Saturday 21 February 2015

Where’s the Culture in Benalmádena?

Since finally succeeding in tracking down a guide to cultural events for the first three months of 2015 in Benalmádena, I had been looking forward to Bach’s Goldberg Variations being interpreted on piano via José Luis de Miguel Ubago.


One would have thought that Benalmádena being a tourist town that the tourist information office would be the place to go to obtain the aforesaid brochure. In previous years this had been my source of such information. But you would be very wrong. The second week I was here - in January, recall - I paid a visit only to be informed that there would be no more information guides until April and those - rather obviously - for the following quarter. Not to be stymied, I thought I would try the Castillo Bil-Bil, the venue for many recitals and gallery showings. There was one on the attendant’s desk; but it being their last one I did not wish to take it.  Next I visited the Casa de la Cultura (“House of Culture”) in the centre of Arroyo de la Miel (which co-incidentally perhaps, also contains the chambers of the town’s mayor). Piles of the brochures were liberally placed on the table set aside for information on tourist attractions.

[Image description: poster displaying the council's coat of arms]

I approached the desk and asked to purchase a ticket for the piano concert. I was informed that I would have to return the Monday prior to the concert, i.e. 16th February. Naturally I did so, this time to be apprised that entrances could be purchased solely two hours before the performance. Apparently the event had nothing to do with the town hall, who had merely rented out the castillo to the event’s organisers. In that case I have to ask why the event appeared in the official brochure of cultural events and why the programme and posters are emblazoned with “Ayuntamiento [Town Hall] de Benalmádena: Delegación de Cultura”. Seemingly someone at the town hall wanted the credit for the event, but none of the responsibility.

In the week after obtaining my hen’s-tooth guide, I revisited the tourist information office to let them know that there were plenty of brochures available in the commercial town centre. The officer was somewhat irked for, as she pointed out, in the space set aside for cultural events, there was not even a poster, a flier, nor a list.

Given that tourism is a very major part of the economy of Benalmádena, it is incomprehensible to me to understand the lackadaisical attitude towards apprising tourists of actually what is going on in the municipality and making it as simple and as easy as possible to attend events. This latter situation had been my experience in previous years: so why the deterioration?

Goodness knows what impression any tourists may have taken back to their respective countries and what messages they may disseminate.


José Luis de Miguel Ubago has won many prizes and studied with many fine pianists. He is now a professor of piano in Granada. I was expecting great music. I was to be sorely disappointed. I suspect the pianist misinterpreted the Goldberg Variations as the Cold Berg or Iceberg Variations. Music played competently enough, but with no passion; hardly a flicker of emotion expressed itself in the mien of José Luis. Occasionally the tiniest crack of a smile (assuming it was not wind); but for the most part the player looked as if he were sucking a giant gobstopper. He thrashed at the keyboard, apparently having no lightness of touch - and yes, I could see his playing reflected in the lid of the piano. At one point I stood up to see whether he was actually using the pedals - and he was! Perhaps the instrument itself was a tad out of tune, for the music emitted was harsh on the ears - some of the sharps far so; some of the flats likewise!

[Image description: the phlegmatic pianist]

After thirty minutes of intense patience the audience spontaneously broke out into mass fidgeting. By this time, on the row in front of me: one man had dropped off to sleep; an unconnected lady played with her smartphone; and another woman at the far end of the row decided that the contents of her handbag were far more entertaining. After fifty minutes two folk left and another two five minutes later. When José Luis decided to do one of the variations as his encore, I myself made a dash for the exit. What was so surprising were the folk who stood to applaud the chap: they really must be desperate for any culture to put up with and appreciate such perfunctory offerings. Interestingly only one person uttered “Bravo” and sotto voce it should be noted. There was no heart-felt cheering.

If the concert had been a compact-disc, I should not have purchased it.

[Image description: the piano in situ]


  1. Dear friend. Thank you for your critic. I will try to be smiling more in my next concerts and I hope to see you in one of them. I think there is not a direct relation betwen my face and my emotion. For me this is an intimate feeling. You are right piano was in a very bad condition, with a strong and metallic sound and out of tune. It was only "tuned" on the Goldberg compass, and that is the reason of repeat one variation. And yes, I play Bach with pedal ¿why not?

    Sincerely yours

    José Luis

  2. Dear José Luis

    As a writer, I attempt to be as honest as possible with my accounts; but, naturally, my own personality and biases will always permeate that which I recount. The Goldberg Variations are a personal favourite, so maybe my disappointment coloured my perspective - although others' reactions appear to support my conclusions. Nonetheless, it is probable that even Bach himself would have been unable to make his music transcend the limitations of that piano. I hope to hear you play again some day on a better instrument.

    Como escritor, trato de ser lo más honesto posible con mis cuentas; pero, naturalmente, mi propia personalidad y mis prejuicios siempre permean lo que he contado. Las Variaciones Goldberg son favoritos de mi, así que tal vez mi decepción influya mi punto de vista - a pesar de las reacciones de los demás parecen apoyar mis conclusiones. No obstante, es probable que incluso el propio Bach habría sido incapaz de hacer trascender su música a través las limitaciones de ese piano. Espero oír de nuevo su tocar algún día en un mejor instrumento.



  3. I remember People clapping after aria at begining.For me it means that people didn't know the work. Probably some people was bored, I hope not all of them. Anyway must say that I like your crític and I accept that as a lesson for me. Sincerely yours


  4. Most kind of you to be so magnanimous, José Luis. You are truly a gracious person.

    Thank you.