BBC National Orchestra of Wales - Patagonia 2015

Michael Garvey, BBC National Orchestra of Wales

For ten days in late October, twelve BBC National Orchestra of Wales musicians along with harpist Catrin Finch and conductor Grant Llewellyn travelled 12,000km to spend a week in towns across the Chubut Province of Argentina. The musicians performed and delivered workshops and masterclasses to over 1000 children from schools and community groups in towns including Puerto Madryn, Rawson, Trevelin, Trelew, Esquel and Gaiman. Our Patagonian residency culminated with two gala performances in the Predio Ferial, an old wool warehouse. The building has been transformed into a concert hall especially for BBC NOW’s concerts, and stands as a lasting legacy of the orchestra’s visit to Patagonia; a permanent performing arts venue for the region. The orchestra has been the driving force in the warehouse regeneration. After the Patagonia residency the orchestra moved north to Buenos Aires to give two concerts in the famous Teatro Colon and then on for further concerts in Rosario, Cordoba, Santiago in Chile and culminating in Montevideo in Uruguay.

For me personally the tour was the culmination of eighteen months of work that included a lot of partnership brokering, a number of pre-visits to Argentina and some considerable nervousness right from the very start. Whilst we are an international symphony orchestra, we had never performed in Patagonia before and the facilities that are needed to both look after all the tour party (over 100 people) and accommodate a concert attended by over 2500 members of the public is significant. Much of my planning involved explaining to our hosts in Patagonia what was needed, what facilities a concert hall requires and how to move 100 people and their very valuable musical instruments around the country en mass when there’s no public transport system. Having worked on international projects before, this type of preparatory work is vital to the ultimate success of the activity – building confidence in the host partners is a crucial and often overlooked aspect of the work. Ultimately projects like this succeed because they engage and have value for local audiences and the only way to truly connect with those local audiences is to engage the support of local, on the ground partners.

The support and welcome the orchestra had from the Welsh speaking community in Patagonia was wonderful and our musicians particularly enjoyed working with Ysgol yr Hendre in Trelew and the many music groups in Gaiman that welcomed us into the communities so warmly. We particularly enjoyed participating in the noson lawen in Gaiman and the combination of that and the traditional Patagonian asado which followed made for a fantastically memorable night!

The whole tour was a wonderful success, made possible by the generosity of a number of supporters, including Wales Arts International, its legacy is both a highlight of the Patagonia 150 Celebrations and a life-changing experience for the communities that BBC NOW worked with in Patagonia. BBC Two Wales will be broadcasting a documentary of the tour on Christmas Eve at 6.30pm and a full archive of the project can be viewed online here:

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