Balance, Synergy and Interlocution: Robert Brufau’s keys to success

In the Creative and Cultural District of the city of Barcelona cohabit a sum of spaces of international stature. One of them is L’Auditori de Barcelona, which will soon celebrate the 25th anniversary of its inauguration. A year also marked by an artistic story that will put an end to three seasons that began with The Creation (2020-21), followed by Love and Hate (2021.22) and will end with the last episode Mort o Retorn, which will place the listener in the inevitable end, exploring different approaches to death. A bet devised by the director of L’Auditori, Robert Brufau and his team.

We have talked to him so that he can tell us about the whole gear of this emblematic institution of the city, as is L’Auditori, and his work and journey during these four years that he has been in charge as director.


This September begins the 3rd movement: Mort o Retorn, which closes this story articulated in three years. Will we explore death to be born again?

There have been three consecutive seasons inspired by a vital process with very universal themes such as Creation, Love and Hate and now with La Mort o Retorn.  The latter, we approach death from the perspective of Western and Christian culture, as well as other more Eastern traditions approaching the cyclical idea of existence, such as the death of gender.  Here, the derivations are endless. We will have many repertoires centered on the Western tradition of classical that brings the theme of death, such as the great requiems.

In the next cycle will be themes that will be more related to the challenges of the XXI century society, more palpable, reflecting the contemporary present.


You have always been heard to say that the OBC is the flagship of L’Auditori, one of the great challenges when you became director was to position the Barcelona and National Symphony Orchestra of Catalonia (OBC) as an instrument of reference. Does it seem that the wind is blowing in your favor?

I am very happy with the steps we are taking, it is true that this is part of a long process and that the fruits will be reaped in the coming years. It is impossible to turn a ship like this around in three years, but laying the foundations of what will be a project for the future is where we can start to build. The major changes we have been implementing are very significant in the case of the OBC.  On the one hand, having a constant dialogue with the entire management team and maintaining a good harmony with the musical direction is fundamental. It sounds obvious, but it doesn’t always happen. There has been a change in the management team, not only my part as director, but also the team that is managing the OBC, which is doing an extraordinary job and a close follow-up of all the processes that must be taken into account.

On the other hand, we had a very poorly treated instrument, very damaged over the years because of a 2008 law that did not allow the incorporation of the new lost positions that were being retired. This made it accumulate an unusual fragility in a national orchestra. All this, we are rebuilding it again and now we are already over eighty musicians and this reconstruction has to be finished in two years.

It is also worth mentioning the issue of the new musical direction, which is not minor; it is very important. We have incorporated a new conductor, Ludovic Morlot, who is an extraordinary musician, and not only because of the awards that endorse him (5 Grammys, promoter of a Pulitzer Prize, all the work he has done during his career), he has really carried out a task of great value, such as the impressive research of the repertoire of Catalan composers, as well as the musicological research, and then we must also value the whole project he wants to develop with the instruments of the Orchestra.  He is a very powerful character who is very involved, and I think it is fortunate to have incorporated him.

And with him completing this artistic team, we have Marta Gardolińska, who is our principal guest conductor, also a very interesting conductor. More junior, but also with a very powerful profile with a great experience during her career. In a way, we are in line with some gender policies that have been implemented since five years ago in a very forceful way and we hope that a change and a rebound effect will be generated in this aspect, especially in auditoriums all over Europe.  In any case, the Orchestra has taken a very big step forward, it has now normalized the presence of women conductors at the helm and also young people with great talent. We are having very good experiences, as is the case of Stephanie Childress, with the opening of the Mozart Nit d’Estiu Festival. It is not that she is young, she has just come out of her shell! She is so extraordinary that all the musicians love her.


Every year a new batch of exceptional musicians comes out of the higher schools of music, both classical and modern. What links do you have with ESMUC?

We have a great relationship. One of the good examples in the field of modern music (jazz) is the Emergentes festival dedicated to young talents, where we present every night one of the projects selected by the schools (there are also young people from the Taller de Músics and the Liceu). We also present L’ESMUC Big Band, each year in its final project of study and the ESMUC Jazz Project, where both teachers and students are involved. In addition, there are also ESMUC alumni and teachers such as Joan Vidal, Lluc Casares, Néstor Jiménez and Lluís Vidal, who lead the Barcelona Nord Orquestra, who often perform and present their projects at L’Auditori.  Like them, other more current generations like Sandra Montfort of “Marala Trio”, Valencian artist, who will present her most recent work. I think we are doing a good job in this sense, the challenge in any case is in the field of modern music and give it personality.

We have a program called Sit Back, more focused on the field of singer-songwriter and Pop that works very well, where we collaborate with all the main agents of modern music in the city, festivals like Sonar, Cruïlla, Primavera Sound or also with agents and concert halls like Razzmatazz, Afluent, with very interesting proposals that are in their universe, but that these agents have a risk component that is difficult to address;  And that from L’Auditori we can assume with a space in very specific conditions that invites you to sit and listen with unique acoustic attributes.


When it is the moment to propose and make the choice of performances to be included in the annual program, what criteria do you put on the table?  

