This project was the outcome of several previously failed attempts to fulfil a demand from musicians in Buenos Aires to foster links with British musicians to help raise instrumental standards in Argentina.
So on the 5th January 2000 John and myself left for our long flight to Buenos Aires and then on to Bariloche. We were met at the airport by a welcoming deputation who had organized a champagne reception and press conference. A TV station were there and a posse of reporters from the local and national press.
“Camping Musical” is an association which at the time was celebrating its 50th Anniversary. This visit came about with the support from the British Council with whom John, and myself had worked alongside for many years.
Bariloche is a city in the province of Rio Negro, Argentina, situated in the foothills of the Andes on the Southern shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake.
The camp was 25km away from the main urban centre – San Carlos de Bariloche on an island in a very remote location. Once on the island, among all trees were log cabins and cottages where all the participants slept. There was also a Refectory come rehearsal area, an auditorium and a place outside for concerts.
This was to be the first brass course that the “Camping Musical” has ever organized. Alongside us planning this event were two professional trumpet players from Buenos Aires, who were invaluable with translation. Because this was a first time event there was great enthusiasm to make this course work and a great deal of energy all round. There were a few moments where flexibility and flair for improvisation were required but all in all it succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.
The participants had a low opinion of their own capabilities at the beginning and thought they would never play the difficult works that we had organized in the programme, but day by day we raised their perceptions of their own worth until they surprised and shocked themselves by coming through the concerts with flying colours.
All the participants were a complete cross-section of Argentine Brass players the youngest player being a fourteen year old boy who along with his mother and father had travelled 2500km from Tucuman in the north. There were even a couple of musicians who had travelled from Chile to take part. The level of ability was high, but because of the diversity of age and experience the levels of achievement were mixed, high school students, students from conservatoires, professional musicians from provincial orchestras and major orchestras from Buenos Aires. Having all these different levels in ability was very beneficial in speeding an upward hike in standards.
The participants were surprised when every day we would warm up without instruments, playing games. They entered immediately into the spirit of things. Our days were mixed, we would have full band, then we would split the band in half I would rehearse my half and John his. Later we would take individual lessons, mixed duets, brass quintets and sectional groups. It really was a full day of playing. Even after our evening meal we would have informal work-in-progress concerts to get the participants used to playing to each other. Word soon got about and a large audience of locals started showing up to listen of a night time, sometimes these concerts would go past midnight. The evenings out there were magical I have never seen so many stars in the sky it was just breathtaking during the day the blue of the sky was amazing and sometimes you would see the odd Condor flying over with it’s 10ft wing span.
The food at the camp was of a very high standard and the wine was of a very high standard too – delicious. On the last Friday we were treated to an Asado which is a South American barbecue.
Out first official concert was held on the last Saturday of the course in The Sala Rautenstrach, attended by 180 people. The acoustics were excellent. On the final Sunday of the course we travelled 25km to San Carlos de Bariloche to give two concerts. First a serious programme in the Neo Gothic Cathedral at 6.00pm, which included the music of Tallis, Gabrieli and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and then an outdoor concert at 8.30pm of slightly less serious music. The cathedral was packed to the rafters and people were even standing outside to listen, with the spectacular backdrop of Lake Huapi and the Patagonian Andes.
The course for me was a brilliant adventure I enjoyed every minute of it, a new experience which I grabbed with both hands. Everybody left the course fulfilled, happy and glad they made the long journey to participate in this wonderful event.
It was a great time making music and for me you cannot get any better than that.
Thanks to the British Council for making such a memorable Brass Course possible.