Antonio Moral © Elvira Megías
Antonio Moral
© Elvira Megías
“We have built up a project that is irreversible in the cultural and musical life of our country.” Born in 1956 in Puebla de Almenara, Cuenca, Antonio Moral has been in the forefront of artistic direction of festivals and of public and private institutions. In 2011, he took charge of the National Centre for the Dissemination of Music (CNDM), a subsidiary of the Spanish Ministry of Culture's National Institute for the Arts, Sciences and Music (the INAEM). His task has been to offer programmes of excellent musical quality, accessible to everyone; he has developed a network of concerts and activities over a great part of Spain. He talks to us about his vision as a programme creator, and we review his past work at the head of the CNDM.

KM: Your time in charge of Teatro Real (from 2005 to 2010) was very well regarded. Would you go back to heading up an opera house?

AM: Yes, I would like to return to an opera house where we could do the sort of work we did at Teatro Real in terms of breadth and growth: that would be very interesting. Before I arrived there, between 1997 and 2005, 57.5% of the activity at Teatro Real was defined by a 100 year period, the Romantic one, and baroque only represented 2.5%. When I left, the Romantic era was down to 33%, Baroque had grown to 16.4% and 20th Century music to 37%. What we did was to bring the various periods of music into balance: it wasn't OK for an opera house to programme two titles out of 150 years of music in an eight year spell. When I arrived, we did 11 titles per year; in the year I left, that had doubled to 22.

Was the audience's response good?

It was extraordinary. In the 2004-05 season, the Teatro Real welcomed 212,920 audience members. In the 2008-9 season, the figure was 301,357.

<i>Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria</i> directed by Christie and Pizzi – Teatro Real, April 2009 © Javier del Real
Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria directed by Christie and Pizzi – Teatro Real, April 2009
© Javier del Real

Festivals like the Week of Sacred Music at Cuenca thrived under your leadership. What makes a successful festival?

The key is to adapt the festival to the character of the city. In the case of Cuenca, what we did was to broaden it: the Week of Sacred Music was a festival with much tradition and many glorious years behind it. We involved the whole city, taking the festival from 9 or 10 concerts to 22. Before we arrived, it took place in three locations; with me, we grew it to 11 locations through the whole city: churches, museums, convents... every sort of space. Cuenca is a marvellous city with an invaluable artistic heritage; the visiting musicians left the city utterly enchanted. Imagine performing the Bach Suites together with newly premièred works below paintings by Saura, Torner or Zóbel – it was miraculous! The following year, when those musicians were considering coming to the festival, they were minded to come free of charge! 

What is your opinion of the state of contemporary music in Spain?

I think it's stronger than ever. Never have we had so many first class composers in Spain, nor as many ensembles of the quality we have today. Never before have we had as many foreign composers living and making their careers here, nor as many Spanish composers writing and teaching in other countries. All the time, it is becoming just a little easier to get audiences to embrace contemporary music: we see this from the percentage attendance at our concerts. And while you can't deny that there is a dislocation between audiences' tastes, which tend to be conservative, and the music of the present day, it's still the case that the gap has narrowed. In the last ten years, composers have taken on greater freedom and followed their desires rather than constraining themselves to a specific rulebook, and that freedom has allowed them to reach audiences more effectively and more directly.

How do you behave when faced with a conservative audience?

It's true, a great deal of the audience is conservative. It's therefore the task of the programmer or artistic director to try to broaden their knowledge, to bring them into contact with other works or other styles which they would not otherwise listen to, because a conservative audience always wants to hear the same things. Little by little, they start changing their habits. The programmer is an intermediary between the composer and the audience and is required to be sufficiently clever that the audience, bit by bit, starts to discover other genres, other music and other composers. When you open up an audience's perspective and that audience is lively and educated, they welcome you with open arms: you don't just get musical tourists.

