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22 February 2017

Standing room only in Chile - a report from home territory

Standing room only in Chile - a report from home territory

Andrián Pertout reports from the 2017 XVII Festival Internacional de Música Contemporánea in Chile - we asked him to include some detail about his impressive track record in achieving orchestral performances in Chile.

Before my trip to Chile this January, four years had passed since my previous visit. In 2012 I participated in residencies with two Chilean orchestras: Orquesta Sinfónica de Concepción and Orquesta de Cámara de Valdivia. The second-largest city Concepción was the setting for the world premiere performance of a new symphonic arrangement of my Ñamkonün (En la profundidad de las aguas), Concertante for Chamber Orchestra, no. 415 (2011). The orchestra was conducted by Benjamin Shwartz - a Berlin-based conductor who had just completed a three-season tenure as the Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, working under Michael Tilson Thomas. Ñamkonün (En la profundidad de las aguas) was commissioned by the Orquesta de Cámara de Valdivia, and dedicated to Chilean anthropologist Jaime Hernández Ojeda. The work celebrates Mapuche culture, with the Mapudungun linguistic expression of 'Ñamkonün' representing the idea of 'perderse en la profundidad de las aguas' or 'to get lost in the depth of the waters' - a reference to the attempts of the first European settlers to subjugate the indigenous peoples in the New World - and specifically highlighting the resilience of the Mapuche in south-central Chile and south-western Argentina, who resisted domination for over 300 years.

A week later, the Orquesta de Cámara de Valdivia, conducted by Cristóbal Urrutia, presented four performances of Navigating the Labyrinth for string orchestra, no. 385 (2002, Rev. 2010) in Valdivia and surrounding cities. Valdivia is the cultural centre of southern Chile (also the location of the Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960, which, at 9.5 on Richter scale, is the world's most powerful earthquake ever recorded). The interesting aspect of this work is that in spite of its 'Australian' theme (a dedication to Australian composer Brenton Broadstock, composed in celebration of his fiftieth birthday) and the fact that it has had thirteen separate performances in Chile alone by the Orquesta de Cámara de Chile and Orquesta de Cámara de Valdivia, it took more than ten years to achieve an Australian premiere. This didn't happen until September 2013, in a Melbourne performance by the Southern Cross Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Gerald Gentry (1927-2014). Arcko Symphonic Ensemble, conducted by Timothy Phillips, presented its second Australian performance in 2016.

A month later, in January 2013, my Symphonie de guerre (1. L'assaut sur la raison, 2. Bénédiction d'un conquérant), no. 386/390 (2003-2004) was selected for performance by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Chile at the XIII Festival Internacional de Música Contemporánea 2013. The score selection process is part of a 'call for scores' that is put out every year by this festival for a performance by the Chilean National Symphony Orchestra. There were seven signatures of acceptance from the 'symphonic' jury. Now, imagine if such an open vetting process existed in Australia, and imagine the MSO or SSO participating in a contemporary festival in this way. The minute number of opportunities for orchestral performances in Australia are, unfortunately, negotiated behind closed doors. (I often joke about the fact that it takes a very limited amount of mathematical knowledge to calculate that, with around 600 or so living and non-living Australian composers represented at the Australian Music Centre, and with an orchestra such as the MSO who may perform at the most three of those composers in one year, that each composer has a good chance for performance by the MSO once in the next hundred years! Good thing that some of us search for opportunities elsewhere.)

But, jokes aside, this unscientific 'silly' assessment is not that far from the truth. In Chile, for example, orchestras are generally obliged to present at least one Chilean composer amongst the traditional 'European' repertoire of a concert. I believe that this was the case some time ago in Australia and that, sadly, local content is now limited to around 7%. But, with regards to searching for opportunities elsewhere, this is exactly what one must do in this great (sometimes not so great) country of ours. For example, in 2015, there was a call for scores by the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México for a performance at the XXXVII International Forum of New Music 'Manuel Enríquez' (FIMNME) in Mexico City, Mexico. I submitted my Symphonie de guerre, which was selected and hence performed by the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México conducted by José Luis Castillo at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) - a stunning building situated in the beautiful historic centre of Mexico City, featuring a neoclassical and art nouveau exterior and art deco interior adorned with murals by Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Now, here too I encountered free new music concerts attended to full capacity. More on that later.

Getting back to Chile; I did not actually attend the 2013 concert with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Chile, and for good reason. Michael Kieran Harvey was presenting the world premiere performance of my hour-long Luz meridional, Twenty-four Études for pianoforte, no. 411 (2009-2012) at the MONA FOMA Festival 2013 in Hobart, Tasmania. The Hobart concert was on Sunday 20 January and the Santiago concert on Friday 18 January. If you consider the fact that a flight from Australia to Chile, travelling eastward, means that after you have flown 14.5 hours (with a four-hour layover in Auckland), you are nevertheless in Santiago five hours later. Coming back is of course tragic, and so there is no way that I could have made it back by Sunday morning. Had it been the other way around (a concert on Friday in Hobart, followed by another in Chile on Sunday), there would have been no problem.

