domingo, junio 30, 2013

The wonderful world of youth orchestras

            One of the great events of the last decades has been the growth and expansion of youth orchestras. Some of them are world-class and can compete with the very best of the world: we had a sample when the Simón Bolívar under Dudamel was here some months ago. (The same orchestra came back with another conductor and gave a combined concert with our Orquesta Juvenil Libertador San Martín led by Mario Benzecry, now made National).

            Let me write a few paragraphs on organisms of this sort, for there is a whole range of them. The purely infantile are made up of kids not older than fifteen and some of them are below ten: these have an immense sociological value but rarely are able to play pieces beyond the really easy. In fact, they should be steps to graduate after 14 to the juvenile or youth orchestras, and there you have those that are purely teenager, roughly between 14 and 19, and those that extend to young maturity (20 to 30): such is the Simón Bolívar.

            There is a tendency to be lenient concerning the faults of young groups, and this is logical enough for the children, but frankly only discipline, natural talent and strong training make a first-rate orchestra, and we shouldn´t settle for less, e..g., in the matter of tuning and sound. There are other matters, such as the quality of the instruments,  adequate financing, the right social context, and they all help to obtain a high level.

            The New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra gave an admirable account of themselves for the Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex. True, they have a solid conductor of long trajectory, Hugh Wolff (he has held posts at Radio Frankfurt, New Jersey and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra), whose orthodox interpretive views and firm command got the best out of his very young charges, all between 13 and 18 according to the hand programme. One astonishing fact: they have played the Mahler Ninth in Vienna´s Musikverein!

            The dim acoustics of the Gran Rex didn´t help to obtain the full impact of that extraordinary score, the Fantastic Symphony by Berlioz, but there was no gainsaying the concentration, accuracy and good taste displayed by everybody: these 88 boys and girls featuring many Orientals were a constant source of pleasure and wonder. Before, they executed the Argentine Osvaldo Golijov´s "Last Round", for strings (1996), "an imaginary last chance for Piazzolla´s spirit to fight once more" (it is based on a short story by Cortázar about a boxing match). And after, as encore, the exciting "Hoe-down" from Copland´s "Rodeo".

            This was a venture of FUNDECUA ("Fundación para el desarrollo, la cultura y el arte"), led by Edgardo Zollhofer and Andrea Merenzon, who are being very active in promoting youth orchestras.

            The members of the Texas Christian University Symphony Orchestra are based in Fort Worth and naturally are a bit older (roughly 18 to 23). The programme chosen by their conductor, Mexican Germán Gutiérrez, was much lighter but it did require brilliance and at least two scores are quite demanding: "Till Eulenspiegel´s merry pranks" by R. Strauss and the Overture to "Candide" by Bernstein. The 75 players combine WASPS, Latinos and Orientals in total harmony. Four chaperones are part of the tour!

            The other pieces: Elgar´s "Nimrod" (from the Enigma Variations); the Danzón Nº 2 by Márquez (instead of the announced Borodin "Polovetsian Dances"); "Taquito militar" by Mores with Oscar de Elía in an ugly-sounding clavier. And the last two programme selections plus the  encore were with Opus Cuatro, the veteran Argentine quartet of singers, keeping well (they have done a CD together with this orchestra): "La flor de la canela" (Granda), "Libertango" (Piazzolla), "El día que me quieras" (Gardel). Gutiérrez has been the conductor of the Texan institution since 2000 and he has command, empathy and a firm sense of direction; his players are good and enthusiastic.

            The Orquesta Académica del Instituto Superior de Arte del Colón had a conflictive birth, for it replaced the older  Académica under Carlos Calleja, now independent and called Académica de Buenos Aires. It seemed very high-handed on the part of Colón Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi, but gradually the new Académica has been playing better and justifying its existence. A recent concert combined two young talents: conductor Federico Sardella (a UCA disciple of Scarabino and Vieu with a lot of European operatic experience) and the best Argentine pianist of his generation, Antonio Formaro (in his late thirties).

            They started with a clean and energetic performance of that quintessential Rossini, the Overture to "La gazza ladra" ("The thieve magpie"). The concentrated and expressive Second Concerto by Mendelssohn had a magisterial performance from Formaro, who intimately knows the whole of this composer´s trajectory. Technique and insight were ideally fused, with good accompaniment from Sardella.

            It´s a common mistake to refer to Beethoven´s First Symphony as influenced by Haydn and Mozart; not so: at 30  the composer´s style is already strongly marked, especially in the dynamics (accents are insistent and characterful).  Sardella showed comprehension and style, whilst the organism played attentively and clearly.

            The Academic´s concerts are few and generally occur at 5 p.m. on certain Thursdays.  Out of them haved already come a good number of players that are now part of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and of the Colón Resident Orchestra.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Good vibes from European and American visitors

            We´ve had in recent weeks many interesting visitors from Europe and the USA, in most cases young people of impressive talent. In this apparently chaotic world there are still positive things that transmit good vibes, and we sorely need them.

            The Festival Strings Lucerne is a famous group founded by Rudolf Baumgartner and Wolfgang Schneiderhan in 1956. It has been here several times, always in a high level. Last visits, 2000, 2004 and 2007. In their current tour they number 18 and are led by Daniel Dodds, of Australian father and Chinese mother. It is important to bear in mind that the Lucerne Festival is one of the best and any music lover is sure to attend magnificent concerts during the Swiss Summer. The Festival Strings, of course, are always a feature. They played here for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo.

            Their programme was varied in the First Part, whilst the Second was all-Tchaikovsky. They started with the  beautiful 6-minute Josef Suk "Meditation on the chorale of Saint Wenceslas", Op.35 a . Followed a favorite score of string ensembles, with good reason: the Third Suite of "Antique Dances and Arias" by Respighi is an inspired transposition of materials from the Seventeenth Century. I only wish that the other two suites were played once in a while (I have never heard them in concert but a record conducted by Seiji Ozawa shows that they fully deserve attention); it´s a matter of repertoire: the string ensembles don´t have so much to choose from, whilst the full symphonic orchestras have a gigantic amount of choices.

            A few years ago Buenos Aires heard a rather weird piece written by the Swiss Martin Wettstein (born 1970): "Verdi´s dream".  Now we appreciated it again but in a string version dedicated to this visiting group. It is a phantasmagoric adaptation with "wrong notes" of Verdi´s music from his opera "Macbeth", especially the witches´ choirs and dances and Lady Macbeth´s arias. I find it parodic fun, particularly for those of us that know the opera well.

            The two first pieces by Tchaikovsky were adaptations that provided Dodds with music where he showed his attractive "cantabile" ("Meditation" from "Memories of a loved place", Op.42) and his virtuoso panache ("Waltz-Scherzo", Op.34). The first was originally for violin and piano and the second, for violin with full orchestra.

