jueves, noviembre 29, 2007

The Colón in deep trouble

Since 1998 the Teatro Colón has gone through difficult times, marked by grave conflicts that have sometimes interrupted the season, such as the feud over the non-payment of rentals of musical scores, or the labor strikes late in 2005, or the scandals that ruined the Argerich Festival, and of course the tremendous impact of devaluation and of a perverse contracting system that doesn't allow hiring an artist with the at least three-year advance required by international conditions. Add to that the delay in the Master Plan of renovation that has kept the Colón closed since last November; now the confession is out: the Colón centenary in May 2008 will find the theatre still under intensive restoration, against all promises of the authorities; a very tentative date of reopening is October 2008. So, as Marcelo Lombardero had to do this year, the season should be offered in alternative venues. But the General Director designate, Dr. Horacio Sanguinetti, has already announced that there will be no season.

His rationale is simple: recently the Telerman Administration sent about 400 telegrams intimating retirement to Colón employees 65-years-old and older. Promptly the affected personnel has already sent writs of administrative action against the Government for gross unfairness, for their pensions will be quite low according to the old system. After the mentioned strikes, pensions were "whitened" ; up to then, as much as 60% of the theatre's salaries wasn't considered for the pensions. As you know, the absurd system in our country provides that only the salary of the last ten years is taken into consideration for the calculus of the pension (which leads to very unjust situations where a manager who made high contributions during decades but is fired at 55 and afterwards finds no job will get the lowest pension).

And that's the gist of the problem: all Colón employees between 56 and 65 years old and beyond are penalized because some or all of their work years will be in "black" and won't fully count for the pension. The Theatre's population is obviously too old; those 400 that were urged to retire are 65 and over, and should be pensioned off. But... an essential agreement after the strikes had been that those employees 56 to 65 and over would be included in a special compensation system to keep their income reasonable after retirement. And...nothing was done! So those 400 , as they come from all the personnel, affect with their absence the operative logistics. You can't have an orchestra with 30 less people .

There are solutions but Sanguinetti doesn't seem to contemplate them. In truth, the right way would have been to put in place the compensation system and then call for the covering of the vacant posts through adequate competitive contests , and this should have been done during the Ibarra and Telerman governments. Why did Telerman take such an irritative course just months away from the end of his mandate? A very moot point indeed. Was there an agreement with Mauricio Macri? In that case, why ?

Sanguinetti has simply closed down the shop. However, during many years there has been a much used expedient to cover vacancies: a limited-time contract. You certainly can find thirty competent dancers or choir singers, etc. That the total integration of the new people takes some time is true, and there will be signs of inexperience, but the season will be saved.

As is known, this year the operas were offered at the Coliseo, whose owners opened up the big pit that was left of the old building (torn down and rebuilt with completely new architecture in the Fifties), allowing for operas like "Elektra" to be played. The fact is that Marcelo Lombardero, the current Artistic Director, managed to put on an acceptable season, even with the limitations of that theatre (the stage isn't deep or large enough for big productions) and its dry acoustics (nevertheless, clear and strong). The Coliseo isn't ideal but it's the only option for the Colón (no other theatre has a big enough pit). But Sanguinetti won't have it, he prefers to discard the Coliseo and cancel the season. This is really lamentable, for the 2008 season was fully planned by Lombardero with dates reserved, opera titles decided upon and chosen casts with pre-contracts or letters of intention. Though these don't have the full force of a contract, they have to be honored if credibility is considered important. Those artists that now will have to find other places to perform will certainly have a jaundiced view of the Colón. Reputation matters.

Macri certainly hasn't been inspired in his cultural choices; having a good candidate, Ignacio Liprandi, for Minister of Culture (he had edited a campaign book, "Nuestra PROpuesta cultural", in which I collaborated with an article on the Colón), he dumped him for obscure reasons; tried to name Rodríguez Felder, whose published interviews provoked such rebuff that he too was eliminated; he finally chose Hernán Lombardi, whose special field is tourism, not culture. And Lombardi announced his cabinet, confirming Sanguinetti, but also naming a dreaded ex Director General of the Colón, Pablo Batalla, as "Secretario de Gestión Cultural". Sanguinetti has asked for the status of autarchy for the theatre, but until (and if) that happens he will remain under Lombardi and Batalla. No, things don't look good. Not good at all.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

martes, noviembre 20, 2007

Foreign orchestras end Big Three's seasons

It has been a steady trend of recent decades for the Big Three to offer foreign orchestras as a substantial part of the seasons; this year they ended their activity with distinguished visitors from abroad. The Mozarteum Argentino with the Sao Paulo Symphony under John Neschling ; Nuova Harmonia with the debut of the Warsaw Philharmonic conducted by Antoni Wit; and Festivales Musicales with the Galicia Symphony (debut) led by Víctor Pablo Pérez in the two final concerts of that institution.

