by Ignacio Berghelli

ARGENTINE CELLO SCENE Hello cellists of the world.

From Buenos Aires, Argentina, I will try to describe the best I can the cello scene in my country. Since I am the first to write about it I guess it will be difficult to put it all in a short article. I hope I can do it well enough.

My name is Ignacio Berghelli. I like classical music mainly, but I like tango too. The main reason why I like tango is, I think, because I was born in Buenos Aires and I can easily relate to the music's feeling, as well as the situations and places the lyrics of most tango songs describe.

So, I will begin with tango for the first part of the article.

One of the first composers (if not the first. I'm not a tango expert, just an enthusiast.) to include Cello in tango formations and orchestras was OSVALDO PUGLIESE. It was, of course, a difficult task, since innovations in tango are quite often frowned upon by tango purists, and the "orquestas típicas" (typical orchestras) didn't use to include cellos back then. As time went by, this situation changed, and nowadays, fortunately, there are dozens of tango orchestras with cello, sometimes beside the double-bass and sometimes working alone as the rhythm foundation of the band. There are many concerts taking place in Buenos Aires during the weekends, although it might be difficult to guess which bands include a cellist if you are new to the scene.

As many of you surely know, the great Astor Piazzola formed his Octet band, which was one of the most innovative tango orchestras in history. Many bands in Buenos Aires have included a cello thanks to him. Unfortunately the bad news is tickets for these shows are very expensive, which doesn't imply musicians get paid well. In fact, musicians get paid very, very little for their performance. Thematic restaurant owners charge around US$100 -- a ticket aiming to make a big profit out of uninitiated foreign tourists who want to get a taste of tango.

Not that there is anything wrong with spending money on something you love. It's just a pity that musicians get paid very little in return; their skills being overlooked or not appreciated at all by those who hire them. More often than not, they end up getting a similar pay to the one they'd get if they merely washed the restaurant's dishes. Additionally, the high price leaves local audiences out of the circuit. This is clearly frustrating, especially for the younger generations. Older musicians have excellent technique but they lack spirit of independence. (i.e. holding and producing their own concerts, promoting their shows, etc.) Most of us perceive the local cello scene as being very unfair and dangerously playing a self-destructive game. Many improvements could be carried out, clearly benefiting musicians and the audience, however, it seems not many people are interested in carrying out this change.

When we take a look at the local classical music scene, the picture doesn't get any rosier. There are only a few places where chamber music can be played independently, in small theaters or halls. Other than that, it's only the official, bigger places, which don't renew their repertoire or staff often. Because of Argentina's bad financial situation and poignant unemployment rates, combined with unwise normative as far as national orchestras are concerned, some musicians look forward to being hired by the local Philharmonic or Symphonic orchestras, since in this way they get a steady job, good pay, and their position is granted for life. As a result, they become numbed by the comfort and lack of challenge after a few years, and end up playing their instruments in a dull and routine way -- just like office work- no longer wishing to improve. The financial collapse in 2001 and its aftermath (whose effects are being felt even today) have proved to work disasters in the local music scene, and many promising cellists who could have made great careers, toured the world, played at the Met, etc... ended up either in indolence and apathy, or devoting themselves to something else. More often than not, those granted a "position for life" in such orchestras easily relax. I've heard some of them consider themselves of "continental fame" although they never play outside of the local Philharmonic or the Symphonic.

All of this, of course, leaves little room for cellists who are not a part of the Philharmonic or the Symphonic. Unfortunately, cellists (soloists, in trios or quartets) have to face a similar dilemma to the one tango cellists face, only made worse by the circumstances (Tango is more likely to attract a flow of money from tourists than classical music is). They have to play for no money, even after a 20 year career, degree, extensive curriculum, etc, or not to play at all. Some of them end up playing for tips. When there are festivals, or opportunities for cellists, teachers are obviously preferred over students. Since teachers usually accept just playing for tips, the perspective for those of us who are learning or starting a career is that of a dark future. It seems finding dignity and stopping all this nonsense will be up to the younger generations. Several of us have already stopped thinking the former ones will. It's so sad listening to stories of friends who have not been accepted to play in Baroque Festivals on grounds of being "too young". I will quote the greatly admired Beethoven who said: "No one should drive a hard bargain with an artist..."

Classical music lovers can still attend to recitals that include cellists in museums and, of course, at the Teatro Colón, (where you can listen to the Teatro Colon's Orchestra or the Buenos Aires Philharmonic) and some other small theaters like "LA SCALA DE SAN TELMO".

In my opinion, museums are more intimate, and artists can show their talents better without the pressure of playing at "EL COLÓN". Besides, in smaller venues, you get the chance to talk to the artists. Fortunately this year there will be two recitals with Cello Soloists.

In May, Alicia Weilerstein will play the Shostakovitch's Cello Concerto No. 1 and in September, Argentine philharmonic's soloist Carlos Nozzi (great person too!) will include the ELGAR CONCERTO.

From the end of May there will be a Chamber Music Festival once every two weeks for 3 months and they will take place at the NATIONAL LIBRARY's auditorium. Repertoire hasn't been confirmed yet.

The overall feeling one gets being part of the local cello scene is that a lot of harm has been done, and a lot of good can be done to revert it. I guess the crossroads every cellist must face in any part of the world is whether you will be "the wedding cellist" or whether you'll be working towards something more elevated and of more artistic value. Finding new repertoire every year, forming a quartet or a trio, daring to play solo pieces, etc.

I know it's difficult, but I think the new generations must fight for their rights. Nobody will give us anything for free, so, if the place for us doesn't exist, we must create it.

It's so sad when you see a young classical musician, with no scholarship, disappointed in their career because he/she has nowhere to play. But I'm optimistic. I think the human spirit and the true artist within us will rise against all odds. At difficult times like this just an excellent bow technique or intonation are not enough. Strength, initiative and love for music are the driving forces that have the power to change an otherwise sad fate. I always tell my friends "Don't give up. Beethoven will surely help you from Heaven", however overly romantic that might sound, I still believe there is something higher than a newspaper article or a contract. Music is an ideal for living.

Well, I hope you have found this article informative. This is my first collaboration to ICS. Thanks to the editor and webmaster of ICS for letting me help.

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