            That evergreen standard, Tchaikovsky´s Serenade, had a lovely performance. Ditto the encore, from the same composer: the version for string ensemble of the "Andante cantabile" from the First Quartet, one of his most plangent melodies.

            The playing was uniformly first-rate, with fine tuning and ensemble, discipline meshed with distinguished phrasing and good taste. The eight ladies were as pleasant to hear as to be looked at, and the ten gentlemen were just as musicianly.

            Two splendid trios were presented by the Mozarteum within a week: the Atos Piano Trio in the Colón subscription series, and the Trio Hoboken at the Gran Rex for the free Midday Concerts. Both are young and hugely talented.  The Atos is made up of violinist Annette von Hehn (she provided the "A"), pianist Thomas Hoppe (from him the "T" and "O") and cellist Stefan Heinemeyer ( the "S"). They founded the Trio in  2003 and were rapidly recognised as an outstanding chamber group. 

            Their stated aim as expressed in an interview is to sound as one, quite a feat  considering that the piano is inherently percussive and the strings are melodic, music being originated by friction. Well, they certainly manage to approximate that idea by dint of total consensus in very minute matters: the exact weight of a chord, a precise immediate contrast between "forte" and "piano", a small "rubato" (flexible rhythm) in strategic moments, etc. And as they have a strong cultural basis, their versions of two famous Trios went from very good (Beethoven´s Trio Nº6, "Archduke") to truly memorable (the enormous Second Trio by Schubert, whose heavenly lengths caused in this interpretation "nirvana" states of mind in several friends ). Although I do find the pianist more assertive than his colleagues, the string players are very accomplished. Hoppe is magisterial in his absolute command of the musical texts. I felt that the "Archduke" was a bit too  contained for the vast expanses of the Colón, but they were making their debut and perhaps realised in the interval that stronger dynamics were necessary; anyway, in Schubert everything was perfect.

            The French Hoboken Trio takes its name from the man that established the Joseph Haydn catalog, for these artists especially like the great classicist composer. However, their programme was very curious, for the only original work for piano trio was Ravel´s Trio, a marvelous score  admirably done by violinist Saskia Lethiec, cellist Eric Picard and pianist Jérôme Granjon. They too founded their ensemble in 2003.

            It was a gesture from the pianist to play the "Danza de la moza donosa" by Ginastera after the Ravel Trio (a rare circumstance in a trio programme). The two final scores were transcriptions: an arrangement by Olivier Kaspar of Ravel´s "Spanish Rhapsody", and another arrangement by Kaspar and Chevillard of Chabrier´s "España".

Good of their kind, I couldn´t help missing the orchestral colors of the originals, but they were played with so much conviction that I was almost won over.  The matte acoustics of the Gran Rex moderated the brilliance of the artists.

For Buenos Aires Herald

miércoles, junio 19, 2013

Welcome explosion of valid new music


            In just a week three symphonic concerts provided a wealth of interesting new music. In what will surely be one of the outstanding nights of the year, "Colón Contemporáneo" offered what the Spanish call a monographic concert, meaning dedicated to one creator. Yannis Xenakis lived between 1922 and 2001. Architect (disciple of Le Corbusier), mathematician and composer. Although he studied with prominent French composers of the so-called Group of Six (Honegger and Milhaud), it was the innovative influence of another teacher, Messiaen, that really marked him. Messiaen´s innovations in rhythm, color and harmony showed him the way, but he added something original: the application of mathematical systems to music. Samples: what he called stochastic music (based on the theory of probabilities); games theory; groups theory.

            Pre-World War II, in the Twenties the great pioneer was Edgar Varèse, who discovered the value of pure sound as parameter. After WWII, two composers in very different ways exploited the possibilities of juggling with sounds as main factor, relegating harmony, melody and rhythm: textures and colors prevailed in the music of Krzysztof Penderecki and Xenakis. 

            There was a time when Xenakis was booed in Buenos Aires: "Achorripsis" under the expert Hermann Scherchen (1958) and in the Seventies, Maurice Le Roux conducting "Pithoprakta" (Greek titles, as so often in Xenakis´ life, born in Romania but of Greek ascendance, though he lived most of his life in Paris). Now he is no longer booed: this time an enthusiastic audience filled 2/3 of the Colón! And I agree: he is a tough composer but a true original. By the way, for some months he was a professor of the Instituto Di Tella.

            The concert started with "Mists" for piano solo (1980), played by Ermis Theodorakis, who has recorded the whole of this composer´s music for that instrument. He uses "arborescences" (polyphonic and polyrhythmic groups of melodies) and "clouds of sound", a pointillistic use of notes. Then, "Eonta" ("Beings",1963), where ambulatory trombones and trumpets collide with the piano in exciting ways. From then on the musics were conducted by the Spaniard Arturo Tamayo, who has recorded the whole of Xenakis´ orchestral music.

            "Empreintes" ("Imprints", 1975) is based on unisons, "glissandi" and pulses,  in fascinating explorations of sound densities. "Metastasis" (1954)  was an early manifestation of his unusual creativity, a musical world determined by laws of statistics and probabilistic equations. Nevertheless, his music sounds visceral, not intellectual. Finally, "Aïs" ("Hades", 1980, for amplified baritone, percussion and orchestra) is a theatrical piece with fragments on death by Homer and Sappho. The voice is used in three registers: shrieky falsetto, natural baritone and low bass. Imitations of cracking bones and bird-song and  clusters of sound make an eerie mix.

            The executions were of a very high level, with a Buenos Aires Philharmonic of utmost concentration and the united talents of Tamayo, Theodorakis, Christian Frette (percussion) and Just; I would only question that the lowest register of the singer was somewhat murky and lacked impact, but this was a great occasion.

            I was also very impressed by a concert of the National Symphony conducted by Luis Gorelik at the Auditorio de Belgrano. There was only one blemish: due to lack of agreement between the Government and the printers there was no hand programme with notes, just a one-page flyer with the barest incomplete information. My friendship with Carlos Singer, author of the excellent notes of which he gave me a copy, allowed me to have an advantage over the public that was shortchanged, for this was a concert that needed orientation.

            The whole programme was made up of local premieres and was surely the best of the NS season. "Clepsydra" (a water clock) is a 10-minute score by Mexican Mario Lavista, a major figure in that country. Says the author: "the river and the music are images of the rhythm of time, a narration of time. Both are clepsydras who transform disorder into order".  The 1991 score holds interest throughout.

