jueves, mayo 28, 2015

Wayne McGregor dares to reanimate dance

Wayne McGregor may just be the most interesting choreographer nowadays. Sure, you may have remarkable -and popular- dancemakers like Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon, but whenever I read an article or a review of one of his dances, I’m sure I will end up fascinated.

McGregor is an artist that has gained notoriety thanks to his curiosity and his willingness to collaborate with talented people from seemingly disparate fields like visual arts, avant-garde music, technology and science. His mind seems to be as restless as many of the dances he has come to create.

The British choreographer’s talent may have also come at a proper time. Dance in general, at least until a few years ago, seemed to be stalled. That excitement dancers used to bring in the sixties and the seventies seemed to be long gone. Dance historian Jennifer Homans was harshly criticized for ending Apollo’s Angels, her fundamental book on the history of ballet, with some sort of an obituary for the art form. And even when her opinion might seemed a little bit over-the-top for some people, she definitely had a point: dance needed a striking resuscitation.

McGregor’s audacity has set foot on the stage of prestigious companies like La Scala, Paris Opera, San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet and English National Ballet. He’s also the Artistic Director of his own ensemble, Wayne McGregor Random Dance, and the Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet, for which recently created Woolf’s works, a full-length production inspired by Virginia Woolf’s writings and with music written by Max Richter -a composer with whom McGregor has already worked with.

His other exciting recent project is entitled Tree of Codes, based on the book written by Jonathan Safran Foer scheduled to premiere at Manchester’s International Festival. The music is composed by Jamie xx, one of the members of The xx and who’s about to release his first album as a solo artist. The equally interesting visual artist Olafur Eliasson is also involved in the production taking care of a series of impressive light-based designs.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, McGregor confessed he feels obliged to break the limits of traditional choreography: “I think it’s the responsibly of major lyric theatres to challenge audiences, otherwise you’re just making work that suits the current taste, you’re not making it possible for the language to evolve.”

Everytime I hear from McGregor, I just sense some sort of an outstanding zeitgeitst, represented by his eagerness to be surrounded by people who has left their mark on these times. He has worked, just to cite a few names, with established, outstanding and cult musicians like Thom Yorke, Mark Ronson and Ben Frost.

On this regard, this is what he had to say in a recent Q&A he did with the Guardian: “I just think there are so many brilliant people out there. I love being inspired and in a room with them to see what we might be able to do together.”

And for now, there’s plenty of fascinating things he has been able to accomplish. The thing is, and I’m just speaking from my intuition, the road that McGregor has set out to take is just beginning. We’ll just wait, impatient and eagerly, to what he has yet to bring to the stage.  

lunes, mayo 18, 2015

This is what I dream for my beloved New York Philharmonic

One of the first things I did when I went to New York City was to walk around Lincoln Center. I wanted to visit Avery Fisher Hall, home to my favorite orchestra in the world: the New York Philharmonic. I just felt the need to step on the same concrete Leonard Bernstein, one of my absolute music heroes, must have surely walked on.

I was lucky to arrive in New York (June of ‘09) when Alan Gilbert had just taken the reins of the ensemble. I was a close witness to the beginning of his exceptional tenure. Even when I don’t live in its hometown anymore, I still feel very close to New York’s principal orchestra.

The New York Philharmonic needs to leave Avery Fisher Hall due to renovation works. Since Gilbert didn’t want to go through that transition, he decided to step down of the podium. That been said, the orchestra is on the brink of its most critical moment of its recent history: it needs to find a new conductor and a -temporary- new home.

Over the last few months there have been plenty of changes among some of the most well known orchestras: contract renewals (Dudamel/LAPhil, Nezet-Seguin/Philadelphia, Jansons/Bavarian Radio), new appointments (Nelsons/BSO, Rattle/LSO, Gatti/Concertgebouw) and the election for the conductor of what’s arguably the most prestigious symphony orchestra: the Berlin Philharmonic.

When choosing a new conductor, orchestras must find a person that possesses a set of features that goes beyond than just waving a baton. The chef d’orchestre is also in charge of overseeing the programming, dealing with members of the board, alluring potential donors, commanding the ensemble’s mission and acting as the most visible face of the organization -all daunting tasks, indeed.

Music lovers, critics, bloggers and musicians around the world have already started to make their bets on who may replace Gilbert. Among the candidates, the most remarkable names include David Robertson (who will, in my opinion, end up taking the position); terrific-but-too-young conductors like Pablo Heras-Casado, Ludovic Morlot and Daniel Harding; and a few underdogs like Manfred Honeck and Susanna Malkki.

