sábado, diciembre 18, 2010

The charms of vocal music

One of the steadiest and most reliable purveyors of fine Baroque vocal music is the Bach Academy, “daughter” of Festivales Musicales. Under the always enthusiastic and knowledgeable leadership of Mario Videla, we go to the Central Methodist Church assured of hearing beautiful music almost always well-played and-sung.
Witness the concert in which we heard Pergolesi´s Stabat Mater but in Bach´s version (premiere) as “Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden” (“Redeem, Highest, my sins”). It is divided in ten versicles and it abandons the Virgin´s lament for Jesus by an adaptation of Psalm 51. It has the BWV number 1083 and got a modern edition only in 1980. An extraordinary transformation into German Baroque of a jewel of Neapolitan music, the music is divided, as the original, into duos or solos. Beautiful singing by soprano Mónica Capra, and just a notch below, by countertenor Martín Oro. The psalm was preceded by the Concerto in G for flute, two violins and continuo, doubtfully attributed to Pergolesi, charming and accomplished music, played with those same attributes by Claudio Barile. The String Soloists of the Bach Academy and Videla in organ accompanied splendidly both scores.

We owe the Bach Academy an inordinate number of premieres of Bach´s about 200 extant sacred cantatas. Still another happy circumstance was to hear Cantata Nº 114, “Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost” (“Ah, dear Christians, be consoled”), for three vocal soloists, flute, two oboes, strings and continuo. A splendid fast and rhythmic chorus sets things going; then, a long tenor aria with flute obligato, an expressive baritone recitative and a final chorale only for sopranos and continuo. Before the cantata we heard two other premieres: a very agreeable and concise Concerto in F for oboe, strings and continuo by Christoph Graupner (1683-2760), the man who brought Bach to Leipzig; and a curious “Introduction to the predications of Catechism”, Fk/6, by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, for chorus, strings and continuo. Very good playing by oboist Andrés Spiller and the Soloists of the Bach Academy, nice singing by the Grupo de Canto Coral under Néstor Andrenacci, and good vocal soloists: Damián Ramírez, countertenor; Matías Tomasetto, tenor; and Norberto Marcos, baritone.
The Grupo Vocal de Difusión under Mariano Moruja is certainly one of the best and most studious chamber choirs we have. They offered at the CETC (the Colón´s Center for Experimentation) an important programme featuring the seven-part “Le cantique des cantiques”, very expressive pieces by Daniel-Lesur (1908-2002) on the Song of Songs, and then representative contemporary scores by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi (“Canticum calamitatis maritimae”) (Finland, 1963), “Nachklänge” (“Echoes”) by Robert Heppener (Holland, 1925) and Eric Whitacre´s “When David heard…” (USA, 1970). The Finnish piece is a lament on the sinking of the Estonia (1994), “Echoes” divides the choir into four groups in different places giving a quadraphonic hearing, and Whitacre´s work is also a lament, of David over Absalom. Fine voices, very disciplined singing and a concentrated director gave their full due to these scores.
A Swiss vocal quartet with piano, La Passeggiata, who had already sung for Alicia Terzian´s Festival Encuentros de Música Contemporánea, gave a pleasant recital at the auditorium of the National Library. The chosen music was light: several Swiss songs by Carlo Hemmerling, René Falquet and Jean-François Monot were followed by the Gypsy Songs by Brahms and the Four Slovak Popular Songs by Bartók. Although the voices aren´t especially good, they sing together with fine adjustment and taste and are well accompanied by pianist Claudine Siffert.
John Rutter (1945) has had success in England with his tonal, almost crossover music. A good example is his 1990 Magnificat, hardly sacral but certainly easy on the ear. It must be fun to sing although it leaves no spiritual trace. Lasting only 35 minutes, the programme was surely too short. It happened at AMIJAI and was very agreeably sung by the Grupo Coral Divertimento (a big 96-voice amateur choir) under Néstor Zadoff and correctly accompanied by a 33-player orchestra. Pity that the soprano soloist (Patricia Douce) was weak.
Johannes Brahms´ “A German Requiem” is one of the supreme masterpieces and I am always freshly moved by any half-decent performance. The one by the Orquesta Académica de Buenos Aires and the Coro Lagun Onak under Carlos Calleja was more than that: it was solid and musicianly. It had an admirable baritone (Norberto Marcos) and a good soprano (Ana Moraitis) and was only marred by the excessive reverberation of the Salón de Actos de la Facultad de Derecho UBA.
The fine choral cycle that takes place every first Sunday of the season at the Central Methodist Church had a high point with the Conjunto Musica Prohibita under Pablo Banchi, a severe choir of men´s voices. They sang an extremely instructive and beautiful programme called “The masters of Venice from Willaert to Monteverdi”, roughly 1550-1630, with the sort of dedicated concentration one can only respect.
Bach´s Cantata Nº 55 “Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht” (“Me, poor man, slave of sin”) has a typically pietist text which I don´t enjoy, but the music is expressive Baroque at its best. Dutch tenor Sebastian Brouwer did well this difficult music. The Coro Trilce under Andrenacci only sang the final Chorale. We also had two Religious Arias by Georg Melchior Hoffmann (1679-1715), rather interesting, and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach´s dramatic Adagio and Fugue in D minor. Fine playing from the Soloists of the Bach Academy under Videla.