            With John Tavener´s "The Whale" we finally hear an important work from this interesting British composer. This dramatic cantata based on Jonah and the whale was premiered in January 1968 during the presentation concert of the London Sinfonietta. Says the author: "although ´The Whale´ is in the category of serious music and embraces an ample spectre of musical styles, it is influenced by the Beatles, the spirit of the times and certain pop elements". Eight sections with names like "The ingestion", "In the belly" and "Expulsion".  It includes pre-recorded electronics, an aleatoric fragment where the choir  does things as "burping, whistling, neighing", etc. It starts with a reading on "aquatic mammals of the cetacean order", here "argentinized" with reference to Península Valdés and read by Néstor Zadoff. The version was strong, with the Coro Nacional de Jóvenes conducted by Zadoff, mezzosoprano Mariana Rewerski and baritone Leonardo Estévez.

            Then, a highly lyrical and attractive Concerto for flute by Luis Mucillo, our most refined composer, who uses the normal flute plus the piccolo and the low flute in G. With quotes of Medieval pieces, the music flowed with beauty and charm, expressed admirably by Patricia Da Dalt. Finally, the short Symphony Nº 1, "Polyphonic", by Arvo Pärt, is a tight pre-minimalist score by the famed Estonian composer. The language is serialist and powerfully built on Baroque forms. Gorelik and the NS were admirable in the entire programme.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Operatic contrasts live and filmed

            In recent weeks the enormous contrasts of the operatic world were appreciated both live and filmed. It would be hard to imagine more dissimilar pieces than Leoncavallo´s "I Pagliacci", Marcelo Delgado´s "Luzazul" and Händel´s "Giulio Cesare in Egitto". The first was seen at the Coliseo, the second at the CETC (Centro de Experimentación del Teatro Colón) and the third was the final session of the Met Opera´s direct transmissions  presented by the Fundación Beethoven at the Teatro El Nacional.

            "I Pagliacci" was one of two performances of emblematic Italian operas (the other will be Verdi´s "Il Trovatore") in which the Italian Consulate joins forces with our National Culture Secretariat in presentations that are part of both the "Italian Summer in Buenos Aires" (a panoply of cultural events that includes also popular singers and cinema cycles, among other things) and of the Federal Plan of Opera and Dance. Thus, this "Pagliacci" will also be presented in Corrientes and Misiones with the same staging and soloists but with local orchestras and choirs. It is certainly a good idea, initiated two years ago.

            As "Pagliacci" is often offered here, I will only repeat that I find a fascinating piece, the best of "verismo" and a shining example of theatre within the theatre. Carlos Palacios in the chief of the Federal Plan, an experienced producer with good professional qualities. However, he has a misguided concept of this opera  similar to what was seen years ago at the Argentino of La Plata: he mixes the circus with the four players of the "commedia dell´arte". And the circus has nothing to to with this opera, centered on a small ambulating company that goes  from small town to small town to show their "commedia dell´arte"-derived humoristic sketches. Maybe the title of the opera disconcerts Palacios, for they do have clownish makeup ("la faccia in farina") in the libretto (also by Leoncavallo). But the nine circus people were distracting, especially in Nedda´s aria. Otherwise the production was alright, the drama clearly exposed.

            There were attractive costume designs by Stella Maris Müller (Nedda´s gowns especially) and the stage designs by Marcelo Fernández and Palacios were adequate, as was the lighting by Eduardo Sivori.  

            The Canio was imported, the others were chosen among our best artists. Canio is a feared dramatic role, associated with such singers as Caruso, Vickers and Domingo. The fortyish Francesco Anile (debut) is a Calabrian artist with a long Italian career and he is quite representative of a hallowed traditional syle in bearing and in dramatic interpretation. His voice is powerful  and with good metal both in the high range and the center; he is a bit weak in the low tones, where the ideal Canio should sound baritonal.

            The veteran Mónica Ferracani still sounds and looks splendid. Fabián Veloz is our best young baritone, and his acting was cunning as Tonio. Santiago Bürgi was a good Beppe and Ernesto Bauer a correct Silvio. The ad-hoc Choir under Miguel Pesce and the Orquesta Académica de Buenos Aires led by Carlos Calleja were positive aspects of this presentation.

            For some years now the CETC has lost the focus it had in the years when its director was Gerardo Gandini. The current Director is Miguel Galperin. He has programmed a huge amount of shows and concerts this year, but many seem outside the scope of the CETC. I  have long thought that the accent on experimentation is a bad one, that it should be called the XX-XXI Center: the best chamber operatic and dance works of those centuries rather than experiments that so often come to nothing.  There´s certainly plenty to choose and most of it is unknown here.  

            Among the better things of recent months I would put "Luzazul", music by Marcelo Delgado and text by Emilio García Wehbi (premiere).  Delgado is a serious and valuable avantgarde composer long associated with the CETC; I particularly liked his Freudian "Anna O." (2004). "Luzazul" is stark and intimate. He says: " One singer and two actresses that sing interpret the three characters (one, the same)". Introduction, three brief acts and an epilogue. And García Wehbi, of vast theatrical trajectory, tells us that the libretto´s inspiration comes from Sylvia Plath´s "Three women" ( poet Plath committed suicide), where she expresses "her phantoms about maternity and femininity" (she had two children).

            The piece is sad, melancholy, and it culminates in a long anguished monologue of the singing voice, done here with overwhelming intensity by Graciela Oddone. The actresses María Inés Aldaburu and Maricel Álvarez were in the picture. Of course, García Wehbi was his own producer;  Delgado conducted a small varied group of just five players.

            I will be brief about "Giulio Cesare in Egitto", Händel´s masterpiece given whole (four hours). Musically it was magnificent: singers like Natalie Dessay (Cleopatra), Alice Coote (Sesto), Patricia Bardon (Cornelia) and Guido Loconsolo (Achilles) were of the highest level. The countertenors were a bit lower: David Daniels (Giulio Cesare) in purely vocal terms, Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo) splendid technically but over the top in his acting. The Met orchestra under Harry Bicket was perfect.

            However,  David McVicar´s production (from Glyndebourne) converted "Giulio Cesare" into a camp vaudeville, fun in its way, but insulting to the original in multiple ways. A pity, for he knows how to direct actors; alas, he has no confidence in the strength of the opera he is staging. 

For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, junio 17, 2013

“Die Frau ohne Schatten”: essential Strauss is back

             Hallelujah, after 34 years Richard Strauss´ "Die Frau ohen Schatten" ("The woman without a shadow") is back. It is his most complex score, although not the most radical (that is the privilege of "Elektra") nor the one that is closer to the hearts of the opera lover ("Der Rosenkavalier", of course). Written in a war year (1915) the difficult circumstances postponed the premiere until 1919 (in Vienna). Buenos Aires had to wait until 1949 (conductor Erich Kleiber), and it was revived in 1965 and 1970 (led by Leitner); the last one was seen in 1979 (conductor Janowski).

