If you ever dreamt that you lived in a 1960s city, you probably channeled Brasilia. This city was planned and built in a short four years moving the capital out of Rio. Famed architect Oscar Niemeyer designed all the major government buildings including the Presidential palace. As a protégé of Le Corbusier, Niemeyer loved curves and abhorred straight lines. Consequently, these stark white, granite and marble glass-walled buildings contain hemispheres, circles, bowls, wings and curvy windows. The major art museum has an inside-outside ramp resembling the Guggenheim ─ which makes me wonder if “Frank and Oscar ever had a conversation?” Even today, the structures are remarkable. Yet Niemeyer placed his buildings on white-tiled plazas completely devoid of any plants which creates a stark impression in spite of the super-sized metal sculptures by the Brazilian Bruno Georgio.
The outline of the city is shaped like a bird with the major government structures located at the head. The center section of the city plan (bird body) is like the grassy mall in D.C. that stretches between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. There are boring, rectangular buildings for all the federal agencies on either side of the two highways that abut the grass, each highway containing six lanes of traffic. There are 3 million people and 1.5 million automobiles. The city is not designed for walking and we were encouraged to take taxis everywhere. Walking is done by service employees, some government workers, and few tourists like us.
Hotels are in one section and the middle class residences are elsewhere. People like hotel staff live outside of Brasilia. There is literally no downtown. Finding a good restaurant entails a 30 minute taxi ride to a glitzy shopping mall featuring Armani, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and other tony European brands.
One non-white Niemeyer building in tan and glass resembles an Aztec temple. This is the National Theatre and is a short walk from our hotel. The interior is spacious with marble floors, plants, and elegant sculpture. Mark is able to learn that the Brasilia Symphony is performing and the concert is free.
We arrive an hour before the scheduled starting time of 8 PM. While chatting with some people on line, a young Brazilian man started speaking English with us. Henon is a 22 year old medical student and comes every Tuesday night for these free concerts. His English was excellent and he had enormous knowledge about American politics, literature, poetry and classical music. He told us that these concerts are mostly attended by students, and that the young people of Brasilia are better informed about classical music than the previous generation ─ just the reverse trend from our country.
The lovely theater seated about 1,000 and almost full when the concert began. The program consisted of Schuman and Dvorak. All the orchestra members were in formal wear and the women wore rather sexy black outfits. The conductor then announced the program which was translated by Henon. Mark compared this professional orchestra with other small city orchestras in the US.
Brazilians pay an enormous amount of tax so a free concert is a public bonus. There’s little advertising in tourist publications so we were only two of a handful of tourists in the house. We certainly had a more memorable experience than the American movie we were considering for our final evening in Brasilia.
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