A couple of months ago we attended a mostly delightful concert by the Orquesta de Xalapa at the Teatro del Estado. We watched a guest conductor from Coatepec bring to life some Mexican compositions. While the guest soloists (from Xalapa) were perhaps a bit lacking in energy, theexperience in general gave much pleasure.
Last night, we went with friends to here the same orquesta, this time for an all-Beethoven program led by the resident conductor, Fernando Lozano. This orchestra is filled with technically excellent, often inspired musicians. But last night they were merely competent. That wasn't their fault. As far as I could tell (and I'm certainly no musical expert and the audience did respond with some enthusiasm) the conducting ummmm was lacking. As I understand it, it is the conductor's job to interpret the piece, set tempos and moods and contrasts and shades; coordinate entrances of different instruments: give life to the whole. Last night it sounded as if the conductor was only used to conducting a high school orchestra. The first piece slipped by in a few minutes and was perhaps the best. The second piece, Concert for Violin and Orchestra in E major (I think), opus 41, dragged badly. It lacked, if my memory serves me, variation in tempo and tone, and the soloist, Adrián Justus, started out wanly. He warmed up a bit by the end, but there was really, for me, no stirring of the soul. Justus gave two encores in which he showed off his skills a bit more successfully when he was unaccompanied by orchestra or led by the conductor. I don't like trick violin pieces, but he pulled them off pretty well.
The final piece, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony was, I thought numbingly dull. The last movement, Alegre con brio, was anything but. It sounded more like an oompah band than much of anything else. Now that's harsh. And maybe I was in a bad mood. Who knows? What a tragedy to watch these musicians, many the same ones who provided such great pleasure under the previous conductor, Carlos Miguel Prieto, reduced to mediocrity.
It was no worse than mediocrity. Knowing that the conductor is not beloved or at least able to draw out the best in his musicians, knowing that there are many disgruntled souls, it is amazing to realize that they can set aside their distress and perform together if not as a great orchestra, at least as a basically competent one. It could be a truly great orchestra, and under the previous conductor it certainly seemed to be moving in that direction.
On a non-musical note, the Orchestra looked disheveled, sloppy, depressed even. Many members were slouched in their chairs when not playing, many seemed to have shirts coming out of pants. Women had blouses and tops which were very informal to say the least. If beautiful music emanated from the group, it wouldn't matter at all. But the orchestra's appearance seemed a reflection of their spirit. Lozano himself had a shirt that was too tight and hair which certainly could have been combed. If he wants long, flowing white locks, he should maintain them. He doesn't have the gravitas to get away with slobbishness.
Anyway, after the performance and aware that there has been great hostility to Lozano,and wanting to get some perhaps less biased information, I decided to Google him. I found a very informative article from 1 february 2010 in the Veracruz version of La Jornada as it appeared in the Xalapa blog Uno A Uno. It was written by Victor Manuel Robello. I translate below some selections from it.
"A group of musicians who are members of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Xalapa (OSX)talked to La Jornada Veracruz and explained their discontent which was due to the 'pessimism and mediocre work' of the musical director, Fernando Lozano Rordigúez, arguing that since his arrival as director on the 20th of November, 2007, the musical level of the orchestra has diminished to such a degree that numerous people devoted to the concerts had stopped coming .... The problems increased and on the 4th and 11th of December [of that year] seconds before the concert was to begin, as Fernando Lozano made his way toward the podium, some members of the public booed him; likewise, the musicians said that there hadn't been a single concert that they themselves hadn't saved.
"On the 25th of October in 2007, six members of the Orchestra sent a letter to the governor of the state, Fidel Herrera Beltran, with a copy going to the rector of UV, Raúl Arias Lovillo, in which they expressed their disagreement with and annoyance at the possible imposition of Fernando Lozano [as head of the Orchestra]. One part of the letter said, 'the artistic growth of a symphony orchestra depends in great measure on the musical quality of its director. In spite of the documentation which he may be able to flaunt at present as director of the Orchestra, it does not correspond to the level of our orchestra, since he lacks energy and dynamism, rehearsal technique, vitality and inspiration for the musicians. In the last ten years, he has not established permanence with any first rate orchestra, whether it be national or international. Because of this, the musicians left open the possibility that it was and is a 'great risk for the OSX to have a director with a musical profile such as that of Lozano Rodríguez.' They said that the OSX sought continuous institutional and personal improvement within an environment at the forefront and artistic professionalism at all levels.