We do not work so much with the proposals that come to us, this is an important change of approach. There are programming agents who receive many proposals and then have to make a choice. In our case we don’t work like that.  We are the ones who go looking, who talk to such and such a co-producer, to such and such an artist to commission a project. We do receive many proposals and sometimes they work with what you need, but normally we are the ones who go looking for them. It also depends on each line of activity. Think that we celebrate more than 550 concerts a year, and the symphonic part is very sumptuous.

The change of approach, when it comes to approaching these artistic stories, is very difficult and it is a challenge to provide such a diverse house with programming with a certain personality. So we decided to work with real, non-marketing artistic narratives.  They have an argument behind the programming and, therefore, either the artist adapts his project to our story or you are going to look for a project that fits in with this story.  The storyline influences us a lot, I won’t say 100%, but 80 or 90% of what we decide to do.

It also influences the personalities of the programming: obviously, we have a public character and this makes our profit and loss account very different from that of another private entity. We must have a character similar to that of other public institutions such as MNAC, MACBA, CCCB; taking risks and approaching those repertoires that no one will program in the private sphere.


And how is the younger audience responding?

Well, very well. In fact, this audience is not the problem, on the contrary. There is a European reality, which we often talk about with other international colleagues, and that is that the classical audience is an aging audience. And it is not a problem of now, manuscripts of the Palau de la Música archive from the beginning of the 20th century already said the same thing.

It has always been an audience with a more mature stage of life, but you have to work against that and not remain with a conformist attitude.  The Orchestra’s subscriber does have a profile, and in this aspect it is necessary to cultivate it downwards.

We have the advantage that young audiences have no prejudices, they are very adaptable to new and old formats.  The longer you have been listening to music, the more difficult it is to approach other formats.  Anyway, I don’t want to deceive you, we still have work to do.

One of the exercises we did here at the house was to establish the Sampler Series -of the approval of new music we have- and it consists of doing a concert in L’Auditori and another in a museum space in the city and that was strategic, (we knew that this had been done in other places in Europe) that the public close to the plastic arts is a public closer and more open to new experiences, and as it was not formed in the traditional symphonic or classical or academic field, it did not have any kind of prejudice. And it worked very well.  It is curious that the “non-academically trained or non-music lover” public is more open to new experiences.

Other actions have been to establish season tickets, perhaps it will be a formula that will tend to be reduced. You are asking for a very concrete commitment. But, think that now we are also subscribing more than ever.  You have to look at the consumption we make of digital platforms like Netflix or Spotify and others. We program a lot of music, every day you can come to see and listen to music in L’Auditori.  We have the concept “giant offer + subscription”. Therefore, we created the flat rate subscription at different ages and it is working very well. We have the Flat Rate 25 and 35, with which for only 50 or 85 euros, and those under 25 and 35 years old can access all the programming of L’Auditori for a year.  The concept of commitment to the institution is total.   And if in the future you find a balance with all ages, it can be very positive.


If we talk about the future, we cannot allude to new technologies, which are very present in our daily lives. Lately, there has been a lot of talk about augmented and virtual reality, as well as the new era of the “metaverse” and NFT. How are spaces like L’Auditori innovating in this regard? Or rather, is it the turn of looking out of the corner of your eye to see how this technology evolves in users? 

We are thinking about it and we have it in sight, especially those of us who are programming and weaving the project, but it is true that as a public institution the norm does not accompany us, there is a regulatory and legal field to develop, which will not be exclusive to L’Auditori, but administrative. We could be considering new forms of patronage, with NFT financing, for example. I am sure that in the United States they are being explored, especially because the organizations are more proprietary, but we are addressing a lot of technological issues where we can contribute our bit. Without going any further, everything we are recording with the OBC, and with commissions we have made, we are recording it with 3D, so that we can download it and listen to it on demand.  The 3D version exists with all the instruments, which is an area in which we can be technologically at the forefront. On other issues such as communication we are launching a new website, which if all goes well will be effective from October, which will integrate everything that will be L’Auditori Play. The turn basically is a very large investment in the digital field in the sense of bringing music closer to the users and with very well finished products and complementary to the pure and simple live performance. All this, integrated with a new CRM sales system. We will not be at the forefront in this sense, but this new platform is very necessary and will be very well done. With content not only about what happens inside the house, but also with informative content. Trying not to put so much emphasis on the live show and show more of what you can’t see as an audience.


Do you have any other news you would like to share with us?

Very intense things are happening; as in all large facilities, despite being a public facility with muscle, inertia and privileges, we have lived through the pandemic very hard and for everyone and for the sector it has been a very difficult challenge.  From the point of view of the management of an OBC that could not play during this period, it has been a drama.  But we are achieving very interesting things. Artistically we have talked a lot, and structurally we are also doing a lot of things. “La Llanterna” (Lanterna) exterior for example, had been off for fifteen years. It will be very spectacular when it is operational at the end of September. Then it is also worth mentioning the acoustic intervention we are carrying out in Hall 1. It has never been done since it was built.  And we hope to have it ready by the end of the year.  You will see that it will be spectacular.