miércoles, enero 28, 2015

The final concerts of 2015 as Summer´s desert is upon us

            I always grow melancholy when the time arrives to write my column on the vanishing final concerts of the season. For to me culture isn´t a seasonal matter, and I get angry when I think of the gloomy musical desert of the next two months. Last year at about this time I analyzed this phenomenon and gave some hints of how this absence might be mitigated, but nothing has happened. Europe is full of Summer festivals, we have none. Not even something I dislike but is better than nothing: open air amplified concerts. So this account of two recent concerts is a goodbye to live music for a long time (I do hope that something unforeseen will prove me a bad prophet).

            Patricia Pouchulu is an enthusiastic personality long active as concert organiser. She founded La Bella Música, dedicated to cycles of concerts or special events. It was born in December 2003 with Haydn´s oratorio "The Creation" and during several seasons it presented  important choral-symphonic projects, featuring such pieces as "L´enfance du Christ" (Berlioz). Considering the demise of the Asociación Wagneriana, those concerts filled a gap and were eagerly awaited.

            However, the orientation changed since 2011, when Pouchulu conducted at the Avenida (the venue since then) Beethoven´s "Pastoral Symphony" and Vivaldi´s "The Four Seasons". Beethoven and Mendelssohn in 2012, and Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky in 2013, preceded this year´s concert, with Beethoven´s Fifth Piano Concerto, "Emperor" (with Nahuel Clérici) and Tchaikovsky´s Symphony Nº5. As you can see, four composers in these four years.

            Guided by Pedro Calderón, Carlos Vieu and Lucía Zicos in conducting technique, she participated in masterclasses in Berlin with Michail Jurowski (2009), had experience in Moscow conducting the Russian National Orchestra (2011) and in Vilnius (Latvia), 2012-13. She has been a good learner and exhibits in her concerts clear orthodox gestures with no exaggeration.

            Conducting is a hard profession for you only progress if you can be frequently in front of an orchestra. That only happens in Argentina if you are Principal Conductor somewhere, even with small concerns.  If you are a woman you have to fight with the prejudice that pretends  men have stronger character to dominate and persuade as many as a hundred musicians to play music in the way the conductor wants.

            However, even if women are still vastly outnumbered in the world (and here), things are gradually changing, and such names as Young or Mälkki in Europe are respected and admired. And here, Zicos is a good example of a talented young artist. Pouchulu has come a bit late in her career to conducting but she shows herself fully committed.

            Assembling an orchestra is an expensive affair, even if it is only one concert. Over the years she has lured some first-rate players from the B.A.Philharmonic and the National Symphony and the 63 artists were a first-rate group who seem to have a good connection with Pouchulu. (I was surprised that on the same evening the Phil was playing "The Nutcracker" at the Colón, for that theatre doesn´t easily "lend" players).

            This is her great project of the year, and as it comes after the concert season of both the Phil and the NS, it closes the symphonic activity. For the music lover it is a pleasant occasion, done with enthusiasm and professionalism. But of course the fact remains that year after year we hear well-trodden standards. I would ask of her for the next years a judicious mixture of the hits with more innovative material from any time in orchestral history, and the best idea would be to revert at least partially to the choral-symphonic repertoire.

            Nahuel Clerici is a young Argentine that lives in Europe, and this was his rentrée.  His playing was careful and his phrasing well considered, but he got confused at the end of the slow movement (wrong chords) and the interpretation was staid, with little imagination. He was well accompanied. He gave two Scriabin Etudes as encores, but it was rather embarrassing for the applause had died out before the first one.           

            Tchaikovsky´s Fifth Symphony is of course a masterpiece and a challenge, and I have to acknowledge that Pouchulu offered a meritorious interpretation abetted by very decent playing. She observed the score meticulously and firmly. I do hope that she will get opportunities to conduct with some frequency outside La Bella Música for she needs  

the flexibility that only comes with practice.

            She decided to offer an encore (not a common practice with B.A.-based orchestras), and curiously she offered the "Waltz of the Flowers" from "The Nutcracker" almost at the same time as the Colón.

