The Spanish Tourist Office have had a busy week. They were at Boijmans van Beuningen Depot in Rotterdam to promote Picasso Year 2023, and in Amsterdam to give a conference on Valencian culture.
Why visit Valencia? Well, let us take a look at the brochure. Handed to me upon entering the conference, it lists an assortment of operas to be staged by Les Arts over the coming year. A varied selection: we have Händel’s Alcina; Donizetti’s Bolena; Verdi’s Ernani; but also works by contemporary composers, such as Zelle by Jamie Man.
The conference was held in Merkelbach: a grand white building (more resembling a country house than a restaurant) with huge square windows and an empty, pebbled driveway leading down to a fountain on either side of which recline two statues gripping spears. Half an hour after arriving, the panel was assembled, the audience filed into the room to claim their seats. The panellist of most relevance to the readers of this magazine was Jesús Iglesias Noriega, the current artistic director of Les Arts and the former Head of Artistic Affairs at The Dutch National Opera House. Noriega spoke of the gratitude he felt for his years in the Netherlands, before proceeding to describe Les Arts’ desire to modernise and internationalise their cycles while simultaneously maintaining a commitment to the promotion of Valencian culture.
As well as classical music, Les Arts plans to diversify its repertoire by including Jazz and Dance in future events. Noriega emphasised the value of appealing to demographics outside of their conventional clientele, offering as an example of this a scheme by which a truck would tour local provinces in order to give performances to people who could afford neither a journey into the city nor a ticket to Opera House. He described the activities Les Arts were organising for students; a recent performance they had provided for twenty prisoners, of which he remarked: ‘It meant freedom. To be able to listen to music.’
After the panel had concluded, and the speakers and the people listening to them had been directed upstairs for drinks, I asked Noriega about the potential risks involved in Les Arts’ attempts to take a more modern approach to their next season?
‘Well,’ he said, ‘it’s always a question of balance. You know, I always say: El Cantor De Mexico, which is something very lively, of course I’m not expecting someone who likes Tristan and Isolde to like that. Everyone chooses what Les Arts means for each person. And for one person it might be a flamenco concert. For another person it would be Tristan and Isolde. For another person it would be a symphonic concert. We cannot pretend that everyone follows us like animals. We have to offer them different possibilities. We have to create their interest, to provoke their curiosity.’
I spoke also to Pierre Bouillard, Coordinator of Marketing and Communication at Les Arts, who said: ‘We try to do as much as we can to bring content, most of the time digital content, to the people, so that they can prepare themselves for a show. I believe there is a strong difference between a regular visit to a museum and a guided visit to a museum. It’s a similar challenge for operas or symphonic concerts. If you have some elements to get the context – historical, musical, or on the production and theatre side – then it’s going to help your enjoyment and understanding, and most likely you will repeat the experience.’
In the aftermath of the pandemic, many older opera-goers have proved unwilling to return to theatres. When I asked Bouillard how Les Arts intends to remedy this, he said: ‘We are still affected by the pandemic. The average age of our clients has drastically dropped. We need everybody. We need the young crowd who will be the crowd of the future and we need elderly people who have time and interest to dedicate.’ Jacob John Shale 26th October 2022
Picasso, it is sometimes argued, was the world’s greatest, certainly most influential, artist of the last century. His output was phenomenal, often producing several works in one day. His originality, innovation and imagination knew no bounds and he could turn his hand to any medium – sculpture, printmaking, theatre design and ceramics, not to mention painting and drawing. Although he spent all of his working life in France, partly by choice, partly by political necessity, he was never anything but Spanish. He died in 1973 and those of you with a mathematical mind will quickly realize that next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of that event. The Spanish will be marking the occasion with a series of exhibitions and events taking place in the five cities in that country in which the artist lived and worked and at last night’s presentation on the top of Rotterdam’s incredible Depot building we were given more details.
Born in Malaga in 1881, Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a child prodigy, conditioned no doubt by the fact that his father was an art teacher. According to his mother, his first words were “piz, piz”, a shortening of lápiz, the Spanish word for pencil. When he was ten the family moved to A Caruña on the north-west tip of Spain and it was here that the young Pablo had his first solo exhibition two years later. In 1895 the family moved again, this time to Barcelona and soon after, the teenage Picasso was sent to Madrid to study at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
It is these four cities, plus Bilboa, which will be the focus of the celebrations next year with events spilling over into 2024. While the museums in Madrid, Bilboa and Barcelona are well known, I was surprised to learn that there are forty museums in Malaga.
The presentation in Rotterdam, hosted by the Spanish Tourist Office together with representatives from the various locations, was short but to the point with not only a detailed timetable of events in the five cities but information about how one can get to them from The Netherlands. If you are a Picasso fan, 2023 in Spain is the place to be. Michael Hasted 28th October 2022