September 15, 2014
Barenboim’s marathon in BA reaches end
For the Herald
The 2014 Daniel Barenboim saga began on August 3 and finished on August 13, for a grand total of 10 concerts and a dialogue with Felipe González, an exhausting schedule even for such an incredibly energetic 72-year-old musician and for his young West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. As is well-known, Barenboim’s career in Argentina has been indelibly associated with the Mozarteum Argentino, and of course now there were two concerts (with identical programmes) for their cycles.
Either as conductor or as pianist, he was here as a Mozarteum artist in 1980, 1989, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010. Those of 2005 and 2010 were with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, present now in all but one of the concerts (the joint piano presentation of Martha Argerich and Barenboim; she was a part of two other concerts). He also squeezed in a meeting with the president joined by González. All events were at the Colón, except a short Ravel concert at Puente Alsina (outdoors, in rather bad weather).
The programme for the Mozarteum repeated most of what had been heard at the first concert of the Barenboim marathon, for it included the Overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and the four Spanish-inspired pieces by Ravel: Spanish Rhapsody, Morning Song of a Jester, Pavane for a Dead Infanta and Bolero. The difference was that in that initial session, Argerich played Beethoven’s First Concerto, while at the Mozarteum we heard two world premières: Resonating Sounds by the Israeli Ayal Adler (b. 1968), and Ramal by the Syrian Kareem Roustom (b. 1971). Even the encores were similar: the Prelude to Act 3 of Bizet’s Carmen and the milonga El firulete as arranged for brass by José Carli.
Of course, the premières were a commendable gesture from Barenboim following his integration policy, and the composers were present. Frankly I didn’t find them of special quality and probably many people felt that there are plenty of masterpieces waiting in the aisles, but I understand the sense of what the conductor did, and the composers are good professionals with experience outside their own area: Adler has a Doctorate from Montreal’s excellent McGill University, and Roustom is an eclectic creator who has worked with both the Philadelphia Orchestra and Shakira, as well as being the author of music for films and TV, but also has an interest in Arabic traditional music.
As the composer explains, Resonating Sounds refers to the echo or sound reminiscence persisting after vast chords that slowly vanish. It is divided into two sections plus a final recapitulation. Clusters, contrasts, variety of timbres — all techniques quite common in contemporary usage. On the other hand, Ramal refers to one of the 16 metric patterns utilized in pre-Islamic times in classical Arabic poetry; applied to music, it is the following metric succession: 7/8, 5/8, 7/8, 8/8. The music seeks violent rhythmic effects, and according to the author reflects “Syria’s devastating current situation”.
The rest of the music sounded very well with practically no change from what I had heard in the first Barenboim concert; the orchestra again showed that apart from transparent fortissimi it has very good soloists in melodic material, and Barenboim’s affinity with Impressionism and with such a different style as Mozart was again evident.
Make no mistake, I am a great admirer of Barenboim, but in this series I have had some serious reservations: a) as I intimated already, I would have preferred more important pieces in the First Part of the Mozarteum concerts; b) they played the Ravel combo no less than four times, not taking into account that many Mozarteum subscribers had also bought the Colón’s Abono Especial for they also wanted to hear Argerich, thus duplicating the Ravel pieces; c) although I respect the high quality of the compressed concert Tristan, I repeat that this is the third consecutive year that we don’t hear a complete Wagner at the Colón; d) a strange Barenboim whim added Mozart’s Concerto No. 27 to the last Tristan performance. I don’t doubt that he played it beautifully. However, that isn’t the point: a completely alien element was introduced into an opera subscription series, and only one of these series had the privilege.
We are already promised Barenboim festivals for 2015 and 2016 and of course there are still no details. Probably again with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Please let us have more varied symphonic programmes. Would Argerich come back? Naturally it would be again the hit of the year. Time will tell.
A final bow to Barenboim’s astounding stamina: in 24 hours he played and conducted with Argerich and Les Luthiers, conducted the outdoors concert at Puente Alsina, did the compressed Tristan and the González dialogue on the Israeli-Palestine problem. I’m getting weary just imagining what this must have been like for him...