoba and has created "Consecuencias" for Maximiliano Guerra´s Ballet del Mercosur. Paradoxically what interested me was the music: Johann Sebastian Bach´s great Chaconne for solo violin (closing Partita Nº2) heard fragmentarily in its original form, in the cello adaptation by Robert Bockmühl, in the flashily Romantic Busoni piano transcription, and briefly at the end in Stokowski´s full orchestra version. But the dancing steps were morose and grey, too literally like the choreographer´s description: "a lost man, downtrodden and trampled, who also wounds and abandons".

            Although at the end there was an imaginative suggestion of raindrops in the stage design of Santiago Pérez, the cold impression was accentuated by Renata Schussheim´s costumes. Roberto Traferri´s lighting gave the requisite contrasts. Thirteen dancers from the Resident Ballet and five from the Art Institute did their best to give some life to a very static piece.

            Constanza Macras lives in Berlin since 1995; in 2003 she founded with dramaturgist Carmen Mehnert the company of dance theatre Constanza Macras/Dorky Park, combining dance, spoken text, video and live music, on such subjects as segregation or globalisation. She follows those guidelines in "Bosque de Espejos" ("Mirrors Wood"): in it reflexions on the human body by Michel Foucault are said by aged dancers; the music contrasts Lieder by Berg and Webern (admirably done by Carla Filipcic Holm and Fernando Pérez) with choral music by Purcell and Bach (a good chamber choir directed by Ulises Maino and accompanied by organist Ezequiel Fautario).

            Norma Molina and Ricardo Ale, veteran resident dancers, enact scenes from "Giselle" and "Romeo and Juliet" both dealing with death. Along with two younger soloists (Carla Vincelli and Alejandro Parente) an ample group of 21 dancers do complex psychological steps that seem to combine Merce Cunningham´s influence with classical ballet. Macras has brought along her production team: stage designs by Laura Gamberg, meaningful costumes by Allie Saunders and expert lighting by Sergio Pessanha. Macras is creative and audacious; even if one doesn´t always like the results, there´s a sensitive mind at work.

            Nacho Duato has had a distinguished career: after early experience in London, Brussels, New York, Stockholm and Holland  with great choreographers, he was named in 1990 Artistic Director of the Compañía Nacional de Danza at Madrid and stayed there until 2007; during that period he came to Buenos Aires with his company twenty years ago, and presented at the Teatro San Martín among other things "Por vos muero" ("I die for you"), a beautiful Neoclassic ballet based on texts of Garcilaso de la Vega and with a fine selection of old Spanish music interpreted by Jordi Savall´s group.     Guerra asked Duato´s permission to revive the ballet at the Colón, and Duato tells in the hand programme that he is very excited to present one of his works for the first time at the Colón; he even praises the rehearsals, so I suppose that Catharine Habasque and Kim McCarthy have been faithful to the original in this revival. Done with much style and precision by eleven dancers, with lovely music very adequate for dancing, fine stage design by Duato and costumes by Duato and Ismael Aznar (I liked the ones for women but found the bare-legged men contradictory with the refined ambience otherwise present), plus skillful lighting by Nicolás Fischtel, this was for me the best part of the evening. The voice of Miguel Bosé communicated the moving verses of De la Vega admirably.

            William Forsythe is considered in Europe an important choreographer; he was for twenty years at the head of the Frankfurt Ballet, and when it closed, he formed The Forsythe Company. Somehow his work was never seen at the Colón until now, when his most famous piece was premièred; it has a strange title, "In the middle, somewhat elevated", and it was commissioned by Nureyev for the Paris Opera in 1987. Frankly, I won´t mince words: I hated the music of his long-time collaborator Thom Willems, a continuous electronic clangor in strong but unvaried rhythm.

            Kathryn Bennetts was in charge of this revival; she says: "this work extends, prolongs and pushes classical technique...It is the most abstract and innovative choreography of its time".  The girls dance in points but with expansive, athletic postures, and the men must certainly be in fine shape to cope with the material. Costumes and lighting are by the choreographer .

            Nine dancers impressed with their display of agility and coordination. Although the Colón Ballet is in dire need of institutional reform, it certainly has very capable artists. But due to the lack of competitions, right now there´s only one prima ballerina (no male counterpart), three official soloists (including Silvina Perillo, who danced her goodbye two years ago), and all the rest have no recognised rank, although as you read the names you find all those that dance main roles ...


