You probably haven’t heard of many private musical ventures in Europe that succeed at consolidating a stable orchestral season in only six years, with hardly any public support and amid an economic crisis that has struck many companies hard. While several Spanish musical festivals that thrived in the last ten years, fuelled by lavish public funding, have shrunk or utterly disappeared after the bubble burst, Fundación Excelentia has developed a self­sustaining project, supported by more than 700 subscribers and featuring more than 60 concerts per season. Here are some pointers as to why this young endeavour has achieved a respected status in Madrid’s crowded orchestral season.

The Orquesta Clásica Santa Cecilia at the Auditorio Nacional
The Orquesta Clásica Santa Cecilia at the Auditorio Nacional

While most private promoters usually prefer to put together a season relying on external orchestras, the cornerstone of Excelentia’s project is the Orquesta Clásica Santa Cecilia. Funded in 2002 by Javier Martí, the foundation’s president, it has grown from a modest semi­professional chamber orchestra to the most prominent private symphonic orchestra in Madrid. Since the creation of Excelentia’s first major season in 2009, the orchestra has perfected a recognisable fresh style, thanks, in Martí’s words, to “an enthusiastic and committed team of musicians, an incremental approach to repertoire building and a careful choice of conductors”.

Grzegorz Nowak, Principal conductor of the Orquesta Clásica Santa Cecilia
Grzegorz Nowak, Principal conductor of the Orquesta Clásica Santa Cecilia
Careful indeed: the current principal conductor is Grzegorz Nowak, permanent associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, while the orchestra is enriched every season by renowned international conductors such as Fréderic Chaslin, Daniel Raiskin, Thomas Sanderling, Ken David Masur, Michael Jurowski and Paul Goodwin.

Primarily trained in the Classical and Romantic repertoire, the orchestra has evolved constantly, conquering challenging new repertoire and consolidating an ever broader sound: after a successful Mahler's “Resurrection" in 2011, it had its coming­ of­ age in 2012 with Richard Strauss' Alpine Symphony, played by 120 musicians, a record for the orchestra so far. This musical ambition guarantees an exciting rendition of Mahler's 5th symphony in April, when the Santa Cecilia will be joined by the New York Chamber Orchestra.

Building on this work, the orchestra is now well versed in the big symphonic repertoire and a reliable partner for first­class soloists. In fact, some of the most exciting concerts this season will feature three extraordinary international musicians: Vadim Repin will interpret Bruch's violin concerto, Gordan Nikolic will play and conduct Tchaikovsky’s superb violin concerto and Krystian Zimerman will perform Beethoven's 4th piano concerto, a date eagerly awaited by the Foundation’s followers.

This symphonic focus hasn’t prevented some serious attempts to perform opera, with all the challenges this implies for a private promoter. After producing concert versions of AidaTraviata and Cavalleria Rusticana, this season opens with a concert of choral numbers from operas by Verdi and Wagner, sung by Excelentia Choral Society. Another operatic must of the season is Olga Peretyatko’s bel canto concert at Teatro Real.

Violinist Yulia Milstein will played a concert in November entirely with Vivaldi's music
Violinist Yulia Milstein will played a concert in November entirely with Vivaldi's music

The orchestra has become a fine interpreter of Spanish classical repertoire. In addition to a zarzuela concert in May, the orchestra will offer in June a two ­concert cycle called "Spanish Nights”. The first night will present international works that have been inspired by Spanish culture, such as Lalo’s Spanish Symphony and Rimsky Korsakov’s Spanish Capriccio. The second concert, on the other hand, will present the première in Madrid of Zarautz, a piece by one of the most appreciated Spanish composers, Ángel Illarramendi, well known in Spain for his long and successful career in film music. The concert will also include two classics by Manuel de Falla, Nights in the gardens of Spain, and the suites from the opera The three­cornered hat. A final Spanish touch for a balanced and well­designed season.

Being a private initiative, the relationship with the audience – understanding their preferences, living up to their expectations – is paramount to the company’s vitality. New audiences have definitely been seduced by its broad approach to the repertoire, including a cycle entirely devoted to orchestral genres such as musicals, jazz, tango or symphonic pop. As Martí proudly points out, it’s not unusual to find among Excelentia’s regular audience people who made their debut in an auditorium thanks to the Foundation and who have become frequent concertgoers ever since. This creates a sense of community and fidelity that is sometimes absent from other musical cycles, reinforced by open lectures, casual concerts coupled with wine tastings on Saturday evenings and pedagogical programmes for children on Sunday mornings.

The kids programme is indeed a pillar of Fundación Excelentia’s mission. Each concert is organised around a topic (musicals, cinema, Christmas carols) or a composer (Handel and Vivaldi) and is presented by a host that introduces and explains the music, sometimes even supported by a dramatisation that engages the young audience. The relative weight of the pedagogical programme in the season (10 out of 42 concerts in Madrid) shows a true commitment to inspire the potential audience of the future.

Fundación Excelentia has designed a varied programme for 2015/16 season
Fundación Excelentia has designed a varied programme for 2015/16 season

Martí looks forward to taking the Foundation to a new level in the years to come. Expansion beyond Madrid is already under way: last season saw cycles in Valladolid and Zaragoza and this year they will also bring their programme to Alicante. International engagements are likely to follow suit, with confirmed projects in the UK and Portugal.

In a short period of time, Fundación Excelentia has become an essential player in Madrid’s musical scene. Thanks to the Foundation’s work, Madrid’s season is now richer, more inclusive and more responsive to the audience’s changing taste. The hard economic and artistic circumstances in which this initiative has thrived has imprinted in the Foundation’s projects a touch of creativity and a commendable desire for constant improvement that should ensure a bright and promising future.