viernes, diciembre 17, 2010

A final panorama of recitals and chamber music

This is wrapping-up time for the musical season prior to the January desert, so herewith a selective panorama of recitals and chamber music.

Due to a trip to France, I could only hear two of the almost always interesting concerts of the International Festival Chopiniana led by Martha Noguera. The chosen venue is however a dicey proposition, for the oval room of the Círculo Militar is both very beautiful and extremely resonant.
Jorge Naquit is a strange case. “Revelation 2010 of the Academia Chopiniana”, this Platense pharmacist who has worked successfully at his trade in Montreal and Sao Paulo is also a disciple of Elizabeth Westerkamp and Elsa Puppulo. Now fortyish, he is finally giving recitals. It´s hard to be completely fluent with this biography, but Naquit´s uneven playing seems to show that with steady concert-giving he could be one of our notable pianists, for he is certainly very musical and intense. His all-Chopin programme included the Impromptus, the op.28 Preludes and the “Heroic” Polonaise. The encore was Rachmaninov´s Prelude Nº 5, op.23 Nº5. He did stumble in some tough passages, sometimes notoriously, but at many other points we felt the phrasing of a true artist.
It´s worth mentioning the pianists I couldn´t hear: the Argentines Emiliano Turchetta, Tomás Alegre and Noguera herself, plus Martin Kasik (Czech), Slawomir Dobrzynski (Polish) and Miceal O´Rourke (Irish). The Siberian Konstantin Scherbakov (1963) gave an immensely assured and professional recital. After three immaculate D. Scarlatti sonatas he changed the announced Sonata Hob XVI/49 by Haydn with Chopin´s “Andante spianato and Grand Brilliant Polonaise”, played with true panache. I dislike Busoni´s bombastic arrangement of Bach´s Chaconne but in its own terms it was well executed.

The Second Part was wholly enjoyable: three paraphrases and one transcription by Liszt of operatic works by Tchaikovsky (the Polonaise form “Evgeni Onegin”), Wagner (Isolde´s Love-Death), Verdi (the Quartet from “Rigoletto”) and Gounod (the Waltz from “Faust”). The attractive encores were a dreamy Prelude by Liadov and an absolutely vertiginous Rondo-Presto from Weber´s First Sonata. Scherbakov is indeeed a redoubtable virtuoso.

Ars Hungarica brought us a talented Hungarian pianist, Katalin Csillagh. She played at the small hall of Musicarte in Belgrano, nice but overhot, which took its toll on the player. In her varied programme I was very favorably impressed by Beethoven´s Fantasy and the two initial movements of Schubert´s Sonata Nº 14, but she had a bad memory error in the third. Splendid in Liszt (“Gnomes´ Round Dance” and “Un sospiro”), pleasant in two pieces from Debussy´s Suite Bergamasque, for some reason she was completely uncertain in Dohnányi´s interesting “Rhapsody Nº 3, op.11”. She made up for it with two encores: the very agreeable “Three popular Hungarian dances” by Leo Weiner, and an improvisation of her own skillfully done on a popular Hungarian song.

A difficult specialty is two-piano playing. Half-brothers Karin Lechner and Sergio Tiempo have always done it alongside their solo career. They are technically stunning, and although Sergio´s scintillating style is rather different from Karin´s more classical approach, they jell beautifully. They played at the Colón in the subscription Bicentenary series. Their interpretations aren´t always ideal; the charm and cadence of Milhaud´s “Scaramouche” eluded them, and there´s more sinister expressionism in Ravel´s “La Valse” than their brilliant glib view. The “Three Andalousian dances” by Manuel Infante I liked a lot, and their mercurial facility certainly allows them to do well the terribly difficult “Paganini Variations” by Lutoslawski (but Argerich/Freire were even more exciting). I think Lucien Garban attacked an impossible job with his transcription of Ravel´s Second Suite from “Daphnis and Chloe”, and although acceptably done by arranger and players, I kept hearing the fantastic variety of the orchestral version in my head. And even done by Ravel, I prefer the two Debussy Nocturnes (apparently the third wasn´t transcribed) in their original sumptuous orchestral colors. Nice encores: in four-hand piano, a fragment from Fauré´s “Dolly”. Back in two pianos, the arrangement by Federico Jusid of Piazzolla´s “Tango Michelangelo”; and the Joropo by Moisés Moleiro.