Europa Galante opens the Baroque Universe cycle of the CNDM's 2018-19 eason © Rieti
Europa Galante opens the Baroque Universe cycle of the CNDM's 2018-19 eason
© Rieti

You took on the direction of the CNDM at a difficult time…

It began in 2011, at the height of the financial crisis. In spite of this, we set up nine new cycles in Madrid. Those cycles were successful from day one, and we established them, filled them and turned them into something indispensable. It's a cast iron rule: when you create a cycle that's interesting from every point of view, the audience responds favourably.

How do you view those eight years at the head of the CNDM?

It's been an exceptional undertaking. All in all, the outcome is very positive. Spain needed a project whereby the Culture Ministry provided some backbone to musical activity. And at a time when these kinds of activity across central government are not easy, because there are significant nationality issues in the regions and there are communities with whom it is not easy to work, we have succeeded, in the end, in putting on more concerts outside Madrid than within it. In the last three seasons, we have had an average of 139 events outside Madrid and 99 inside. The season just beginning will take 143 concerts to various other cities, and 98 in Madrid. It's the first time that a public institution which is part of the Ministry organises more things outside the capital than inside, and it seems to me that this is a highly positive achievement.

To take projects to new cities and spaces must carry a risk...

We have established a highly significant network of contacts, collaborators and co-producers. In this next season, we will co-produce and collaborate with 121 public and private institutions, which means that 50% of our budget (which is €2.2 million) can be increased thanks to those contributions. So there is no risk whatsoever. We set up agreements to have a series of projects in places where music is a scarce commodity, and we are able to bring top class artists to places where they would probably not go, or where they could not get paid. In eight years of work, we have achieved very good results. From 2010 to 2013, we staged an average of 92 concerts. In the last three years, form 2016 to 2019, the number will be 237. What's behind that is the help of many institutions, both public and private, as well as the CNDM's team, which comprises 14 people.

The flamenco singer Argentina, who will play a concert on January 18th © María Luna Huerta
The flamenco singer Argentina, who will play a concert on January 18th
© María Luna Huerta

The CNDM stages flamenco and jazz cycles. At what point did it occur to you that these genres would work well at the Auditorio Nacional?

It was planned from the beginning. I was focused on the support and dissemination of the music of today, of the Spanish repertoire of the baroque and early music as well as valuing and spreading other musical styles with popular roots, such as flamenco and jazz. That was the message I was given and that's what I worked on. In Madrid, there were already jazz and flamenco concerts in the Auditorio Nacional, but there were only one or two per year. Now, there's a subscription series of jazz as well as a flamenco series which finishes in September. We have managed to establish these different styles of music in a hall that was previously dedicated solely to classical. What's more, something really interesting happened: the audiences started mixing. We have provoked the classical audience's interest in other genres, and we have brought into the auditorium – which was the temple of classical music – fans of jazz or flamenco, who, in turn, now go to classical concerts!

As well as the enrichment that this provides for aficionados, it's important the audience strengthens...

Clearly, that's the key. We've managed to attract a very loyal audience. You can see the loyalty to the project by looking at the number of subscribers: it has gone up every year, reaching 4,605 subscribers for the 2017-18 season. In the last three years, we've been filling 85.6% of seats, whereas the figure for the previous three years was 76%, in spite of the fact that the number of concerts has gone up from 92 to 237. So if we're increasing the attendance by 10% more at the same time as considerably upping the number of concerts, that's a significant result.

Would you be able to survive without state funding?

With eight years behind us, it's now possible to do a thorough analysis on what we've taken at the box office, bearing in mind that a third of our programming is free. We have succeeded in funding 50% of what we do. If we increased our prices by 50%, from €20 to €30, we would be able to finance our whole musical activity from the box office.

Having said which, it has to be made clear that we must create a musical offering that is accessible and affordable for all audiences, because not everyone can pay for tickets that can cost between €60 and €200 [the cost of some seasons in Madrid or Barcelona], just as there are a lot of people who can't go to a private hospital. In the same way as in education or public health, our job is to offer an alternative for people to permit them to find good music, music of quality, not the scraps, at a price that everyone can pay. No-one can say "I don't have 20 euros", which is the most expensive price, and in many concerts, the cheapest is €10: that's is the price of a gin and tonic in Madrid.