The Choir, in the heart of Europe

The Orfeó Català won another international audience yesterday.

The Choir, in the heart of Europe

The Orfeó Català won another international audience yesterday. One that arouses special envy among European classical music programmers. Not only because of its impressive modern architecture, with those 827 columns that simulate a penetrable forest, designed by the architect Christian de Portzamparc, but also because of the acoustic sobriety achieved by the Chinese Albert Yaying Xu when the building was erected in 2005. But especially since the budget of the room is very much in line with the wealth of the place: Luxembourg.

Surrounded by the Court of Justice and other administrative offices of the EU, the Luxembourg Philharmonie – in one of the countries with the highest GDP per capita in the world – was once again filled yesterday with an audience educated in classical music that in part it came from nearby France, Belgium, and Germany. And it was at this European crossroads, which due to its geographical ease is visited by many highly valued artists, where the choir of the Palau de la Música Catalana was welcomed with warm applause.

He had successfully performed with the Luxembourg Philharmonic – which has been directed by the Valencian Gustavo Gimeno for seven years – a rarely scheduled piece, Giacomo Puccini's Messa di Gloria. They were accompanied by two exceptional soloists: the tenor Charles Castronovo and the baritone Ludovic Tézier, recent Ópera XXI award winner, whose presence was a luxury for such a brief role. At the end, concertmaster Philippe Koch said goodbye to the more applause of his audience.

"Rarely have we worked with a director who creates so much empathy," said Pablo Larraz, the director of the Orfeó Català now that Simon Halsey has concluded his period as head of the ensemble. It was the first time that the Barcelona amateur choir sang without the pandemic mask. And the joy transmitted by the singers was noted in this work that the author of Tosca or La bohéme wrote as a young man, before becoming an opera magician. The Orfeó had not addressed this mass for years. And in his new maturity it fell like a glove.

Last week this joint venture meant Gimeno's debut at the Palau de la Música Catalana with this Messa di Gloria, which they later took to the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris before landing in the Luxembourg boom... A room that cost 130 million euros and which receives 20 million annually from its Ministry of Culture, in a country where culture is subsidized. In Luxembourg, a salad in a restaurant can cost the same as a ticket to a concert.

In the large room, with a capacity of 1,400 seats, during the Orfeó concert the hanging microphones that will immortalize the project for Harmonia Mundi could be seen. “I think it was a success not wanting to make an excessively large room – Gimeno commented after the morning rehearsal – because acoustically they have achieved the classic rectangular wooden box with very good but standard acoustics: it is not bright, it is not dark, it's not resonant but it's not dry, it's rich but not excessively...sometimes I think they've nailed it”.

The Valencian maestro, who has just wowed Madrid critics with El Ángel de Fuego at the Teatro Real, has become without blinking an eye the most international of today's Spanish conductors. This season began on the podium of the Berlin Philharmonic, as a guest. But this is an occasion to see him in his element, in the intimate atmosphere of this Luxembourg room designed to evoke a square with balconies (the boxes) peeking out as if the public were in a town.

His fourth term ends in 2025, although Gimeno already combines it with the ownership of the Toronto Symphony. The collaboration with him, which had to be postponed due to Covid, is another notch in the Orfeó's internationalization belt, which is adding departures: China, Lisbon, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, London...


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