The Soirées Musicales Premium at the Sofitel, Mermoz Hall, led by Patricia Pouchulu, generally offer a fine combination of good artists and fine food. A first-rate duo gave us a conspectus of music for violin and guitar. Pablo Saraví and Víctor Villadangos are references of quality in our medium. Paganini´s Sonata concertata in A and Giuliani´s Grand Sonata op.85 gave us two Italian Romantic staples. Arrangements by Roberto Lara of two Guastavino songs started the predominant Argentine repertoire, followed by Máximo Pujol´s Suite Buenos Aires and three Piazzolla pieces arranged by Villadangos. The sparkling “Entr´acte” by Ibert was the French contribution. There was an expressive encore, Paganini´s “Cantabile”.

The Cuarteto Argentum gave us at the same place an excellent repertoire. Formed by two Ukrainians (the couple formed by Oleg Pishenin and Natalia Shishmonina), a Lettish violist (Kristine Bara) and a Rosarino cellist (Carlos Nozzi), it is a cohesive group of high technical and interpretative standard. “Rispetti e strambotti”, on folk types of song, is the best Gian Francesco Malipiero ever wrote. I was sorry they played only one movement (why?) of Kodály´s admirable Second Quartet. That marvel of Russian music, Borodin´s Quartet Nº 2, completed the programme. A fine encore: Turina´s “La oración del torero”.

Luis Slabý has long done yeoman work promoting Czech music. I enjoyed this clarinettist´s concert at the Museo Fernández Blanco with his excellent colleagues Oleg Pishenin (violin), Alexander Iacovlev (viola), Stanislav Poloudine (cello) and Griselda Giannini (clarinet). They played Rudolf Kubin´s very pleasant “Humoresque” (1961) and the fascinating premiere of Martinu´s 1951 Serenade, 26 minutes of fresh creativity.

After her Colón roles, our international soprano Virginia Tola gave a nice recital at Pilar Golf well accompanied by Jorge Ugartamendía. It was certainly no “Liederabend”, for she sang fragments from opera, zarzuela and musical comedy, except De Falla´s “Seven popular Spanish songs”. The level of interpretation was reasonably good but I expected more from her.

La Barroca del Suquía led by violinist Manfredo Kraemer and countertenor Martín Oro offered a wonderful recital to close the cycle of the Bach Academy at the Central Methodist Church. Magnificent music by Antonio Caldara (two symphonies and a cantata) and one of the best Vivaldis (“Nisi Dominus”, Psalm 126) and a Biber Sonata from the Rosary series were all of them pure joy both as music and interpretation.

Finally, a trio of admirable artists closed in the best way the Sofitel cycle. Soprano Carla Filipcic Holm, baritone Víctor Torres and pianist Marcelo Ayub gave first-rate renderings of music by Purcell, Von Arnim, Wolf, Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Debussy, Ibert, Ravel, Tosti, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Barber, Ness Beck, Britten, Friml and Rodrigo, in six languages.