            It has a particularly convoluted symbolic libretto by Strauss´ habitual collaborator, Hugo Von Hoffmannsthal. It is a timely plea for maternity: the shadow  is the ability to bear children. It mixes the worlds of spirits and earth, the latter subdivided between men and animals.  The Spirit world is ruled by Keikobad, who never appears but whose influence is felt at several crucial moments. His daughter, the Empress, had the ability to assume different forms; she was captured in the guise of a gazelle by the Emperor, and in his arms she became a woman. The "Amme" (wet nurse) of the Empress has the task of providing a shadow to the Empress, and the time is running out: if in three days she doesn´t get it, the Emperor will turn to stone and she will return to Keikobad´s realm.

            The only solution is to obtain it descending to the world of human beings: Barak the dyer and the dyer´s wife (no name). She is a shrew, he is too resigned; she is tempted by the "Amme" to have riches and lovers; she tells Barak that she has a lover; he wants to kill her, although she exclaims that she lied,  but a cataclysm (Keikobad) destroys their house and send them to different subterranean caverns. In the final act the central point is that the Empress refuses to obtain her happiness by robbing the dyer´s wife of a shadow; Keikobad recompenses her act of renouncement by giving her one,  the Emperor recovers (he was almost turned to stone), the Amme is sent to the world of men (which she hates), and the dyer and his wife are reconciled; the voices of the unborn celebrate the happy ending.

            The music is of enormous complexity, taking from Wagner the Leitmotiven  idea (there are no less than fifty of these "leading motives",  those of Keikobad and of petrification being particularly strong). The orchestration is gigantic (at least 120 players plus a stage band -reduced at the Colón- and enormous percussion). The five principals have Wagnerian requirements in range and volume. The score lasts almost 3 hours and a half, though with some habitual cuts (especially in the Third Act) it is trimmed to 3 hs. ten (they did this at the Colón). As it stands "Frau..." is considered one of the greatest challenges of the repertoire and only first-rate houses can face it.

            The good news is that our theatre could do it, in the context of an unfinished Colón that still does many production things outside at the so-called La nube in Belgrano, though since last year there are also workshops below the Plaza del Vaticano.

            Further good news: the Colón Orchestra under its new Principal Conductor Ira Levin did a fine job and is now a very respectable outfit after years of substandard results. The score is extremely difficult and there was memorable playing from the trombones or the concertino and the first cello; furthermore, the music in the hands of Levin flowed swiftly and convincingly, providing stunning moments as well as subtle filigrees.

            And the cast was well chosen, though not ideally. I single out the ladies, and particularly Iris Vermilion as the Amme, giving the malevolent character with admirable perspicacity and singing with total command of the whole register, that goes from very high (for a mezzo) to very low (like a contralto). As for the other leads,   Manuela Uhl (debut) and Elena Pankratova (Dyer´s Wife) did well. Uhl is very beautiful and she sings with great concentration; however, the very high top notes give her trouble although she manages them tollerably.  Pankratova had curiously sung here in a diametrically opposed role, Alice in Verdi´s "Falstaff". She now showed stamina and volume in a very heavy role; although marked with excessive vulgarity by the producer, she gave us this unsympatheric character with truth, and blessedly with a sane timbre, not with the excessive asperity some singers adopt in this part: the music is harsh enough without adding to it.  

            The men were less interesting, apart from the excellent Jochen Kupfer (Messenger of the Spirits). Jukka Rasilainen, as happened with his Wotan last year, is workmanlike but cold, lacking in warmth, and Barak without that quality doesn´t come to life. The Emperor is one of those high, shouty tenor roles that few do well; Stephen Gould (debut), a huge man of vast girth, can sing the part, but he lacks line and charm.

            The smaller parts were well taken by local artists, especially Barak´s brothers (Mario De Salvo, Emiliano Bulacios and Sergio Spina), the unseen Falcon (Victoria Gaeta), the Voice from On High (Alejandra Malvino), Pablo Sánchez (Apparition of a Youth) and Marisú Pavón (the Temple Guardian). The Children´s and Mixed Choirs were alright (César Bustamante and Miguel Martínez).  I disagree with the magnifying microphones for the offstage voices.

            On the bad news side: the production of De Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam, which made me long for Roberto Oswald´s superb stage designs. Producer Oscar Homoki and stage and costume designer Wolfgang Gussmann provided a unit set of walls with cabalistic signs in black and white, extended to characters from the spirit world. Yellow is for humans, blue for the Emperor, red for the falcon. The difficult requirements are simply ignored (no cataclysm, no caver, no sword, etc.). Voyeurism is everywhere, ruining intimate scenes. Not my cup of tea.


domingo, junio 09, 2013

Variegated textures in concert life



            A good concert season should provide variety in textures, and this has been the case in recent weeks. String ensemble, flute with strings, children´s choir, mixed and children´s choirs plus pianos and percussion, wind quintet, violin-piano duet, quartet for piano and strings, nonet...Not bad.

            The Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra is an old friend of the Mozarteum (they were here in 1987, 1994 and 1996). Their return after 17 years was a logical idea, and they were accompanied by a star flutist that made his local debut: Emmanuel Pahud. As I have often written, "chamber orchestra" is a misnomer for a string ensemble; to bear that name it should  comport also winds  and have between about 30 and 45 players, ideal for the Haydn symphonies. This string ensemble (the FLCO) numbers 17, all with resoundingly Hungarian surnames, and one of the artists isn´t of the violin family; he plays harpsichord and piano.

            It ´s always nice to start with Johann Sebastian Bach, and we heard the Third Brandenburg Concerto , the only one for strings. The playing was skillful but rather bland, not incisive and rhythmical enough. And I disagree with what they did between the two fast movements; Bach only wrote two harmonic bars, not a movement: just a cadential join. The harpsichordist played a Bach piece I couldn´t place; it sounded thin and out of place (also, harpsichords are hardly heard in the vast Colón).

            Things picked up with Vivaldi´s well-known Flute Concerto Op.10 Nº1, "The Sea Storm".  Pahud showed an uncanny command of the instrument, with perfect intonation and very fast playing; he is a bit of a showman and maybe he exaggerates, but it´s exciting to hear him. The FLCO accompanied well (the roster doesn´t identify the concertino; it should). Then , the nine-fragment Suite by Henri Purcell from the incidental music to "Abdelazer" by Aphra Behn; the second piece is familiar to music lovers, for it was chosen by Britten for his "Variations and fugue on a theme by Purcell". This is charming English Baroque and it was beautifully played. Frederick the Great of Prussia was the rare case of an oustanding monarch that was also a good musician; it was for him that Quantz wrote dozens of flute concertos, but Frederick also wrote three, and we heard the Third, an accomplished piece well worth playing. Again Pahud was a real star.