            Just a week before, La Bella Música presented the last of its concerts at the Sofitel (Soirées Musicales Premium). Two well-grounded artists of vast career presented an attractive programme. They were Sebastián Masci (violin) and Orlando Milláa (piano) and they concentrated on sonatas:  Brahms´ introspective Nº 2, Turina´s rarely done "Sonata Española Nº 1" and a late Schumann opus, his First Sonata for violin and piano, soemwhat dense but with interesting moments. The encore: Piazzolla´s "Adiós Nonino" in an excellent arrangement by José Bragato (who is now 99!). The playing, although not note-perfect, had conviction and knowledge of styles.

For Buenos Aires Herald

An academic “Nutcracker” closes the Colón season

         For many of my generation, the first contact with Tchaikovsky´s "The Nutcracker" was its suite as played by the Philadelphia Orcxhestra under Leopold Stokowski for Disney´s wonderful "Fantasia". In fact, the whole film opened my ears and visual sensitivity at the tender age of six, and I never recovered from the impact. The images and the music of  the Tchaikovskian suite were indelibly imprinted on me; thus, to this day, the Chinese Dance is the Mushroom Dance for me.

            My second epiphany came during the Christmas week of 1957 when, 18-years-old, I saw the delicious Balanchine choreography with his perfect New York City Ballet. After its 1954 inception it became a Manhattan staple at almost every succeeding season.

            And then came the Colón revelation in 1971 of Rudolf Nureyev´s marvelous choreography and interpretation of both Drosselmeyer and the Prince, plus the imaginative and beautiful stage designs by Nicholas Georgiadis. It was the Colón at its very best, in the last full year of Artistic Director Enzo Valenti Ferro´s admirable tenure.

Many years later, in 1997 the Nureyev conception was again presented, and then  repeated in several seasons.

            Alas, in 2009 Aleth Francillon, famous revivalist of the Nureyev legacy, was mistreated by Pedro Pablo García Caffi, then and now Artistic Director, and vowed that no Nureyev choreography would be offered at the Colón as long as this Directorship would last. She was as good as her word, and the Nureyev choreography vanished from the repertoire. It was a sore blot in the Colón history.

            But "The Nutcracker" is too important a ballet to disappear, even if such a valuable choreography is no longer available. And so this year it closed the season with  choreographic work by the Colón Ballet´s directress Lidia Segni, based on the original Petipa plot and the traditional Ivanov choreography. But with changes that accented the academic side, changed characters and fragment denominations without need and blunted the humorous aspects of this ballet apt for children.

            Two years ago my seven-year old granddaughter was fascinated by Iñaki Urlezaga´s adaptation (by the way, revived this year almost simultaneously with the Colón presentation). Now I took a grandparent´s risk and exceptionally I bought a loge on the "Palco Alto" region, smack in the center, ideal tickets, and I brought along  two granddaughters of nine and almost seven, and a grandson of seven. The verdict: the girls liked it, the boy was bored. But more important for this review, my wife and I were sometimes bored. And we love this ballet.

            For those who don´t know it, let me give a short conspectus. It is based on an E.T.A. Hoffmann short story, "The Nutcracker and the Mice King", written in 1819 and typical of his wild imagination. It seems just a sweet children ballet in Petipa´s adaptation but it does have a dark side. The First Act´s initial tableau is just a Christmas party in which Clara receives as a toy a nutcracker that looks like a soldier.  The guests leave, she falls asleep and has a nightmare: she is being attacked by mice; but the "soldier" protects her, eventually transforms into a Prince and leads her to a magic Palace where she will see wonderful dances. But then she wakes up and realizes that it was all a dream.

            Tchakovsky´s music isn´t always on the same level, especially in the opening scene, though the Battle has an ominous power, the exotic dances are very nice, and there are two anthological waltzes, that of the Snowflakes with wordless children´s choir and the Flowers´ famous one.  The musical side was well taken care of by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic under the expert Emmanuel Siffert and the brief choral passages were sang with alluring freshness by the Colón Children Choir. 

            The steps were academic both in its good and bad sense: cleanly executed, beautiful in themselves; but also repetitious and unimaginative. Mistakes were many; just a few: there was nary an inkling of why the Flower Waltz is called thus; the mice corraled Clara thrice before the Soldier intervened; Fritz, Clara´s brother, was a cipher instead of a truly bothersome jealous personality; there was no fun in the Christmas tree scene, and it didn´t grow much; there was no Sugar-Plum Fairy; etc.

