Category Archives: Concerts

GREC – Esperanza Spalding: Mixed

Not as pop as she looks (photo: Sandrine Lee)

Not as pop as she looks (photo: Sandrine Lee)

Another week, another pleasant night at Teatre Grec… mostly. Marketing rules in today’s troubled music industry – that is how Esperanza Spalding‘s concert was positioned as “jazz for those who love jazz… and for those who don’t often listen to jazz”. Well, not really. This lively bass player has the right looks, moves, and attitude to appeal to a wider audience, but what she does is actually pure, uncompromised jazz, and it can get a bit tough for untrained ears. The band was great, both in terms of collective sound and solos, but I was sort of disappointed by Esperanza herself: while her technique is sound and the way she mixes spoken word with singing as she introduces each song is charming, her voice is simply not strong enough to stand out among such a powerful group of musicians. I found her squeaky at times, and generally trying too hard to be the singer she is not. Judging from the live videos you find on the Web, it might have just been a bad day – but since that was when I happened to see her play, I was left with mixed feelings and one more reason to stigmatize what I call “desperate marketing”.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7 out of 10.

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PostTip: Grec Festival Reviews

So here it is! The Grec Festival. In this PostTip I am going to gather brief reviews of the first shows I have seen (last seen first), while later ones will be published separately.

Celebrating the sheer joy of dance

Celebrating the sheer joy of dance

CONCIERTO/CONCEPTO, BRODAS BROS (7 July, Teatre Grec) – I had already seen this local group of urban/hip-hop/electro funk/soul dancers twice, and each time left the venue impressed by their skills, creativity and infectious high spirits – yet on their first appearance at the Grec theatre they set their aspirations even higher by conceiving a rich, dynamic mix of dance, music, acting and anything else that might turn this into a real happening. Mission accomplished: I think any member of the surprisingly varied audience would confirm it was indeed a fun night, a feel-good ceremony to praise and remember. From the compelling opening act to the final jam-session and the exhilarating flashmob, Brodas Bros and their guests (including Marcus, the amazing Spanish beatbox champion) rocked the amphitheatre and left their mark on this festival. They specialize in just a few areas of the wide universe of urban/hip-hop dance, and despite their commitment to stretch their language the performance was a bit repetitive at times; it would be nice to see them include other styles (like krump) in the future, but they are great in what they do and I can only wish them the best for the next Christmas season, when “Concierto/Concepto” is set to shake the Mercat de les Flors (from 20 December to 6 January). If you like this kind of dance at all, or if you simply want to have a good time, do not miss it.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10 + wow!

So much better than Eurovision (photo by Josep Aznar)

So much better than Eurovision (photo by Josep Aznar)

BALLANT EN LA SORRA (5 July, Teatre Grec) – Now this is what I call a nice show! And the funny thing is, this tribute to the life of revered flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya is much less pompous and sashawaltzly pretentious than “Body Remix”. Not that it lacks a certain ambition, mind you: the fusion between flamenco and contemporary dance is well thought-out, but the result is straightforward, disarmingly human and at times poetic, without the slightest hint of art-house stuck-upness. Yes, the dancers look a bit green here and there and some choreographies verge on the simplistic (end-of-year school show, anyone?), but among other virtues the study of organic group movement is commendable: the scene in which the main bailaora is surrounded by the other dancers, whose gestures come alive as a breathing expansion of hers, is simply stunning. Hats off to the musicians too, whose live performance is a pleasure to witness. This show has moved me and made me understand something more about flamenco: I would advise it to anyone.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7/8 out of 10.

Ok, we've gotten that. You can dance now. (photo by Marie Chouinard)

Ok, we’ve gotten that. You can dance now. (photo by Marie Chouinard)

BODY REMIX/GOLDBERG VARIATIONS (3 July, Mercat de les Flors) – Mmh, no thanks. I must admit the show is professional and does have a certain edge, but I seldom appreciate this kind of conceptual art. I am under the impression its only goal is to show how smart the choreographer is, which ironically makes me feel like there is really nothing left to invent (which by the way I find totally untrue). This particular show boasts, er, uhm, dancers on crutches (CHOIR: OOOOH!). How illuminating. As for the rest, I tend to bear deliberately disturbing pieces only if they strike the proper balance between shadows and lights. If you want to punch me in the guts, why don’t you try to make my heart melt first? Otherwise it’s all in the brain, and I frankly get enough of that in the daytime. In this performance, the few moments of grace disappeared among a stormy sea of wandering aural and visual impulses which added up to a big handful of nothing. And as cool and artsy as it may be, nothing is, after all, exactly what it is – that is, nothing. Besides I often got the feeling these dancers – almost none of which impressed me at all – were the first non-believers in the general vision and the specific gestures they were asked to recreate. And if you cannot get your own dancers to buy into your vision, imagine the audience. Some people actually liked the show, so take it with a pinch of salt… But I honestly would not advise my best friends to see this, and that includes you.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 5 out of 10.

