By now I think we were all counting down the days until the first performance. A week of sectionals had all but driven the magic from the piece (for anyone who knows Prometeo, think of the physical score and not the euphoric end result) and the one bright light was that the Teatro Colon was to be our place of work until we departed for London.
Our seemingly endless quest to sample the famed Argentinean beef had led to an outbreak of sensitive stomachs and Philippa, Francisco and I saw each other less those days, though we still found the time to interrupt a gay pride march in front of La Casa Rosada (the Argentinean Parliament) and to throw up gang signs in the old, antique-market quarter of San Telmo.
When we were not walking through Buenos Aires, hunting for the unexpected and – in Philippa’s case – tango, Francisco, Philippa and I had taken to giving small masterclasses on both pre-20th century music and basic instrumental technique, which brought out a side of the orchestra that I hadn’t seen before: sheer, unbridled enthusiasm. For all concerned it was ideal (though Francisco still had to convince the brass section that mutes were definitely required if asked for by the composer). The amazing soundworld of Nono’s music gave them a different context in which to make that rich, romantic sound that they had been suppressing and I feel that, in turn, it benefited Prometeo hugely.
Now joined by the young Argentinean pianist/conductor Lucas Urdampilleta, our rehearsals (with added choir and vocal soloists) became far more intense and to-the-point which gave us, the coaches, a chance to play as part of the orchestra for the first time. It also gave us an opportunity to observe in greater detail how different players had evolved over the first seven days. My beloved string section who, at the beginning of the week, couldn’t resist breaking into overtly sentimental renditions of Bach’s double violin concerto in any moment of more than two bars rest had suddenly become a still and focussed machine. Admirable. Conversely, watching the choir sing and then argue among themselves rather loudly when their contribution was over, was both amusing and not so admirable.
I should mention how sublime the Teatro Colon is. Hailed as a hall with one of the best acoustics in the world, and being the most renowned venue in Argentina, it exudes grandeur and luxury within though the facade is rather unremarkable. It underwent extensive refurbishment and was reopened to the public in 2010, which seems to explain why, as ancient as it looked in its old-world splendour, there was a feeling of freshness about it. I’m afraid the following photo really doesn’t do it justice…
With only a few days remaining, our per diem supply had largely disappeared. Swallowed by Argentina’s strange and misguidedly optimistic financial system (the government’s exchange rate being vastly different from the “real” rate) those of us with the presence of mind to bring American dollars (not me) would roam the streets listening out for the cry of “Cambio”. If you look in the right places you can get some great deals. Well, that’s what Lionel says.
I’ve already written too much but I suppose I should say something about the concerts themselves. Received by an appreciative audience and, compared to the expectations we had after the first rehearsal, they were a success. I wonder if spending two weeks on such a textural work with such a fragile sound-world did the orchestra any good but the energy and buzz of the performances made it all a supremely rewarding experience.
Blog by Daniel Pioro