In the first chamber concert of this year's XVII Festival Internacional de Música Contemporánea, in the great Latin American tradition, not only were are all seats taken, but also the aisles, with people also standing wherever possible. Can you believe it! This is a new music festival with an audience! All the concerts (including the closing orchestral concert) were free events; something quite common in Latin America, which functions to make classical music accessible to the people, regardless of their social or economic status. Unlike in Australia, culture and sport are of equal importance within the general psyche of the Latinos, so people will turn up to a free new music concert. And if you did happen to miss a night's concert, you could alternatively view it later that night on YouTube.

The festival program featured a collection of Chilean composers, as well as various other repertoire from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Denmark, England, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain and USA, including works by notables such as Rodolfo Halffter, György Ligeti, Bruno Maderna, Gérard Pesson and Iannis Xenakis. The closing 'orchestral' concert - at the Teatro Universidad de Chile, Providencia, Santiago, Chile - featured Ligeti's Lontano (1967) together with two works by Chilean composers, Felipe Alarcón's Tres formas sobre una nube and Luis Advis's Suite Latinoamericana. In this same concert, the Orquesta Sinfónica de Chile, conducted by Berlin-based Chilean conductor Vicente Larrañaga, performed my work Aristotle's Rhetoric, Suite for Orchestra, no. 380 (2002, rev. 2016). I should point out that the rehearsing schedule of the orchestras in new music festivals such as these is amazing. Five days were put aside for rehearsals, and I would say that the orchestra rehearsed my work alone (with a duration of about 20-minutes) for a total of five hours that week. I attended all five rehearsals.

The response from the audience on the night was overwhelming. The atmosphere was electric. I even had people yelling and screaming above the clapping! I should point out that I was born in Providencia, so this is a concert in my home territory, literally. It is also interesting to note that this is the same piece recognised as the Winner of the Betty Amsden Award - 2005 3MBS FM National Composer Awards (Melbourne, Australia), performed in part (only four movements out of the seven) on 14 July 2005 by Orchestra Victoria, conducted by Johannes Fritzsch at Hamer Hall, Melbourne. It took almost twelve years to achieve the world premiere of the complete work. And the most frustrating thing for me, as a composer, is that this is a composition that works! The orchestra loved it; the audience loved it. OK, my piece doesn't transport people to another planet exactly; it doesn't facilitate an interconnection with aliens, but, it's good music nevertheless. Two separate proposals for important commissions in the European continent were discussed right after the concert (so must be doing something right).

Another amazing thing about Latin America is that when you have concerts, you also have dinners, and so yes, every night we went out to dinner. Sometimes even for drinks afterwards. And these are people that have to get up early in the morning for work the next day. One of those nights you would have seen me in the Santiago CBD at 3am smoking a Cuban cigar with a beer in the company of Cuban composer Louis F. Aguirre and Eduardo Cáceres (Professor of Composition, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile/Artistic Director of the Festival Internacional de Música Contemporánea).

During my time in Santiago, José Oplustil Acevedo also produced a 'Siglo XXI' one-hour radio program dedicated to my music for Radio Beethoven (96.5 FM), Chile's one and only classical radio station. I also caught up with Paris-based Chilean pianist María Paz Santibañez, who was actually supposed to present the world premiere of my Hommage à Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) L'architecture du cosmos at the festival, but because of the selection of my orchestral work, and the policy of the festival of 'one work per composer', had to pull this work (commissioned by her) out of the program. María Paz Santibañez, incidentally, holds a position in Paris as the Chilean cultural attaché for France, awarded to her by current Chilean president Michelle Bachelet in acknowledgment of her distinct profile as notable Chilean concert pianist. She was OK about the fact that she could not perform my piece on this occasion and told me that she would premiere the work later on this year in Paris or Madrid instead.

Further links

Andrián Pertout - AMC profile

'University of Chile presents five days of live music' - El Mercurio (15 January 2017 - in Spanish)

'Interview with Andrián Pertout on Siglo XXI" - podcast by Radio Beethoven (96.5FM), Providencia, Santiago, Chile

Video of Day 5 of the XVII Festival Internacional de Música Contemporánea (part 1 - YouTube)

Andrián Pertout is a freelance composer. His music has been performed in over forty countries around the world. He was Honorary Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, in 2007-2015 and is currently President of the Melbourne Composers’ League (MCL), Australian Delegate of the Asian Composers’ League (ACL) and Lecturer in Composition at the Faculty of the VCA (University of Melbourne).


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