Finally comes the day of the last concert. On Monday 17th of September, the Youth Orchestra of Bahia had the morning free and lunch at the hotel. Around 13:15, the musicians went to the Cité de la Musique, where the amazing Philharmonie de Paris is situated. Upon arrival, they reencountered Fabien Lerat, former Educational Manager of NEOJIBA from 2016 to 2017, who now works at the Philharmonie. He told us that 5 years ago, when he was an intern from the Haute Ecole de Musique de Genève at NEOJIBA, he had given musical initiation classes to many of the current members of the Youth Orchestra of Bahia, performing that night in that great venue.
At 14:15 they started rehearsing at one of the Philharmonie’s studios. Before anything else, Ricardo Castro addressed the orchestra, remembering them that the perfect acoustics they were about to experience in that room was designed by the same Japanese company that is designing the acoustics of Parque do Queimado, NEOJIBA’s new headquarters back in Salvador, Bahia. During practice they could therefore really polish the slightest bits of sound, thanks to the outstanding acoustics, readying them for the concert.
After a small break, they had a second rehearsal, this time on stage, which began at 18:20. Martha Argerich came when it was time for the Schumann concerto and one could see how the orchestra was already at ease and in tune with the legendary pianist, after the last two weeks playing alongside her. Beth Ponte, former Institutional Director of NEOJIBA from 2010 to 2018, came to watch the rehearsal as well as the concert later on. She was really glad to see the team, as we were to see her. It was also during practice that we received the great news that the concert was to be live streamed internationally on the Philharmonie’s website!
Not long after, it was time for the concert. The audience was absolutely crowded, the tickets having been sold-out months ago. After the orchestra, came in Ricardo Castro, who directly addressed the public expressing his joy to be back in that prestigious venue only 2 years after their last visit. Continuing, he wondered what the spectators had in mind, guessing they were probably curious to know why a youth orchestra from Bahia was playing Wagner in Paris. His answer was a simple yet thought provoking one: first of all, regarding the chosen piece, he said that the overture of Wagner’s Meistersinger von Nürnberg was excellent for the shaping of hands, ears and spirit of an orchestra, showing by that the importance of a well-chosen repertoire to the maturing of a newly formed musical ensemble. Second, and most importantly, he explained that, inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, NEOJIBA’s goal was to show the world what was possible to achieve, even under the most severe of conditions, with the educational method of multiplication, in which all project members, aside from learning their instruments, have to coordinate teaching activities. The result was to be seen right there, on stage, for most of the musicians performing that night were students of those who had played in the Philharmonie back in 2016.
That being said, Wagner’s overture was wonderfully played, charged with no less intensity than harmony, both characteristic of what true nobility requires. After the opening came Schumann’s concerto: Argerich’s performance was absolutely striking, overwhelming the public to an applause that lasted more than 5 minutes. Yelling and cheering demanded for an encore, which came short after when, joined by Ricardo Castro, Argerich played Le Jardin Féerique, last piece of Ravel’s Ma Mère L’Oye, in its original version for piano four-hands. The two pianists displayed such a touching performance of the piece that an acclaim as big as the previous one ensued from it and the public left the room for the interlude stricken with emotion.
After the break, the orchestra played their American repertoire: Gershwin, Guarnieri, Revueltas, Bernstein. They were inspired, accurate, self-assured, joyful… the demanding public of Paris completely fell for their charm. Before the last piece of the programme, Ricardo Castro addressed the audience once again to stress the importance of Maestro José Antonio Abreu’s legacy to the youth of South America. To illustrate his point, Ricardo recalled of when he was a young pianist: his debut in Paris took place in the small « Villa-Lobos Hall », in the Embassy of Brazil, whereas that night 13 year-old kids were debuting at the Philharmonie de Paris, one of the most prestigious concert halls in the world! Thereafter, Castro mentioned a very important lesson he learnt from the French orchestra « Dissonance », who performed Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring without conductor on that same stage. The speech served as a perfect bridge for what was to follow: Castro left the stage, leaving our young musicians to play Marquez’s Danzón n. 2 without conductor, from which resulted a long-lasting standing ovation! As an encore, the orchestra played the Brazilian pieces « Aquarela do Brasil » and « Tico Tico no Fubá », arranged by our talented Jamberê. Then, whilst leaving the stage, the musicians still played the carnavalesque « Vassourinhas ». The Parisian public could not believe it, as if what they were experiencing was impossible to describe. Such beauty, energy and joy left them completely astonished!
The Youth Orchestra of Bahia did much more than go to Europe to simply play music. They toured through the most prestigious concert halls, with one of the best soloists in history, to show what can be done in the severest of situations through hardworking, goodwill and the proper educational method. They went there both to inspire, as the example they are, and be inspired by the Old Continent. One could say that our purpose was fulfilled with much beauty and liveliness. Long live NEOJIBA!