sábado, octubre 21, 2006

Mauricio Kagel, music’s “enfant terrible”

Argentina’s most famous composers are in exile. Mauricio Kagel is now 75 and he chose to live in Germany almost half a century ago; Osvaldo Golijov, much younger, is having a huge success in the United States and of course lives there. Kagel, whose ancestors were German Jews, felt at 26, in 1957, that the time was ripe to leave Argentina, where he had studied and worked until then (he was a “répétiteur” at the Colón); he got a German Government scholarship and went to the Cologne Radio. That was the start of a brilliant career as composer, conductor of modern music and of his own and as director of various musical institutions. The German Government cultivated an image of promotion of the new, and Kagel was artisan and iconoclastic enough to be a politically correct “enfant terrible” of music. Interested in the cinema and in music theatre, his eclectic music often has a heavily referential stance; satire and parody, quotes from the past, experiments in cross over, and sometimes "happenings" that are no more than "boutades”, combine in his films and his theatrical pieces. But he has also written a lot for the concert hall in a variety of styles. He has always had plenty of support from the German intelligentsia and after such a prolonged life over there he is certainly more a German than an Argentine. About 30 years ago he came back here and offered a concert of his works; it was badly received, it was felt that there was too much pose and too little substance for him to be called an important composer. Now, thirty years later, he has had a triumphant success in several concerts and a conference. The excuse was his 75th. anniversary, and he had complete support from the City. Except the conference and a chamber concert at Villa Ocampo, I was present at all the rest. And I liked the experience more than I thought I would. No, I don’t think he’s important, but he’s often fun. The Colón’s inaugural concert of the Kagel Festival began in the open air with a rather silly Dada thing: about a hundred cyclists went pedalling by the front of the Colón’s main entrance making little noises in something called “A Breeze”; a half-hour wait for a one-minute “performance” called a “fugitive action”. Then the concert started indoors, and late. The local players were Suden and Compañía Oblicua prepared by Marcelo Delgado and conducted by Kagel with clear, rotund gestures, very German. I felt more rehearsal was needed, but they did some good work. First, five of the ten “Marches to ruin a victory”, for band and percussion (1979), obviously pacifist and sarcastically ill-sounding in a Weill mood. Then, a rather arid and too-long “Chamber symphony” (1973) for 13 soloists in two movements. Finally, “...the 24th of December 1931”, “truncated news for baritone and instruments” (199l), a witty idea for it consists of musical comments to clippings from German newspapers edited on the day of Kagel’s birth... and they include an account of a riot at Villa Devoto! But in the seven fragments there are also references to Hitler’s regime (“The National Socialist only smokes “Parole” ! “) or to bells from Bethlehem actioning other bells in New York through electric current. All of this was very well sung or said by baritone Roland Hermann and the music seemed imaginative. “Mare Nostrum” was seen at the Margarita Xirgú Theatre under the auspices of the Colón Center for Experimentation. It has as subtitle “Discovery, liberation and conversion of the Mediterranean by an Amazonian tribe” (1975), which certainly hints at broad satire, and the text is also Kagel’s. The original German was translated into Spanish by Juan María Solare. It was sung with clear diction and real theatrical sense by baritone Maurizio Leoni and by the black countertenor Charles Maxwell, both with good vocal equipment. And it was beautifully played by the 6-piece Divertimento Ensemble under Sandro Gorli. With a simple and efficacious staging by Kagel the tribe conquers Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Palestine, making broad fun of every country (e.g.,the “Alla turca” from Mozart’s Sonata No. 11 is subjected to a funny travesty, but he also irreverently mocks Jerusalem’s Wall of Lamentation). The end is stunning: Maxwell, a statuesque man looking like a Mapplethorpe photo, strips almost naked and does a Salome dance; Herod stabs him to death. Most of the music and text were ingenious, and it was useful to have the text in the programme as a “separata”. Two Kagel pieces played by the Buenos Aires Phil I will leave for a further article on that orchestra’s season, so I will only refer to the integral performance at the Xirgú of Kagel’s “The Mariner’s Compass”, eight pieces for an instrumental ensemble (some were already known here), well done by the Ensemble Suden under Delgado. Kagel gives precise indications of the particular sense of each piece, and the work was composed for the concert stage; it is very eclectic, sometimes trivial music, though some ideas are interesting. For the most part I didn’t enjoy the videos imagined by Argentine artists to accompany the music; I found only two or three aesthetic enough and some were rather revulsive. All in all, Kagel’s visit had its valid points and at least now we are informed about him. 20/08/06 para el Buenos Aires Herald

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