There are three defining moments in the history of the music of the Balearic Islands of the last half-century that form a kind of harmonic triangle, and which have had a significant influence on the local classical music scene.
The first is the construction of Palma Auditorium fifty years ago (it was opened in September 1969). What this building has represented and represents for the promotion of music for the island of Mallorca is priceless.
Firstly, because not only has the Magna Hall been witness to performances by some of the world’s greatest orchestras and soloists, but also it is has given local musicians and groups a showcase for their musical creations. Without the auditorium we would be telling a completely different story, less standardised.
The second factor – but not necessarily in this order of importance – is the creation of the Superior Music Conservatory. Its university-level musical studies have been, and are fundamental to actively promoting the professionalisation of instrumentalists over here.
And the third is, without a doubt, the Balearic Symphony Orchestra, which has been around for thirty years now (its first concert took place on 30 September 1989). The Orchestra has been a catalyst for our musicians to strive to work harder and better. On the one hand, the local composers have an incentive to create music, and on the other, instrumentalists have a working goal: those who consider becoming professional musicians and those who want to work as soloists. And not forgetting the classical music lovers who have been treated to ample opportunities to watch and listen to first class classic musical performed live. Without the Balearic Symphony Orchestra, our lives wouldn’t be filled with Beethoven, Mozart or Brahms.
The Orchestra has been a catalyst for our musicians to strive to work harder and better.
So these are the three vertices of the triangle that supports the island’s musical movement, which without a doubt is enormous and very varied.
The island’s symphonism didn’t actually begin with the current Symphony Orchestra. This dates back to the 1940’s, when a few illustrious amateurs decided to create the Orquestra Simfònica de Mallorca, which was fortunate to be able to count on the talents of the eminent Korean composer and chief conductor, Ahn Eak-tai, who had known and worked alongside some of the great European maestros of the time. In fact, there is a very interesting photograph that shows the musician exchanging ideas with Richard Strauss.
With Ahn Eak-tai and the first Mallorcan orchestra, which wasn’t a professional one, they began to perform the early 20th century classical masterpieces. The story goes that when maestro Ahn Eak-tai saw someone with a violin or any other instrument while he was walking through Palma, he stopped and asked them to form part of the symphony orchestra. This anecdote is enough to indicate that professionalisation was not the group’s strong point. But, this said, passion and desire filled this lack of knowledge. We highly recommend a beautiful book that explains that entire period of the history of music, Mallorca y Eak-tai Ahn, written by his wife, Dolores Talavera in 1972 and reissued by Palma City Council in 2006.
From this Mallorcan Orchestra we must move on to Palma’s City Orchestra, which conducted by the Valencian Julio Ribelles (who was also director of the Municipal Band of Palma), occupied for several years the void left by the absence of Ahn Eak-tai. That second formation was comprised of some professional musicians (mostly the wind section, as they hailed from the Municipal Band) and other amateur musicians (many in the string section). But even so, they regularly presented some truly applaudable concerts in Palma Auditorium.
With the arrival of 1989, the different political parties that governed in Palma, Mallorca and the Balearic Islands decided to create a professional orchestra, starting from a foundation represented by members of the Balearic Government, the Island Council and Palma City Council. This “Fundació per a la Música” (musical foundation) was the embryo that gave legal coverage to the Orquestra Simfònica de Balears Ciutat de Palma, which later became Orquestra Simfònica de Balears (the Balearic Symphony Orchestra) with the Department of Culture assuming full coordination and sponsorship.
Therefore the great difference between this current formation and the two preceding ones lies in its professionalisation. The current orchestra is made up of professional musicians, leaving behind that voluntarism that was so necessary and important for more than forty years.
Texto: Pere Estelrich i Massutí
Foto: SIMFÒNICA, ARCHIVO DM