For Buenos Aires Herald

jueves, diciembre 16, 2010

The symphonic season´s final stretch

             The Colón´s symphonic season has ended among cancellations due to labor troubles. The Buenos Aires Philharmonic lost three important concerts: two of its subscription series (the first featured Sol Gabetta in Elgar´s Cello Concerto and Arturo Diemecke conducting Holst´s "The Planets"; in the second guitarist Pepe Romero was to play Rodrigo´s Concierto de Aranjuez and Diemecke, to conduct Mahler´s Fifth), and one of the Complejo Teatral´s Cycle of Contemporary Music , with Alejo Pérez conducting Ives´ Fourth Symphony and Xenakis´ "Jonchaies". Moreover, the "Estable" was left without the last concerts of its series, to be conducted by Marco Guidarini and Francisco Rettig.  However, I have some previous Phil concerts to review forthwith.
            For some strange reason, Arnold Bax´s admirable tone poem "Tintagel" was displaced from the all-British programme (with Holst and Elgar, above) and stuck incongruously in an Italian night; Diemecke gave its Arthurian evocation plenty of sweep and ardor. Russian violinist Ilya Kaler had some trouble with the many passages in harmonics in Paganini´s Second Concerto, but he played most of it with virtuoso panache, especially "La Campanella", and Diemecke accompanied with intensity.The second part gave us magnificent performances of Respighi´s masterpieces, "Fountains of Rome" and "Pines of Rome".
            German maestro Günter Neuhold has visited us before, showing his eclectic repertoire and fine professionalism. Unfortunately, the difficulties provoked by the feud between the players and the Government shortened the rehearsal time and forced the replacement of Shostakovich´s Symphony Nº 6 by the overplayed Schumann Fourth. It was decently done, but disappointment set in nevertheless. However, we had had an interesting First Part. The world premiere of "Corpus Christi: Visiones del Grial" again showed in its compact three parts (twelve minutes) the very special concepts of Argentine composer Luis Mucillo, a true mystic and humanist with a particular talent for suggestive orchestration and concentrated thought. In complete contrast, Tchaikovsky´s dashing Violin Concerto was played with fierce vitality by Nemanja Radulovic (debut), 25, Serbian, whose flexible Gypsy looks and histrionic demeanor are coupled with brilliant command of the mechanics and true singability. He was well-accompanied by Neuhold.
            In what, due to the circumstances, was to be the last subscription concert, Alejo Pérez conducted with versatility an extremely varied programme (maybe too much so). It isn´t habitual nowadays to play Bach in symphonic concerts, but his Brandenburg Concerto Nº2 not only provided the opportunity to hear for the first time here a remarkable trumpetist, Reinhold Friedrich, but the Argentine soloists proved equally adept (Pablo Saraví, violi; Néstor Garrote, oboe; Claudio Barile, flute) and Pérez kept things reasonably Baroque. There were some misadjustments in the two suites from Manuel De Falla´s "The Three-cornered Hat" and I wonder if rehearsal time was enough, but it was a pleasant traversal.
            The Second Part was outstanding. The "Two pictures" op.10 by Bartók are rarely played; they are quite long (18 minutes) and show both the lyrical ("In flower") and the dynamic ("Peasant dance") sides of the composer in his early stages with an already assured and personal hand. Finally, it was worth premiering Bernd Alois Zimmermann´s Trumpet Concerto "Nobody knows de trouble I see", where the German composer uses a Negro Spiritual as inspiration for a very expressive, intense and difficult score in a modern but communicative idiom. Friedrich was wonderful and Pérez showed again his easy technical capacity for complex twentieth-century music.
            A non-subscription concert called "of the Bicentenaries" was a homage to the American countries that are celebrating   200 years of their independence (of course that´s not true here: our independence dates from 1816). Diemecke conducted with his habitual enthusiasm. Two of the pieces are well-known: the Mexican Silvestre Revueltas´"Sensemayá" and our Ginastera´s "Obertura del Fausto criollo". The rather too noisy and banal "Margariteña" by Inocente Carreño (1919) represented Venezuela. Curiously enough, it was being played simultaneously at the Auditorio de Belgrano in an all-Venezuelan evening by the National Symphony conducted by Luis Gorelik.
            The Colón´s composer-in-residence Mario Perusso created for the occasion "A Lyric Symphony", a title redolent of Zemlinsky´s homonymous score. It has four parts based in poems by four women. The long first movement has as text "Palabras a mi madre" by Alfonsina Storni; the beautiful lines were nicely sung by mezzosoprano Alejandra Malvino. Then, a turbulent 3-minute "Despertar" by Raquel Adler, sung by soprano Carla Filipcic Holm. Longer (7 minutes) is "El erque" by Emma Solá, an evocation of our Northwest sung by Malvino. The final "Buenos Aires, ciudad plena", on a terribly mediocre poem by Juana María Gómez, sounded to me bombastic and noisy. I found the whole score less interesting than others by this author, such as his Third Symphony ("Warnes").
            I will poach in another territory to finish this article, reviewing the debut of the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw (Nuova Harmonia, Coliseo). It´s an eighteen-member goup led by Henk Meutgeert: 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, drums, guitar, bass and piano. No clarinets. The programme was based on a famous record, "Birth of the cool", with pieces by such greats of that style as Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, Bud Powell and John Coltrane. They also veered from cool to give us some lovely Ellington ("In a sentimental mood"), and the inevitable Piazzolla ("Oblivion", as an exception with clarinet).  Although there´s no gainsaying their efficacious professionalism, this was regimented jazz, not improvisatory or fresh. The pianist was quite dashing, though.

lunes, diciembre 13, 2010

Quo vadis modern music?