This was the third BA encounter with the "Paulistas". In their first they played a stunning interpretation of Mahler's "Tragic" Symphony that left no doubt on my mind: this was surely the leading Latin-American orchestra. The authority and stamina of Neschling, the discipline and quality of each sector of the orchestra, the intense drive, all were first-rate . I was a bit less impressed the second time around, and I'm afraid that was my feeling this time as well. Mind you, I still believe it is a fine orchestra, a pleasure to hear and an example of how to achieve results, but some of the intensity in both organism and conductor is gone and there were very minor but discernible fissures in the playing .

I couldn't hear their first programme, including Gomes' Overture to "Il Guarany", the Sibelius Concerto for violin and the Shostakovich Fifth. The second started with a rarity, probably a premiere, the so-called cinema fantasy by Milhaud on his ballet "Le boeuf sur le toit", an irreverent and funny concoction based on the composer's nostalgia for Brazil. I prefer the original to this arrangement for violin and orchestra (with an interesting cadenza by Arthur Honegger) but it was beautifully played by American violinist James Ehnes (debut), who also did very well in the devilishly intricate "Tzigane" by Ravel. Neschling and the players accompanied with fine transparency and rhyhm in both cases. The violinist was a fine Bachian in his encores, "Prelude" and "Gigue" from "Partita No.3".

I did have some doubts, however, about their version of Tchaikovsky's difficult, uneven but often fascinating programmatic symphony "Manfred" (on Byron's Romantic antihero). Marginally unstuck unisons, some lack of electricity, but also beautifully clear intricate textures, euphony and tasteful phrasing (too tasteful?).

Two finely chosen and beautifully played encores: the "Brazilian Dance" by Camargo Guarnieri , and what probably was a premiere, the "Entr'acte" from Korngold's "The Snowman", written at eleven! (a lovely, schamaltzy waltz in Zemlinsky's orchestration).

I certainly welcome the debut of the Warsaw Philharmonic under its distinguished principal conductor, Antoni Wit. The organism has a long and distinguished history; starting in 1901.

A mishap put in jeopardy their local debut and delayed the beginning of the concert a whole hour: for some not clearly explained reason the instruments weren't sent simultaneously with the players and they –as us- had to wait until their artistic tools got to the Coliseo. The instrumentalists had their work clothes but curiously Wit didn't get them (his baton was also left behind and he conducted with his hands and without a coat). Worse, they couldn't rehearse and so had to adapt cold to the hall's acoustics. I believe thay are very good players and Wit a most able conductor, but probably they couldn't quite give their best in such conditions.

Paradoxically what I liked best as interpretation and execution was a short Polish work, Lutoslawski's "Petite Suite": charm, wittiness and rhythm. Players and conductor showed a total assimilation of the idiom.Then, a worthwhile discovery: the 24-year-old Chinese pianist Mei-Ting Sun played that hoary chestnut, Tchaikovsky's First Concerto, with such impulse and breathtaking brio –but also such lyricism in the slow melodies- that he made it appear new. There were many stunning passages, and the orchestra accompanied well.

Brahms' magnificent First Symphony is nevertheless an overplayed standard; the orthodox and unimpeachable version was certainly good enough but didn't go beyond that. I disagree with the encore for I don't accept mutilation: we heard parts 3 and 4 of Rossini's Overture "William Tell", very well done however.

I attended the two concerts of the Galicia Symphony (created 1992) under their Principal Conductor since 1993, Víctor Pablo Pérez (debut), and was pretty well impressed, for this typically cosmopolitan orchestra (more Slavs than Galicians in it) responds to a professional and somewhat impersonal mold: well-paid first-rate professionals and generous budgets to function , coupled with an eclectic and capable conductor. Responding to the character of this year's Festival, the first concert was all-Brahms: the Violin Concert with the admirable violinist Julian Rachlin (known here), whose gorgeous lyrical playing just needed more bite in some passages to be memorable; and the Fourth Symphony, very judiciously expounded by Pérez. Among the orchestral encores I enjoyed the zarzuela fragments: the waltz from "La Tempranica" (Jiménez) and the Prelude from "El Bateo" (Chueca).

The final concert was all Falla except for the charming short Galician work at the beginning, Andrés Gaos' "Nocturnal impression". Beautiful and idiomatic playing of three great works: "Noches en los jardines de Espana" with the splendid Catalan pianist Josep Colom (debut) , the suite from "El amor brujo" and the Suite No. 2 from "El sombrero de tres picos". New encores: the Prelude to "Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente" by Chueca, the First Dance from Falla's "La vida breve" and a lovely anonymous Galician song, well arranged.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald


lunes, noviembre 05, 2007

The Phil's varied season proceeds apace

The Buenos Aires Philharmonic (the Phil) is having an interesting and varied season as programmed by Julio Palacio. Although there have been changes on the originally announced season, this is almost impossible to avoid in such an uncertain context as the Colón is going through, and all programmes have had at least one good reason to attend them, for scores of real quality and undeservedly neglected were always present. Of course, I won't harp on the lack of true auditoriums that afflicts our city but it's still true that the Gran Rex and the Coronado (of the Teatro General San Martín) are inadequate.. Any way, the medium-sized Coronado may be dry but I prefer it to the weak and colorless , enormous Gran Rex. The so-called Winter Season took place at the former hall, with non-subscription concerts.