            The dancers were good (I´m reporting on the penultimate performance), especially Karina Olmedo as Clara. Her Prince, Gerardo Wyss, brought a reasonable technique but little character, and as Drosselmeyer left me thinking of Nureyev´s powerful interpretation. I liked Paula Cassano as the Snowflake Queen. Macarena Giménez as the Doll and Maximiliano Iglesias as Harlequin did well. Igor Gopkalo was a staid Father. On the exotic dances I enjoyed the sensual flexibility of  the Arabian Dance; the others were correct. The Corps de Ballet was reasonably disciplined.

            Usually the stage designer is more important than the costume designer, but the latter was the famous Gino Bogani in his first ballet job.  He did very creditable work, with elegant gowns, convincing mice with luminous eyes and "Russian", "Spanish" and "Chinese" clothes. Sergio Massa´s stage designs were uneven: the snow-covered wood was beautiful, the Christmas party rather nondescript and the Enchanted Palace of the Kingdom of Sweets was effective but too vulgar. The lighting by Rubén Conde was traditional.

             All in all, too much academy and too little imagination. Shame on the Colón, there was no air conditioning...

For Buenos Aires Herald


            El compositor argentino Gustavo Fedel me ha hecho llegar dos CDs con obras suyas y las comento en mi blog con gusto. Martha Noguera incluyó una breve partitura de este creador en su concierto de Chopiniana del año pasado y me gustó; ello provocó el generoso gesto de Fedel de enviarme estos CDs.

            Fue alumno de composición de nadie menos que Roberto García Morillo, admirable nombre en nuestra historia musical, dueño de un gran bagaje técnico. Esto le dio una sólida base a Fedel, pese a que su temperamento y creación no pretende la complejidad que con frecuencia presenta García Morillo. Pero tuvo una influencia aún más fuerte: la de  Astor Piazzolla, que lo llevó a la senda del tango renovador; sin embargo, el estilo de Fedel es menos rítmico y más tradicional en lo melódico que el de su mentor.

            Fue arreglador de música para terceros; p.ej., el poeta Hamlet Lima Quintana, ligado a la proyección folklórica, pero sobre todo tangueros, como el propio Piazzolla, el poeta Horacio Ferrer (recientemente fallecido), el cantante Trelles,  Amelita Baltar (la musa de Piazzolla) o el gran violinista Antonio Agri.

            Los discos que me ha enviado responden a las dos vertientes de su creación: la de orientación tanguera y la de formas clásicas. Fedel, excelente pianista (siempre claro y preciso), presenta la Suite "La otra ciudad" y a continuación, "Cinco tangos". El otro disco nos ofrece la "Sonata dionisíaca" y el "Stabat Mater", dos géneros absolutamente diferentes de la música académica.

            En la historia de la música están los autores que han abierto nuevos caminos y aquellos que se han mantenido sin innovar pero escribiendo música grata y bien escrita. Esos caminos aludidos a veces han sido fecundos  y continúan siendo modernos en la actualidad en obras centenarias y opuestas, como "La Consagración de la Primavera" de Stravinsky o "Pierrot Lunaire" de Schönberg. Pero también han hecho a veces mucho mal, como el dadaísmo insolente y vacuo de John Cage o el minimalismo de Philip Glass.

            Fedel pertenece a la segunda tendencia: su armonía es tradicional, a veces en demasía: es un músico netamente tonal y está bien  que lo sea, porque es un lenguaje que en él se siente sincero y bien manejado. Con la música tanto académica como popular sucede algo parecido a lo que ocurre en la plástica: obras conceptuales como el tiburón en formol de Damien Hirst (a mi juicio un terrible bluff) se realizan paralelamente a excelentes obras figurativas que podrían haber sido hechas hace cien años. Y ahora en la música hay mucho experimento estéril y feo, contrastado con buena música elaborada según pautas anteriores, y en el medio, aquellos que exhiben rasgos de audacia aunque sobre una sólida base tradicional (Rautawaara o Corigliano, p.ej.). Confieso preferir esta última tendencia, pero ello no quita que escucho con placer música como la de Fedel.