But if I were to choose the perfect candidate, I’d pick Esa-Pekka Salonen. The Finnish composer and conductor has been one of the most outstanding personalities in the classical music scene. He became known for transforming the Los Angeles Philharmonic into the most modern orchestra nowadays (a status diligently maintained by his successor Gustavo Dudamel and its CEO Deborah Borda). He was also a key figure throughout the construction and opening of LAPhil’s marvelous new home: Disney Concert Hall, an accomplishment that might be Godsent for the New York Philharmonic’s upcoming reaccommodation.

As a composer, Salonen has written magnificent pieces of music like the gorgeous Nyx and Wing on Wing, impressive Concertos for Violin and Piano, and the arresting Insomnia (my personal favorite). As a recording artist, he’s been able to craft exciting interpretations of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Oedipus Rex, the superb Henri Dutilleux’s Correspondances, and pretty much any Bartok work that has his stamp on.

Salonen is just perfect because he imbues a bold sensibility into the classical canon and a devoted and proficient approach into contemporary works. He’s also handsome, cool and cosmopolitan -features that make him simply irresistible for a fashionable city like New York.

There’s also a lot that may play against his appointment, I’m afraid: Salonen quit the LAPhil because he wanted to dedicate more time to his music. It also seems he has found an enviable balance between composing and performing -he’s being regularly invited to conduct top-notch orchestras around the world. Hence, truth be told, he may have more than one reason to decide not to conduct the NYPhil.

Nonetheless, my intuition foresees great things for a shared future between my admired Esa-Pekka Salonen and my beloved New York Philharmonic: a match made in -my- heaven.

This is what I dream for my beloved city: an excellent musician leading its main orchestra. A pairing that will surely inject excitement to classical music and put it back on track to what made it so great in the first place: the most transcendental expression of the human condition.

jueves, mayo 14, 2015

Caminando a (mi) Nueva York

La revista del New York Times le dedicó uno de sus números más recientes a algo que se traduciría como “Caminando a Nueva York”. Esta edición me llegó directamente al corazón porque conecta dos de mis pasiones: caminar y esa ciudad que fue mi hogar durante los dos mejores años de mi vida.

Y si bien me devoré los artículos que allí se publican -que van desde la historia de las aceras de Nueva York, un interesante proyecto fotográfico llevado adelante por JR, hasta una nota reveladora sobre las ratas-, no pude evitar sentir cierta dosis de nostalgia al leer los recorridos favoritos de un grupo de neoyorquinos.

Movido por mis remembranzas, decidí compartir algo que hasta este momento me había reservado: mis recorridos favoritos de Nueva York. Estos son mis tres recorridos favoritos, y que también incorporan muchas de las calles y de los sitios que más frecuentaba en mi estadía neoyorquina.

Recorrido #1: De Times Square a Central Park

Iba tanto al McDonald’s que queda en pleno centro de Times Square que mi hermana la apodó como “Mi oficina”. Allí me pedía un latte y un paquete de Chocolate Chip Cookies y me sentaba a escribir o bien a mandar CV’s cuando buscaba trabajo. Luego de trabajar por un par de horas, tomaba mi iPod y reproducía canciones del 21st century breakdown de Green Day, Phrazes for the young de Julian Casablancas o My beautiful dark twisted fantasy de Kanye West. El pulso urbano de esos discos musicalizaba mi recorrido que iba desde la 42 hasta la 59, calles que atravesaba por Broadway. Al llegar al Columbus Circle me adentraba en el Time Warner Center y me metía en la librería BORDERS o a comerme algo en el Whole Foods Market que queda en el sótano. Y si el clima era amigable, terminaba de pasar la tarde sentado en algún banco del Central Park.  

Recorrido #2: Del Lower East Side a SoHo

Una de las pasantías que hice en Nueva York fue en un estudio de grabación que quedaba en el Lower East Side. Al terminar mi turno, me iba hasta mi cine de autor favorito: el Angelika. Luego subía por Broadway hasta Prince street, que recorría de oeste a este: de Mercer a Bowery. Prince street es una de mis calles preferidas de Nueva York porque tiene sitios que me encantan: McNally Jackson Books (mi librería favorita), macbar (originales combinaciones de mac ‘n cheese), Oficina Latina (un bar con una vibra muy fina), Café Gitane (de comida francesa, queda sobre Mott), Café Habana (sus Cuban Sandwich y Burritos son divinos) y Soho Park (un sitio muy fino con terraza que vende unas hamburguesas deliciosas). Al final del recorrido, cuando llegaba a Bowery, podía visitar el New Museum si había alguna exhibición que valiera la pena.

