With Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Strauss and Mahler on the program, Vladimir Ashkenazy led Berlin's Deutsches Symphonie Orchester (DSO) on a South American tour.
Six days, three cities, six concerts for thousands of spectators. Those are the numbers behind the South American tour by the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin (DSO) in May 2012 - a series of concerts that was a long time coming. Led by conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, the DSO's musical voyage was intended to take place 15 years ago.
Back then, the tour had to be cancelled after Ashkenazy, then-chief conductor of the DSO, took ill and declined. He admits the cancellation led to some dissatisfaction across the Atlantic, and he was only too happy to accept the new invitation. One program highlight remained from the planned 1997 program: Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony.
Reaching out to younger generations
This time the tour started off in Brazilian metropolis Sao Paulo. Beginning small, the first concert on May 12th aimed to draw in young people: Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" with live narration and a presentation of the orchestral instruments. The venue was the Auditório Ibirapuera, a minimalist and modern white and red trapezoid in the middle of the park of the same name
For the open-air concert on the following day, the orchestra played at the very same location - but with reversed perspective, for the back of the stage opened up on the surrounding park.
To prepare for this joint performance with the Sao Paulo Youth Orchestra (OJESP), several DSO members had met regularly with their young colleagues through Skype, in a series of virtual workshops dealing with technical and interpretive issues.
This part of the project featured Brazilian violist Thais Coelho, who worked as a living bridge between the two orchestral bodies. A teacher, host, organizer, interpreter and cultural translator all rolled into one.
The venue for the last concert in Sao Paulo was more conventional, but certainly distinguished. The city's Teatro Municipal was inaugurated in 1911 for opera performances. The hall's acoustics are on the dry side, lending an especially lonely and bereaved quality to the trumpet solo opening Mahler's Fifth.
Though unforgiving and even trying for the instrumentalists, the theater's sound lent the chosen works a revelatory clarity - from Beethoven's Pastorale to Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony.
The symphonic poem "Don Juan" profited even more from the acoustics. Far from wallowing in sentimentality and the late Romantic orgy of sound, Richard Strauss' complex counterpoint sounded as if etched. That's also thanks to the DSO's precise playing and Ashkenazy's restraint and faithfulness to the musical text.
A flight and six-hour bus ride in the rain took the Berlin musicians southwest to repeat the Beethoven-Shostakovich program.
They headed to Rosario, the third most populous city in Argentina, and to the Teatro El Círculo, built at the start of the 20th century as an opera house. But all agreed that the architecural highlight of the tour was the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, remarkable for its architectural weight, history, astronomical ticket prices - and, above all else, its spectacular acoustic.
After a brilliant rendition of "Don Juan" there, Ashkenazy announced that the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau had passed away, dedicating the performance of Mahler's symphony to him. The 75-year old maestro delivered a version of the symphony's funeral march that was anything but mawkish. One could call it a cry of defiance in the face of death.
The Teatro Colon represented a musical highlight for many of the musicians on tour. As one hard-boiled player exclaimed after the final encore, "That made me feel like a superstar!"
Author: Augusto Valente
Editor: Rick Fulker