Classical music for new audiences across Chile

Since 2008, the Chamber Orchestra of Chile, in association with the National Council on Culture, has worked to bring classical music to parts of Santiago and the country which they otherwise may not have been able to access, in the hopes of developing more dynamic audiences for regional composers in the future.


Maestro Juan Pablo Izquierdo, conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of Chile, has performed in major concert halls around the world, but performances given for non-traditional, working class audiences around Chile have been some of his most rewarding. A concert held in Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar on Saturday, Sept. 11 as part of the national Bicentennial celebrations drew an enthusiastic crowd of 800 people from mining towns as far as two and a half hours away.

While the venue for the concert was unusual for the orchestra, the warm welcome from an unexpected audience was not. Run by the National Council on Culture and the Arts, the Chamber Orchestra of Chile is based in Santiago, with each program typically performed four times around the city, once in the center and three times in comunas, or districts, farther afield. These performances have taken the orchestra from the lower-middle class outskirts of La Granja to the wealthy area of Vitacura, all the way north along Rio Mapocho.

Different venues yield different audiences, but similar results, according to Izquierdo: “Audiences acquainted with classical music and audiences that are equally cultured, but not acquainted perhaps … we have found that both types of audiences are excellent. If you do something equally concentrated and correct in these different places, the result is magnificent.”

The performances in Santiago and Chile at large are part of a recent program called “Creando Chile en mi Barrio,” or “Making Chile in my Neighborhood.” The program, developed in 2008 in conjunction with the National Council on Culture and the Arts, is designed to bring classical music to areas that previously had little or no access. Maestro Izquierdo, who has been directing the orchestra for three years since it’s inception, has been regularly stunned by the eagerness of non-traditional audiences.

In Santiago as in Pan de Azucar, these audiences have traveled great distances to hear the orchestra play. Maestro Izquierdo recalled playing a concert in December at La Granja’s cultural center for an extremely appreciative audience. Days later, the same program was played for a massive audience of 8,000 people in Vitacura’s Parque Bicentenario, where he learned that a group of 300 had come all the way from La Granja, many to hear the music for a second time. “They came on the underground and then they took a bus—it’s quite a long way for them to go.” The trip of some 20 km (12.5 miles) would have taken at least an hour on Santiago’s public transport.

Orchestras often garner this kind of popularity by programming easily recognized classical hits, but the Chamber Orchestra of Chile devotes 20-25% of all its programming to works by Chilean composers. According to Izquierdo, these works are amongst the most popular in the orchestra’s repertoire. For the inaugural performance in the new concert hall at the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral, he says, “we played a first performance of ‘Lautaro’ by [Chilean composer] León Schidlowsky and it was very well received. It has been one of the great successes of the orchestra.” In Izquierdo’s experience U.S. symphony orchestras tend to program very little new music, but he says, “here you can be very creative.”

For the performance in Pan de Azucar, Maestro Izquierdo selected a piece for solo flute and string orchestra composed by 42-year-old Chilean composer Carlos Zamora, a native of Calama in administrative Region II, farther to the north. The work employs the idiomatic sounds of the region, using the flute to imitate the ‘zampoña,’ a traditional wind instrument from the northern desert, and the strings to imitate the sounds of wind howling across the high desert expanse. Programmed along with two relatively unknown works by Beethoven, Zamora’s composition generated a special kind of excitement as the audience recognized the familiar sounds of the region.

By promoting performances for non-traditional audiences, and music by national composers, the Chamber Orchestra of Chile and the National Council on Culture and the Arts are doing their part to ensure continued future audiences for new composers, as well as access to a long venerable tradition for as many people as possible. World-class compositions and world class performances are only possible with world-class audiences, a resource that Chile has in abundance, and not always where you might expect.