My advice: arrange for a picnic.

My advice: arrange for a picnic.

Finally, a note on Teatre Grec itself: is it just me, or they have gone a wee bit too far with the spending cuts this year? Since the pleasure of a night at the Grec depends in no small part on the legendary pre-show cocktails in its gorgeous gardens, I find it quite counterproductive that any sign of a decent dinner has been scraped out in favour of execrable hot-dogs and hilarious 3€ sandwiches that have clearly been inspired by the recent discovery of the Higgs boson. At this rate, physicists will need to make a huge effort to catch up by discovering an even smaller particle by next year. Such poor food makes early arrival hardly worthwhile, unless (1) you have already eaten, (2) you bring your own dinner, or (3) you go for the restaurant, which thanks to clear price cuts is more affordable this year.

2012 Grec Festival: Long-awaited

Another year, another Grec

Another year, another Grec

Give it a try if… What Barcelona offers in terms of world-class performing arts leaves you hungry for more.

Steer clear if… Your main concern in summer is where to get the best bikini wax.

Every year, as I climb the steps leading up to Teatre Grec and reach its impeccable gardens, two feelings invariably take over: I am grateful for having the chance to savour its magic one more time, and bewilder at the idea that someone might not even know it exists. If you are one of them, wait no longer.

Out in the Open

Built on Montjuic in 1929, when the prettier sister of the current economic crisis was raging, Teatre Grec was modeled after a classic open-air Greek amphitheatre. It has turned into a symbol of the performing arts in Barcelona, and every summer it opens its doors to host part of the events of a festival which has widened its scope in the years by adding more and more locations in town. Theatre, music, dance, circus and more: several recognized international productions, complemented by a selection of top-class national projects, enrich the program of this festival, considered by many the peak of the cultural season in Barcelona. A responsive audience – mostly locals, joined by a solid expat segment – usually flocks to the Grec without reserve. They hardly forget to reach the gardens in advance to enjoy some food or a glass of cava and do some gossiping, catwalking or hunting for this year’s summer romance, making this a social event as much as a cultural one.

A stage that may frighten, but often inspires (photo by Josep Aznar)

A stage that may frighten, but often inspires (photo by Josep Aznar)

A Subprime Edition?

The crisis seems to have left its mark on this year’s edition. The 2012 Grec Festival will only last for the whole month of July, one or two weeks less than usual – and the prestige of some shows is perhaps a bit less patent, an inevitable reflection of a tighter budget. While a quick online check suggests that both Jane Birkin and Toquinho may have lost a bit of their shine lately, relative newcomers like Esperanza Spalding and respected veterans like Pascal Comelade ennoble a program that otherwise struggles to fly high in the musical department. Theatre looks more promising, with an ambitious production of “The Master and Margarita” and an Icelandic take on Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” at Teatre Lliure among the jewels of the crown. Circus shows have apparently been emphasized (see “Le Grand C”), while dance proposals verge on the weak side, apart from shows like “Poppea//Poppea” at Mercat de Les Flors or “Concierto/Concepto” (do not miss either!).

A still image from the bizarrely titled "Poppea//Poppea" (photo by Regina Brocke)

A still image from the bizarrely titled “Poppea//Poppea” (photo by Regina Brocke)

Keep the Faith

The festival management – led by newly-appointed director Ramon Simó – has generally lowered prices this year, but also reduced some discounts (just 20% off any show if you see three or more), conceived an irritating redesign of price areas and allowed Tiquet Ramblas to turn the buying process at the box-office into a disgraceful obstacle race in which every possible detail has become a hassle. Yet as I said, never mind! It is always worth making the effort to work your way up to the Grec as often as you can afford – and the other locations are definitely worth a visit.  So do your homework by studying the program (usually published in the second half of May, this time at the beginning of June), and buy the tickets with your most interesting and dependable friends a.s.a.p. to get good seats. Get there early on the chosen night/s, bringing a light jacket just in case; as you wait for the performance, pick a sandwich bar or a café in the gardens and let the summer in. Or even better, book a table with significant advance at the slightly upscale associated restaurant, which boasts amazing views and interesting food at a premium price. See you up there!

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10.

Visit Grec Festival – Official website.

Club TR3SC: Wise

The 3 Cs: Curious, Cultivated, Cunning.

The 3 Cs: Curious, Cultivated, Cunning.

Give it a try if… You meet culture in Barcelona at least twice a month.

Steer clear if…  Theatre? You would not recognize one if you saw one.

Some of my friends cannot stop sneering as I redeem the latest online voucher or pull out yet another card: “Here, we can get 20% discount on this.” Apparently they do not understand that if one likes movies, concerts and shows but already spends more than one earns, one simply must find a way to stop one’s budget from bearing a grudge on one. As for me, I made some peace by getting a TR3SC card.

Join and Enjoy

Do not be put off by the curiously Catalan-only website: ask a local neighbour to sign you up to the Club TR3SC, if you need to, and you will not regret it. From concerts to movie theaters, art galleries and dance shows, theatre shows, museums, CDs, books, and the opera; showing your TR3SC Card upon payment or entering your data at the appropriate online vendors will often grant you (and your partner, friend or even blind date – as in, save to impress!) a discount that may reach up to 50%, or even 100% in some special cases. You can either choose Basic or TR3SC mode (respectively paying €32 and €50 per year, as of this writing); the latter includes free tickets for a show you may choose in the course of the year out of a decent enough list.

Encore!

Encore!

Promises Kept

Eight months after signing up, I can confirm: between permanent discounts at several venues or museums and special offers, the TR3SC card is really some bargain. Courtesy of a couple of concerts at the Auditori (20% off), I needed less than a month for my savings to offset the yearly fee. After such a promising start, I have often been surprised to find so many of the best shows in town offering tickets at 50% off their original prices. Movie theatres make a pretty dismal icing on the cake, sometimes discounting as little as one euro; yet I shall not be the one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Saving Is the New Black

In the end, why pay more? I dare anyone who enjoys art and culture to find a good reason why not to become a part of Club TR3SC (in case you are wondering, by the way, the 3 stands for an E and TRESC stands for “3 Cs”). I would say the only problem with this card is if you also think wallets are so 1987, you need to always remind yourself to carry it with you. On the upside, the frequent newsletters – provided you are not the type who gets easily annoyed – are a great tool to be updated on cultural events. All in all, a real no-brainer.

UPS (Utmost Perfection Scale): 9 out of 10 + wow!

Visit Club Tr3SC – Official Website

Portishead: Compulsory

Cheer up, Beth, You're coming to the beach.

Cheer up, Beth, You're coming to the beach.

Here is another FlashTip with some practical advice for Barcelona residents or visitors. Set your alarm clock: Monday morning, 9 April, 10am. When it rings, stop whatever you are doing; get on the Internet; open this page; pick your favourite date (Saturday 23 June may not be the smartest choice: it is the night of San Juan, which you will hopefully celebrate on one of this city’s gorgeous terraces); buy a ticket for you, and one or more as the perfect gift for someone you love; start to prepare for the most visceral sonic orgasm you are likely to get in 2012.

The Perfect Pitch

Yes, Portishead are coming (back) to town. And what a town: Poble Espanyol, a charming – if slightly corny – location where I had the fortune of seeing my Joanna Newsom‘s umpteenth concert last year. Since I have also seen our British trip-hop pioneers live a few times, I can confirm their gigs are not to be missed. An aural feast of mind-bogglingly sharp, lately even industrial beats intertwined with Beth Gibbons’ gloomy, transcendent vocals, their music will creep up from the soles of your feet and pull you in, then take your breath away as it thumps up to your brain. If you like electronic music at all, there is simply no way you are going to regret it. See you there.

UPS (Utmost Perfection Scale): 10/10 + Standing Ovation

Digital Concert Hall: Groundbreaking

This is it, guys. I mean: this is it.

This is it, guys. I mean: this is it.

Give it a try if… You believe you have, or can find the resources to enjoy the absolute best of what the world has to offer.

Steer clear if… Classical music makes you itch, yawn or reappraise industrial techno.

You love the city where you live, but sometimes feel its boundaries pressing too tight. You get tired of having to explain anything that deviates from the norm. You start craving for the thrill of diversity. You catch your lungs longing for a breath of fresh air. Then you find the digital temple of Berliner Philharmoniker, the orchestra that is quietly changing the world through wit and inspiration. And you happen to feel at home again. Wherever you are: read on, reader.

O Come, All Ye Faithful

O Come, All Ye Faithful

Orphans No More

I had the fortune of spending a few months in Berlin last year. And though I have run back to Barcelona’s warm embrace with a defrozen determination to settle down here, there are a couple of pieces of my heart,  a web of streams of my soul, and a thousand tiny marbles of my mind still lying in the German capital. If you also somehow consider yourself an orphan of Berlin; if you are interested in the most ingenious contributions to Europe’s cultural zeitgeist; if you just love symphonic music and find no reason to miss the best of it, be aware that you can access both free and paid video recordings and live streaming performances of Berliner Philarmoniker in their Digital Concert Hall.

Sir Simon Rattle and Berliner Philharmoniker - Photo by Monika Rittershaus - CC

Sir Simon Rattle and Berliner Philharmoniker - Photo by Monika Rittershaus - CC

Digital Enlightenment

Witnessing this impressively powerful group of committed musicians – arguably the best orchestra in the world – share their listening and their art during a live concert, even on one’s computer screen, is more involving than you might think. The sound and video quality is superior; same goes for the usability and accompanying contents. Camera directing? Sensitive and clear-cut. The programme choices, bold and revealing. Nothing more, nothing less than an accurate display of this orchestra’s love for perfection.

150 Reasons to Turn Off Your Smartphone

Tune in for a live performances once – perhaps buying a simple 48-hour ticket – and you are most likely to be back. A trip around the Archive, though, might mark a point of no return. Where else can you find such groundbreaking executions of Mahler’s and Sibelius’s complete Symphonies, excerpts from Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder”, Brahms’s Fourth and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth, featuring Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim, Tugan Sokhiev, even our old friend Hélène Grimaud… More than 150 caskets to unlock and dive into like a child with a glorious honey jar. With 30 new concerts added each year, free documentaries and special events during the season, the 12-month ticket seriously qualifies for Best Gift Ever – including to oneself. I don’t know about you, but I keep wondering how I could do without it.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 10-/10 + Standing Ovation

Note: The minus is just because you are not physically there. Let us concede that to our beautiful sensual world. But a 10 is a 10 is a 10.

Lorin Maazel: Effortless

...Wingardium Leviosa!

...Wingardium Leviosa!

Give it a try if… You are not content with uplifting music – what you are looking for is actual levitation.

Steer clear if… As far as you are concerned, the choice is between Mahler or silence.

The universe of classical music is so vast and complex that I can only see myself as a lifelong amateur listener. But I do know that when a celebrated director like Lorin Maazel is in town – which does not happen so often around here – attendance is less suggested than required. His recent performance with the Orchestre de Paris did not only confirm this guideline; it surprisingly unleashed my inner child and reminded me that life is best lived with a touch of informed lightness.

The kind of venue where I dreamt to perform while the other teenagers were playing soccer

The kind of venue where I dreamt to perform while the other teenagers were playing soccer

A Wooden Music Box

The venue that hosted the event, the Auditori, is somewhat overshadowed by the older, more illustrious Palau de la Musica and Liceu. Yet I am especially fond of this concert hall; I find its acoustics hard to match and the design of both halls a joy to behold. What a shame that on such a special occasion, the empty seats were a few more than one would expect – I am talking about a 95% full house, but still I wonder what on Earth the missing 5% decided to do instead. Booo!

The Other Side of Shallow

The modern setting proved to be quite suited for this performance, which included four works by Maurice Ravel (including La Valse and Spanish Rhapsody) and a 12-minute piece brought to McDonald’s fame by Disney’s Fantasia: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas. I guess purists might sneer at such a “light” programme, but I dare say the execution clarified the point against any snobbish bias. From my point of view Maazel chose to go for pure form – but then, in an unexpected twist, he crossed through to the other side of shallow taking the audience along by the hand… Until his eccentric selection revealed a refreshing vitality.

This time, the spell worked out just fine

This time, the spell worked out just fine

A Sophisticated Playground

From Ravel’s delicate suite Ma Mère L’Oye, inspired by Charles Perrault’s and other fairy tales, to Dukas’s spectacular symphonic poem, I cherished the sight of this 81-year-old “apprentice” summoning the spirit of childhood with the support of the effective orchestra. I turned off my mind and joined the celebration, unencumbered by useless egotism – except for solo violinist Philippe Aïche, whom I would mention as the only weak spot (though I must confess I find it easier to relate to other instruments). What a glorious evening!

UPS (Utmost Perfection Score): 8+/10