Josep Pons has gone from leading a life in which there is no respite, with constant trips to conduct orchestras around the world and with the Lohengrin by Katharina Wagner preparing at the Liceu – “putting on an opera is like entering a convent,” he says–, suddenly To brake dry. The first reaction was for the Liceu’s music director to take advantage of those many pending things that always have to be done.
Confinement has caught him on the move. A “humble” is going to live Catalan farmhouse XI century (circa) that has taken four years to put on solfa, because as work was done on it, remains were emerging medieval. “They even made us hire an archaeologist,” says the Catalan conductor, who by the way on April 21 invested Honoris Causa by the University of Barcelona.
We imagine him spending a moment of reflection. Is the master class being prepared, in case normality returns in time?
Yes, I dedicate myself to writing, which I never do. Now we have to ask ourselves not about the how but why. What is art, what does it do? For me, art does not give answers, it asks questions. And it is oneself who has to answer. Right now I have to ask myself … what is my task? And what is the way, dazzle or illuminate? What are the pitfalls? Where does honesty lie in art? I really believe in all of that. Gustav Mahler said one thing that for me is a motto: “in the score we find everything except the essential”. Some will call that soul, others elves, others inspiration or magic. I think it is ineffable, it has no definition, it cannot be explained, but we all know what we are talking about.
What reading do you make of the pandemic?
Many and diverse. I ask myself a lot of questions … how did we get here, how come we have been so far-sighted. There are many alarms, but do we hear them? It is the same with climate change. And there is this divorce between politicians and scientists: the former have the power of decision and decide on a structural and strategic level where the world must go. But from the prism of staying in power, so they did not want to hear the voice of scientists, because it meant making unpopular decisions.
We create certainties, but the only one that we have is the joy of life and that we are in a ball that goes around the space at full speed ”
Between all of us, we have created a system that must be reviewed, and must be organized based on more serious ethical codes. The paradigm of uncontrolled production is over and that what commands is productivity; our purpose cannot be the economic income statement. We create certainties (norms, dogmas) when the only thing we have is the joy of life and that we are confined on top of a wonderful ball that whirls around the space at full speed (which we share with many other species, both animal and vegetable …) and of which we have become masters and lords.
Does this global break see it as an opportunity?
It gives us time to think, let’s take advantage of it. I think this crisis will be closed, but others like climate change will blow us in the face when it is too late. Just like the humanitarian problems of refugees or shipwrecked people in the Mediterranean. And I return to the question: how are we managed? I honestly think there is a need for systemic change in the face of a systemic crisis.
Today everything is conceived under the yes or the no, everything has to fit into this duality. Only art can contain ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and ‘neither yes nor no’ ”
The current system is exhausted, we must create systems based on generous values and kindness. I really feel that way. I would be more in favor of a group of wise men and of the meritocracy. The balance between the world of the heart and that of reason by Blaise Pascal has opted for reason from the Enlightenment, necessary at the time, but now to be overcome. Because today everything is conceived under yes or the noEverything has to fit into this duality, and everything has to have a purpose and, worse, a utility. But there are other nuances. Where’s the imagination, the fantasy? We have forgotten them in the ordinary order.
And would art come in here?
Exact. Only art can return imagination to that order. For this paradigm shift we need imaginative solutions. And only art can contain the yes and the no at a time, and the neither yes nor no. In a poem there can be all that.
Entertainment avoids transcendence, which is exactly what art wants. I am not against it but we cannot put it in the same bag ”
The cultural industry is one of those punished by the stoppage of the pandemic. Could culture be reinforced as spiritual food or will people want more than ever entertainment?
I am in favor of art, not the cultural industry. It is part of show business and I live from that, yes, but perhaps it has to be rationalized in another way. It would be necessary to see how the world of the concert has grown. We have treated culture as an industry and I don’t know if the “cultural industries” are good. But the issue is where entertainment ends and art begins. Both fill a space of leisure in the organization of humanity, because in the end we have believed that in life there is a section of work and another of leisure. And it is logical to want to escape at the end of the day. But Wagner, Brahms, Baudelaire … they didn’t want to evade, they wanted to shake, to move you to a depth. What avoids entertainment is transcendence, which is exactly what art wants. I am not against entertainment but we cannot put it in the same bag. There must be a time for everything.
There is no opera house that can afford to go two months without paying a cent. ”
Will the opera continue where we left off before the coronavirus?
I want to think so, but when will this situation end? There is no opera house with a box that allows you to go two months without paying a cent. That the opera will continue, surely it will. Another thing is where. As a genre it has a lot to say, more and more. As a necessary cultural asset. Now, we will have to row for the economy, like everyone else.
The new Liceu excites me a lot, all aligned in the same direction. But the crisis will affect him, of course ”
Will the new Liceu go ahead?
The new Liceu excites me a lot. Now there is an alignment of capacities and clarity of ideas, all in the same direction. It is an exceptional moment, with a president of great quality and leadership capacity, listening and discernment, who has set course for a groundbreaking Liceu; a CEO who brings energy and enthusiasm, and an artistic team with a powerful and extraordinary voice at the forefront – who also has the virtue of not being arrogant -, to which the theatrical talent of Àlex Ollé is added. It is a Liceu rooted in its origins but with an international projection, with its own voice. That he had never experienced. But yes, the health crisis will affect him, of course, the Liceu is not a separate element.