Monday, August 12, 2013

Brazil: Week 23 - Nucleo and Partner Visits, and YOBA plays Mahler

Orchestra rehearsal at CESA nucleo
I made another trip back to the CESA nucleo in Simões Filho, this time on a Tuesday when they have theory class and orchestra rehearsals.  The afternoon session started off with a theory class of about 35 students which tended to be on the younger side, but I really don't know how much learning actually went on during this class.  The kids, especially the boys, were always talking, laughing, not paying attention, playing jokes, or playing on their cell phones.  I was quite relieved when it was over and we went on to orchestra rehearsal and, although I thought we would have a continuation of the same lack of focus and inattentiveness.  But it was really amazing to see the difference in the kids when they had an instrument in their hands!  In particular, one tall lanky boy who was the most troublesome in the theory class, once he had his bass in his hands he was quiet, paying attention, and focused.  I couldn't believe it!  Perhaps part of the problem was the size of the theory class, 35 students to one teacher, or the ineffectiveness of the teacher herself, but I think that perhaps maybe it isn't such a good idea to have a sit-down theory class for kids so young where they are away from their instruments and actual music-making too long.  
Bassist Edicson Ruiz during dress rehearsal

On Wednesday, the Youth Orchestra of Bahia gave a great concert at the Castro Alves Theater.  First on the program was J.M. Sperger's (1750-1812) Concerto for Bass and Orchestra No. 15, performed by Edicson Ruiz, the Venezuelan bassist who was trained in El Sistema and became the youngest person ever to earn a position in the Berlin Philharmonic at the age of 17.  This performance was billed as the Brazilian premiere of the work, which is pretty amazing if it is true, as the work is over 200 years old.  Ruiz is certainly a world-class bass player and played magnificently.  During the dress rehearsal, I noticed that it seemed his bass wasn't tuned to the standard E-A-D-G but seemed to be some type of scordatura.  It turned out I was right, as the program said he was playing in "Viennese tuning" which I think was A-D-F#-A, making his performing even more impressive!  As an encore, he played a really wild "Prelude and Fugue" by living Swiss composer Heinz Holliger.  The fugue was in 4 voices, a really crazy piece!
Ruiz and conductor Manuel Lopez rehearsing with YOBA

But the second half of the concert was even better, with the youth orchestra playing Mahler's Symphony No. 1, conducted by Venezuelan conductor Manuel Lopez Gomez.  This was only the second time that a Mahler symphony has been performed in Bahia (the Bahia Symphony performed Mahler's Symphony No. 4 earlier this year, their first Mahler Symphony after 30 years of existence.)  I've never heard the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra live before, but listening to these young Brazilians (mostly, as there are actually a few non-Brazilian Latin Americans in the orchestra) perform it in rehearsal and in concert, I felt that this must be something similar to hearing the Venezuelans play Mahler.  There was an energy and intensity that was very exciting, a real passion in the playing.  Perhaps some of it has to do with the fact that the conductor has conducted the Simon Bolivar Orchestra many times, including in this very symphony.  Ricardo Castro spoke to the audience during intermission and said that one of Neojiba's goals is to perform the complete cycle of Mahler Symphonies in the upcoming years.   

Dress rehearsal for Mahler 1
I was thinking more about the fact that Neojiba holds open auditions for positions in its top orchestras, and I think that now that they have started to open up these satellite nucleos which do not have auditions and accept all, that it probably isn't any different than what they do in Venezuela.  In Venezuela, they have the nucleos that are open to all children and previous experience is not required, but then when they reach a more advanced level they have the opportunity to move up into more advanced regional and countrywide orchestras.  I would presume that they do this through audition, although I wonder if it is an audition only for students already within El Sistema or open to all youths of the city/state/country like it is here (and these open auditions are why there are a few non-Brazilians in the orchestra, young foreign musicians that for one reason or another, like myself, were already living here.)

The 'filarmonica' in its early days.
This weekend, I was able to make a day trip out to one of Neojiba's partner projects in the city of Serrinha, a city of about 70,000.  After an uncomfortable 3 hour bus ride from Salvador, where it seemed like the bus kept stopping every five minutes to pick up and cram more people standing in the aisles, we arrived at the "Filarmônica 30 de Junho" ("Phiharmonic of June 30th.")   I did not learn a lot of the details of the organization, but it has been in existence since 1896, primarily as a "Filarmônica," which seems to be like a marching band.  Isaac, the director, told me that it is a very traditional ensemble in Bahia and that there are over 100 similar groups throughout the state.  Nowadays they offer music lessons to youths.

View over Serrinha
Because the Filarmonica only traditionally teaches wind instruments, Neojiba has connected them with another one of their partner projects in the nearby city of Conceição do Coité called Projeto Santo Antônio de Música (Saint Anthony Music Project) which runs a string orchestra for poor children, in the hopes that they can combine their students to create a full youth orchestra.  4 members of the top orchestras of Neojiba, 2 string players, one woodwind and one brass, came this weekend to teach and work with the kids.  They worked in sectionals throughout the morning and afternoon, and then came together for orchestra rehearsal in the evening.  There seemed to be a little worrying from some of the kids about the differences in ability level and other differences due to the kids being from different cities and music projects, but once they started playing you could tell that the creation of this orchestra is something very special and really welcomed by this community, something they have never had before.  The Neojiba teachers prefaced the rehearsal by talking about some of the philosophy of El Sistema, such as working collaboratively, peer teaching, and setting the goal of a high level of music making.  This weekend was the third time the kids from the two projects had met and rehearsed as one orchestra together, which they will continue to do every two weeks until they give a concert in December, and then they will see what will happen after that. 

Full orchestra rehearsal

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