Bal y Gay Festival: The Rural Olympus of Classical Music | Culture

The residents of A Mariña know what it’s like to have an aperitif with a celebrity of classical music. This Lugo region of 80,000 inhabitants has become in recent years a meeting point for some of the best instrumentalists in the world. They stop there every summer to offer concerts and master classes, dine with the public and dress up as tourists to discover, for example, that the oldest church in Spain is preserved in this corner of northern Lugo. The phenomenon is a merit of the Bal y Gay Festival, founded in 2014 by Enrique Rodríguez Baixeras, a music lover determined to “democratize culture”.

After a professional life in which he pioneered Galician cinema during the dictatorship and worked at the National Film Library, Rodríguez Baixeras decided to enjoy his retirement in Nois, the village of the municipality of Foz (Lugo) where he was born 68 years ago. Together with his daughter Alba, clarinetist, cultural manager and current director of the Bal y Gay Festival, he began to organize courses in the social center of the parish that would serve to disseminate classical music. “We think about bringing in good teachers in order to attract good students as well,” he explains. One of those renowned teachers was the Valencian Vicente Alberola, first clarinet of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, who was enthusiastically involved in the project.

Classes were followed by concerts that were packed with locals. To the surprise of the promoters, the initiative aroused the interest of people unrelated to classical music, who burst into applause between movement and movement. In the third edition, a clarinet competition was held and the three finalists performed a Mozart concerto that lasted three hours. “The people,” recalls Rodríguez Baixeras, “filled the premises and stayed there without moving.” Now, when he goes to have a wine at the bar, the neighbors approach the president of the Bal y Gal Foundation to ask him when the festival will be and how virtuous he will honor them with his presence. “These are people who never cared about classical music and now need it to live,” he celebrates.

Schubert resonated this weekend at A Mariña in a special spring edition for the Jacobean Year. The Austrian came from the hand, among others, of the pianist Judith Jáuregui or the tenor Christoph Prégardien, admired worldwide as a singer of lieder. Tickets were sold out in three days. Last Saturday dozens of neighbors waited at the doors of the church of San Salvador de Lourenzá to enter to listen to the Cosmos Quartet. Eliseo Rodríguez proudly says that “the Messi of classical music come to the region”. “Last summer we had a wine with Floristán,” he adds, referring to the pianist Juan Pérez Floristán, who has just won the prestigious international Arthur Rubinstein competition. Manuel Fernández agrees: “For laymen like us, being able to enjoy artists of this level is wonderful.”

The Cosmos Quartet in the church of Vilanova de Lourenzá (Lugo), this Saturday at the Bal y Gay Festival.
The Cosmos Quartet in the church of Vilanova de Lourenzá (Lugo), this Saturday at the Bal y Gay Festival.ÓSCAR CORRAL / EL PAÍS

The festival will continue its eighth edition between August 18 and 26, with a tribute to Gershwin and the genius of the pianist Javier Perianes, the guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas, the Casals Quartet or the Galician Symphony Orchestra. The objective is to bring classical music closer to rural areas “without distorting the artistic proposals, always respecting excellence”, explains Alba Rodríguez, director of the festival.

In A Mariña, classical music does not resonate in large rooms. The artists perform their instruments surrounded by a crowd, at the foot of the altar of a church or surrounded by centuries-old trees. Virtuosos accustomed to watching the public from imposing auditoriums in Vienna, Milan or Berlin “are surprised by the magic and the closeness they can feel in these small spaces, where affection reaches them more”, highlights the director of the festival.

The Bal y Gay Festival, which takes its name from a Lugo musicologist who belonged to the Generation of 27 and was a close friend of Igor Stranvinsky, is much more than a concert program. It includes educational workshops, conferences and cultural visits and has set up a chamber orchestra “with the best Spanish musicians who play in the best orchestras in the world,” says Rodríguez Baixeras. East dream team, made up of instrumentalists from the National Orchestra of Spain, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra or Les Dissonances, it meets every summer for a couple of days to rehearse and then offers a performance. This summer will shine The love wizard of Falla.

The foundation now intends to mount an opera with students from schools and institutes in the region. The entity will put the orchestra and the kids, the costumes and their voices for the choirs. Rodríguez Baixeras seeks to create a community, that children and young people from different municipalities relate to each other: “Some musician may come from this, but what we want is for the kids to integrate into society through music.”

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