            After the interval we heard a very interesting score, the Ballad for flute, strings and piano (one of six for different combinations) by the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974), written in a style of moderate but personal modernism. It was splendidly done and had quite a success with the public. That small masterpiece, Mozart´s Divertimento K.138, was well played, but I´ve heard sharper lines in other interpretations. Finally, the precocious Flute Concerto Nº2 by Saverio Mercadante, the Romantic that wrote operas like "Il Bravo"; this concerto was written at 18 in Rossinian vein and it´s a charmer. Brilliant Pahud and attentive string players. Encores (both with flute): Piazzolla´s "Libertango", rather well done, and the "Badinerie" from Bach´s Second Suite, with unnecessary extra ornaments.

            The Coro Nacional de Niños was molded during decades by Vilma Gorini de Teseo; after her death, her disciple María Isabel Sanz took over with responsibility and discipline.   She led them at the Coliseo for Festivales Musicales. The First Part started with the five short songs of "Petites voix" by Francis Poulenc. Then, a wonder of its kind, Britten´s "A ceremony of Carols", accompanied by harpist Ariadna Ruiz Cheylat, excellent. The songs, on texts in Old English, are very beautiful and were sensitively sung; the children tried hard and had some success in pronouncing English and French correctly. The voices are fresh and true.

            Orff´s "Carmina Burana" is a best-seller generally done in the full orchestral version, but it sounds well and in a way sharper in the alternate instrumentation written by Orff: two pianos and percussion (similar to Stravinsky´s "Les Noces"). The children have little to do in this cantata (moreover, thay have erotic lyrics!) dominated by the mixed choir, in this case the Lagun Onak directed by Miguel Ángel Pesce. The version was accurate and rather dry, with some voices showing strain in high notes. So did baritone Alejandro Meerapfel; he is a bass-baritone and the part lies too high for him, though he is a good artist.  Soledad de la Rosa sang well, and countertenor Damián Ramírez gave to his Burnt Swan song  a grotesque touch.

            Ukrainian violinists Oleg Pishenin and Natalia Shishmonina are Ukrainian, married, and live in Argentina. The cycle "Intérpretes argentinos" at the Colón in Sunday mornings is free and a good initiative. They played  a strange arrangement of J.S.Bach´s Partita Nº 1, originally for solo violin, and then the early "Five pieces" for two violins and piano by Shostakovich, accompanied by Iván Rutkauskas. Then, 13 of the 44 Duets for violins by Bartók, fascinating pieces admirably played; a short Fauré ("The awakening", on a famous song of his); "Melody" and "Nocturne" by a composer unknown for me, Mijael Tariverdiev, strictly tonal (here Shishmonina showed a fine line in her solo); and the dynamic "Navarra" by Sarasate, a virtuoso piece well handled. From Fauré on, all the pieces were accompanied by Rutkauskas, with his usual solvency.


For Buenos Aires Herald

A survey of our recent symphonic life



            The London Festival Orchestra is an old friend of Buenos  Aires and of Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo. In earlier visits it was led from his cello first deck by its founder Ross Pople. Due to illness, this new presentation  was under the responsibility of a talented concertino, Robert Gibbs. And there was an added attraction in having various gifted soloists.

            The session had the right amount of renovation. Johann Christian Bach was called "the London Bach", for it was there that the best part of his classicist career evolved. The charming and succinct Overture-Symphony Op. 3 Nº 5 (not Nº 5 Op.3, as wrongly put in the programme page) was very nicely played by this chamber orchestra of 22 players (right for J.C.B., rather small for late Mozart): 9 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos, 1 bass, 1 flute,  2 oboes, 1 bassoon, 2 horns. They all have a full true sound, fine intonation and ensemble. And a sense of style in the contained but expressive and tasteful British way.

            Then, the eight-minute "Fugal Concerto" by Gustav Holst, a delightful miniature where we heard beautiful playing from Christine Messiter (flute) and Christopher O´Neal (oboe), seconded by an alert string group. It is possible that both J.C.B. and Holst were local premieres.

            The best known of Boccherini´s Cello Concerti, in B flat major, G.482, was played as  nowadays in its original form instead of in the romanticized Grützmacher conflation.The cadenzas however are probably from the twentieth century. A brilliant young Russian, the 25-year-old Mikhail Nemtsov, played with arresting brio and positiveness, correctly accompanied .

            Mozart´s masterpiece, Symphony Nº 40, is a major challenge. I liked the performance: the phrasing was intense and close-knit, all playing as one, with fine musicality. The tempi for the first and the last movements were perfect; however, the Andante was a bit fast and the Menuet wasn´t "Allegretto" as marked but "Allegro". There were a couple of horn fluffs, but their sound was firm and present.

            Three encores: the "Badinerie" from J.S.Bach´s Suite Nº 2 was done very cleanly by flutist Messiter. Then, that lovely Massenet piece, "Le dernier sommeil de la Vierge". And finally, a stately Pavane by an English seventeenth-century composer.

            This year I had only heard the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) at a concert that featured Bach´s Cantata Nº 147 and Hindemith. The venue had been changed from the planned Auditorio de Belgrano to the Bolsa de Comercio due to lack of agreement between the Culture secretariat and the Auditorio. They finally came to terms, and the Verdi Requiem was executed at the Auditorio, as it should. But the blunders of the bureaucrats continue; on this occasion: a) there were no hand programmes nor loudspeaker announcements; again, the printers and the Secretariat didn´t agree on terms; b) both Consuelo Álvarez, for the Coro Polifónico Nacional (CPN), and Luis Roggero, for the NS, read protests against the authorities for not having fulfilled promises concerning what the choral and orchestral members call the "career", meaning that seniority and quality, among other things, should be recognised in monetary terms; c) as a sign of being disgruntled, the choir left aside their collective dress code and wore street clothes.I agree with b) and c); the point is that they played and sung, the audience wasn´t held as hostages or disappointed in their right to attend. This is the way to act when there´s labor trouble.

            This is Verdi´s bicentenary and of course his Requiem was the logical choice for a homage. This tremendous piece needs first-class operatic soloists, a full orchestra and a big choir. The latter two items were there, the former not quite. Pedro Calderón in his late seventies can still handle such an intense score, and he did a capable job, although rather short in finesse. The NS played well and the choir sang loudly but accurately. The best soloist was mezzo Cecilia Díaz, very dramatic although the timbral quality wasn´t equalised between registers. Soledad de la Rosa had all the high notes, but harmonics were lacking, the voice sounded white. Lucas Debevec Mayer (bass) tried too hard and forced his interesting vocal material. Tenor Darío Volonté sang coarsely in a verista style.