For Buenos Aires Herald

Admirable Mahler from Neuhold and the National Symphony

             German conductor Günter Neuhold gave a very good concert with the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) at the Blue Whale on May 13; I wrote about it in the Herald. This time, on June 15 and 17 (I attended the latter), it was even better. Neuhold is a distinguished Austrian born in 1947 who has held posts at Parma, Flanders, Karlsruhe, Bremen and Bilbao. Equally at home in opera and concert music, his excellent technique (disciple of the famous Swarowsky and Ferrara) and vast trajectory are coupled with deep stylistic study of the scores;  his presence with the NS is quite positive (he has conducted them in earlier seasons).

            There was a further reason to be optimistic: the fine curriculum of the Canadian violinist (Montreal, 1979) Alexandre Da Costa (debut). Two thousand concerts, many premières  and twenty CDs whilst still quite young speak of his capacity. He chose Max Bruch´s famous First Concerto, written in 1866; proving the lack of coordination betwen our city´s orchestras, it was also played by Xavier Inchausti (curiously, the NS´ second concertino) on June 16 at the Coliseo with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic conducted by Tolcachir.

            Bruch wrote for violin and orchestra no less than eight scores; once in a while it would be nice to vary the diet, especially with the Second Concerto. But there´s no doubt that the First Concerto rules with good reason, for it has convincing melodism, innovations in form and perfect imbrication between soloist and orchestra.

            From the start Da Costa showed four principal qualities: a terse, beautiful sound; very accurate playing in tune; precise articulation; and musical phrasing at all speeds. Just one caveat: I would have welcomed a richer, more Romantic tone (what he did was ideal for Mozart, rather). But it´s true that Neuhold gave its full due to the orchestra, as much a protagonist as the soloist (and that´s surely right).  The Concerto emerged then as a collaboration whose joins were impeccable.

            Da Costa´s encore was a surprise: a fast Jimi Hendrix piece (!) where Da Costa was accompanied by the "pizzicati" of cellist José Araujo. I liked the music and it was dazzlingly played. Valid crossover.

            I met Mahler´s First Symphony in an early batch of LPs in 1952: Mitropoulos conducting the Minneapolis Symphony. I was in the first of my teenager years and it marked my musical life ever since. From 1953 to 1970 I heard it in eight concerts,  evidence that this was the only Mahler symphony that could be considered repertoire then, and with such able conductors as Sevitzky, Van Otterloo, Frühbeck de Burgos, Moralt, L.Ludwig, Horenstein and Dixon. It has been a staple ever since, and it stands to reason: probably , along with Brahms´, they are the best First Symphonies in history.  

             Neuhold´s reading was on the highest plane, with extraordinary attention to every nuance asked by Mahler, the most obsessive of all composers concerning score indications. E.g., in the initial movements of the First movement a fanfare must be heard from afar, and it was calibrated magisterially. Or the parodic moments of that so original Funeral march on Frère Jacques, never exaggerated but making their point. (One divergence, though: the movement must begin with just one bass playing in the minor the melody, and here there were several; why? The acoustics are very clear and a single bass in pianissimo is heard).

            The careful buildup of climaxes was sensitively followed by the very attentive orchestra, and in the fourth movement the final minutes were overwhelming, but never forced: the players in topnotch condition. I was reduced to tears as also happened last year at the very end of the Second, then conducted by Diemecke.

            I mentioned Minneapolis earlier in this review: that city, capital of Minnesota, a cold Northern state, had one of the best orchestras of the USA, and recorded memorably under Ormandy, Mitropoulos and Dorati. Now they call it the Minnesota Orchestra, a bad change;  it´s still first-rate. Minneapolis and Saint Paul are divided by the Mississippi River and they are called The Twin Cities. It´s from them that come the players of the Minnesota Youth Orchestra, made up of the best high school musicians; they gave a debut concert here at the Law School (Facultad de Derecho) conducted by the experienced Mark Russell Smith.

            Their programme included two premières from the USA and a standard symphony. John Williams is famous as film composer; we heard "The Cowboys Overture", based on his music for the homonymous 1972 film. It is loud, rhythmic and melodic. "Into the Wild" was written by a Minnesota musician, Jacob Bancks, for the orchestra; in two movements (almost 19 minutes). The first is slow but has a nervous, quirky episode; the second is violent and dissonant. The Orchestra, rather big (about 80)  played with youthful enthusiasm under the very professional baton of Smith.

            Brahms´ Second Symphony is his most leisurely, and felt more so, for the conductor observed the repeat of the exposition of the first movement, thus lasting 23 minutes! It was a serious, generally well-played performance, except for some horn mistakes. Encores: the vigorous Malambo from Ginastera´s "Estancia"  and Bach´s Aria from the Third Suite, sensitively played. Of course, throughout the afternoon the resonant acoustics didn´t help.

            Curiosity: only ten days before, another Minnesota youth orchestra played here: the St. Olaf.


