The Tarija Philharmonic Orchestra restores Bolivia’s musical heritage

Sometimes your destiny chooses you. That’s how Facundo, a 22-year-old musician, explains how he started playing double bass and became a member of the Tarija Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, now known as the Tarija Philharmonic Orchestra in Bolivia. “At first I didn’t understand the instrument or the notes, but when I gave it a second chance I understood a bit more. I learned what sharps and flats were, and I kept going. Double bass is a really heavy instrument; it’s hard and you have to play standing up, but now I feel like I have a lot more to learn and I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. He’s one of the 42 youngsters who participated in the world revival of Pedro Ximénez Abrill Tirado’s Symphony No. 40 during the “Missions of Chiquitos” Festival. This was a landmark event in the history of Bolivian music, which continues to recover baroque music that was created in what is now Bolivia.  The music comes from the colonial age, mostly from the 18th century, when the Jesuits founded the Missions of Chiquitos.

This work was made possible thanks to the support of APAC: The Pro Art and Culture Association and Repsol Bolivia. The musical score was rewritten by Father Piotr Nawrot, artistic director of the festival, who hailed Ximénez Abrill Tirado as “Bolivia´s Mozart”: “The melodic line, the composition of the orchestra, and the harmony are similar to Mozart’s work,” he noted. Father Nawrot explained that the benefits were three-fold: “First, we’ve made sure everyone can experience the glory and beauty of Bolivian music. The second point is that now everyone knows how talented the children and young people are here. The third positive aspect is the support and good reputation of this festival, which we created out of nothing.”

Father Nawrot was charged with recovering the scores 200 years after the death of Ximénez Abrill Tirado. According to him, “This project has breathed new life into us; it has awakened our souls. The people from APAC, Repsol, and myself realized that we needed to provide more support to musicians, to make them feel included in Bolivian life.” Luiz do Amaral, conductor of the Tarija Philharmonic Orchestra, played an essential role in this regard. He’s in charge of leading the young musicians through rehearsals day after day; he makes an effort to help each one of them become an authentic artist, not just a musician: “Being a musician is one thing, and being an artist is another. It’s an unusual distinction but we apply it to the greatest extent possible. The artist not only expresses something, but also communicates. We try to teach people that the art of communication comes from humanity, from human sensibility. If I want to communicate love or happiness, I have to feel it.” His vocation for teaching music to young people first arose when he saw a boy holding the bow of a violin incorrectly, but with “joy and hope in his eyes…and I thought, ‘There are so many young people like him in this area who want to learn how to play’…and that’s when the lightbulb came on and I became a music teacher. That’s when my life changed.” Seven years have passed since that moment, and the project to recover classic scores from Bolivian composers like Ximénez Abrill Tirado presents a huge challenge because with this music, “we improve society because people are more human, more disciplined, and better prepared to solve the problems affecting us.”

Luiz do Amaral, conductor of the Tarija Philharmonic Orchestra

Being a musician is one thing, and being an artist is another. The artist not only expresses something, but also communicates.” Luiz do Amaral, conductor of the Tarija Philharmonic Orchestra

Do Amaral knows how to instill this philosophy in his students. One good example is Luis Miguel, a 15-year-old violinist: “For me, performing with the violin is the hardest part, but with practice and serious commitment I can do it. Nothing is difficult if you’re disciplined.”

The next challenge is the world première of Ximénez Abrill Tirado’s Symphony No.16. They’ll be practicing four hours a day for the next four months, which is a lot of hard work, but everyone agrees that it will be “enormously rewarding.” The young members of the Tarija Philharmonic, grateful to have this opportunity, remember what Luiz do Amaral has taught them with every note they play: “Achieving that freedom without losing discipline, that’s what you have to express, that’s when artistic expression begins. You’ve got to radiate that energy, the joy of living, of working and being happy in all that you do. Artful musicians communicate this zest for life.”

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