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November 20, 2017
Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The CCK’s Blue Whale dives into action

The National Symphony Orchestra in its opening concert at the CCK’s Blue Whale.
The National Symphony Orchestra in its opening concert at the CCK’s Blue Whale.
The National Symphony Orchestra in its opening concert at the CCK’s Blue Whale.
By Pablo Bardin
For the Herald

The National Symphony Orchestra started its season at the Centre’s crowning jewel

May 22, 2015: an essential cultural tool is unveiled. Two ministers, Julio De Vido (Planning) and Teresa Parodi (Culture), officially inaugurated the Kirchner Cultural Centre. As happened both with the reopening of the Colón and with the Usina del Arte, it was a partial inauguration: though De Vido said that 93 percent was finished, the feeling that I and colleagues had was that the figure was more likely to be 70 percent. But what was almost completely finished was the star of the enormous building: the “Blue Whale,” a 1,750-capacity concert hall.

However, the real activity began on June 12. That day the National Symphony started its season for the general public. An important programme was presented by two first-rate artists: Xavier Inchausti, our most virtuoso violinist, and the German conductor Günther Neuhold, who has worked with the orchestra in other seasons.

The matter of having an auditorium specifically built as a concert hall has a long and frustrating history. Although the Colón has marvellous acoustics and beauty, it is essentially an opera house, but of course it has remained the only completely satisfactory venue for the great concerts. Both the Coliseo, the Auditorio de Belgrano and AMIJAI are reasonable alternatives, but what Buenos Aires needed was something similar to London’s complex of concert halls led by the Royal Festival Hall, and that was the model of the project that was brewed in the late 1960s by Jorge D’Urbano; it came close to being accepted, but the disastrous 1973 ruined the idea, which never came to fruition.

Both the Usina and the CCK are imaginative reworkings of existing buildings: in the first case, both the symphonic and the chamber halls are functioning; at the CCK, we will have to wait months before the chamber auditorium is finished; and the same applies to other important matters such as the rehearsal halls, especially the symphonic one. This means that the new home of the National Symphony (NS) still lacks rehearsal facilities separate from the auditorium.

I won’t get involved in the controversy about the centre’s name; if you are pro-Government, you will likely agree, if you aren’t, you will reject it. And you can also legitimately feel that the total cost has been very high and have doubts about whether the construction could have been of similar quality spending less.

However, I certainly believe that there’s no place for manicheism in what seems to me an absurd conundrum: the argument that because we lack adequate sewers, hospitals or housing, the CCK shouldn’t have been done. When WWII ended, both Germany and Austria rebuilt their bombed opera houses in the worst of circumstances: that is because culture is essential, not a luxury.

So both the Usina and the CCK are destined to change substantially the musical life of our city. It was, of course, an unfortunate move of the Macri government when years ago they announced that the Usina would be the “permanent home of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic,” whose proper place is, for all intents and purposes, the Colón. But I do believe that the rightful place for the National Symphony is the CCK.

On May 22, I witnessed a short rehearsal by the NS under its Principal Conductor Pedro Calderón for a concert which was given the following Sunday for a restricted audience invited by the presidency. I heard dances from Ginastera’s Estancia and a Piazzolla score, plus Horacio Lavandera in the final movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Mario Videla in Bach’s Toccata in D minor playing at the gigantic organ, not yet fully tuned. My aural impression was that the hall was too resonant when the music was fortissimo though the sound was clean in its projection and powerful.

I was taken by the beauty of the auditorium, with the graded rows providing fine sightlines, and by the good taste of its features. However, even if the acoustics experts are the same ones that worked at the Colón and the Usina, I wondered whether the sound shouldn’t be more veiled, less strident. From the outside, the Blue Whale looks like one, indeed, a massive piece of skilful architecture.

The venue’s acoustics were finally on display at the NS’s first concert on June 12. Sibelius’ Concerto is one of the most difficult and beautiful. Its stark Romanticism needs the terse, controlled and perfectly tuned phrasing provided by Xavier Inchausti, well accompanied by the orchestra. The encore was a piece that Inchausti plays admirably, the intricate and thoughtful Sonata-Ballade No 3 by Eugène Ysaÿe.

And then, a true blockbuster, the massive Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss, a 50-minute tone poem in 22 fragments joined together. It calls for a huge orchestra, 123-strong, including an offstage hunting fanfare, wind machine and organ. The latter fact allowed us to hear the fantastic organ in several passages. We go all the way to the glorious top of the mountain passing by cascades, and then descend through a tremendous tempest until a gloomy night ends the work as it had started.

It was a mighty challenge well met, with a conductor fully in command and an attentive orchestra. I do have to add that again I felt that the sound is overbright and resonant, this time with a full audience. One can only wonder whether the specialists may find a way to correct it.

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