Sunday 24, 5 pm: the "Barenboim Festival of Music and Reflexion" starts its third edition at the Colón, and again becomes the highest point of the season, for it will also have the presence of Martha Argerich and for the first time, of tenor Jonas Kaufmann. In fact it is essentially music; reflexion will take place when Barenboim will dialogue for the third year with Felipe González, this time about "The Conflict of the Middle East, a global crisis?" (July 31, 8 pm).
And of course, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO) will be at the center of the activity. The hand programme gives details of the whole programme, biographies and comments by Barenboim and Pablo Gianera. Some of Barenboim´s programming decisions are controversial, as they were in preceding Festivals, but I have no doubt that the final result will leave lasting memories.
It´s worth recalling that the WEDO was founded by Barenboim and Edward Said in 1999 as a workshop for youthful musicians from Israel, Palestine and other Arabic countries, first at Weimar, then at Chicago, and finally at Seville (2003) under the sponsorship of the Junta de Andalucía. Then and now the purpose is to further understanding and intercultural dialogue between people that come from countries that are often at war. An orchestra unites them at least for a while. Currently there are also some Spanish musicians, and religions are mixed: Jews, Muslims, Christians, Protestants and orthodox. And the workshop also includes lectures and debates.
The denomination of the WEDO is a reference to Goethe´s homonymous poems; they are his own, but he tried in them to develop the concept of global culture. Mind you, this orchestra doesn´t exist year-long: each Summer a new group is formed, although some come from earlier seasons, and under Barenboim they prepare programmes that will be played in different tours, although since 2014 they include Buenos Aires.
I admire the project in itself, even if Barenboim knows that politically things haven´t changed. But now I have to mention a touchy issue: the WEDO doesn´t list its personnel, as other orchestras do; I was told last year that this was for security reasons, but the members of the Al-Diwan Ensemble who play Arabic music ARE listed, and other two are identified in the Mozarteum concerts. What, some are protected and others aren´t?
There´s another question: the concerts are abysmally expensive here but not in Seville. The stalls at the Colón rows 1 to 14: $ 3.635. At Seville´s Teatro de la Maestranza: 45 E = $ 739. True, now we have streaming and the same programme I´m reviewing can be seen on Tuesday 26, 8 pm, for free; but to hear it live is very different.
If you go to any of them, do read the curricula and particularly the detailed one about Barenboim: I believe that no other artist in the world has such a fantastic trajectory except Plácido Domingo. To be brief: main conducting posts in Paris, Chicago, Bayreuth Festival, Milan´s Scala and Berlin, plus a dazzling career as a pianist since he was eight. And at 73 he has lost none of his incredible stamina and quality.
Now to the Mozart dream programme. Of course music lovers have those last three symphonies in CDs and probably have heard all three in the same evening (I did so) but to hear them in wonderful acoustics by a great conductor and his orchestra was the sort of deep artistic pleasure that seldom comes around. For although all three are quite different, they are masterpieces and they were created in the same period: Nº 39, in E flat, K.543; Nº 40, in G minor, K.550; and Nº 41, "Jupiter", in C, K.551.
They were written in the space of six weeks, from late June to August 10, 1788, at a time of dire pecuniary need, and they were never played during his life! And yet (I know it´s idle speculation), had he lived to be 55, the history of the symphony would have changed profoundly, for these symphonies look forward in harmony, rhythm and dramatic impact. A Mozart writing in 1798 would have left deep marks on Beethoven.
Barenboim isn´t a historicist, and the WEDO was bigger than orchestras in Mozart´s time. But all the marks of great interpretation were there: the unerring sense of form, the careful contrast of dynamics, the exact though expressive phrasing. And the WEDO is not only technically very good: the players are intense and unanimous; they vividly enjoy the music.
Nº 39 is the least played of the three, perhaps because it innovates less; but it is throughout gorgeous music. Nº 40´s first movement is urgent, dramatic and famous; and the Finale has a sweeping forwardness that was ideally expressed by the artists. As to the "Jupiter", the amazing contrapuntal "tour de force" of the Finale has no paragon in Mozart and reveals that his Bach studies changed his style whilst losing nothing of his vision of the future.
If I have to nitpìck, I prefer the Minuets slighly slower: they are marked Allegretto, not Allegro. And just before the coda of the "Jupiter" Finale, for once Barenboim did a big "rallentando"; it isn´t specified and I feel it inhibits the continuity.
A small but important detail: the podium lacked a step and Barenboim almost fell at the start of the concert; after the interval it was fixed.