Friday, May 06, 2016

Mozart in Morocco

My photos show players from L'Orchestre Philharmonique du Maroc performing al fresco in the medina at Essaouira, Morocco last weekend as part of the annual Printemps Musical Des Alizés festival. The orchestra and their choir had travelled 480km south from Rabat to give two evening concerts culminating in the Mozart Requiem. For those of us saturated in the celebrity merry-go-round of classical music in Europe expectations were not high. There is no strong tradition of Western classical music in Morocco, L'Orchestre Philharmonique du Maroc is an unknown quantity and the concert venue was the town's sports hall dressed artfully as a Bedouin tent. But the orchestra's artistic advisor and conductor Olivier Holt neatly inverted Furtwängler's maxim that there are no bad orchestras just bad conductors, to prove that there are no good orchestras, just good conductors. Olivier Holt, whose mentors include Charles Mackerras and Leonard Bernstein, is noted for his operatic work in his native France, and his mastery of vocal forces resulted in a Mozart Requiem of a power and intensity that contrasted sharply with the polished and soulless 'London today Edinburgh tomorrow' jet set music making that dominates the European festival scene.

The Printemps Musical Des Alizés festival also provided some outstanding chamber music played by young European ensembles, including a notable Beethoven Quartet op. 132 from the Quatuor Arod. Essaouira is fortunate to have two acoustically outstanding chamber music venues: the principal venue Dar Souiri is a large traditional riad with enclosed courtyard that provided some of the best sound I have heard in many years of concert going, while the town's Catholic Church has a richly resonant acoustic. This was one of the few festivals where I did not pay for my tickets; for the simple reason that - quite unbelievably - all the concerts are free. With direct budget flights from Paris and London to Essaouira, the Printemps Musical Des Alizés should be on the radar of readers in Western Europe. Essaouira is a beautiful unspoilt seaside town just like Aldeburgh, and the Printemps Musical Des Alizés has all the appeal of the Aldeburgh Festival, with swimming in the morning and superlative chamber music in the afternoon. But, thankfully, there are no Ben and Peter cufflinks on sale in Essaouira, and obtaining tickets for the concerts is not a loaded lottery.

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