Recorrido #3: De Union Square al West Village

El instituto donde estudié quedaba cerca de Union Square. Cuando salía al mediodía me iba caminando hasta el Village. Allí almorzaba un shawarma de cordero, tres falafel y una lata de Sprite en Mamoun’s o un Chicken Fried Rice en Noodle Bar. Si compraba comida en Mamoun’s almorzaba sentado en un banco del Washington Square Park, mientras escuchaba a un genial grupo de jazz. Luego me iba a tomar un latte en Caffé Reggio (mi café favorito) y también me pasaba por el IFC Center a ver alguna película de cine independiente. Mamoun’s y Caffé Reggio quedan sobre la Macdougal street, que es otra de mis calles favoritas de Nueva York porque tiene otros de mis sitios favoritos: Comedy Cellar (donde gente como Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock y Louis C.K. van a probar material), Creperie NYC (las crepes de nutella son pornografía), Luxor Lounge (un bar muy sexy porque está iluminado sólo por velas). Y si seguía bajando y cruzaba a la izquierda en Bleecker, también me iba lugares que me encantaban como Café Español (donde tuve auténticos acontecimientos gastronómicos), Le Poisson Rouge (uno de mis sitios de conciertos favoritos) y The Bitter End (legendario recinto neoyorquino).

Conocí y amé Nueva York de la misma manera en la que mi abuelo me enseñó a conocer y amar a Caracas: palpándola y escuchándola con mis pies. Extraño a Nueva York de la misma forma que extraño a Caracas: con nostalgia de volver a posar mis pies sobre ella. Estas letras han logrado calmar un poco ese suspiro que se apodera de mí cada vez que añoro volver a estar en esas ciudades: ciudades que he amado, ciudades que me han hecho. 

viernes, abril 24, 2015

Christopher Wheeldon brings some Paris magic to Broadway

Adapting a classic like
An American in Paris for the stage can certainly be a double-edged sword. On one hand, you get to work with a widely known work of cinema, but on the other, you take the risk of falling short to that piece’s high standard of artistry.

Christopher Wheeldon, one of the most remarkable choreographers nowadays, has embraced the challenge of directing, none other than for the Broadway stage, an adaptation of that marvelous movie. To his advantage, he does have access to a terrific set of songs, written by George and Ira Gershwin, and to what’s definitely more important: lots of inspiration for making dance.

Wheeldon’s link to An American in Paris goes back to his childhood. As soon as he saw the movie in his native England when he was 7 years old, he decided he wanted to dance like Gene Kelly. Wheeldon’s rise to dance’s elite has been nothing but impressive: his formal education began at the Royal Ballet School, where he was later accepted as a dancer; but the next year he decided to be part of New York City Ballet, where he didn’t just dance -he also became the troupe’s first resident choreographer.

Wheeldon’s outstanding talent has made him one of the most sought-after choreographers in the world. Throughout the last ten years he has created ballets for prestigious companies like Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, National Ballet of Canada and Miami City Ballet.

In fact, it was one of those ballets -Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which Wheeldon created for the Royal Ballet and was vastly successful when it was streamed in movie theaters around the world- that put his name on the map of An American in Paris’ producers. (It is also worth noting that Wheeldon had already made a ballet to that Gershwin score for New York City Ballet.)

Wheeldon embarked upon adapting An American in Paris, approved by the Gershwin estate, aiming at transforming that enchanting homage to the City of Lights into a celebrated production for the theater. His work received sensational praise by the audience and critics in Paris, where it was premiered last year for a short run of shows.

On Broadway, it has been equally received by the public. As a matter of fact, An American in Paris has become one of the most commercially successful musicals during the last couple of months.

Wheeldon has been celebrated by this genuine homage to the French Capital, one that has been treated with delicacy, grace and a modern approach to classicism. The world of ballet is in desperate needs of a talent like Christopher Wheeldon: a choreographer that looks up into the future while paying respect to the traditions that has made of dance the most fascinating of the performing arts. 

domingo, abril 19, 2015

La Philharmonie de Paris defines a musical experience for the 21st century

The location of La Philharmonie de Paris, the recently inaugurated concert hall in Paris, is a statement in itself: it’s based right next to the Boulevard Périphérique, which is some sort of an eastern border for the French capital.