Chilean conductor Rodolfo Fischer made a rather neutral impression in a potentially fascinating session combining musical works on Romeo and Juliet: the fantasy overture by Tchaikovsky, fragments of Suites 1 and 2 of the Prokofiev ballet and three pieces from the dramatic symphony by Berlioz. Difficult and wonderful scores, they were read with indifference though with some technical accomplishment. Fischer also conducted the following concert, where he obtained reasonable results in Grieg's two suites from "Peer Gynt" (a logical homage on the composer's centenary of his death) and Ravel's "Spanish Rhapsody". However, the most valuable choice of the evening, five parts of "Iberia" by Albéniz in the orchestrations by Fernández Arbós (some very rarely heard) , fared poorly, with many mistakes and confused textures (granted, the orchestrations are sometimes too thick).

By far the best thing in the session conducted by José Luis Castillo (debut, Spanish living in Mexico) was the vibrant "Janitzio" by Silvestre Revueltas, seven dynamic minutes played here for only the second time and after 64 years. I was disappointed that Piazzolla's "Concert de Liege" for bandoneon and guitar couldn't be played (the score didn't arrive in time) and it was replaced by the oft-repeated Concerto for bandoneon with the habitual and skillful collaboration of Néstor Marconi. Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas brasileiras No.2 is a splendid work but it was mediocrely played (especially bad intonation from the celli). Gershwin's "Cuban Overture" completed this concert of American music. Castillo seemed competent but not exciting.

Arturo Diemecke is a favorite of the Phil's players, and although this year he isn't their Principal Director he was hired for four concerts and an opera, for his talent is undoubted. I saw the general rehearsal of a very short but intellectually stimulating programme based on Faust. He started with Ginastera's "Obertura para el Fausto criollo" (a classic of Argentine music), followed with the rarely heard and valuable "Faust Overture" by Wagner, did a colorful version of Liszt's magnificent "Mephisto Waltz No.1" and finished with five pieces from that strange and imaginative socre by Berlioz, "La Damnation de Faust". In the rehearsal the Phil responded well to Diemecke's enthusiastic and accurate indications.

I wasn't so happy about Diemecke's following concert. The programme had been grossly modified; out went "Rítmica ostinata" by J.C.Paz and R.Strauss' "Four last songs" , in went some Mendelssohn ("Fingal's Cave" and "Nocturne" and "Wedding March" from "A Midsummer Night's Dream") and Elgar ("Pomp and Circumstance No.1"); and the evening's main piece, Bruckner's Symphony No. 1, was transferred to the First Part and very superficially done. It was a DAIA concert in homage to the victims of the terrorists 13 years ago.

Back at the Gran Rex for the second part of the subscription series. English conductor Jan Latham Koenig offered a short but difficult programme, with the premiere of the brief Weber Overture "Lord of the Spirits" (pleasant, no more) and of Hans Werner Henze's Symphony No. 1, who wrote ten; No.1 dates from 1947 but was revised in 1963 and 1991, for chamber orchestra and omitting one movement. It lasts only 17 minutes and is quite complex. Latham Koenig showed his mettle in this and in Franck's intense Symphony and the Phil had a good night. I unfortunately couldn't hear Latham Koenig's non-subscription concert premiering Julio Viera's "Three nocturnes", including Schubert's Symphony No. 8 ("Unfinished") and Weill's "The Seven Deadly Sins" with Ute Lemper, the greatly talented German artist.

Pedro Calderón, who was the Phil's Principal Conductor for almost 25 years, gave his Golden Jubilee concert (50 years since his first concert with the Phil). I saw the general rehearsal: a well-written premiere by Argentine composer Claudio Alsuyet ("...de luces"), two French works for violin and orchestra with Sami Merdinian, Argentine, substituting the French player Virginie Robilliard: Chausson's expressive Poem and Saint-Saens' "Introduction and Rondo capriccioso" (Merdinian was excellent), and Sibelius' expansive Fifth Symphony in a valuable performance.

I was badly placed in the Gran Rex's last row for the concert conducted by Jorge Rotter; the acoustics were especially irritating. But a long-awaited premiere took place: that of Nielsen's Symphony No.2, "The four temperaments". The Argentine conductor lives in Salzburg . Nielsen's very personal idiom comes in the Second Symphony to an important stage of maturity and the score impresses in many senses; it was reasonably well played. Gandini's tenuous "Eusebius", written for four chamber orchestras, was too subtle for this problematic hall. Horacio Lavandera played with his usual firm mechanism Rachmaninov's Third Concerto but his interpretation seemed to me rather wan and uninteresting.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald