The price of success, by Javier Pérez Senz

Posted by Javier Pérez Senz on August 22, 2011  |  1 Comment

When it comes to taking stock, festivals often put forward high audience attendance figures as irrefutable proof of success. That’s fine. In these times of crisis, lack of public support usually has lethal consequences. But it is also worth considering carefully other indicators of good artistic health.

Hiring the undisputed stars of the classical music world such as Plácido Domingo, Juan Diego Flórez, Daniel Barenboim and Lorin Maazel is all very well; they provide glamour and almost always guarantee a full house, though bearing in mind the exorbitant fees they are paid it is never clear whether their concerts are profitable.

We are not going to discuss the rules of the market here. In Spain, hiring with an open wallet has been, and continues to be, the main impulse behind the programming at many theatres and festivals. This is why it is so important to look at other indicators.

It would be best to put the brakes on those festivals which, with public money, openly apply a arts policy based on the cult of the big stars, always hiring the diva in vogue, the pianist who’s biggest in the media or the flashiest orchestra.

One is the production itself, which does not always depend on the artists, orchestras or directors on tour, with closed programmes which often consist of the same old worn-out works so as not to frighten away the public. Take it (if you can afford it) or leave it.

Some festivals opt for higher-risk formulas: they commission works, promote co-productions, design exportable programmes, revive musical heritage, support local musicians and seek a balance between the most innovative proposals and the better-known repertoire, which must never be ignored because it is basic to building up interest.

Though this makes it more difficult to fill the halls, the effort does not fall on deaf ears, because it helps to create artistic fabric from source, much needed to avoid being regarded on the international circuit as the last haven of profligate concert programming.

It would be best to put the brakes on those festivals which, with public money, openly apply a arts policy based on the cult of the big stars, always hiring the diva in vogue, the pianist who’s biggest in the media or the flashiest orchestra. If the initiative is taken from private sector, we think it’s great, because famous artists are always the icing on the musical cake. But using public resources, the objectives have to be different.

A summer with lots of music, by Javier Pérez Senz

Posted by Javier Pérez Senz on June 28, 2011  |  Leave a comment

Catalunya still boasts a wide offer of summer festivals. It’s true that there is not always a clear programming policy, and all too often the proposals consist of presenting several concerts without a common theme or clear artistic focus, but the offer still stands, despite the crisis.

In the case of Barcelona, the situation is rather depressing. In fact, it is a city where classical music almost disappears in the summer. Only the Gran Teatre del Liceu offers a quality programme during July: the end of the season includes concerts of Tamerlane by Handel, with Plácido Domingo and Bejun Mehta in the cast, and Daphne, by Richard Strauss, with Pablo González making his debut at the Liceu at the helm of the OBC.

The Festival Grec has increased its classical offer, traditionally rather scarce, under the artistic direction of Ricardo Szwarcer, and forthcoming events include an opera concert with Ainhoa Arteta and the Cadaqués Orchestra under the baton of Jaime Martin, with Puccini featuring prominently in the programme.

Incidentally, the great Basque soprano has just released an extraordinary recital with the pianist Malcolm Martineau, which is her debut with the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label. The repertoire includes pieces by Charles Gounod, Georges Bizet, Reynaldo Hahn and an exciting section devoted to the great Spanish song repertoire including the Cinco canciones negras by Xavier Montsalvatge, four Tonadillas al estilo antiguo, by Enric Granados and the Poema en forma de canciones, op. 19, by Joaquín Turina.

Fortunately, despite the crisis, many summer festivals remain active, but the compulsive search for new audiences and the blind obsession with eclecticism as a programming formula has swept away many of the hallmarks of some of the most traditional venues.

The same cannot be said of the classical offer at the Auditori – reduced to its minimum expression, although this year the Sónar has included a magnificent homage to Steve Reich – or the Palau de la Música Catalana, with an offer exclusively intended to attract tourists.

Fortunately, despite the crisis, many summer festivals remain active, but the compulsive search for new audiences and the blind obsession with eclecticism as a programming formula has swept away many of the hallmarks of some of the most traditional venues. Where once classical music reigned supreme – because most festivals around Catalonia began as festivals specializing in classical music – world music, jazz, pop and other genres now share the limelight.