That Boulevard separates the wealthy Parisian center from the less fortunate suburbs. Hence, La Philharmonie aspires to become into much more than a music venue -it’s committed to a social purpose.

“This is a new vision for a concert hall”, says Laurent Bayle, the Philharmonie’s Director. “Classical music has been concentrated in the west of the city, which is wealthy; the Salle Pleyel, Radio France, the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. From this place, we can reach out to a whole new audience – we can unite the suburbs and the city centre”. With this in mind, Bayle aims to “break down the barriers, shake up the ritual of the concert, prioritise education programmes for young people and make links between musical genres”.

The most recent and direct precedent of a music hall conceived for the 21st century is la Cité de la Musique, a small venue that materialized the ideas Pierre Boulez had for how music should be played in these times. (That building offers flexibility for contemporary works and also hosts a museum and rooms for educational events.)

Paris audiences for classical music are aging at an alarming rate -the average age is around 60-, so the new hall’s leaders are making a significant effort in putting up what they call “eclectic programming”, one that includes jazz, world music, hip-hop and electronic music. (There are special promotions for families with tickets for concerts at 12 euros.)

La Philharmonie is a concept that could only be feasible in a country like France, where culture and education are considered fundamental pillars of the society, supported by a great financial aid from the government. The construction of the hall reached almost 400 million euros, which generated controversy -political disputes, strikes, budgetary miscalculations- enhanced by the fact that the opening was recurrently delayed. (Even when it took seven years to finish it, the concert hall was opened with unfinished details.)

The other feature that has been unanimously praised by the critics is the structure of the hall. Designed by Jean Nouvel, la Philharmonie is a juncture of two approaches on the architecture of the concert hall. On one hand, it’s based on the traditional shoebox model established by 19th century theaters; and on the other, it takes inspiration from the more recent “vineyard” model from the 20th century, where the orchestra is located in the center and the audience “surrounds” the musicians. This setup allows the public to be fairly close to the action. La Philharmonie possesses banks of seating that offer what several reviewers have described as an intimate experience.

Besides the 2,200-seat concert hall, la Philharmonie has rehearsal rooms with public galleries, workshop spaces where staff can take care of the children while their parents enjoy the concerts, and there’s also a gallery space that currently hosts the vastly successful exhibition on David Bowie paraphernalia. (Cafés and restaurants are also part of the complex.)

La Philharmonie de Paris represents what music must be for the 21st century: all-encompassing, accessible, thought-provoking. Performing arts administrators not only must inject enthusiasm to classical music, they also need to exploit the social component inherent to making music. At the end of the day, sound is nothing but alterations, so music should shake us, putting us in touch with the artists who create those beautiful vibrations. In that contact belies the social in music -and that’s what la Philharmonie seems devoted to.

jueves, marzo 26, 2015

¡Joyeux anniversaire, Maestro!

Hoy cumple 90 años Pierre Boulez, el que quizá sea el músico vivo más importante del siglo XX. No exagero: Boulez es un auténtico titán que conmocionó la música académica gracias a un talento extraordinario, un discurso visceralmente implacable, notables emprendimientos culturales y una excepcional habilidad de interpretar el repertorio contemporáneo.

Bajo la tutela de maestros como Olivier Messiaen y René Leibowitz, Boulez comenzó a interesarse por el dodecafonismo mostrando desde temprana edad que siempre fue un artista de su tiempo. Aunque en ocasiones parecía adelantársele gracias a su absoluta convicción por las vanguardias.

A medida que sus primeras composiciones ganaban notoriedad, Boulez se erigió como una de las figuras más prominentes de la música de la post-guerra, recurriendo la abstracción y la experimentación como medios para recomponer a una Europa devastada. Esta privilegiada posición lo pondría en contacto -y luego lo enemistaría- con personajes importantes de la época como Berio, Cage, Nono y Stockhausen: estandartes de lo que se conoció como la Escuela de Darmstadt.

Su talento como compositor no fue lo único que lo destacó en la escena musical, pues su perfil de gestor cultural también se puso de manifiesto en el que quizá sea su mayor legado institucional: la fundación del IRCAM, un laboratorio que fomenta la experimentación en la música electrónica. Boulez también fundó el ensemble intercontemporain, una estupenda pequeña orquesta de cámara dedicada a interpretar joyas de la música compuesta en estos tiempos.

