domingo, junio 22, 2014

Diversity in the world of orchestras


            In recent weeks I had the occasion to appreciate very different orchestras, apart from the two main ones of our city (the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the National Symphony), about which I will write in a separate article. A visiting orchestra, the Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra; the commemoration of the twenty years of the Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Nacional José de San Martín (ex Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Libertador San Martín); the first visit to B.A. in many years of the Orquesta Sinfónica Provincial de Rosario; and the revelation (for me) of the splendid Orquesta Juvenil del Bicentenario.

            The Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra, whose debut presentation was at AMIJAI, is another example of the richness of Israel´s concert life. It is a chamber orchestra, 33-strong, and it has reached its 40th year. Its conductor is Shalev Ad-El and in this tour the Orchestra brought along two members of Multipiano (I saw a concert from them in a Midday Concert some months ago), Tomer Lev and Berenika Glixman, who played Mozart´s Two-piano Concerto.

            The other main interest was the programming, for there were two interesting premieres: the Overture to Meyerbeer´s "Alimelek" and five fragments of the Suite "Das Jahr" ("The Year"), written by Fanny Mendelssohn for piano and orchestrated by Israel Sharon. Three pieces were standard: the Overture and Scherzo from Felix Mendelssohn´s incidental music to Shakespeare´s "A Midsummer Night´s Dream", and as an encore, Mozart´s Overture to "Don Giovanni".

            "Alimelek" is a comedy, and the music is tuneful and rhythmic. It´s a shame that Meyerbeer´s operas are never done here, for he dominated the Paris Opera during thirty years. As to Fanny´s music, it is truly Romantic and very charming, and it got a sympathetic orchestration in style; I was sorry that they didn´t play the whole lot as announced, although it would have been long (twelve pieces -one for each month- plus a chorale after December).

            The Orchestra is good though not outstanding, and the conductor is a bit excentric but fully professional. The pianists were uneven, with passages solved easily and others with bad joins.

            Mario Benzecry was the pioneer in Argentina of the Abreu Venezuelan Method, and he founded the Sinfónica Juvenil Libertador back in 1994, finding its home in the Main Hall of the Facultad de Derecho, UBA, thus activating this venue for concerts.  I have always disliked its resonant acoustics, but it´s big and free and apparently it has no alternative.

            Benzecy had no sponsors during 18 years, until it finally got two years ago the financial support of the Nation´s Cultural Secretariat (now it will be Ministerial) and the Ministry of Planning and Public Financing, through its programme "Cultural Equality".  The current Orchestra is certainly the best in this long period, and it was a pleasure to hear it in Ginastera´s juvenile and splendid "Ollantay" and in Mahler´s First Symphony.

Benzecry keeps well in his seventies and he led them with care and efficacy; the orchestra was concentrated and disciplined, with clear attacks and releases.

            I was happy with the visit of the Orquesta Sinfónica Provincial de Rosario, for provincial orchestras are rarely seen in the capital of the Republic; federalism isn´t often practiced. I had good references of their conductor, the Swiss Nicolas Rauss, their leader since 2008 and adventurous in his programming. It´s a big orchestra (90 players) and all the sections produce good sound quality. The venue was again the Facultad de Derecho.

            The First Part was built around soprano Virginia Tola, who sang Rossini (from the Stabat Mater), Wagner ("Dich teure Halle" from "Tannhäuser"), Cilea ("Io son l´umile ancella" from "Adriana Lecouvreur") and Verdi (two fragments from "Il Trovatore"), plus a zarzuela encore. Her voice is darker and has more vibrato nowadays; I found her out of style in Rossini and Wagner, fully committed and convincing in Cilea and positive in Verdi. The Orchestra accompanied well and added Wagner´s Prelude to the Third Act of "Lohengrin", curiously with a soft conclusion, a pleasant Notturno from Martucci and the Intermezzo from Leoncavallo´s "I Pagliacci".

            Further showing his versatility and amazing memory (all without a score) he conducted in the Second Part  "Muchacho jujeño" from "Tres romances argentinos" by Guastavino, and Chausson´s admirable and rarely played Symphony, a dense, 32-minute three-movement score deeply influenced by Franck. It showed without doubt that Rosario has both a symphony orchestra and a conductor of very respectable level.

            I had high hopes for the concert of the Orquesta Juvenil del Bicentenario conducted by Alejo Pérez for the Midday Concerts of the Mozarteum. The results were beyond expectations; I was bowled over by their interpretation of Mahler´s First and I didn´t mind hearing it again. It´s a huge orchestra (100 players), the players come form all over Argentina and I didn´t recognize a single name. 

            Pérez is our most distinguished young conductor and his reading was characteristically precise and unexaggerated. It sounded like he had a long rehearsal period but  the result was so good because previously there was a great job of selecting players, probably done by Pérez himself. Minor smudges apart, there were impressive soloists, good intonation and the kind of commitment essential for lasting work.

            The Orchestra was formed under the aegis of the Nation´s Education Ministry in 2010; they played the Fantastic Symphony by Berlioz in August 2012 for the Midday series but I missed it. There´s no information about their activities and I don´t know if the Orchestra only has presentations when Pérez is in the country. It should have a full calendar with various conductors, for it is the best of its kind.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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