In between the concerts at the Cartagena International Music Festival, there were several opportunities to hear the performers give their thoughts on the Festival and the work they do.

Jordi Savall © Joaquin Sarmiento | Festival Internacional de Música de Cartagena
Jordi Savall
© Joaquin Sarmiento | Festival Internacional de Música de Cartagena
The finest of these involved Rinaldo Alessandrini joining Jordi Savall “in conversation” with Colombian author Pablo Montoya. Montoya trained as a musician before turning to writing, and was a fantastic choice to referee the two Europeans. Musing on the sacred versus the profane, the relationship between Europe and America, and the democratisation of music, it was a riveting encounter. Oscar Wilde, Toledo Cathedral, Voltaire, the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba and Couperin were all cited in a discussion full of surprises. Perhaps the biggest was Savall revealing the deep romanticism at the heart of his interpretations, declaring that all music is sacred; a love song is sacred because love is sacred. This, he said, was why the same music could be used for a song about adultery and a offertory to the Virgin. Elaborating further, he spoke of the limits of religious belief and how art could transform it into something universal. On a more human level, he took pains to acknowledge that the encounter of Old World and New was a traumatic one (something highlighted in the previous night’s Las Rutas de los Esclavos) and that music was the first language which the two differing cultures understood.

The changing way we listen to music was much discussed, with some positive statements that would likely surprise UK audiences. Both Alessandrini and Savall were keen to point out that it is far, far easier to hear music now than it ever has been, not just due to recordings and the advent of services such as Spotify, but with concerts being more frequent and at a reasonable price. Notes of caution were sounded, with Alessandrini further cementing his hero status to me by deploring the cheapening effect of background music. Savall also showed his humorous side by declaring the Three Tenors as undemocratic, as all the other tenors had had to go home!

Rinaldo Alessandrini © Joaquin Sarmiento | Festival Internacional de Música de Cartagena
Rinaldo Alessandrini
© Joaquin Sarmiento | Festival Internacional de Música de Cartagena

The most animated moments in the discussion came when Montoya asked whether, in comparing Bach to Vivaldi, one was simpler than the other; Alessandrini was quick to defend Vivaldi, describing his music as aristocratic to Bach’s democratic. He also spoke warmly of the theatrical dimensions of Vivaldi, in response to Savall’s comparing Bach’s dense texture to Vivaldi’s less condensed style. Savall was keen to assert that Bach liked Vivaldi, though Alessandrini posited that Bach thought him exotic! This line of conversation ended with Savall showing his romantic side once more, speaking of the most essential aspect of interpreting Bach by finding the emotion behind the notes and the complexity.

Jordi Savall, Rinaldo Alessandrini and Pablo Montoya © Joaquin Sarmiento | Festival Internacional de Música de Cartagena
Jordi Savall, Rinaldo Alessandrini and Pablo Montoya
© Joaquin Sarmiento | Festival Internacional de Música de Cartagena

Savall was also unafraid to stir up debate about the idea of authenticity, answering the final question (from the audience) about his approach to realising Early Music with examples of contemporaneous groups using different instrumental combinations for the same piece, whatever they had available to them; as such no one version of a piece is the “real” one. Alessandrini had made a similar statement at the start of the talk about the idea of “Italian” music being something without meaning, due to the variety of styles existing across the country, so it seemed a fitting place to draw what had been a fascinating exchange to a close.