            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic had a visiting conductor recently: the Russian Daniel Raiskin. He holds posts at Koblenz (Germany) and Lodz (Poland) and looks close to 40. I was sorry that he chose Chabrier´s "España", not because the piece is poor (far from it, the music is brilliant) but there are plenty of Russian pieces very little done here and he could have brought one to us. Anyway, it was a joyful and firmly conducted start to a light First Part. For the second score was Lucas Guinot´s Suite for vibraphone and orchestra, where each movement was a homage to respectively Troilo, Spinetta, Piazzolla and rather surprisingly Gauchito Gil. Agreeable crossover music played admirably by Ángel Frette and seemingly well accompanied.

            There´s nothing light, however, in the massive Ninth Symphony, "The Great", by Schubert. As Schumann wrote, there are heavenly lengths in it, but properly handled it is the only symphony (along with Schubert´s Eighth) that can be spoken of in the same breath as Beethoven´s. I found Raiskin and the Phil more workmanlike than inspired, not poetic enough and sometimes too heavy, but they were never less than fully professional.

For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, junio 01, 2013

Delirious opera productions prevail



            As readers know, I am against the current world trend in opera, for producers consider themselves co-authors rather than interpreters of the librettist. And feel that any transgression is right, for what counts isn´t Da Ponte or Boito but what they, the producers, want to convey. Historical relevance means nothing to them: Cleopatra can be Evita (in La Plata years ago), Lucrezia Borgia is ludicrously transferred to the 1920s fascist Italy (Buenos Aires Lírica recently), blasphemy is permitted (completely nude frontal Virgin in "Pepita Jiménez" as seen by Bieito), "Rigoletto" in Las Vegas (recent Met production). Anything goes, but without the charm of Cole Porter: gross travesty is in, fidelity to the author is out, the poor singers are forced to go through very disagreeable stage business completely irrelevant to the words they sing, and a big etcetera.

             And who are the culprits that sanction this trend? The Artistic Directors of the theatres that hire those producers, and the reviewers that applaud such enormities. If us of the "Old Religion" defend coherence and a modern but faithful version, we are called dinosaurs by the progressives. But let them not forget that some dinosaurs aren´t meek, like the diplodocus, but fierce in their defence of principles; rather like a Tyranosaurus minus the brutality.

            There are  other aspects to consider. One is crucial: young generations haven´t had the benefit of earlier ones: to see the operas in their proper context. And as education has declined so much, an opera taken seriously can be a crucial cultural element in their  formation, but if a Medieval insurrection in Verdi´s "I Vespri Siciliani" is transformed into a Garibaldi adventure, as at the Colón in 2006, and we were given as a reason "because it´s cheaper", no ethical or aesthetic parameters exist any more. And when all is allowed, nothing is allowed. Freedom is one thing, libertinage is another. The greats of yore in production could be   figurative (Visconti) or abstract (Wieland Wagner) but the synthesis of text and music was always respected. We saw what Wagner (the composer) had imagined, even if his grandchild Wieland was a far cry from Richard´ s  contemporaries.

            Lírica Lado B is an enterprising private group whose aim is to present premieres from all periods of opera, and this is certainly meritorious. Since 2009 they have given us Telemann´s "Don Quichotte at the wedding of Comacho" (it should be Camacho, but Telemann changed it...), J.Haydn´s "L´isola disabitata", two operas by Martín y Soler and last year a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, "Utopia Limited". I have reviewed them all and   had good words for at least parts of the musical side, but I was very bothered by the productions, except in the case of Sullivan, where extreme tomfoolery somehow jelled.

            Now it happened again, with the premiere of Mozart´s "Il sogno di Scipione". There was a change of venue: the Teatro Hasta Trilce, at Maza 177 (Almagro), where there is a small pit available for the orchestra ( a very useful matter), a reasonably big stage for chamber opera and a stepped space for the audience, holding about 200. As Lírica Lado B is an alternative enterprise financially well below either Buenos Aires Lírica or Juventus Lyrica, one doesn´t expect costly productions from them, but there are many ways to be tasteful and poor. Unfortunately the formula was tasteless and poor.

            Music lovers should have (many unfortunately don´t) a healthy curiosity in getting to know the lesser creations of the great masters. Certainly if you overlook "Il sogno di Scipione" you won´t miss an important experience (I mean the opera, not the production), but it is a link in the chain that would lead to absolute masterpieces, and even at 16 Mozart was a redoubtable composer. He had already  written six operas!  His K.126 is described as an "azione teatrale" and the librettist is the famous Pietro Metastasio. It is a homage allegory in the Baroque manner with little "azione"; as the text is uninteresting –a moral duel for Scipione´s soul between Costanza and Fortuna, ending with a "licenza" in praise of the new Archbishop Hyeronimus Colloredo of Salzburg- it is almost impossible to make an agile production, for there is just a succession of recitatives and arias. So it might be an adequate choice to offer it in a concert version, for the music is good of its kind, in some passages giving an inkling of the future Mozart (just nine months after its premiere -April 29, 1772- he created the impressive "Lucio Silla").

            On the musical side there were some estimable singers, especially sopranos Natalia Salardino and Laura Bjelis and tenors Maximiliano Agatiello and Christian Casaccio. Hernán Crida is a good actor but his presence as an almost naked Doppelgänger of Scipione was completely uncalled for. The 22-member orchestra was quite weak, even if the orientation from conductor Camilo Santostefano was generally right.

            But the production by German Ivancic was wholly wrong. He opted for ugliness and dirt as an "appropriate" treatment for a dream that happens in the Heavenly Temple.

In a supposed garden a choir of deformed people grotesquely made up surrounds the main characters, who are subjected to the same treatment. Scipione´s ancestors Emilio and Publio suffer particularly. Only  the Licenza is properly dressed as at the end of Scipione´s dream she praises Colloredo. I have unfortunately little hope that Lírica Lado B will change its ways.
For Buenos Aires Herald

Lights and shadows at the Phil


            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic (the "Phil") went on with its season among lights and shadows. The concert on May 2 was supposed to be conducted by Adam Medveczky (Polish; it would have been his debut), but for some private reason he cancelled, and was replaced by Alexis Soriano (Spanish, debut). I don´t know if the results would have been better with Medveczky, but the session was only of middling quality. The soloist was French pianist Pascal Rogé, much appreciated from earlier seasons, and I was sorry that the announced Fauré Ballade (an exquisite piece) was replaced by Mozart´s Rondo K.386, for the original programming blended beautifully with the second score played by the soloist, Poulenc´s Piano Concerto.

            Also, I believe that conductors that make their debut here should bring along a piece of their repertoire little-known or unknown here; from a Polish artist I would have expected something by Lutoslawski, e.g., and not Gilardi´s "El gaucho con botas nuevas", programmed as a homage for the  fiftieth anniversary of his death, which should be assigned to an Argentine conductor. And from Soriano, one of the very many interesting works never heard here from Spain. Another point: it´s bad policy to bring over a conductor for just one concert; they should have at least two consecutive concerts, for in the first, orchestra and conductor get to know each other and in the second the conductor treads much firmer ground. This is the second time this year that a conductor is replaced.