The trend is not necessarily bad, but caution is needed and the occasional mega concert in search of mass audiences is not to be entirely trusted. One thing is to harness the pull of the media stars so as to be able to display the sold-out sign, something legitimate and commendable, and another thing is to overlook the rest, the promotion of new values and local productions as a sign of identity. In this sense, we can applaud the consistency, rigour and unquestionable quality of the Torroella de Montgrí International Festival of Music and also celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Festival Castell de Peralada, which this year returns to its origins with a sensational programme focused on opera.

This summer also counts on two new events, conceived with the idea of supporting very distinct artistic proposals. On the one hand, the Festival de Música Antiga dels Pirineus has been launched with plenty of momentum, fruit of the joint efforts of different institutions in the Pyrenees. Its programming policy is clear and attractive: drawing on the beauty of the rich architectural heritage in the area and its suitability as a backdrop for early music, in order to offer evenings with musical personality, presented by the best bands and singers specialised in the historical performance of the early and baroque repertoire . And, importantly, the idea is to make it a key event for both the international promotion of the best Catalan ensembles and soloists and the dissemination of our musical heritage.

The second proposal also combines architectural beauty with music and includes gastronomy as a novel incentive. This is the Modernist soirees in the unique setting of the Monestir de San Benet, a proposal that offers visitors the chance to enjoy a concert of “Modernist” music in the monastery cellars and, optionally, during the same evening visit the “Modernist” space dedicated to Ramon Casas at Món Sant Benet and enjoy supper in the gardens.

New operas, old problems, by Javier Pérez Senz

Posted by Javier Pérez Senz on June 15, 2011  |  1 Comment

Appearances are deceptive. After the world premiere of Jo, Dalí, an opera by the octogenarian and fortunately still busy Catalan composer Xavier Benguerel (Barcelona, 1931), with a libretto by Jaime Salom, held on 8 June at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid, with stage production by Xavier Albertí and music direction by Miquel Ortega, now it is the turn of the Spanish premiere, on 25 June, of LByron, Un estiu sense estiu (A year without a summer), at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, an opera by another, much younger Catalan composer, Agustí Charles (Manresa, 1960), with a libretto by Marc Rosich. The world premiere took place last March in Darmstadt at the Staatstheather, co-producer of the production that will be staged at the temple of opera in the Ramblas, with the stage and musical direction by Alfonso Romero Mora and Martin Lukas Meister, respectively.

At first glance, two premieres in succession suggest that contemporary Catalan opera composition is in a particularly sweet moment. But this is not the case.

Benguerel’s work has been premiered ten years after the date of its composition, so the closeness to the premiere of Charles’s work is purely coincidental. In fact, the list of composers who are waiting to premiere works in Spanish opera houses is growing steadily longer because, unless things change, premieres will continue to take place in dribs and drabs.

The list of composers who are waiting to premiere works in Spanish opera houses is growing steadily longer because, unless things change, premieres will continue to take place in dribs and drabs.

No matter how much they say that opera is in fashion, what is actually in fashion are the same old titles, the so-called great repertoire, as if the masterpieces of the twentieth century – in a fascinating range of styles that includes, citing only the most representative, Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten, Leo Janacek, Dmitri Shostakovich, Bela Bartok, Sergei Prokofiev, Olivier Messiaen and Ligeti Györg – did not also constitute a large repertoire.

Like it or not, opera is still alive. With 500 years of tradition, and hundreds of authors around the world still producing operas. Composers such as Hans Werner Henze, Helmuth Lacheman, Tan Dun, Philippe Boesmans, George Benjamin, Olga Neuwirth, Harrison Birtwistle, and a long list of others that can include, without any reservations, Spanish musicians such as Cristóbal Halffter, José María Sánchez-Verdú, Enric Palomar and Hèctor Parra.

I only know of two ways of finishing with contemporary opera. One is, of course, by not programming it, a politically incorrect option, but cherished by this plague of political managers who only talk about culture with a calculator in the hand. And they’re not bothered: as today’s opera is not in favour with the public, it is unlikely that there will a demonstration demanding more premieres.

The other way to settle the matter, much more perverse, is to do the bare minimum: badly produce new works in unsuitable venues,. The argument is always the same: a lack of resources, poor attendances, they don’t sell a thing and the halls are almost empty. So, in the end they hire mediocre, run-of-the-mill orchestras, voices and conductors. Bad news, because there’s nothing that does more damage to a new score that a bad premiere: it kills dead any possibility of further shows.