Los 70 significaron la consagración de Boulez como director de orquesta, pues tomó la batuta de orquestas como la Cleveland Orchestra y la New York Philharmonic, un mandato diametralmente opuesto a ese epítome de la popularidad que consiguió su predecesor Leonard Bernstein. Boulez se dedicó a desafiar el establishment neoyorquino programando piezas difíciles e inaccesibles, esforzándose por despojar de solemnidad a la música clásica organizando los “rug concerts”: conciertos donde las butacas fueron reemplazadas por alfombras, poniendo al público a la misma altura que los músicos de la orquesta.

El excepcional talento como intérprete de Boulez ha quedado registrado en magníficas grabaciones (laureadas con 26 Grammys). En mi opinión, las piezas de Ravel, Debussy y Stravinsky reciben lecturas esencialmente galas: elegantes, claras, exquisitas. (Añadiría también las versiones de las sinfonías 6 y 7 de Mahler.)

El carácter contestatario es el que mejor define a la figura monumental de Boulez. Su verbo incendiario lo llevó a enfrentarse con antiguos profesores y amigos como Messiaen, Stravinsky, Cage y Schoenberg. En esta inclemente cruzada, Boulez siempre se esmeró únicamente por poner al frente y por encima de todo a la música.

Boulez afirmaba que había que bombardear a los teatros de ópera, que el compositor que no sintiera al serialismo como una necesidad era un inútil, que todo el arte del pasado (incluida La Mona Lisa) tenía que ser destruido; cuando era joven abucheó conciertos de Stravinsky y saboteó presentaciones de su antiguo mentor Messiaen. Boulez era el Kanye West de la música clásica: increíblemente talentoso, odiado por muchos pero indiscutiblemente influyente.

Esa lengua irascible se ha calmado con los años, pero sólo un poco: en la última entrevista concedida al New York Times, Boulez afirmaba que el rol del músico era provocar; que si sólo se tocaba música para un concierto más no era música, era marketing. Boulez también declaró que el que quisiera tener una vida interesante tenía que esforzarse. “Me sorprende que la gente no sea más creativa en estos días, y cuando digo más creativa me refiero a que no se exijan más a sí mismos. Tú nunca tendrás resultados si no estás peleando.”

Boulez es un tipo difícil que hace música difícil. No hay testimonio más elocuente e inspirador de la dificultad como preludio para la grandeza que su fascinante vida y su trascendental legado.

¡Gracias por desafiarnos, Maestro! ¡Felices 90!

sábado, marzo 07, 2015

Cine para dos

A mí me encanta ver películas con buenos diálogos. Debe ser porque me encanta conversar, pero disfruto muchísimo ver a dos personajes hablando en pantalla grande. Suena sencillo, pero el reto de construir toda una historia sobre sólo dos personas resulta bastante complejo. Primero, la historia debe ser lo suficientemente poderosa para que se sostenga en dos individuos y segundo, los actores deben ser lo suficientemente talentosos para cargar esa narrativa sobre sus hombros. Acá una lista de mis películas favoritas de dos personajes. (La idea de este post es compartir, así que sus sugerencias son más que bienvenidas.)

Before sunset: Esta es mi película favorita. La segunda parte de la trilogía de Linklater tiene una conexión increíble con mi vida.

La Venus à la fourrure: Un director de teatro y una actriz se ven envueltos en una vorágine de ficción, realidad y deseo.

En la cama: Dos amantes tienen tres encuentros sexuales en un cuarto de motel que desencadenan un drama fascinante.

My dinner with Andre
: Dos amigos se juntan a cenar luego de años sin verse, desarrollando un apasionado debate filosófico que devela cuánto han cambiado y cómo los prejuicios casi siempre terminan siendo derribados.

Une liaison pornographique: Él y ella se juntan para satisfacer una fantasía sexual que se encargará de develar sentimientos que ninguno de ellos se atreverá a aceptar.

: Laurence Olivier y Michael Caine ofrecen una clase magistral de actuación a lo largo de maravillosos desafíos intelectuales.

The Sunset Limited
: El comedor de un departamento es el escenario de un intenso choque de creencias, circunstancias y principios.

Medicine for melancholy: una pareja tiene una aventura de una noche que se extiende hasta convertirse en todo un día, en una serie de reflexiones sobre temas como el amor, el racismo y la vida, teniendo a una cautivante San Francisco en blanco y negro de fondo.

Gerry: Dos amigos atraviesan el desierto poniendo a prueba su amistad en este contemplativo film donde el silencio dice más que las palabras.

Some velvet morning: Inquietante drama erótico en el que nada es lo que parece: sobre todo al final.