"Later, the Technical Council of the OSX met to present a proposal to the authorities of UV on the 29th of October, 2007. The group proposed was made up of nine musicians, the first four places correspoonding to Enrique Diemecke, director of the National Symphonic Orchestra from 1990 to 2007 who received 31 votes; second was Fernando Lozano with fifteen votes, and then Sergio Cárdenas and Guido María with 11 votes each. A few days later, the rumors began that Lozano would be the director.
"This would break two regulations in the Ley Orgánica of UV ....which stated that 'to be a director of a department or institute it was required that the appointee be over 30 and younger than 65 years at the time of his appointment." Lozano was already 67. This seemed a flagrant violation of the Ley Orgánica of UV.
"A member of the Orchestra who preferred to remain anonymous mentioned that '[Lozano] has had a very bad relationship with the musicians; administratively it has been pointed out that he has managed money in a murky fashion, has been accused of corruption, does not have a broad repertory and has invited his friends to be soloists and guest directors.'
"[Orchestra members] said that at the end of his first year as administrator of the OSX, Lozano informed them that he already had no money for touring nor to invite first rate conductors and soloists since he argued UV had cut the budget.
"Another source of concern for the musicians is the personnel chief, Ricardo Martínez Salazar, since the internal rules of the OSX mention...that in order to undertake this role one has to "come from the OSX as an musician with a minimum of five years of experience with personnel.' ....Martínez Salazar is not a member of the orchestra much less knowing how to play an instrument.
"On this past September 8 , the Technical Council of the OSX sent a document to Fernando Lozano in which it was brought to his attention his estrangement from the orchestra because of the present situation. A fragment of the document is reproduced below addressing 'our concern about the artistic level at which our Orquestra finds itself two years after you took over.
"' In this period of time, we have observed a deterioration in the quaility of rehearsals and deficient interpretation in our concerts, adding to a growing improvisation in the programming which affects artistically our daily work.
"'We call for respect for the music, for the public, for the soloists and all the members of the orchestra. These last have maintained, until now, a professional attitude which has saved numerous concerts.'
"Another member with twenty five yers inside the OSX explained that the orchestra saves a concert when the director doesn't know the work that he is directing, loses direction, loses the rhythm or doesn't mark the tempos which are written in the score, but the orchestra doesn't stop: the musicians continue playing because they know the piece well.
"All the limits of tempo, tuning, entrances, stops, variations in tempo, changes in tempo, balances, timbre, [have parameters set by the composer.] The director can't, on a whim, say that if the Allegro is marked for 120 beats per minute, he will marke it at 8o. There's a limit in the parameters, and Lozano ignores them and then, in doing this, destroys the composition of the author.'
[Here there is criticism of his final performance as director of the International Festival of Music in Morelia]
"Further, the musicians complain that when they dare to say anything, they have been sanctioned with administrative [deficiencies]. 'It doesn't have to do with whether or not Lozano does or doesn't do what we want, rather that there should be an equilibrium between director and orchestra, but Lozana won't accept any type of criticism. We agree that there should be discipline when someone arrives at an inconvenient time or shows a lack of respect to any member of the orchestra, but we don't agree that there should be discipline to silence our complaints.
"In 1990, Abel Eisenberg who was a student of maestro Silvestre Revueltos....published a criticism entitled 'Between Violas and Violins' in which he mentioned the following about Fernando Lozano: 'It is my responsibility to signal the negative elements in the world of good music in Mexico. On this occasion I am referring to Fernando Lozano who acted like the absolute czar in our musical panorama during the presidency [of Mexico] of López Portillo. Lozano attended my lecture and audition course in the National Conservatory without showing any talent for music.'
"´Unexpectedly, he surged ahead, always conducting with the clumsiness of an amusing bear, but with the talent of relocating politically like [other slick politician types],' commented Eisenberg.
The article continues with criticisms and complaints about Lozano's musicianship, leadership, politics, treatment of music, etc., from various sources as well as some of his responses. Very depressing. It wearies me too much to keep translating it.
I only hope that very soon the orchestra will have the conductor it deserves and a brighter future. I for one won't be eager to go back if Lozano is conducting.