            Although Soriano has worked in resident posts in Russia and the USA, I found his conducting tentative in the First Part, with a rather disjointed Gilardi (admittedly the score has some difficult rhythms) and poor accompaniments in Mozart and Poulenc, with the orchestra sounding harsh and insecure. Was it due to the lack of adequate support that Rogé disappointed me, albeit in a much higher plane? He played with taste and adequate technique, but rather opaquely. If I say that he was at his best in the encore, Satie´s Gymnopédie Nº3, it becomes obvious that he felt uncomfortable. And the Poulenc is a tricky creation, with constant contrasts of mood, the composer´s ideas far from the level of his Concerto for two pianos; it´s only with sympathetic handling and collaboration that it convinces the audience.

            Probably the conductor knew Schumann´s First Symphony ("Spring") much better, for there his rather fleet and purposeful reading was followed by an attentive orchestra with much better sound. Maybe he missed some of the poetry, but the music-making remained positive.

            The Phil´s Artist Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke was back at the helm for the next two concerts. He completely dominates the subscription series conducting twelve out of nineteen concerts, which seems to me quite excessive. Also, I feel that the selection of foreign and Argentine conductors leaves out too many worthwhile names and sometimes the imports could have stayed home with artistic gain for the series. However, Diemecke has  authentic talent and very good rapport with the players. But his programming often joins incompatible material, and this was a case in point: Chopin´s First Piano Concerto is hardly  a ready partner for Stravinsky´s "Rite of Spring".  At least the performances were in both cases so good that the incongruence was less felt.

            Our pianist Iván Rutkauskas, born 1989, is certainly one of the best of his generation. With fine support from Diemecke, who managed to make acceptable Chopin´s orchestra, we heard extremely subtle and firm pianism, with admirable phrasing and sensitivity. And after the interval, the conductor feted the centenary of that seminal Stravinsky score with a performance in which the Phil showed herself fully equal to the enormous demands (splendid bassoon, e.g.) and Diemecke again was in impressive command. I would only question an excess of tam tam in the final dance.

            I questioned the programming acumen of Diemecke and this was again felt in the following concert. This is the Wagner bicentenary year, and the Colón´s Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi has shamefully ignored him in the opera season, so this Phil concert  was the only atonement to such a grievous fault. But... instead of an all-Wagner programme, Rachmaninov felt like an intruder after the splendid early Overture to "Rienzi", in an exciting performance.  True, Concerto Nº 1 is an astonishingly mature Op.1 (much more personal than "Aleko") and it gave us the chance to appraise a valuable Brazilian pianist, Jean-Louis Steuerman. He has a sixtyish appearance and an abundant CV; his playing was accurate and solid in extremely complicated writing, though lacking in Romantic feeling, and he was well accompanied (the joins are fearful in Rachmaninov concerti).

            I question the pertinence of a Diemecke decision: to play all pieces in the Second Part without a pause; indeed, the applause is necessary to separate quite different worlds, especially when they were not played chronologically. But what wonderful music, and how well it was played and conducted! Thus we heard: Prelude to Act 3 of "Lohengrin"; the orchestral adaptation of "The Ride of the Valkyries" (of course, from "The Valkyrie"); the Prelude and Love-death from "Tristan and Isolde" (again, adapted without voice by the composer) and the Overture to "Tannhäuser", a truly rousing end. I would have preferred Rachmaninov replaced by the "Wesendock Lieder", even if the orchestration isn´t by Wagner, but my heart was uplifted and happy.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Welcome renovation from some musical groups



            No matter the final result of the concert, I always welcome enterprise in programming, for it involves risk, considering the intellectual laziness of a high percentage of the audiences. So organisations and artists that do pioneering work in making known valuable but neglected repertoires have my sympathy and support.

            "Our" Ramiro Albino, who prepares weekly his column Critic´s Choice for the Herald, is an expert on the Baroque, and ten years ago he founded at the Museo Fernández Blanco  Capilla del Sol, a vocal-instrumental ensemble fully dedicated to Latin-American Baroque. It wouldn´t be possible without the intelligent and sensitive work of the Museum´s Director, Jorge Cometti, and of the Musical Coordinator Leila Makarius. They fully understand the cultural weight and contribution to the diffusion of this music that Capilla del Sol symbolizes. The group has made two CDs and is waiting for the money to record as a third CD precisely what we heard in the concert I am reviewing:  "Vengan a la Fiesta" ("Come to the Feast or Celebration"): Music of the women´s convents of Colonial America.

            For one reason or another last year I couldn´t attend any of the concerts of the Conciertos Pilar Golf subscription series. Now in their ninth season, they offer eight concerts programmed and presented by Graciela Nobilo. Although I feel that the total programming veers a bit too much to crossover, most of what they offer give those that either live in Pilar or have weekend houses at the countries of the area a stimulating night of music, generally with well-chosen artists. It´s worth doing the hour trip from our city to attend these concerts.

            In this case they plunged into the unknown with Capilla del Sol´s two-part programme, presented with vehement enthusiasm by Albino. As it is a newly concocted project, I surmise that all was heard as a premiere.  Part I, "The Mass", centered on a "Misa a duo y bajo de la escoleta (school) de Bethlehem (Colegio de San Miguel, Belén, México) by Mariano Soberanis; this rather beautiful music similar to contemporary eighteenth-century Spanish masses was heard interspersed with Verses for organ (short pieces usually in fugal style played between parts of  a mass) by Marcos Vega and Anonymous from Belén and Puebla. The First Part ended with "Con suavidad de voces" by the Mexican Juan de Vaeza, a "chansoneta" ("canzonet") to accompany the profession of "Theresica la chiquita", who entered  a Puebla convent.

            The Second Part was "La Fiesta", for there was festive music in the convents. We had a varied panorama. Three anonymous pieces from the Guatemalan Convent of Santa Eulalia: a charming "Pabanilla" (short pavan) for recorder, finely played by Albino; and two vocal pieces, "María de solo un buelo" (orthography was different then) and "Oy hazemos fiesta todas", very spry. Then, a Bogotá seventeenth-century "villancico de negros", for indeed black people had their own Christian music (I suppose there were black nuns). An unannounced piece for two voices took the place of another that was in the hand programme. Then, "Para divertir al niño" (a reference to the infant Christ) by the Lima composer Eustaquio Franco Rebollo. And finally, "Oygan, escuchen, atiendan" by Manuel de Mesa y Carrizo, from Sucre´s National Archive, a "jacarilla" (short "jácara", a tune for singing and dancing) for the Conception of Our Lady. Charming, joyful music, with a popular feeling.

