Orquesta Filarmonica de Bolivia


Music Director: Miguel Salazar
Artistic Mentor: Leonard Elschenbroich
Founded in 2013

For my first Latin American tour in 2012, a friend asked me to make a trip to Bolivia, in order to meet and play with Miguel Salazar Hidalgo (27 at the time) and his small orchestra, in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. There were fifteen musicians in total, all of whom were under 30 – younger than me. As there were few wind players, some had to be replaced by a pianist. Unfortunately, there had been a leak in the roof above the space where the piano was kept and it had rained into it. I came to to play Saint-Saens Cello Concerto No.1 with them, which begins with a single fortissimo chord of the orchestra, immediately followed by the solo cello entrance. At the first rehearsal, I was so shocked by this first chord that I could hardly play my entrance. Intensity, energy, passion, ambition, and a burning for music of a level I had never experienced from an orchestra before. From that moment, I knew that these musicians deserved every support and that I would need to be the one responsible for it.

The artistic and administrative direction was carried only by Miguel and his partner, Adriana Inturias, and the tickets sales, press, venue and music hire were covered and managed by the musicians themselves. No senior person was overseeing or instigating any part of it. In the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra there was no concert series, no subscription audience, and yet the concert was not only sold out but many had to be sent away. The following year (2013), with the generous support of the Hilti Foundation – which had been supporting El Sistema in Venezuela – we founded the Orquesta Filarmonica de Bolivia. For our first concert, we were joined by musicians from other cities oft the country – La Paz, Tarija, Sucre, Oruro – and played in the city of Cochabamba, a city at 2500m altitude, for an audience of 500. A year after that we had become an orchestra of 90 musicians, including Bolivian émigrés from Heidelberg, Oxford, Newcastle, Houston, and Vienna. We played in a 900-seat venue and when over 1000 people arrived, many had to stand or bring in chairs. Since then, we have performed in La Paz, too, and have been regularly joined by soloists and conductors from around the world, and have a strong partnership with the orchestras of Medellìn, Colombia.

It is the greatest pleasure to experience the enthusiasm these young musicians have for the project. Bolivia regularly has strikes, often including truck blockades on highways into town, so that sometimes, musicians had to leave their buses after a 12h drive and walk long distances with their instruments, in order to make the rehearsals. I imagine how a European orchestra would behave in that situation. These musicians remind us of the privilege of music.

Bolivia is the country with oldest tradition of classical music in Latin America. It was introduced in the 1700s by the Spanish Jesuit missionaries, to the jungle of the Chiquitania. A lot music was written there at the time. In May 2016, our orchestra was invited to give four concerts at the international Baroque music festival in this area, performing works by Vivaldi and the music of the Chiquitania, at large baroque churches in exceptionally remote communities. A documentary about this journey by Otto Schweitzer will be released in early 2017.