Madrid. The City of Art. (English version)

It was a long journey. Far but beautiful and full of many good impressions. Also cultural ones.

Madrid is a city of art. The three largest museums: Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen Bornemisza host breathtaking collections. And they are all at your fingertips. Without bulletproof glass, railings and showcases. In the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Tintoretto’s Paradise hangs on the wall of the main entrance hall. Alongside Rodin's sculptures. Just like that. You have to book at least a few hours to visit the Prado. And it's best to choose only a few rooms and just sit in them for a while. I have my plan for the next visit: Witches' Fligh by Francisco Goya, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, Hippomenes and Atalanta by Guido Reni and the San Ildefonso Group with Castor and Pollux , or Orestses and Pylades or Hypnos and Thanatos as others call them. Naming aside- the sculpture is heavenly.

If someone prefers art that is more “cool”, one should direct his/her steps to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía which hosts a rich collection of works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Be warned -  getting near Picasso’s Guernica is impossible.

In addition to permanent exhibitions, you will certainly find something interesting on temporary ones. We were strongly tempted by Andy Warhol and Alfons Mucha. However, we only had enough time for something absolutely unique - Manolo Blahnik. The Art of Shoes, exhibition organized by Vogue Spain and Manolo Blahnik himself at Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas. Imagine 212 pairs of shoes in one place, each of them a work of art. Plus 80 drawings and several films. It made us dizzy!

Madrid is also a city of music. It has a beautiful opera and several large concert halls. We managed to visit only one of them - Auditorio Nacional de Música. But for two baroque concerts! The first of them was St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244 by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Orquesta y Coro Nacionales de España (OCNE), boys' choir Escolanía del Escorial and soloists: Sylvia Schwartz, Paul Murrihy, Michael Schade, Samuel Boden, Neal Davies and Christian Immler. Whole directed by David Afkham.

The prologue was not fine. Not because of the music. A clearly drunk Don Miguel, who was letting people into the building, set himself a goal, for reasons known only to him, not to let us go to the concert. It was really unpleasant. And the concert itself? I’ve obviously anticipated that the stage will be crowded as it was the symphony orchestra performing the Passion, however the number of musicians on the stage was unexpectedly large. Around two hundred. Maybe even more. This made the Passion too loud and too slow. Monumental. My opinion on substituting baroque flutes and oboe da caccia by modern instruments is also well known. But... To me Bach is something more than a combination of voices, instruments and melodies. For him, I would travel even to the end of the world.

David Afkham managed to subdue the musical regiment and it went all without chaos, which doesn't always work out. The duet of Michael Schade (Evangelist) and Christian Immler (Jesus) did very well. It was suggestive and interesting. A beautiful image (visually and vocally) was created by El Escorial boys' choir. But the star of the evening was Fahmi Alqhai, gambist - virtuoso. Solo in Komm, süßes Kreuz was excellent, also aria Geduld! Wenn mich falsche Zungen stechen sounded great. Also thanks to Samuel Boden, who sang precisely, in style, without unnecessary wonder and emphasis.

The best for last.

Centro Nacional para la Difusión Musical (CNDM, The National Center of Musical Diffusion), is part of the National Institute of Arts and Music (INAEM), and aims to promote composing and contemporary Spanish music as well as the revival and dissemination of historical, including early music. Although the Centre is headquartered in Madrid, it operates throughout Spain. One of the concert series organized by the CNDM is Universo Barroco.

I envy Madrid such a series. Only this season it encompassed over 20 concerts. CNDM invited such celebrities as William Christie, Diego Fasolis, Jordi Savall, Martin Haselböck, Rinaldo Alessandrini, Giovanni Antonini, Fabio Biondi, Thomas Hengelbrock, and enesembles such as Les Arts Florissants, The King's Consort, The English Concert, Hespèrion XXI, Concerto Italiano, Giardino Armonico, Europa Galante, Vox Luminis and many more.

On Sunday, thanks to the invitation received from the CNDM (Muchas gracias, Directora Gema Parra Píriz!) I took part in a concert of the world famous Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožena and Le Concert D'Astrée ensemble conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm. They presented Heroínas program with a selection of arias and instrumental parts from compositions by Jean-Philippe Rameau (Hippolyte et Aricie, Dardanus, Castor et Pollux, Les Indes Galantes) and Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Médée).

It was FANTASTIC!!! The program was put together in a very thoughtful way and kept the audience in the edge of their seats  all the way through. There was no time for boredom. Positive emotions flowed between the performers and the audience from the beginning to the end. Everything has been given at an appropriate pace, lively, energetically, where it needs to be joyful, in other places dramatically. It also had character due to the use of a large number of percussion instruments, on which Sylvain Fabre spectacularly performed. There were tin sheet, wind machine, drums and cymbals of all sizes. And tambourines.

Emmanuelle Haïm does't needs no introduction. He appears on Baroque Goes Nuts! frequently, for example in the context of Bach's cantatas (Listen to the album Bach: Cantatas, it's really great). Previews in the Spanish media portrayed her as "a great dame of Baroque music". This term is incorrect. Emmanuelle Haïm is not a stable lady. She is full of energy, joy and emotions. Her movements are also not toned down. She shows the music with all of herself. This is a specific way of conducting, which only women have. This turns them into the embodiments of Music for a few dozen minutes of the concert. No more and no less. We also have examples of women directors in Poland, for example Agnieszka Żarska and Martyna Pastuszka. Besides, during the Madrid concert I have often remembered the Baroque Taste of the Orient concert, which Martyna Pastuszka and {oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna performed some time ago in Bydgoszcz. It had the same style and character.

And Magdalena Kožena? She is a great mezzo-soprano. Full of natural grace, warmth, simplicity, which she transforms into her strength. The most beautiful were: aria of Phaedra Cruelle mère des amours from Hippolytus and Aricia by Rameau, Monologue Ma fureur, tant de Rois from Médée by Charpentier and aria Télaïre Tristes apprêts, pâles flambeaux from Castor and Pollux, deep lamentation full of dramatic emotions... But, I enjoyed encores mostly, I will not hide it, especially aria Dopo notte, atra e funesta from Ariodante, HWV 33 by Georg Frideric Handel and Sì dolce è il tormento by Claudio Monteverdi, which moved me to tears.

In both concert programs I also spotted Polish accents. Agnieszka Grzywacz is a soloist of the Orquesta y Coro Nacionales de España choir and Agnieszka Rychlik plays as concertmaster of the second violins in Le Concert D'Astrée. If anyone knows one of the ladies, please congratulate them and greet them warmly!

Madrid is a city of art. It gives its active recipients really huge possibilities. Fast trains can get you to other fascinating places such as Segovia or Toledo in just over 20 minutes. Or to Alcalá de Henares, where the ubiquitous Cervantes looks at us not at all surreptitiously, where the University has returned to its proper place and where Polish storks have moved. Actually, not only storks. 

Maybe we will come back there someday. Hopefully.

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