The national youth orchestra of Spain and the Spanish musical education in the last 25 years

(Lecture read at the Forum "European Orchestra Networks and Mobility Programs in Training and Professional Orchestras", held within the General Assembly of the European Federation of National Youth Orchestras (EFNYO). Vienna, November 15, 2008)

It is highly difficult to summarize in few lines something so complex as the evolution of the music in Spain in the last decades. Everything referred to musical teaching as well as to musical life itself has been subjected to radical changes, not for that reason less effective, that have helped to locate to spanish music in a place of exceptional privilege within the present-day european panorama.
Those changes were radical because they involved to deal a hard knock to an absolutely precarious musical life, as well as to a completely old-fashioned and useless system of teaching, and to a big amount of corrupted practices linked to it.
For a right understanding of the reason of all that, it is necessary to work on the principle that until the beginning of the decade of 1980, Spain lacked of a worth mentioning musical activity, except for Madrid, Barcelona y Valencia, and as an exception in some other cities. For many years these three capitals were the only ones that had good-quality symphonic orchestras: two in Madrid and one in Barcelona. Barcelona, on its part, developped an opera season at the Liceo Great Theatre, but with a very low quality orchestra. It has to remember that for many years the Royal Theatre of Madrid was only used as concert hall, until the building works for its reopening as opera theatre were started, at the end of the 80's. Valencia, on its part, is the only area that held for all that period an intense activity thorugh the musical bands, which generated a great deal of woodwind and brass musicians. The remaining countys didn't have symphonic orchestras, or the few that existed had a very poor quality, and were useless at holding normal symphonic seasons.
In such a musical environment, it is not strange at all that the quality of musical teaching run in parallel. For the first ninety years of the 20th century three regulations for the musical academic studies followed one another, in 1917, 1942 and 1966, all of them being pervaded with educative criteria more suitable for the 19th century, in a moment when musical education in Central Europe was reaching the highest level of qualification. So, the last regulation, that of 1966, focused all its specific weight on a medium degree the length of which was very different and disproportionate among the different specialities -that of Percussion, for instance, lasted tow years; piano, four years; and composition, nine years-, and ended with only two years of superior degree for all them, in which it was not difficult to appreciate nineteenth-century prejudices. (For instance, the superior degree of Chamber Music could only be carried out by students of piano, violin or cello, according to the old tradition of the Piano Trio. The viola remaining excluded in that way, it was impossible the practice of the string quartet in that degree, and for that reason it was consigned to the medium degree, where the technical difficulty of the music prevented its correct practice to students of lower instrumental level.)
Moreover, it has never been in Spain a tradition in music schools of non-official teaching, a very deep-rooted model in Europe and that only in the last years has started to grow in our country, and basic musical knowledge was neither included in the obligatory primary and secundary education. As a result, for many decades the conservatories were the only centres where musical training could be obtained, both basic and specialized. The parents went massively to them for registering their children, and the centres paid attention to this request in a totally irrational way, causing a huge overcrowding in piano and guitar, and almost without pupils in bassoon or viola. In few years the standard of musical education, that had never been too high, fell until unacceptable limits, with the consequence that the conservatories supplied a completely useless training, in that it was excessive for amateurs, and totally insufficient for professionals.
The necessity of radically changing that situation arises first of all among the cultural responsibles of the spanish society, at the beginning of the decade of 1980. The Ministry for Culture and the equivalent offices of the new Autonomic Communities resulting of the change to the democracy, start a policy of widespread creation of new auditories all over the country, which are right away provided with symphonic orchestras that can guarantee the continuity of the programme planing thoughout the whole season. But given that the educative system is inoperative to fill the needs of the musical life with highly qualified professionals, the situation of signing up foreign performers, who in this way came to live in Spain, don't take a while to arrive. Thus, it is not strange at all that the members list of most of spanish orchestras is made up with english, polish, hungarian, armenian or russian surnames, that in many cases far exceed those of spanish musicians.