            El disco de orientación tanguera está en aquello que se denomina "crossover" (¿porqué no "cruce"): una música de carácter popular manejada con técnica académica. Su ejemplo máximo en la historia es George Gershwin, y en nuestro medio Piazzolla para el tango y Guillo Espel para la proyección folklórica.

            Tangos escritos por músicos de formación académica existen ya desde fines del siglo XIX, y hay un disco de Estela Telerman muy ilustrativo al respecto.  "La otra ciudad" de Fedel está descripta como "suite para ballet y cuarteto";  lo interpreto así (ya que el CD no trae notas explicativas): ésa es la versión original, en este caso  arreglada para piano por el compositor. O sea que estuvo pensada con movimiento danzable "in mente" y con cierto grado de trama. Así se comprenden mejor los títulos de los seis movimientos de la suite, que dura 23 minutos y ofrece notables contrastes de clima de número a número.

            Son ellos: "Doscientos años", "Tangonía", la extensa y alusiva pieza "Letargo de los puñales" (bello título), "Milonga del broche", "Soneto a una alcantarilla" y la que lleva el mismo nombre que la suite, "La otra ciudad". Esta música se sostiene por sí misma, es variada y atrayente, pero me intrigaría oírla y verla con su destino original. El arreglo de cuarteto para piano implica una marcada riqueza textural, ya que el piano debe darnos una idea de los contrapuntos entre las cuerdas que seguramente había.

            Los "Cinco tangos" duran algo más de 18 minutos y tienen suficiente variedad entre ellos para que la audición se mantenga interesante. "Rebusque", "El adiós", "Él y yo", "Amor en plural" y "La odisea de Juan Tango" quizá tengan algún contenido autobiográfico, pero al no tener texto esto es sólo especulativo.

            El "Trío Dionisíaco" está construído en un solo amplio movimiento en varias secciones con una duración de más de 17 minutos. La combinación de piano, clarinete y cello es tímbricamente atrayente, ya que son texturas bien diversas que sin embargo conviven armoniosamente. La música tiene coherencia y un  grato contenido melódico y formal, con el dinamismo que conviene a lo dionisíaco.  Está muy bien tocada por Fedel, la cellista María Eugenia Castro y el clarinetista Matías Tchicourel.

            El Stabat Mater es la pieza más ambiciosa de estos dos CD. Sus 14 partes duran algo más de 23 minutos, una duración adecuada al contenido dramático de este famoso texto sacro, puesto en música por grandes autores como Pergolesi, Haydn, Vivaldi, Dvorák y Szymanowski. El riesgo de estos versos lamentosos sobre la "Mater Dolorosa" es la uniformidad o el exceso de música lenta: Fedel logra esquivar estos problemas y obtiene un desarrollo con fuertes contrastes dramáticos y varios tempi.

            Utiliza una contralto solista, un coro mixto y un conjunto instrumental basado en las cuerdas más timbal y órgano (este último tocado por Fedel). La profunda voz de Mirta Braylan (artista expresiva de timbre muy personal, que no había tenido ocasión de escuchar hasta ahora), el Gustavo Fedel Ensemble (Alejandro Elijovich, violín) y el Coro de Cámara Zahir (Diego Boero) dan una versión convincente de este aporte significativo a nuestra música sacra. Su lenguaje es tonal y no pretende conexiones con el tango, como la tienen obras sacras de Palmeri o Bacalov. Fedel quiere reflejar la intensa tristeza del texto y lo hace con medios nobles.

            Las grabaciones son bastante buenas en el CD de tango y en el Trío Dionisíaco, y algo recargada en los graves en el Stabat Mater. Fue interpretado en la Catedral el 24 de abril de 2007, pero el disco figura grabado en  Septiembre 2006 (presumo que en el caso del Trio) y en Febrero y Agosto de 2007 para el "Stabat Mater" (también conjeturo).  El CD de tangos tiene marca PAI y el restante fue grabado para el autor sin marca. Fedel tiene otros CD grabados, incluso su Concierto para bandoneón que se ejecutó en el Colón.  Ambas grabaciones son del sello PAL.

            En suma, estos dos CDs dan una buena idea del talento de Gustavo Fedel en dos campos contrastantes.