The miracle of classical music, its ability to bring together and inspire, took place again in Bogotá during Holy Week, as it has three times before since 2013. The Teatro Major Julio Santo Domingo's Fourth International Music Festival was devoted to Brahms, Schubert, and the Schumanns whose music was presented in the course of 50 concerts in 15 venues from the city's ten districts. Twelve of the concerts were free, and there were three public rehearsals.

Stephen Hough and the Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz © Juan Diego Castillo
Stephen Hough and the Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz
© Juan Diego Castillo

The line-up of guest artists included Stephen Hough, Jan Vogler, Ray Chen, and Roger Vignoles. There were orchestras from Konstanz, Dresden (on period instruments, its cellists playing Brahms and Schumann without endpins), and Antwerp (looking forward to Elim Chan becoming the first woman to serve as the orchestra's music director); of the four from Colombia, three were from Bogotá. The conductors came from the US, Germany, Finland, Greece, Spain, France and Colombia..

It was clear during the Festival that Clara Schumann was on everyone's minds. Many of them read Carolina Conti's elegant essays as they waited for the music begin and were curious to see what her music actually sounded like. For them, as for many of the professional critics and journalists, it was first time hearings.

On Friday night, however, at the Teatro's main hall, the Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz and their chief conductor Ari Rasilainen teamed with Stephen Hough in unforgettable performances of Brahms' First Piano Concerto and Robert Schumann's Third Symphony.

Stephen Hough © Juan Diego Castillo
Stephen Hough
© Juan Diego Castillo

The Brahms was one of those performances in which every bar was both exquisitely natural and yet often intimately spontaneous. After a businesslike opening tutti, Hough entered with such raptured concentration that the attention level in the hall, which was already high, increased a pitch so that they could hear the contours of his every note. He and the orchestra started to find each other just before the big F major Poco piú moderato theme which Hough played with initially spare elegance before commanding the hall by sweeping the sound to whatever volumes he needed and producing addictive arcs of phrasing. The sound of the orchestra provided the perfect autumn colors and tawny textures for his often deeply reflective playing. The horn solos offered the perfect lead-in to the cascades of sound at the finish.

The Adagio flowed as naturally and transparently as a requiem for Schumann ought. The woodwinds throughout made lovely angelic sounds and Hough played as if the music were being transmitted directly from the composer. He wielded the magical chains of trills at the end as if he were a wizard from Prospero's isle and the audience held its breath as the timpani tolled its final strokes. After a precipitous start to the Rondo, Hough and orchestra discovered the innocence of youth at the big tune and cruised from there on. The strings handled their knotty fugue passages with consummate ease, and the horns, preparing for the Schumann to come, were soaring and gorgeous throughout. As an encore Hough played a gentle Träumerei.

Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz © Juan Diego Castillo
Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz
© Juan Diego Castillo

In Schumann's last, wonderfully unclouded symphony Rasilainen and the Philharmonic kept the pace moving at flexibly moderate, often affectionate tempos as if the Rhine itself were flowing through the notes. The sound was satisfyingly dense, rich and passionate, and the horns once more made great sailing of all their magnificent solos.

The morning before, at the splendid Teatro Colón de Bogotá in the old part of town, the four horn soloists of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia conducted by Olivier Grangean had made such burnished golden noises in Schumann's Konzertstück Op.86 that it (almost) compensated for the Festival's neither programming Brahms' Academic Festival Overture nor the Variations on a Theme by Haydn.

After the last concert Saturday night, when the Teatro's visionary director Ramiro Osorio announced from the stage that the theme of the Fifth Festival in 2021 would be Bogotá es Barroco, the audience erupted in applause. It's what the Festival audiences like to do: fall in love with music, even with single movements. And though they respected their director's wishes to refrain from applauding until after entire pieces were over for Brahms, Schubert and the two Schumanns, they will have their way two years from now; after all, in the Baroque period itself, applauding between and even during movements was the way some say it was supposed to go.

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