December 8, 2013
BA’s major music ensemblesMonday, August 26, 2013
Professional and student orchestras: quality and renovation?
For the Herald
We have three major orchestras in this city: the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, the Colón Resident Orchestra and the National Symphony. All three of them can provide high quality, sometimes to an international standard. There are also many youth orchestras, the best being the two Academics (the Colón’s Institute and the independent one under Calleja) and the Libertador San Martín (led by Mario Benzecry). Also, small orchestras of different types. And a strange and special case, the Orquesta Estudiantil de Buenos Aires under Guillermo Zalcman. Today I will be reviewing the sessions by the Phil, the National and the Estudiantil.
Of course, the Phil operates under the best conditions, for their subscription series is offered at the Colón, with a valuable artistic director about whom I have written repeatedly, Enrique Arturo Diemecke, and they have a reasonable budget to bring over international conductors and soloists, and to pay for scores.
I have mentioned elsewhere the silly titles someone gives to each concert; few can be sillier than Popular and brilliant applied to Mahler’s monumental Fifth Symphony; true, it is often played (three times this year!) but “popular” has other implications, and of course it has some brilliant passages, along with a majority of others that are tragic or sublime. It does apply, however, to that quintessence of crossover, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in blue, played in the First Part.
I find it unfair to bill this piece just by this composer, for the orchestration is by Ferde Grofé, the author of the Grand Canyon Suite, and the Rhapsody surely owes a lot to his clever ideas, beginning with the initial clarinet glissando, perfectly played by Mariano Rey, or the wah-wah trumpet beautifully played by Fernando Ciancio. In fact, the Phil was splendid, and Diemecke understands the language (after all, he has been the Principal Conductor of the Orchestra of Flint, Michigan, for 25 years.)
Cuban pianist Marcos Madrigal made an acclaimed local début; he has swing and great technique. As the Rhapsody is short, he had leeway to give us three encores: two pieces by Ginastera (an overfast Danza del gaucho matrero and a sensitive Danza de la moza donosa) and a virtuoso Malagueña by Lecuona.
Mahler’s Fifth became famous because of the use of the Adagietto in Visconti’s Death in Venice, but the rest of the symphony is just as important: the tremendous power of the Funeral March combined with the turbulence of the second movement, the inspired quirkiness of the scherzo and the contrapuntal marvels of the final rondo fuse into a magnificent 70 minutes of great music. Although I admired a lot of what Diemecke and the Phil did, there were some smudges and disjoined passages, and the conductor sometimes distorted certain rhythms, but by and large this was a successful traverse of tremendously difficult music.
Administratively, the National Symphony has been placed in the lethal hands of the Culture Secretariat. In August they still haven’t settled the problem of the programme, so we were given just a miserable flyer including, on one side, the programme with omissions of vital data, and on the other, the list of the responsible officials (seriously).
So I thank Google for some information about the Bulgarian conductor who made his local debut, Martin Panteleev (one of the very few of the season; understandable, those of last season hadn’t been paid a month ago !).
In the first half, I had my doubts about him. Although his gestures were clear, some of the playing in Roberto García Morillo’s Ricercar-Chorale for strings (good, solid music from a now neglected composer) was rather murky. And the accompaniment in Beethoven’s Concerto No 5, Emperor, was too subdued (and there were poor bassoon and horn solos). The pianist, the American Derek Han, has been here before. Very nervous, his sound was too percussive, and although he has an important mechanism, there were many mistakes, especially at the end of the slow movement.
But the second half was admirable and showed Panteleev to be a dynamic and intelligent leader. Petrushka is one of the two best scores ever written by Stravinsky (the other, of course, is Rite of Spring), and again I was overwhelmed by his endless innovation. The orchestra played quite well and redeemed itself. They played the 1947 suite.
The Orquesta Estudiantil de Buenos Aires is a rara avis created twenty years ago by Zalcman. What conductor has presented more premières in the last two decades? Pedro Calderón? Wrong: Zalcman. His taste is tonal and basically privileges the 1880-1930 period. The orchestra was for many years quite bad; it now is barely acceptable and I can’t understand the presence of a line of saxophones, surely not needed. But the conductor is enthusiastic and has begun a hugely a needed renovation.
The concert they offered in the good acoustics of AMIJAI was passably well played. But the main value was in the selected works, quite typical of the way Zalcman programmes: The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, written in 1887 by the Scot Hamish MacCunn (premières); the Concertino for flute, clarinet and strings by Bloch (premiere); the Suite from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar Saltan; the Comments for “Romeo and Juliet” by López Buchardo, and the charming suite of the ballet Les Biches by Poulenc. What a pleasure it would be to hear exactly the same works by the Phil or the National.