viernes, febrero 14, 2014

Sad stories about orchestras and institutions


            High culture isn´t immune to political and economic factors; their institutions don´t inhabit a preserved oasis of calm, sane ideas and illuminated sponsorship. I will tell you four stories, and to my mind all are rather sad.

            By now it´s common knowledge that Venezuela, incredible as it may seem in the disastrous country of Chávez, has been perfecting for three decades the best system in the world of children and youth orchestras, symbolized by the superb top of the pyramid, the Simón Bolívar led by Gustavo Dudamel. Mario Benzecry has long been an admirer of the Venezuelan model and he founded twenty years ago the Orquesta Juvenil Libertador San Martín; he had to wait all that time to finally obtain a national subsidy last year; a hurrah for his constancy. And an admirable girl called Valeria Atela, my disciple in musical criticism, founded fifteen years ago the Orquesta Escuela de Chascomús, now the best of several provincial projects. So the idea has taken hold. And the enterprising Andrea Merenzon has organized huge international meetings of children and juvenile orchestras in such places as Iguazú or our Luna Park.

            You might wonder, what´s sad about all this? On the contrary, although we are far from Venezuela´s prowess, these are good steps. But the main effort in our capital is now being undermined by the Macri government, and that´s what I want to stress.

            The Buenos Aires Program of Children and Youth Orchestras started about fifteen years ago, created by pianist Claudio Espector following the ideas of Maestro José Antonio Abreu, the soul of the Venezuelan project. The consistent work of Espector has been widely praised by the musical community, and last year the City Legislators declared him Distinguished Cultural Personality; the day before Christmas a massive mobilisation gave him total support in front of the Ministry of Education.

            Why? Because Soledad Acuña, Undersecretary of Educational Equality and overseer of the orchestral program, wants to fire him as coordinator of the project. Her reason: they have a different outlook (she doesn´t specify) on the social educational aspects, not solely the musical. But she is accused by parents and teachers of suspending concerts and workshops, reducing food and cutting the budget for   instrument repair and replacement.

            There is now an impressive number of these orchestras so markedly social : 16, with 1700 pupils between 6 and 18-years-old. Eduardo Ihidoype, who had been the Director of the Colón´s Instituto Superior de Arte during recent years, was named Director of the Operative Management of Music for Equality. There are also several string and tango orchestras as well as so-called Orchestras of Associated Management with foundations. According to the Ministry of Education, all this is in addition, not replacement, of the children and youth orchestras.

            But Espector is angry and he says "they want to break up the effort of 16 years of development";  he adds that the lives of many boys have been positively changed.  The basic principles must be preserved: musical formation, social inclusion, artistic development. Will they be? And why is this attack on the founder supported by the Minister of Education?

            Another sad story concerns the Orquesta Estable de la Radio y Televisión Pública Argentina, a  little-known organism that has existed for the last nine years but is now endangered. In Europe such orchestras have a long tradition and some of them are world-class, such as the Bavarian Radio Orchestra (which will visit us this year).  Veterans such as myself remember fondly the Orquesta de Radio del Estado doing splendid work in the Fifties and Sixties with first-rate foreign conductors, until the Illia Government suppressed it. Currently Radio Nacional has a small chamber orchestra of good standard.

            The OERTPA should have had enough budget and support to have quality seasons with classic repertoire, but it has been poorly treated and in recent months the conflict has come to a boil. It is a 50-player  orchestra with some players of distinction, such as the concertino Gabriel Pinette and the hornist Silvia Lanzón.  Tristán Bauer, who controls it, has decided to disregard the claims of the players, who point out the incongruity of being called "Estables" but having no normal recognized rights. Bauer has put them in the condition of an "eventual" orchestra with no set plans, just a step away from dissolving it. They deserve the solidarity of other orchestras and of musical criticism and I wish them well. Bauer is being shortsighted and unfair.

            My final two cases are of a different kind: private institutions that either have called it quits or are evaluating doing so. The Pilar Golf Concerts have been the best of the "Gran Buenos Aires", providing quality artists and programmes for the last decade to residents of the area; now, with the lowest of profiles and no announcement, the organizers have decided to close shop. I won´t be the only one that will regret it: the place is beautiful and the music was worthwhile.

            For twenty years Susana Santillán has sustained La Scala de San Telmo, offering hundreds of concerts and giving priority to the promotion of young talents. The hall is very small and that was always a problem, acknowledged by a parallel series, "La Scala fuera de La Scala", where bigger venues were host to established artists. Now she is pondering whether the results vouchsafe going on, discouraged by very poor attendance at the San Telmo house. I hope that she will persist, maybe changing some aspects of programming.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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