Thursday, July 28, 2011

Spain - Palau de la Musica Catalina

The final installment of pictures from Spain! Massacring moths and their habitats was not on my list of things to do this past 10 days, so I'm a little tardy here. I'm in a jollier frame of mind now and the scanning wasn't it's usual nightmare. The images below are from the two tourist books "Palau de la Musica Catalana x World Heritage Site" and "The Palau de la Musica Catalana x Josep M. Carandell". Each has some fabulous photographs and information about the building's history.

This is a building built by the people, in the best sort of way. The local neighbourhood was mostly working class but with a deep muscial interest. Subscriptions were raised and the majority of the funds came from the people who lived and worked in the the area. Look at what people were willing to pay for! It boggles the mind in this country where no one wants to put any money into public buildings unless it's the granite in the women's bathrooms.
A defunct cloister of the convent of St Francesc was partially removed for the site. Unlike the other "Modernista" buildings, this one sits in a traditional inner city section. The building was conceived as place for day time concert experiences. It is entirely lit by natural daylight. It has only been since the renovations and addition that evening performances were introduced.
This is a suspended light from the centre of the main performance space. It was designed without a thought of electric light bulbs. The outer edges of it have the heads of many women. You can get a sense of it from the top image. Women did not sing in this space until the mid 1900's, it was meant for male singers and musicians only.
There is a half circle of these mosaics behind where the performers would stand. The upper half of the women stand out in relief from the walls, the bottom halves are mosaics as are the ribbons that connect them. Each woman represents a continent and an indigenous musical tradition. There are twelve women in all.

The acoustics within the building are incredible. For those of you who get grumpy at too much glass and metal in modern music halls, did you know that the best acoustic conductor for sopranos and reed instruments is glass. Now you know why.

After touring the building in the afternoon, (no photos allowed) we were able to buy tickets for the four of us to see an classical flamenco performance. There were two dancers, male and female, a lovely traditional singer, a classical soprano and baritone as well as 7 terrific musicians. We saw an array of the best of classical flamenco, fan dancing, passionate dancing, mournful singing, Carmen, a love song duet and an assortment of other deeply nuanced performances. Unlike the amateur performance we had seen at the gypsy caves, here the footwork, fabulous, technically brilliant footwork was relegated to where it belongs, the floor. In other words, the real story of the dance is told by the dancer's upper bodies and arms. The feet are an instrument of expression as well, but not where the artistry resides. It was a real theatrical treat. Again, no photos allowed during a performance. You really need to buy some tickets to a Flamenco performance here in Halifax. Maria Osende is a lovely dancer and her company is great.
Yes, the Modernista architecture is sublime. It is a riot of colour and celebration of surface. But after a while, history moves on, you know? So how do you take a building that generates a lot of passion in a lot of hearts for various reasons and deal with modern issues, like maintanence, increase performance and rehersal time demands, accessible toilets, preserving the original facades from loving visitors, night time lighting needs? You have to do two things. One, you have to stop being sentimental about it and figure out what is necessary. Then you have to fall in love with the building in an abstract way and find a path to honouring it directly from the moment you are living in. If the second phase of this building was an imitation of the first, it would be a disaster. It never works here in Canada. (I could rant about this, but I will spare you) It would be twee, or inept, or maudlin. Above is a response to the original building and it is equally sensuous, flowing, and a pleasure to walk through, and especially, a pleasure to sit and listen in. And do you notice how the final interior space is still luxurious? That's because the dollars don't dry up once the shell of the building is put up. I really could go on. I better not. Just enjoy that lovely sheen of blues in the ceiling.
I was asked what was the most sublime moment of our trip. I hadn't really thought in terms of sublime, more in terms of visual awe (those windows) or great fun (Steve pretending to be King Louis from Jungle Book in the Park Guell when he sat on a stone throne). But this cafe in the Musica Catalana was the most sublime. We were there towards the end of the day, it was so quiet. The hot chocolate and coffee was so delicious. The lighting was soft and gentle. There was this fascinating approach to the stain glass work. Clear glass openings to intricate tile work and more stain glass allowed for thinking about layers and layers and layers of design. The pastries melted in our mouths. It was probably the most peaceful yet enriching 45 minutes of the trip. Thank you Scott and Cheryl and of course Steve, for a very lovely trip.

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