Thursday, July 18, 2013

Brazil: Week 18 - Arrival in Salvador

Farol da Barra (Lighthouse of Barra) in Salvador
Here I am in Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, where I plan on spending the next two months after flying about 1000 miles north up the coast of Brazil.  Salvador, the first capital of Brazil and the country's third largest city with almost 3 million people, is the center of Afro-Brazilian culture due to a very large African influence.  I spent most of this week searching for an apartment and getting used to the city, figuring out the buses, etc. and I ended up renting an apartment just across the street from the beach (probably the only time in my life I'll ever have an oceanfront home!)

The beach across the street from my apartment
One week after I arrived, I flew off to the USA to spend part of my few Fulbright vacation days there for the 4th of July and my "second wedding," but before I left I was able to make my first visit to NEOJIBA, the El Sistema-inspired program here in Salvador that I will be working with and learning about during the next two months.  I actually had contacted a friend of a friend first who is a clarinet professor at the Universidade Federal da Bahia (The Federal University of Bahia,) or UFBA, and also is principal clarinettist of the Bahia Symphony Orchestra, and he invited me to sit in on a rehearsal of the orchestra at the Castro Alves Theatre and then meet him afterwards.  But while sitting in on the rehearsal, Eduardo Torres, the pedagogical coordinator of NEOJIBA, which is also housed in the same theatre, found me (somehow, even though I didn't think he knew what I looked like or that I was going to be at this rehearsal) and invited me to the dress rehearsal and concert that evening of the Orquestra Jovem da Bahia (Youth Orchestra of Bahia) which, of course, I was delighted to accept.
Sunset from Salvador over Itaparica Island

At the dress rehearsal, I wandered into the huge theatre and took a seat.  The theatre, which is the hub of classical music and dance in Salvador, is much more modern than the Municipal Theatre in Rio and also houses numerous rehearsal spaces and classrooms in its large building.  While watching the Youth Orchestra of Bahia rehearse, I met Eduardo again and he told me that the orchestra, which is the program's top ensemble, is comprised of members between the ages of 11-28 and pointed out several players that have performed at festivals or a going to study soon in Europe.

Eduardo also introduced me to several members of the staff of the project, including Ricardo Castro, the founder and conductor of NEOJIBA.  But for some reason I became nervous when I was introduced to him and instead of saying "prazer" meaning "nice to meet you," I said "tchau" meaning "goodbye," and unlike Italian where "ciao" (pronounced the same way as "tchau" [chow]) can mean either "hello" or "goodbye," in Portuguese it only means "goodbye."  After that sad exchange I felt so stupid for the rest of the evening thinking I had made a terrible first impression on the most important person in the whole project. (And if that wasn't bad enough, I made the same exact mistake again later that evening when being introduced to someone else, but luckily I probably won't be running into this person anymore in the future.)  I hope he forgets about that!
Sleeping on the sidewalk

The concert consisted not only of the Youth Orchestra of Bahia, but also included a kind of Latin Big Band called "Rumpilezz" (basically a Jazz Band but the rhythm section is a tuba and 5 percussionists playing Latin/Brazilian/African instruments) and the Brazilian popular singer Margareth Menezes.  The concert began with the orchestra on stage while the band entered and stayed at the back of the hall as the two ensembles played a short introduction together.  Then the orchestra dove right into Arturo Marquez's "Danzon No. 2" (I hope I don't get tired of that piece from my time down here!) followed by the last two movements of Mussorgsky/Ravel's "Pictures at an Exhibition" ("Baba Yaga" and "The Great Gate of Kiev") and then an arrangement of "Aquarela do Brasil" which I was told was created by the tuba player.  Menezes came out and the orchestra accompanied her for one song, but afterwards were replaced by the entrance of the band.  The band played a few tunes with her and then several on their own (and they were really fabulous) before being joined by the orchestra for a final number, a tune written by band but with a part arranged for the orchestra, and then an encore of Ravel's "Bolero" played straight, with the saxophone solos played by members of the band, but eventually joined by improvised Latin/African Candomble percussion from the band's percussionists.
The Youth Orchestra of Bahia performing

The conductor of the orchestra was not Ricardo Castro as I thought it would be, but instead a student named Yuri Azevedo from the project led the orchestra in the concert.  Eduardo told me that Azevedo is just 21 years old and last year at the Campos do Jordão Music Festival (which is the largest classical music festival in South America) he received the prize for best student, something which had never been given to a conductor before.  I was quite blown away by watching him conduct and he very, very good.  I realized while watching him that if this orchestra is a younger Brazilian equivalent of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, which it is on path to be and may very well already be the best youth orchestra in Brazil, then Azevedo is most certainly the young Brazilian Gustavo Dudamel.  This notion was further backed up by their very similar conducting styles, physical build and look, youthfulness, and even hair!  I later found out that I wasn't the first one to suggest this comparison.

Yuri Azevedo leading the orchestra
Overall, I thought it was a fantastic concert.  The orchestra is certainly very accomplished, at a higher level than the top orchestra of Orquestrando a Vida in Campos and closer to a professional level (although they still had their share of mistakes.)  It was interesting to note how similar this concert program was to the programming in Campos, having a nearly equal mix of classical and popular/Latin pieces, and several of the exact same pieces (the Danzon, Aquarela, and Great Gate of Kiev I all heard performed in Campos.)  The orchestra was miked for the whole concert, which made sense while playing with the singer and band, but I really wished I could have heard them without amplification when they performed by themselves.  Throughout the concert, there were also seemingly random visual projections on large columns behind the orchestra that didn't seem to have anything to do with the music and I found them distracting.

I'm definitely looking forward to learning more about the project and working with them during the next two months.

The Youth Orchestra of Bahia performing with
Rumpilezz (in white in front)

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