By Bobette Jones
We in Cuenca are extremely fortunate to have free access to world-class classical music.
The Cuenca Symphony Orchestra (OSC), under the direction of Maestro Michael Meissner, performs regularly at numerous sites, including the Old Cathedral, Teatro Pumapungo, and Teatro Carlos Cueva Tamariz (University of Cuenca). Much to the surprise — and delight — of most expats, there generally is no admission charge for these performances.
Acoustics at all venues are excellent, but my personal favorite is Teatro Pumapungo where, if you sit in the center balcony, you have a better opportunity to watch each musician individually. This was the first time I really could appreciate how each instrument in the orchestra interacts. The upper seats of Teatro Carlos Cueva Tamariz provide almost as good visibility as Pumapungo, but to have a good view of the orchestra in the Old Cathedral, you have to arrive very early and sit in the front rows.
Hamburg, Germany-born Michael Meissner was director of the Regensburg (Germany) Orchestra for 17 years. After that, he was first concert master violinist for the Mexico City Philharmonic for five years, then he became the leader of the Mexico City Quartet and toured the world. His interest turned to conducting and, soon after becoming chief conductor of the Morelos Orchestra in Mexico in 2010, he won the European Prize for Fine Arts in Prague.
In May, 2016, Meissner participated in an international competition for chief conductor of the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra. Much to Cuenca’s good fortune, he won the position and assumed his duties in August 2016. The rest, as they say, is history. Since becoming director and chief conductor, Maestro Meissner has taken OSC to new levels of proficiency and accomplishment, and has implemented new and exciting repertoires, much to the delight of its audiences. If you haven’t experienced an OSC concert, you’re missing a huge part of Cuenca’s cultural heritage. And where else can you attend weekly world-class symphony performances — FREE?!
The following information is from the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra itself. I only have translated and edited the Spanish text.
From the ancient aboriginal city poetically known as Guapdondélic, in the Cañari language “plain as large as the sky”, Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca has always had a musical history, printed in its own sound landscape, adorned by the singing waters of its rivers and the deep murmur of its forests in whose groves the symphony of birds was woven. The pre-Hispanic cultures of the region had, as inspiration for their musical arts, this majestic acoustic landscape. Ceramic flutes and ocarinas are testimony to that distant musical tradition.
The colonial city received the artistic contributions of the old Spanish trade. The churches filled their fresh vaulted spaces with the sounds of the first organs and psalteries that vibrated with the baroque music of distant Europe. The old monastic orders were the first teachers of sacred song and the use of some church instruments. Many scores of colonial music still are waiting to be discovered and revived.
Cuenca of the late nineteenth century soon was infected with the music of Europe and French romanticism. Large grand pianos were transported through the narrow, cold, wet Andean mountain passes, and the halls and corridors of the mansions and the first hotels began to flood with polkas, mazurkas and waltzes, alternating and combining with traditional Andean music.
The small orchestras and various musical groups of the first half of the twentieth century performed repertoires which included musical works inspired by local poets and musicians who, today, form part of the city’s musical identity. The group of the José María Rodríguez Conservatory of the University of Cuenca, in the years before 1970, was one of the first chamber groups that participated in this musical diffusion.
To offer new musical alternatives to a broad spectrum of society and to form a professional orchestra for Cuenca became an inevitable citizen goal. In November 1972, the Symphony Orchestra of Cuenca, which has now become the city’s musical emblem, was created. It has been responsible for introducing classical music culture to the citizens of Cuenca. The symphony’s first director, the Spanish teacher José Castellví Queralt, put great emphasis on wide general dissemination of the concerts.
Next, Miguel Jiménez Cueva, with academic training in the U.S. and Europe, was director of the Orchestra for ten years. He also managed a new stage in the development of the Orchestra, through the incorporation of technical skills and, especially, including new repertoires and generous openings for young instrumentalists and composers.
The teacher Medardo Caisabanda, with training in France, Russia, and Israel, was the symphony’s principal director for six years and did an impressive job of raising the technical-musical level of the OSC, with a special attention to chamber music. He was a pillar in the academic training of musicians, and deserves special praise for this contribution.
Currently, the principal director is the Maestro Michael Meissner, who has extensive international experience. He has focused on the rescue, publication, execution, and promotion, on both national and international levels, of the works of emblematic Ecuadorian composers such as Salvador Bustamante Celi, Corsino Durán Carrión, and Luis Humberto Salgado. For example, in September 2019, the Salgado Cycle, consisting of nine symphonies on three CDs, was published, performed, and recorded with great success. Additionally Meister Meissner has provided a great boost to young Ecuadorian composers like Jorge Oviedo Jaramillo, who in 2017 recorded a CD with three of his compositions.
The Symphony Orchestra of Cuenca offers more than one hundred annual concerts both in conventional and other spaces such as Cuenca churches and parks, as well as in different venues in nearby towns. The public has received, with great enthusiasm, technically difficult and complex works of European, North American and Latin American composers, and works with soloists, choirs, ballets and different formats and musical genres. Some great experiences for the OSC include the presentation of The Glory by Vivaldi, The Messiah by Handel, The 1812 Overture 1812 by Tchaikovski, Stábat Mater by Rossini, Te Deum by Bruckner, Requiems by Fauré, Dvorak, and Mozart; Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, and Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. Also of note are the Viva Vivaldi Festivals in 2018 and 2019.
The Symphony’s repertoir has also included operas: The Barber of Seville by Rossini; Cosí fan tutte and The Magic Flute by Mozart; La Traviata by Verdi; Brundibár, Opera in two Acts for Children by Hans Krása with script by Adolf Hoffmeister; Eunice by Luis Humberto Salgado; El Quinde, Fuego y el Gigante by Jorge Oviedo Jaramillo; and Don Giovanni, a collaboration with the MusArtEH foundation.
OSC concert seasons have been characterized by the orchestra’s embracing new repertoires and by the presence of international guest directors and soloists who have enriched the knowledge of the musical corps and the public. Seasonal concerts, tributes, extensions, tours, concerts in the park, and family concerts have captivated the many audiences who have had mostly fee access to our presentations. This fulfills the constitutional mandate to ensure the democratization of public space, to provide high quality cultural events and to facilitate free access of common citizens to these high quality cultural events.
Added to these activities is a new policy focused especially on maintaining the highest levels of cultural management to guarantee quality in programming and a better approach of the Orchestra to its audiences. This involves taking advantage of the new technologies. OSC, through its virtual platforms, now has direct contact with, and enriching feedback from, more than 5,000 contacts and more than 5,000 followers.
Look for OSC on Facebook as the Symphony Orchestra of Cuenca, https://www.facebook.com/sinfonicacuenca/; on Instagram as orchestra_sinfonica: de_cuenca; on Twitter as @SinfonicaCuenca; and on its institutional website, www.sinfonicacuenca. gob.ec.
Responsible for this Information: Lcda. Ana Dávila Vázquez, Mgst., Public Relations of the Symphony Orchestra of Cuenca. Tel. 2821742 4109186 Ext. 106, Cell: 0983575032.
Biographical Information about Maestro Meissner: Michel Blanchard interview, CuencaHighLife, Feb 23, 2018. For more information about CSO, click here.