The musical teaching abolutely staying out of the educative system during those years, and not being possible to intervene from outside in the decisions that the Ministry for Education could take to solve that situation, the Ministry for Culture decides to try it on its own, and with this aim it creates in 1983 (25 years ago) the National Youth Orchestra of Spain, which from the outset is provided with a budget an with human and material resources that in few years allow it to position itself far ahead of the most important educative institutions of the country, as well as at the front of the main youth orchestras of Europe.
It is not before almost ten years later when the spanish government tackles the job of passing a new education law (the Organic Law for the General Planning of the Educative System, of 1990), in which Music, Dance an Dramma are fully inserted in its own right in the educative system, although as "special sort techings", at the end of which one can get a degreee that is equivalent, to all intents and purposes, to the Universitary degree. In the same law the model of Music school, with non-official nature, is created, and that allows that teaching at conservatories remain reserved for the professional training. The law was gradually implemented, so that the first generation of graduates finished their studies no more than four years ago.
During this time, practically every Autonomic Community created its own youth orchestra, and that, together with the professional orchestras created under the shadow of the new auditories, has produced that Spain has nowadays 27 professional orchestras and more than 20 youth ones, almost all of them public. We must add to all them those of the conservatories, the instrumental offer of which is nowadays organized around the orchestral necessities.
Thanks to these new circumstances, it has been solved in Spain a situation that seemed almost impossible to put in order some years ago. Spanish music students are more and more well trained, and statistics are eloquents in that respect. The number of applicants for JONDE auditions grows every year, and in 2008 the number of applicants has been of 850, out of which 255 have been selected. Moreover, in the first auditions that took place in Spain for the European Union Youth Orchestra and the Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchester, the number of applicants selected was of one or, at most, two. Nevertheless, in the auditions held during the last seven or eight years, that number is never lower than 15 and, even more important, many of them play string instruments, which was absolutely unthinkable in our country two decades ago.
Still, it should be unfair to think that the new law for education has been the panacea that has cured all the maladies. Of course, the teaching is now clarified with regard to its professional aim, and today it is possible to pay enough atention to every student (which has automatically raised the level of training); but it must not be forgotten the important role played out by the foreign musicians who massively came for working in the new orchestras, and who, luckily, not only didn't limit to play , but also devoted theirselves to teach, outside of the official path, to the students of the region.
Mobility, in that respct, has developped in Spain in a double way: on the one hand, many great performers have moved to Spain to do an excellent educative work; on the other hand, the number of spanish graduates that spend an average of two years improving their studies in the most important european and american centres is bigger and bigger. To help them in that aim, the National Youth Orchestra of Spain came to an agreement with Madrid Savings Bank Foundation, that since many years ago awards every year a big amount of grants to the members of the orchestra. In that respect, one might point out that, by far to other european youth orchestras, the 100% of the members of JONDE has an absolutely professional aim. The orchestra, finally is open to musicians exchange with other european an non european youth orchestras, in the last year having shown an intense activity in this respect.
Regarding all previously said, mi own personal experience has allowed me to look at the situation, as though it was about a cubist painting, from at least four different point of view: as an student, I suffered it as a victim in the decade of 1970; in the decade of 1980 I was again a victim, this time as a teacher of the Conservatories of Cuenca and Madrid; perhaps this doubly bad experience encouraged me to accept to join the team of advisors of the Ministry for Education that, during the decade of 1990, had to elaborate the regulatory developpement of the aspects concerning Music and Dance in the new law of education; and finally, since 2001, my position as artistic director of the National Youth Orchestra of Spain has allowed me, throughout these years, to evaluate the achievements reached and how high the level of the musical training in our country has risen. In that respect, the JONDE is an exceptional observatory for comparing, valuing and coming to conclusions which can be useful for the different educative institutions all over the country, as well as act as a bridge joining the end of the training period and the access into the professional world, much easier for those who had known how to make the most of all the possitive aspects that a youth orchestra is able to offer.
Thank you very much for your attention.

José Luis Turina
Artistic director of The National Youth Orchestra of Spain

La Coruña, november 2008