To alleviate these shortcomings, small and medium-scale productions were invented, an initiative that can only give good results when the emphasis is really placed on quality performances. New opera must be presented on the same level as the old titles in the repertoire. If not, we’d better wait in silence for better times to come.

Tags:, , ,
Filed under: Opera, opinión

Commitment to music, by Javier Pérez Senz

Posted by Javier Pérez Senz on June 9, 2011  |  Leave a comment

Catalonia de Isaac AlbenizThere are things that stir the music-lover’s memory, which bring back reminiscences of that irreplaceable experience which consists of listening to live music in its natural environment, the auditorium. For many fans, the recent recording of the symphonic rhapsody Catalonia, by Isaac Albéniz, at the hands of Jaime Martin and the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya (OBC) will come as a pleasant surprise: the discovery of a score that exudes freshness, simplicity and melodic charm. For others, it will imply the rediscovery of a work that would be an obligatory part of the concert repertoire in any civilized country, but here, sadly, is not.

Its audition allows listeners to refresh their impressions and memories of great conductors and composers who, throughout their careers, demonstrated their belief in the value of this piece by their acts, without getting caught up in the widespread and sterile debate about Albéniz’s poor reputation as an orchestrator. Certainly, it is a marvel of refinement, but, when performed with full conviction of its merits, the listener is immediately captivated by the simplicity, the melodic inspiration and eternal freshness that permeate the Catalan composer’s music.

I am speaking of legendary musicians, such as the Russian Igor Markévitch, especially in his wonderful period of artistic involvement with the Orquesta Sinfónica de la RTVE; the Romanian Georges Enescu, stalwart defender of a piece that he often programmed, and all over the world; and Eduard Toldrà, the brilliant Catalan violinist, conductor and composer who, in 1944, created the Orquestra Municipal de Barcelona (now the OBC, which has at last recorded Catalonia), and who was a fervent promoter of the Spanish repertoire.

A greater commitment to music is needed and less obsession with attendance figures and box office takings.

There is a need for concert programmers who really believe in Spanish music.

The list includes musicians who are active at this time, such as Antoni Ros Marbà, a passionate perfomer of Albéniz and, in a very special way, of Toldrà, who was his teacher, Jesús López Cobos and José de Eusebio (thanks to his enthusiasm we now know more about the Camprodón musician’s operatic legacy than ever before; the recording discussed today includes an orchestral suite from Pepita Jiménez revised by him), and on his first CD with the OBC, Jaime Martin,

Albéniz had and has eloquent supporters. Why, then, is Catalonia still rarely heard in concert halls? Difficult question. First of all, there is a need for concert programmers who really believe in Spanish music. It is pointless to include just four or five pieces in a whole symphonic season; nor is the Spanish share of the programmes sufficient; nor are there enough commissions, increasingly unambitious and scarce. A greater commitment to music is needed and less obsession with attendance figures and box office takings.

There is enough leeway to balance the offer using the more popular classics to attract the general public –it all depends on the programmers’ imagination. The regularisation of works such as Catalonia – and this piece is just one example because there are hundreds of scores in the same situation – requires a strong alliance between performers, programmers and the public.

The musicians with power – and the chief conductors of a symphonic ensemble have a lot of power – are the ones who ultimately have a greater say when it comes to choosing which works are programmed and which are left out: when a chief conductor wants to play a given piece, eventually it gets played.

Programmers, managers and artistic directors should limit themselves to doing their duty, because the revival and dissemination of the national repertoire is an obligation for all orchestras, auditoriums and the concert-going public.

As for the public, the greatest possible complicity is needed, using the media that now, more than ever, can arouse – if used with imagination and efficiency  – music-lovers’ curiosity, the desire to discover new and old scores, the possibility of expanding frontiers.

RSS Subscription
 

Shops and Distributors
 
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Tritó S.L. - Enamorats, 35-37, baixos - 08013 Barcelona (Spain)
Phone: +34 933 426 175 - Hours: Monday to Friday (9am - 6pm) GMT+01:00
Payment methods
Payment methods:
Trustwave Seal Server
Certified by: