Buenos Aires, with all its delights and horrors, is sometimes “just too much” to use a phrase in English that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made familiar. There are many variations on the theme of how important it is to take a break from a city that Borges said was both “un encanto y un espanto.”
But where to? I have the answer. The plague of Covid-19 has receded and the Colonia festival of music is back, running from November 15 to 20. The Festival Internacional de Colonia, set in the ancient city of Colonia del Sacramento, will be offering 15 shows in six days. The festival’s creator, concert pianist Enrique Graf has achieved the impossible again, bringing artists from 10 countries together to make a magical place even more magical. My wife Maud and I had the pleasure of being in at the beginning because Enrique is a resident of Charleston, South Carolina, where we live, long exiled from Buenos Aires.
To my mind the Colonia Festival is unique, although it resembles Charleston’s Spoleto Festival, which was founded by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1977. The difference is that Colonia is relatively unspoiled – these days even Charleston, whose beauty was once known as “the best-kept secret in America,” can also seem “too much.“
Charleston and Colonia, founded just 10 years apart, the former in 1670 and the latter in 1680, have much in common. Both are situated on estuaries, are warm and welcoming and boast great food. Yet Charleston has become “touristy” and Colonia has not – it is the perfect setting for a cultural feast. This is the menu, as described by Enrique Graf:
“The Philharmonic of Montevideo, directed by its Artistic Director Martín García, with two outstanding young soloists opens the festivities. American pianist Micah McLaurin, who has performed with such great orchestras as those of Philadelphia and Cleveland and the Verbier and Spoleto USA festivals, will perform Chopin's Concerto No. 2. The Japanese violinist Azusa Saito, winner of the Tucumán Latin American Contest and the Montevideo Philharmonic International Competition will perform the Concerto by Max Bruch.
“Julian Jacobson, the great English pianist, will be the protagonist of an event with few precedents in history. The 32 Sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven, in a single concert from memory. The Spanish pianist Rubén Fernández Aguirre joins a Lyric Gala with soprano Sofía Mara, baritone Eleomar Cuello, tenor Martín Nusspaumer and mezzo-soprano María Antúnez, all with outstanding international careers. A programme of baroque music features the participation of soprano Carla Caramujo, flautist Antonio Carhillo, both Portuguese, and harpsichordist Álvaro Cabrera Barriola with a string quintet made up of distinguished Uruguayan musicians.
“Three internationally renowned Brazilians also come together to celebrate the classical and popular music of their land. Countertenor José Lemos, Ana Flávia Frazão on piano, and ‘The King’ of the harmonica, José Staneck. QuinTango, a well-known sextet in the United States, presents a different, international vision of tango. Flamenco will be present too with La Plazuela', an Uruguayan group made up of singer, dancer, flute and percussion, directed by renowned guitarist Gonzalo Franco.
“Jazz will be represented in two concerts, one by the Benny Goodman Quintet and the other by Hércules Gomes, an eclectic and spectacular Brazilian pianist. Both return by popular demand. The rest of the programme includes the award-winning Spanish film O que Arde, the French film Calamity, with music by Uruguayan composer Florencia Di Concilio (Michel Legrand Award 2021), and a silent film with live music by Argentine pianist/singer Juan Nevani.
“It is completed with an exhibition about Nobel Prize winner José Saramago which opens on the centenary of his birth, an exhibition of photographs by Frenchman Pascal Milhavet and another show with the works selected and awarded at the III Bienal Colonia.”
A feast indeed! Of course, it may be impossible to take all this in, but I guarantee that however much, or little, you are able to savour during a getaway just across the river in Uruguay, you will return to Buenos Aires revived.
Find out more at www.festivalcolonia.org.