April 16, 2021

Open your ears | Babelia

Open your ears | Babelia

My relationship with the so-called classical music changed almost overnight when I met in New York, 14 years ago, Ángel Gil-Ordóñez and Joe Horowitz. Ángel is a Spanish conductor who emigrated due to a lack of professional and aesthetic perspectives and ended up in Washington, and at Wesleyan University, where he is now a professor. Joe's job is harder to summarize. He has been a music critic The New York Times, manager and programmer of orchestras, author of fundamental books that almost always have to do with the impact of the European musical tradition in the United States. I do not know a pianist who has not read his Conversations with Arrau. Horowitz, who is not a musicologist, even though he is the person who knows the most about music that I have encountered in my life, has increasingly become a cultural historian. One of his best books, Artists in Exileis a chronicle as passionate as rigorous of the fugitives of European totalitarianism, writers, musicians, filmmakers, who found a refuge and a second career more or less bright or frustrated in the United States. The variety of his interests and his knowledge broadens his conception of the cultural radiations of music. By studying the way in which European traditions have been received and assimilated in the United States, and the vicissitudes in the search for a musical tradition of their own, the historian Horowitz unfolded into a cultural critic, more a book than another, as the years and as the decadence of the most prominent musical institutions in the country is accentuated.

Like their European counterparts, American orchestras seem to be prisoners of a routine in programs and in forms that leave out not only the vast majority of composers, living or dead, beyond a few obvious names, but also the largest part of the public. In the American case there is also a very old prejudice that has a lot of original sin. For Horowitz, who counts among his heroes George Gershwin, to Louis Armstrong, to Bernard Herrmann, a Lou Harrison, to Charles Ives, to Silvestre Revueltas, to Manuel de Falla, American classical music condemned itself to a repetitive and museographic mimicry of the European canon by ignoring or condescendingly watching the most valuable and deeply rooted popular music in the country: blues and jazz, work songs , the festive and ritual music of the Native Americans. In Horowitz's books, and in the musical programs he organizes, an assiduous presence is that of Antonín Dvorák, that indicated just that possible way for the composers of the country, very similar to the one that he himself and many others transited in Europe. Gershwin remains an exceptional and ill-fated figure: in his short life he gave time to create an admirable synthesis of cultured and popular music, opera and Broadway musical, and to receive at the same time the contemptuous condescension of the purists on one side and those of the other. The petty diatribes on "cultural appropriation" now so fashionable already proliferated in 1935 after the premiere of Porgy and Bess.

American classical music condemned itself to a mimicry of the European canon by ignoring popular music

Joseph Horowitz locks himself into writing his scholarly books and his battle-like articles as a hermit of music. Practical activism is exercised halfway with Ángel Gil-Ordóñez and with the troupe diverse and always variable of the PostClassical Ensemble, which on eminent occasions includes the pianist Pedro Carboné, and in which I myself have participated sometimes. On a frosty day in 2005, at the cheapest Indian restaurant on the Upper West Side of New York, Horowitz and Gil-Ordóñez embarked on a project that first took shape a year later, in the Guggenheim auditorium, on the occasion of a exhibition of Spanish art that was held there then, From El Greco to Picasso. It is not enough to complain about the monotony or the ethnic or social prejudices of concert programs. You have to devise others. We must open ourselves to other composers and other worlds, and show the stimulating evidence that music belongs to life and to the cultural and political atmosphere of the time in which it was created and in which it is heard. To complement the exhibition of the Guggenheim, the visual thread that crosses several centuries between El Greco and Picasso, Horowitz and Gil-Ordóñez devised two concerts that covered almost exactly the same temporal arc: from Tomás Luis de Victoria to Manuel de Falla; from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and popular heritages of Spanish music of the 16th century to the cosmopolitan and rooted modernity of the Iberia of Albéniz and the Concert for key of Falla. The history of painting and the history of music illuminated each other. For once, Spain was not the gloomy-folk stereotype of a residual romanticism, but a possible example of aesthetic and political renovation, as fertile in music as in painting, as fragile as all that European culture to which Falla and García Lorca they belonged Picasso, or Stravinski, or Bartók.

Classical music needs to leave the confinement in concert halls. The indefatigable Joseph Horowitz has led an orchestra to play the Symphony of the New World of Dvorák in an Indian reservation, and has debated with that audience ignored by all the cultural instances the trace that his own tradition left in the memory of a European composer with ears alert. I presented with him, among the paintings of the Phillips Collection of Washington, a torrential interpretation of the Bética Fantasy of Falla by Pedro Carboné, and that allowed us to speak again of the silver age of Spanish life and culture that was amputated in 1936. Now that I'm away, Joe's messages become more desolate because of the lack of corporate sponsorships and the aggressive cuts of the Trump era threaten the continuity of the PostClassical Ensemble. But neither he nor Angel surrender, nor stop inventing things: I'm dying of envy when I read the chronicle of the formidable program with two orchestras of gamelan, one of Java, the other of Bali, which they have devised to pay homage, nothing less than in the National Cathedral of Washington, the composer Lou Harrison, who loved those music so much, that belonged to that lineage of eccentrics, dislocated, original that I have been able to discover, like many other fans, thanks to Joe Horowitz and Ángel Gil-Ordóñez .


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