For Buenos Aires Herald 


From Jerusalem a cosmopolitan chamber ensemble

             The Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival has visited us often during the last decade, always via the Mozarteum and at the Colón. Apart from its quality, which makes them welcome, there is (I believe) another reason for this frequency: programmes are centered around pianist Elena Bashkirova, founder of the group, who happens to be Daniel Barenboim´s wife. And of course Barenboim is doing a yearly festival of his own at the Colón, always at the end of July and the first days of August, bringing along his orchestra and their son, violinist Michael Barenboim.

            True, this year there´s a considerable gap in time between her appearance and the Barenboims´ and I don´t know her calendar, so she may play here and return  accompanying offstage her family. Anyway, the pattern exists.

            Bashkirova is the daughter of the eminent Russian pianist Dmitri Bashkirov and she is one of the positive artists of her generation, with a vast high-level career. She founded the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival in 1998 and has been since then her Artistic Directress. It is a seasonal Festival with changing personnel offering their talent during some weeks, and -as in this case- it can be itinerant. Jerusalem unites them for a time; however, it isn´t an Israelite group but a cosmopolitan one.  It follows that no visit resembles the earlier one. 

            Semantically it seems to me that their appellation is equivocal, for the term Festival implies a series of events, not an isolated concert, but as they change chameleon-like, there´s no such thing with this ensemble as a steady trio, quartet or quintet; what matters, though, is what they bring to us. In this instance, it was  a clever and intelligent combination of textures between piano, clarinet, violin and cello.

            The other players were Chen Halevi, clarinet, from Israel; Mihaela Martin, violin, Romanian; and Frans Helmerson, cello, Swedish. Two of them (the strings, of course) are part of the Michelangelo Quartet. All have wide experience in chamber music.

            The programme was long (about a hundred minutes) and valid, placing two great Twentieth Century composers (Hindemith and Bartók) between two masters of yore, Beethoven and Schubert. Beethoven´s Trio Op.ll is the only for clarinet, cello and piano; he wrote it in 1797, at a time when the creator was young (27), in good health,  considered one of the best pianists of his time and a brilliant composer. The music is still more Classicist than early Romantic; in those 20 minutes there are a joyful and inventive first movement, a beautifully melodic Adagio, and a Finale based on the tune of a vocal Trio from a Joseph Weigl opera, much liked at the time ("L´amor marinaro") where Beethoven shows his ability in the Theme and Variations form. That Weigl melody was so popular that it became a "Gassenhauer" (a street song), and that´s the  nickname of this Trio.

            Bashkirova´s sovereign command of the piano was evident throughout, as well as her sense of style and crystalline touch. Halevi proved to be a virtuoso, with firm attack of high notes, control of dynamics and great fluidity in the difficult runs. Helmerson was uneven, with sensitive and songful arches of melody, but also some glaring mistakes.

            Unfortunately Hindemith isn´t trendy nowadays; this important composer is shamefully neglected, so I was glad to get to know his Quartet for the unlikely combination of clarinet, violin, cello and piano, written in 1938 at the transitional time of his life when he was preparing his exile to Switzerland (Hitler had denounced his art as "degenerate"!), whilst in Zurich all concerned were rehearsing the première of his mighty opera "Mathis the Painter" (still not premièred here...). Hindemith was amazing in another sense: he was a professional violinist and violist but also played passably nine other instruments, and he composed sonatas for tuba and viola d´amore!

            After an iconoclastic youth, at 43 he returned to more traditional tonality and counterpoint, as the closely argued three-movement, 30-minute quartet we heard demonstrated. The four recordings I found in my catalogue are in small labels hard to find, so there was need for rather fierce concentration to absorb the powerful craftsmanship of the music. I take it on faith that we were given a responsible reading, for I have no score.

            In 1940 Bartók also was an exile, but in New York. Benny Goodman liked his music and asked for two fast pieces to record; Bartók´s friend, violinist Joseph Szigeti, joined the project; the composer added a third movement, and "Contrasts" was born, in fact a Trio. Their recording is the historic reference. A recruiting dance (Verbunkos) is followed by "Repose" (slow) and crowned by a vibrant "Sebes"  of Romanian influence. After correct but tame performances of the first two pieces, the interpretation became fiery in the third, responding to the pungent rhythms (splendid the clarinettist).

            Schubert´s marvelous First Trio for piano and strings is a work of full maturity, which means that he was 30 (he died one year later...). The reading was musical and in good taste, but it lacked energy; Schubert isn´t Brahms; however, to play it at the Colón you need ampler volume and more accent. The violinist´s tone is sweet and true, but with no bite when needed, and the cellist was again better in ample melodies than in demanding moments.  The pianist was by far the most reliable member.


For Buenos Aires Herald