- Panambí - Ballet - World Premiere Recording
A lifetime's work ahead
There are many causes you might (rather lazily) expect a woman conductor to champion. Especially when she happens to be Gisèle Ben-Dor and has in the past described conducting as 'macho, strong-willed and stubborn ... not always an elegant profession.' But assume that such an opinion obliges her to adopt a pulpit-thumping stance of a certain political hue on the podium and you would be wrong. The sexual politics of conducting in a male-dominated world is an issue the one-time Bernstein protégé deals with in an unconfrontational manner. There is, she insists, 'no difference in substance between conductors, just a difference in style, irrespective of their gender.' Much more important to this effusive, sharp-witted, passionate and witty woman is the music she conducts and in particular the neglected repertoire of her native Latin America. 'It is my pleasure and my mission to play this music,' she declares, 'and I'm intending to explore the repertoire with every possible venue and label that I have.'
Currently Music Director of the Santa Barbara Symphony and the Boston Pro Arte Chamber Orchestras, the Montevideo-born Ben-Dor's commitment to Latin American music on disc began in 1995 with a well-received Ginastera recording on Koch International with the London Symphony Orchestra and Israel Chamber Orchestra (12/96). This month she is reunited with the LSO for the first volume in a new series on BMG Conifer devoted to important twentieth-century Latin American composers which again features the music of the Argentinian Alberto Ginastera (1916-83). Simultaneously from Koch come world premiere recordings of two works by her Uruguayan compatriot, Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940), a composer currently enjoying an increasingly high profile in Ben-Dor's adopted American home.
'He was an extraordinary, deeply feeling, loving, compassionate, caring human being and his music reflects that. It's quite wild, and with so much charm, so much humour.' But there is pain and tragedy too in the alcohol-dependent suicide's music, not least in the heartbreaking saxophone solo of Itinerarios , a lament for Civil War-wracked Spain. 'The whole movement is disjointed, almost like Picasso's Guernica , and then suddenly you have this perfect melody: sweet, symmetrical, organized, beautiful.
Such sudden contrasts, says Ben-Dor, are wholly characteristic of Revueltas's music. ' Colorines' seems like something very superficial and then come postcards of colours and suddenly, in the interlude for winds, a melody from heaven. That contrast: don't you hear that in Mahler too?' Other influences are to be found too, not least Stravinsky, 'but the jagged rhythms, the sudden outbursts and intrusion of folkloric elements is pure Revueltas. And how good it is!'
Refusing to shy away from acknowledging the influences operating on Latin American composers early this century - 'Of course Ginastera studied de Falla and Ravel and Bartok, but who didn't at the time? Who wasn't influenced by them?' - Ben-Dor regards such references as wholly complementary. In Ginastera's Op. 1 ballet, Panambi , 'the language is so earthy, so sensuous, so Ravellian that it explodes with colour and rhythm' while the later 'boy-meets-girl story', Estancia , she compares to Dvorak's Slavonic Dances in its use of folk idioms, and finds there another, perhaps surprising echo. 'The fugue in "Los puebleros" reminds you of Richard Strauss. It's so witty, all those spikey, chattering rhythms make it sound like you're listening to musical gossip.'
What binds Ginastera and Revueltas together, however, is something less tangible, something, says Ben-Dor, that needs to be felt rather than described. 'A lot of the music has to do with the pride and energy of a people who live on and work with the land. The Pampas is a vast, lonely, quiet, isolated place and every time you find people alone with nature there is going to be something of a spiritual awakening. Beethoven could tell us that too!'
Though future releases and potential repertoire have yet to be mapped out - 'Doing this is not without great effort; each of these recordings is a labour of love' - Ginastera seems set to loom large over Ben-Dor's BMG Conifer series with the second volume, due for release later this year, likely to feature his music. The choice after that, she claims excitedly, is an embarrassment of riches. 'Do you know how much beautiful music there is in Latin America waiting to be discovered? More than even I will be able to cover!'