             In this particular instance Capilla del Sol was integrated by four sopranos, two contraltos and six players. Although there were a few vocal discordances and the organ playing wasn´t completely accurate, the spirit of the music was strongly communicated.

Albino´s arduous work of finding the materials and infusing them with life was admirable. Some of the sources were provided by such illustrious musicologist friends of mine as Waldemar Axel Roldán and Diana Fernández Calvo. An excellent interview of Albino by Daniel Varacalli Costas gave first-rate information in the hand programme.

            Once a year the Academia Bach occupies for two nights the wonderful main hall of the Museo Larreta, with its ideal intimate ambience and acoustics for the Baroque. This time our best young cellist, José Araujo, gave a recital accompanied by harpsichordist Matías Targhetta. The programme followed the central idea of this year´s cycle: Bach and the Dresden Court. From Johann Sebastian, two important works: the "Italian Concerto", played correctly rather than brilliantly by Targhetta; and the very difficult Suite Nº 6, where Araujo gave us  good work, with manly, true sound and clean articulation; some small smudges made no serious dent on his accomplishment. This Suite has the added problem of having been written for a five-stringed "viola pomposa", an instrument similar to the cello but with an ampler range of three octaves; to play it in the four-stringed cello is quite a feat.

            The other pieces were by Italians that worked at or for the Dresden Court. Francesco Veracini´s "Overture and aria" for cello and continuo (harpsichord)  was interesting and chromatic, though it´s a pity that in a programme of the Academy we heard a transcription rather than an original. From Nicola Porpora, a beautiful Sonata in F por cello and continuo in the "da chiesa" mold (slow-fast-slow-fast). And from Vivaldi, a Sonata of the same type in A minor, RV 43. All this music was finely played, with taste and style, by the artists. The presentation was, as usual, by Mario Videla.

For Buenos Aires Herald


Contemporary music and ballet: controversial as always


            Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary: "contemporary: living or existing at the same time". Short and to the point, but it leaves some questions dangling. If I apply it to a composer, it stands to reason that I should be old enough to be able to appreciate his music. Well, I am 74;  Béla Bartók  died in 1945 and I was almost seven, barely able to understand his pieces "For children". But Stravinsky died in 1972, so he was my contemporary. And as I grew older, such newer composers as Berio or Ligeti were too.  But if a music lover was born in 1970, Stravinsky wasn´t contemporary.  Some composers are established classics though their music is still not in the public domain (70 years after his death); Richard Strauss died in 1949 and by that time I knew very little of his music, but in 1951 I triumphantly bought a marvelous record with "Don Juan " and "Till Eulenspiegel´s Merry Pranks" conducted by Clemens Krauss. And as a precocious DJ I put it on during lunch in a Mar del Plata hotel. For me it was a great classic; for my parents he was a contemporary.

            Another angle:  "contemporary" means according to the "Zeitgeist" ("spirit of the times")? If so, during the Thirties Stravinsky, Ravel or Schönberg responded to this idea but not Rachmaninov nor Strauss. Is it right for some programmers to eliminate tonal music written in the Sixties or Eighties? I feel it isn´t and that the accent on experimentation and avantgarde is only a part of the story. One has to be "progressive" up to a point, but any veteran knows that some glorified trends fell by the wayside through the decades, and that very little experimental music has remained on the repertoire. I stand on what I believe is the best position: a full acceptance of time-proven masterpieces in various styles and from all tendencies, and a cautious willingness to hear the trendy with a touch of skepticism.

            It is in this direction that I want to comment on some recent events. I deeply admire the collective quality of the Arditti Quartet, several times our guest, and certainly welcome their presence at the Colón for the first time, inaugurating the five-event "Colón Contemporáneo" non-subscription series. Since its inception in 1974 the first violin has always been Irvine Arditti; the current group is renovated, with Ralf Ehlers (second violin), Lucas Fels (viola) and Ashot Sarkissjan (cello). After an incredible 38 years at his redoubtably difficult post, Arditti remains fully in charge. Although sometimes they play earlier repertoire, the Quartet is fully committed to the music of our time. They have commissioned and premiered dozens and dozens of scores, and their collective accuracy and conviction allows us to hear very difficult music with considerable faith in having experienced it under the best circumstances.  Now, whether you like it or not is another thing.

            The considerable audience that night (the theatre wasn´t full, but it´s quite a feat to interest so many people to such a tough musical menu) was very different from that of most Colón concerts: much younger and more Bohemian, probably a fan of the November series at the Teatro San Martín; and they were fascinated. Of course,when an enormous prestige has been well won, even a mainstream public reacts positively, and I remember that this happened with the Ensemble Intercontemporain under Pierre Boulez a good many years ago: "I didn´t understand the music but it seemed wonderfully played" was a typical comment.

            Even in 1927 Bartók was an uncompromising composer, and his Fourth Quartet is a milestone of the genre that demands utmost concentration.  Gyorgy Ligeti´s Second Quartet (1968) is of course much more "modern", but it has a heavy debt with Bartók´s, even in its unconventional five-movement structure. Beginning the Second Part, the Arditti played (a first time for them) as a homage to the recently deceased Gerardo Gandini, his only piece for quartet: "Two versions" (1981) are brief, melancholy, tonal, subtle, mainly pianissimo. In complete contrast; Helmut Lachenmann´s Quartet Nº 3, "Grido", brings us into the XXIst Century. The 22-minute score is dedicated to the then-members (2001) of the Arditti; first names: G for Graeme, R for Rohan, I for Irvine, D for Dov and an added O. But "Shout" becomes the piece, quite violent and complex: as the programme notes have it, "fissures, ruptures, questionings and enigmas". The encores: a fragment from Ferneyhough´s Fifth Quartet, and "Fetzen" ("Bits") by Wolfgang Rihm.

            A brief account of Doug Varone and Dancers, a BAM Dance Motion USA presentation at the Sal Coronado in two free presentations. The Herald published recently an  interview of Varone by Pablo Toledo. The company is well-established; it was founded in 1986 by choreographer-director Varone. It´s an accomplished chamber group; eight dancers came to BA, all of them athletic and in full command of modern dance style. The three choreographies were by Varone.

            I preferred the first, "Lux" (2006), on Philip Glass´"The Light" in his usual minimalist repetitive stance; although I dislike this sort of music, its fast dynamic rhythm gave Varone a background for swift, very American  groupings, danced with fine precision. The 12-minute "Home" (1988) was more mime than dancing: a marriage falls apart and two chairs are constantly used to express their misunderstandings. Well done by Lawrence Cassella and Erin Owen. Franky I can´t agree with the choice of music for the third piece: in "Carrugi" (2012) we hear 33 minutes taken from Mozart´s early oratorio "La Betulia Liberata" (the story of Judith and Holofernes) and although there was some good dancing I could establish no connection between the movements and what was being told.

For Buenos Aires Herald