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Capilla del Sol: Latin-American colonial music is no longer in danger

Posted by Soledad Sánchez Bueno on August 25, 2011  |  Leave a comment

Como pudieran en cualquier catedralThe growing interest in the revival and new performance of the Latin American colonial repertoire is illustrated by the recent proliferation of recordings. Despite the difficulties encountered in accessing reliable versions of this repertoire, there are plenty of ensembles that have worked directly with the sources to make recordings.

Until just over five years it would have been hard to find two hundred CDs of colonial music, most of it of poor technical and musical quality, or taking a more modern approach that was too general. But this does not detract from the merit of these performers and researchers, who initiated and promoted the appearance of more rigorous groups. While it was common then to choose a varied repertoire without any particular logic, we now find it somewhat more difficult to accept lay, missionary, cathedral and parish repertoires in the same collection, furthermore originating in latitudes and altitudes thousands of miles apart and composed by anonymous or known composers such as Zipoli, Salazar, Padilla Gutierrez, Ceruti, Juan de Araujo, Sumaya, Torrejón y Velasco and Esteban Salas (just to mention a few).

But something is changing. Specialisation and the expectations of the public require performances better adjusted to the context in which the works arose, better prepared and, above all, better performed.

If we go back a decade we find that the growing awareness of the existence of a vast repertoire as yet undiscovered by the recording labels led to the emergence of some projects that have lasted until today. Although highly questionable in concept and of barely acceptable quality, it is worth recalling the work carried out by the Repsol YPF programme for Music of Latin America, which began in 1998 with the release of a box set with several titles with music from Cuba, Argentina, Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Brazil.

Similarly the French label K.617 has released, as part of its Baroque Latin-American series, approximately forty monographic albums of colonial music. In this collection, the consistency of the criteria used to prepare the different albums is worthy of note.

In 2005 Bolivian Baroque released its first album, recorded by the Ensemble Florilegium led by Ashley Salomon, fruit of Piotr Nawrot’s research and publications. They have released three recordings so far, which display a certain tendency towards the creation of a stereotyped product with a Eurocentric treatment. Lamentably, the quality of the music has declined from the first album to the latest.

Recently, I was surprised by the quality of the music on a recording released by the Ensemble Caprice from Canada under the direction of Matthias Maute. However, once again, the choice of repertoire does not seem to follow any kind of logic that links the pieces together, apart from the mere fact of all coming from Latin America. Furthermore, it does not avoid the clichéd and idealised versioning of the repertoire, where the music has to grab the attention and possess obvious “Latin-American” traits.

Following in the footsteps of pioneers such as Robert Stevenson and Curt Lange, who initiated the revival of the repertoire and the study of the archives of the colonialist cathedrals, there are now specialists working hard all the world, such as Piotr Nawrot, Geoffrey Baker, Bernardo Illari, Miriam Escudero, Lauro Ayestarán, Dante Andreo and Javier Marín. The results of their research provide data that bring us closer to this music and draw attention to its idiosyncrasies. Some recent groups respect these idiosyncrasies by adapting their performances to the different contexts, periods, styles, genres and languages and by trying to produce more careful versions, though no less novel for being so.

La Capilla del Sol is a consolidated Argentinean ensemble that has taken a critical, unbiased approach to colonial music since its beginnings, in 2004. The musical excellence of its members, supported by the thorough research carried out continuously by its director, Ramiro Albino, has paved the way for several concerts by the group in Latin America. Recently, following a European tour (Slovenia, Czech Republic and Spain) the group received very good reviews.

Keeping a careful eye on the editions, using the original sources and taking a creative approach to performance has resulted in music that is alive and full of interest. By merging their specialized training in early music and the folk repertoire, the members give the group a distinctive sound.

The album titled Como pudieran en cualqueir catedral could never sound monotonous, not even to ears unfamiliar with Latin American colonial music. The contrast between the selected works lies in their functional differences, which are, in turn, reinforced by the musical re-creation. In this case there is a guiding principle that links the pieces: the hypothetical reconstruction of a Mass at the Jesuit Missions of Bolivia.

Emulating the procedure followed in the mission chapels, works were selected from missionary archives, which were then transcribed by the musicologists Piotr Nawrot, Sylvia Leidemann, Enrique Godoy and the director of the group, Ramiro Albino; all pieces that were part of repertoire of the Missions of the Chiquitos and Moxos.

As might be expected, the interpretation and recuperation of the sources in an edition and the preparation of a new version requires specific training. In the case of the reconstruction of the colonial repertoire, the performers run into the difficulty of having to “clothe” the music. Some seemingly simple pieces turn out to be extremely difficult to recreate without deep analysis. Other pieces have only survived as fragments and the musicologists chose to reconstruct the missing parts and use additional documentation to obtain further details on the use and ways of the percussion and other instruments, on the natural register of the voices and on how to adorn the music.

Likewise, they have to imagine its possible hybridization with local rhythms, instruments and ways of playing. One of the good points of this album is that there is no sign of contrivance or of an excess of imagination. Nothing seems arbitrary and at the same time the works are imbued with their own character, which distinguishes them from works with a similar structure and function composed in Europe.

It is a real pleasure to listen to this technically polished, high-level recording, with a quality still difficult to find in CDs of colonial music. The similarity in the timbre of voices and their perfect union, and the naturalness of the instrumental performances, gives the pieces a fresh atmosphere that I consider very appropriate if the aim is to reconstruct the spiritual and symbolic context. There are no clichés that fuel the expectations of the listeners; neither is the discourse simplified to bring it closer to the audience. Quite simply, this is a well thought-out, solidly argued and technically sound product.

Capilla del Sol

I hope this work by the Capilla del Sol is only the first in a series of recordings where we will be able discover other repertoires and the associated new approaches, so that they obtain the international acceptance they deserve. Colonial music is consolidating its place in concert programmes everywhere, seeking to re-establish the cultural bond that has united Europe and America for centuries.

CD “Como pudieran en cualquier catedral”


Adriana Sansone, Silvina Sadoly, Soledad Molina, Isabel Barrios (sopranos) / Cecilia Pahl (mezzo-soprano) / Paul Tavaglino (alto) / Diego Zorah (tenor) / Alicia Moran, Virginia Llansa (violins) / Maria Jesus Olondriz (cello) / Evar Cativiela (guitar, vihuela) / Federico Ciancio (harp) / Cristina Garcia Banegas (organ) / Eduardo Rodriguez (bassoon) / Sergio Bazán (percussion) / Ramiro Albino (flute and direction)

Buenos Aires, 2010

This CD was produced with no profit motive in mind and its distribution is free.

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.

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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.

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