            Readers may remember from articles I wrote previously about the current condition of composing that I am skeptical as to the dominating trends  not only of the last decade but also about the last thirty years of the twentieth century. Several organisations offer cycles of what they call contemporary music; foremost are the cycles of the Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires (generally in November), of the CETC (the Colón´s Center for Experimentation) and of Encuentros Internacionales de Música Contemporánea (generally in August). A few other groups, such as Música Oblicua, are also active in the field. Most of what I hear remains obstinately cryptic, unsmiling, dense, cerebral and monotonously boring. When I compare all that with the marvelous variety and real genius of so many great scores of the period 1900-1950, I can only conclude that there´s an enormous decline in creativity and freshness; exceptions only confirm the rule.
            The 2010 season is the fourteenth cycle led by Martín Bauer at the Complejo Teatral. He remains completely consistent in his views, also shown in earlier years at the CETC (currently led by Willy Landín) and nowadays by the TACEC at the Teatro Argentino (La Plata). They don´t agree with mine and I certainly feel that if he were to give us a really ample panorama of composition in these last decades we wouldn´t come out so  many times of his concerts baffled and even angry at such grotesque concoctions as he often inflicts on the hearers. On the other hand, he is skilled in production and practically always presents the works with a high proficiency: interpreters are generally first rate and what is programmed with much anticipation comes about at the proper time. But this year first the duel after Néstor Kirchner´s death and afterwards the Colón troubles forced the cancellation of the most attractive programme of the season: in it Alejo Pérez was going to premiere the fascinating Fourth Symphony by Charles Ives and "Jonchaies" by Xenakis.
            As I do every year, I chose those things that had some interest for me and disregarded others. One concert attracted me but it clashed with another obligation and I couldn´t hear it: a homage to Schönberg (his First Chamber Symphony, a wonderful score); the other worthwhile inclusion was Ligeti´s Piano Concerto (1988). I didn´t enjoy "Aura", a strange experimental opera by José María Sánchez Verdú on a nouvelle by Carlos Fuentes. According to the composer it is "an authentic interplay of mirrors, of identities that interact in the past and in the present"; lyricism is very scant, distinguished singers (Virginia Correa Dupuy, Eugenia Fuente, the German Andreas Fischer) could do little with such material. Some interesting instrumentation can be salvaged (tuba, accordions), especially the invented auraphon: five tam-tams and gongs controlled from  a sound table. Avantgardist Emilio García Wehbi conceived the cold, enigmatic staging. One unexpected sweetmeat made me react positively: fragments of the film "Alice in Wonderland" by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow (1903).
            One of the two most important composers of the Italian avantgarde of the Sixties and Seventies was Luciano Berio, especially known for his Symphony written for the Swingle Singers. "A-Ronne" (1974) was appropriately sung by a vocal group called Nonsense, for it has a heavy injection of surrealistic humor in its exhaustive exploration of types of vocal emission, from noise to singing. More important, for it goes beyond mere experiment, is "Laborintus II" (1965), combining a narrator (Víctor Torres), three vocal soloists (Ana Santorelli, Selene Lara, Ana Moraitis), a choir of eight singer-actors and a 16-piece instrumental ensemble. It was created to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Dante´s birth and inspired by the homonymous poem by Edoardo Sanguinetti. I found a lot to admire in this complex web of sound very well interpreted with the leadership of Santiago Santero.
             Gérard Grisey was the great standard bearer of the style called "spectral music" based on the sound spectre. "Le noir de l´étoile" ("The black of the star"), 1990, is visually fascinating: six percussionists spatially placed at various distances dialogue during about 45 minutes in a presumably cosmic experieence preceded by an 8-minute explanation on pulsars by, curiously enough, a poet (Jean-Pierre Luminet). The percussionists were excellent, three from Italy and three from Uruguay. Melodic instruments such as the xylophone are avoided, so we have pure rhythm, rather imaginative until one remembers Stravinsky´s "Rite of Spring".
            Luigi Nono was homaged on the twentieth anniversary of his death. Strongly Marxist in many works, those chosen were purely musical and from a restricted time lapse (1976 to 1981). I found two of the works nihilistic and excessive: "Das atmende Klarsein" ("The breathing pure being") for amplified bass flute and tape; and "Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima" ("Quiet fragments, for Diotima"), an interminable 36´ meditation for string quartet. I rather liked "…sofferte onde serene…"("…suffered serene waves…") for piano and tape, much more animated and varied. First-rate players (Manuel Zurria, bass flute; Oscar Pizzo, piano; Diotima Quartet).
            For the CETC Silvia Dabul offered a  recital with two big scores: the severely serial "Piano piece in seven parts, recycling the bells", featuring also prepared piano, Tibetan earthen bowls and tape, by Michael Gielen. And the attractive "Mikrokosmos II" (1973, twelve fantasy-pieces after the Zodiac) by George Crumb (1929), 36´ of vital musical expressionism. Dabul played with utmost concentration and professionalism, communicating her enthusiasm for this music.

The Colón war is on: workers vs. Government

Some weeks ago I wrote for the Herald "The Colón´s alarming crisis deepens". Now I have to say it: we are at the stage  of open, no-holds-barred war. It´s more than  alarming, it´s frightening.
            For a while it seemed that an agreement might be reached. In fact, an act was signed between the Government and the workers on November 25. It bears the seal of the Labor Undersecretariat of the Ministry of Economic Development. There were two representatives of the Undersecretariat to witness the ceremony. For the Colón workers: José Piazza, Delegate General; Máximo Parpagnoli, Delegate General Adjunct; Pastor Mora, Delegate Internal Board. For  the labor union ATE, its City of Buenos Aires Secretary General José Arrechea. For the City Government, Dr. Lucas Arakaki. Dr.Carlos Alberto Lelio, member of the Sectional Labor Commission of the Colón ("paritaria"). Jorge Rey as adviser of Colón Labor Relations. Dr.Lucía Pettis, Technical and Legal General Direction. No less than eight people in front of two witnesses, but astonishingly, no member of the other big union, SUTECBA. Mind you, some years ago ATE wasn´t recognized as a possibly signer of agreements, it had to be SUTECBA.
            "The parties concerned agree to maintain conversations about the themes that have been the object of conflict and so arrive to  a satisfactory conclusion. During the talks, both parts bind themselves to maintain the dialogue and to abstain from any measure that might obstruct, thus maintaining the principle of good faith".  The next audience to analyze the progress of the talks was fixed for December 15th, but alas, the agreement lasted only a few hours…
            I take the following from a reliable labor source of the Colón: "At the very beginning of the negotiations after signing the act, the functionary designed by the Government" (Jorge Rey) "instead of keeping the agreed-upon  good faith, provoked the workers publicly and explicitly not once but twice in two assemblies: the first on the following day of the signing at midday " (in what used to be called Sala Saulo Benavente, formerly the big space for stage designing, now converted into a rehearsal room; no alternative has been offered to the technicians) "and the second on the stage at 7 p.m. Rey said: that there was no proposal about the salary" (the workers ask for a 40% raise, very modest in comparison with what they need to come back to reasonable salaries), "that he didn´t know the theatre´s problems" (!!), "that he needed time to grasp the subjects involved and that the current Colón situation was the responsability of the workers´ representatives". The workers were indignant hearing such words and an ample majority voted for a strike until they received a rational proposal and were sent a valid interlocutor that knew the Colón´s problems.  
This led to the cancellation of all but one of the "Falstaff" performances and of an important concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic (it featured Romero in Rodrigo´s "Concierto de Aranjuez" and the Mahler Fifth Symphony under Diemecke) and the public wasn´t duly informed, frustratingly finding the doors closed  or being advised in what was to be the second performance of "Falstaff" by Pedro Pablo García Caffi (the Colón´s General Director) that the evening was cancelled for the stage was "taken" by workers (and the pit remained in the dark).
As the cancellations added up, García Caffi had to go higher and talked with Minister of Culture Hernán Lombardi and Chief of Cabinet Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. Sanctions were decided upon and communicated at a press conference. Andrés Ibarra, Secretary of Human Resources, said: "a summary and indefinite suspension will be implemented against the principal workers responsible for the situation, and they will be barred from entering the Colón until the situation is defined". Up to now, seven people, including Parpagnoli, have been sanctioned. Paradoxically, he is a leading contender to be elected as the worker Director of the Colón on an election to be held the 15th of December.
Demonstrations in Cerrito, in front of the Colón, have been held in recent weeks, and they have shown both orchestras united, going far beyond the hard core of 40 people denounced by García Caffi. They have done the same before the City Government.
Incendiary declarations of García Caffi to the press, accusing the workers of purely political reasons for their protests, "culture piqueteros", etc., and giving very devious answers to relevant questions, have deepened the chasm.
The little that is left of the season probably won´t happen (the principal item were ballet performances and those were cancelled in García Caffi´s feud with the Colón Ballet) but by now that isn´t important. For this writer the paramount issue is the bleak future of an institution in an anguished process of disintegration, just six months after the pompous reopening. The blitz of the Government against the workers started (as I told in my previous article) already early in 2009 when García Caffi took the post and announced the transferring of 400 workers. Even if labor has won several judicial battles, the last word still hasn´t been said. The theatre stands incomplete as the restoration was no more than a façade and lots of work remain to be done. The technicians do their jobs off-Colón in deplorable conditions. And now the employees as a whole are in open rebellion.
Theoretically the 2011 season is fully planned and should be announced these days; in fact, it has been the custom in recent years to have a first round of subscriptions in December and another in March. I don´t see how this can happen in the present state of utter hostility, and with García Caffi openly supported by Lombardi and Rodríguez Larreta.  Unless a minimum arrangement is obtained the theatre can´t have a season. And there´s no sign of that. The agreement should be ironclad for both parties.
The normal holidays of the employees cover all of January and at least the first fortnight of February. There have been some weak promises that in February-March there would probably be a salary raise, but it´s a very moot point whether labor will accept it. Anyway, there´s heavy bad feeling against García Caffi (and against the Director of the Ballet Lidia Segni) and human relations are at such a low point that I can´t imagine the present team in office next year. There are strong rumors that no ballet season is planned at all, which if true is pretty terrible, for this is the resident company and their salaries must be payed, whether they dance or not. A recent judicial sentence orders the Government to fix the floors objected by the dancers as too hard (there are more than a dozen lesions) but the Colón´s Directors haven´t complied.
I believe the workers are right in their demands and wrong in their methods. They haven´t beeen able to inform the public at large of the true situation and instead they have made enemies by inopportune strikes. They should change their ways, and of course so should the Government. And the trouble is at the top: García Caffi has simply followed the guidelines of Mauricio Macri. The Colón Director has shown a singular degree of indelicacy in his handling of people, but his and Macri´s purpose have been irritative in the extreme from the very beginning, and even with better handling the result was bound to be a disaster. It is. And unless there´s a complete change of mentality it will remain so. ¿Can Macri,  notoriously stubborn, unsubtle and uninterested in culture, accept defeat and mend his ways? I seriously doubt it.
For Buenos Aires Herald


            Escribí semanas atrás "La alarmante crisis del Colón empeora": Ahora  estamos en guerra sin cuartel y desembozada.  Ya no es alarmante  sino que atemoriza.
            Por un tiempo pareció que era factible un acuerdo. En realidad, se firmó un acta entre el Gobierno y los trabajadores de ATE el 25 de Noviembre. Tiene el sello de la Subsecretaría del Trabajo del Ministerio de Desarrollo Económico. Dos representantes de la Subsecretaría asistieron a la ceremonia. Por la parte sindical: José Piazza, Delegado General Teatro Colón; Máximo Parpagnoli, Delegado General Adjunto; Pastor Mora, Delegado Junta Interna; y por ATE, su Secretario General, Rodolfo Arrechea. El Dr. Lucas Arakaki por el Gobierno de la Ciudad; el Dr. Carlos Alberto Lelio como miembro de la Comisión Paritaria Sectorial del Colón; Jorge Rey como asesor de Relaciones Laborales Colón; y la Dra. Lucía Pettis, Dirección General Técnica y Legal.  Ningún miembro del otro sindicato, SUTECBA. Tengan en cuenta que años atrás ATE no podía firmar este tipo de acuerdo, sólo SUTECBA.
            "Las partes acuerdan mantener conversaciones formales e informales en procura de tratar los temas que han sido objeto del conflicto y de esta manera alcanzar una solución sartisfactoria. Durante las conversaciones, ambas partes se comprometen a mantener el diálogo y abstenerse de toda medida que pudiera obstaculizar el mismo, ello con miras a mantener el principio de buena fe". Se fijaba la siguiente audiencia para el 15 de Diciembre "a efectos que las partes puedan manifestar el avance de las negociaciones". Pero el acuerdo apenas duró unas horas…
             Lo siguiente proviene de una fuente confiable laboral del Colón: "Al inicio mismo de estas negociaciones, el funcionario designado por el Gobierno" (Rey) "en vez de mantener la buena fe acordada, provocó pública y explícitamente a los trabajadores, no una sino dos veces, en sendas asambleas: la primera al día siguiente de la firma del acta (en la sala Saulo Benavente) en horas del mediodía y la segunda en el escenario a las 19 hs. Los dichos del funcionario fueron: que no había ninguna propuesta en el orden salarial, que él no conocía la problemática del teatro, que había que darle tiempo ya que se estaba empapando del tema y que la responsabilidad de la situación actual del Colón era de los representantes de los trabajadores. Este discurso repetido en ambas asambleas fue lo mismo que rociar con nafta la ya tensa situación y prender un fósforo. La gente agotó su paciencia  (había 150 personas participando) y la moción del paro hasta que aparezca una propuesta racional y un interlocutor válido que conozca mínimamente qué es el Teatro Colón fue votada por amplia mayoría".
            Esto llevó a la cancelación de tres de las cuatro funciones de "Falstaff" y de un importante concierto de la Filarmónica (Concierto de Aranjuez de Rodrigo con Romero y Quinta Sinfonía de Mahler dirigida por Diemecke) y el público no fue debidamente informado, encontrando las puertas frustrantemente cerradas o siendo avisados por el propio García Caffi dentro de la sala que la función se cancelaba porque el escenario estaba tomado por los trabajadores (y el foso a oscuras).
            Como se apilaban las cancelaciones, García Caffi debió ir más arriba y se reunió con el Ministro de Cultura Hernán Lombardi y el Jefe de Gabinete Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. Se decidieron sanciones  y fueron comunicadas en una conferencia de prensa. Andrés Ibarra, Secretario de Recursos Humanos, dijo: "se implementará un sumario y una suspensión indefinida contra los principales trabajadores responsables de esta situación, y se les impedirá entrar al Colón hasta que la situación se defina". Siete personas, según una fuente, incluso Parpagnoli, han sido sancionadas (pero otras fuentes dicen 47!). Paradójicamente, es quien tiene más posibilidades de ser elegido como Director en representación del personal del Colón en la elección del 15 de Diciembre.
            En recientes semanas se han realizado demostraciones en la calle Cerrito delante del Colón, y han mostrado unidas a ambas orquestas, siendo su número mucho mayor que las 40 personas denunciadas por García Caffi. También han manifestado en frente del edificio de Gobierno de la Ciudad.
            Declaraciones incendiarias de García Caffi en la prensa han profundizado el abismo, ya que acusó a los trabajadores de protestas puramente políticas, llamándolos "piqueteros de la cultura", y dando contestaciones muy ambiguas y sibilinas a preguntas relevantes que le hicieron.
            Es muy probable que lo poco que queda de la temporada se levante (lo principal hubieran sido funciones de ballet y éstas han sido canceladas hace ya muchas semanas) pero a esta altura, es lo de menos. El asunto principal es el triste futuro de una institución en angustioso proceso de desintegración, apenas seis meses después de su pomposa reapertura. La guerra del Gobierno contra sus empleados ya empezó temprano en 2009 cuando García Caffi asumió el puesto y anunció la transferencia de unos 400 empleados. Aunque los trabajadores ya han ganado varios juicios, la última palabra no está dicha. Por otra parte el teatro está incompleto ya que la restauración demostró ser sólo una fachada y falta aun mucho trabajo. Los técnicos trabajan fuera del Colón en condiciones deplorables. Y ahora la totalidad de los empleados está en abierta rebelión.
            Teóricamente la temporada 2011 está totalmente planeada y debería anunciarse en estos días; en realidad, ha sido costumbre en años recientes de vender los abonos en dos etapas, en Diciembre y Marzo.  No veo cómo puede esto suceder en la actual situación de completa hostilidad, pese a que García Caff  está abiertamente apoyado por Lombardi y Rodríguez Larreta. Si no se logra una serie de básicas coincidencias entre personal y gobierno, no habrá temporada. Y no hay señal de que se intente tenerlas. Si hay arreglo, deberá tener cláusulas obligatorias para ambas partes.
            Las vacaciones normales de los empleados cubren Enero y la mitad de Febrero. Hay vagas promesas que en Febrero-Marzo podría haber un ajuste salarial, pero habrá que ver si es suficiente y si los empleados lo aceptarán. De todos modos, hay fuerte resaca contra García Caffi (y contra la Directora del Ballet Lidia Segni) y la relaciones están en un punto tan bajo que es difícil imaginar a este equipo todavía a cargo el próximo año. Hay fuertes rumores de que no habría temporada de ballet, lo cual si cierto es terrible, ya que ésta es la compañía residente y sus salarios deben pagarse igualmente, bailen o no bailen. Una reciente sentencia judicial ordenó al Gobierno arreglar los pisos en un perentorio plazo de cinco días pero por supuesto el Ejecutivo no lo cumplió.
            Creo que los empleados tienen razón en sus demandas pero han aplicado malos métodos de lucha. No han sabido informar al público en general de la verdadera situación y en cambio han hecho enemigos con huelgas inoportunas. Deberían cambiar, y también el Gobierno. El problema sigue siendo la cúpula del poder: García Caffi simplemente ha seguido los lineamientos indicados por Mauricio Macri. El Director del Colón ha mostrado un singular grado de torpeza en el manejo de gente, pero el propósito de Macri y el suyo ha sido irritativo desde el principio mismo, y hasta con mejor manejo el resultado tenía que ser un desastre. Y lo es. Y seguirá siéndolo salvo que haya un completo cambio de mentalidad. ¿Podrá Macri, notoriamente terco, poco sutil y nada interesado en la cultura, aceptar la derrota y corregir el rumbo? Ciertamente lo dudo.
TRADUCCION DEL ARTÍCULO DEL 7/12/10 del Buenos Aires Herald