The Big Gig in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires – Wednesday 1st November, 2000

If the concert in Rosario was remarkable for being the TSO’s first in the Americas (a fact of which the local worthies were quite proud when they found out), the concert in BA, the capital and one of the great cities of the world, was anticipated as being a key moment in the Orchestra’s history. The concert venue, Teatro Gran Rex, is a 3000 seater just around the corner from the hotel in Avenida Corrientes, just off the Avenida 9 Julio (which at more that a dozen lanes, is reportedly the widest city street in the world), and within sight of the giant obelisk that commemorates the establishment of the Argentine Republic and that has served as a landmark for us as we find our way around the narrow lanes of the city centre. Which is just as well, as it’s started to rain, and is every bit as muggy and humid as Sydney can be in the summer months.
The concert is a 1.00pm matinee that is free of charge for the audience, and even before our rehearsal finishes an hour before the concert starts, a queue stretches down the street from the theatre and around the block. Mozarteum Argentine presents fourteen such matinees each year in Buenos Aires and they are understandably popular, with the stalls and the first of two balconies packed out on this occasion.

Port Essington is going down well with the Argentine audiences – even without any explanatory notes printed in the programs (in Rosario, there were many advertisements and the BA program was just a sheet), the musical qualities of the piece seem to be highly affecting. The programs have, thus far, all managed to credit the TSO’s major sponsors and the FOTSO (charmingly translated as la Asociacion Amigos de la TSO!)

Beethoven Symphony No.7 went over a treat, and the Orchestra encored with the Scherzo from Tchaikovsky Symphony No.l which also hit the spot. (Michael Fortescue reported that several audience members wanted to know what the encore would be even before the concert had started!) Following the performance, the TSO were guests of honour at a reception given by the recently arrived Australian Ambassador in BA, Sharyn Minahan in the airy second balcony foyer. In the heat, a few beers and some food went down well with everyone, as one might expect. It turns out that the deputy head of the Embassy, Radek Divis, is from Hobart, an old mate of Owen Davis and even worked as an usher at the Odeon during his university days. Small world! Various representatives from the Mozarteum attend, as do two influential music critics, one from the English language daily The Buenos Aires Herald, the other from the major broadsheet La Nation, who enjoy themselves immensely.

The afternoon was free, and our last in BA before we head to the provinces and then directly to Canada on Sunday, so people disperse to make plans for the evening and to find souvenirs. In spite of its size, BA is not an overtly touristy city, and the central shopping district offers few retail opportunities that could not be had anywhere else, and probably more cheaply. Many shops sell mat bowls, wooden cups that are used for drinking the traditional tea made from holly leaves, although we haven’t found anywhere to participate in the practice (the coffee, however, has been generally outstanding). Some players purchased cards depicting the various saints from the nearby Cathedral, the patron saint of brooms being a popular choice, and Michael Johnston found a tiny six-sided spinning top that also served as a sort of dice for local gambling games, with which he was quite pleased. I settled for a CD of tango godfather, Carlos Gardel, which I played whilst having a bath this afternoon in my 1930s art deco bathroom with original plumbing, and felt that was as good a memory of the city as any.

Various groups returned to the excellent steakhouse that we visited on the first night for one last dose of Buenos Aires beef, which again was outstanding. I’ve made a quiet vow to eat nothing but salad and watercress sandwiches for the rest of the week!

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