Monday, April 03, 2017

Auditorium, Palacio And Continuity From The Sixties

When Palma's new Palacio de Congresos stages its first events, will there be, among those attending, members of secret police forces? The question is asked (and the answer is almost certainly no) because of what once happened in the auditorium in Palma, a forerunner of the city's events' centres. The Kirov Ballet from Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad) performed at the auditorium. Politically, Spain and the USSR were oceans apart, but in an auditorium overlooking the Mediterranean were secret police: Franco's and the KGB. They were watching each other, and the KBG was particularly attentive when it came to the dancers. None of them would be able to defect.

The story serves as a reminder of how things were. The 1960s were an extraordinary time in Mallorca. The island boomed from comparative backwardness to great wealth. This all played out against the political background, which now seems so far removed. But the Franco regime, while authoritarian, didn't hold back the march of entrepreneurialism. The Palacio's opening is in a sense symbolic of that. Gabriel Escarrer Juliá had started in 1956. By the end of the 1960s, Hoteles Mallorquines, as it was then, was already a power in the land.

The Palacio represents something of a continuity from the sixties. The decade closed with the opening of the auditorium. For Palma and Mallorca the auditorium marked a moment of cultural arrival, a confirmation of the developments enabled by tourism. The auditorium was also a tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit. Its existence owed everything to one man - Marc Ferragut Fluxà.

From Inca, and I'm presuming he was from the same family which produced Camper and ultimately Iberostar, he didn't follow the shoemaking family tradition. A Republican, he survived the war. He moved to Palma in 1943 and just went about his business. Attracted by the city's then cultural life, he was drawn to the Teatre Principal and to concerts by the Mallorca Symphony Orchestra. From this came an idea for a grand auditorium.

A decisive element in this was a trip he made to London. He went to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. What impressed him in particular were the acoustics and the view of the stage. These were unlike traditional theatres, such as the Teatre Principal. His son, Rafel, was to become involved. He went to London to study and to also visit the Royal Festival Hall: acoustics became a speciality.

Ferragut teamed up with an architect from Madrid - Luís Martínez-Feduchi Ruiz. The town hall supported the idea for an auditorium enthusiastically but not financially. It enabled the finding of the site, but the funding was to prove to be a long process. When it was finally in place, the building which arose on the Paseo Marítimo was essentially a Royal Festival Hall on a smaller scale.

The opening in September 1969 was a culmination of all that had occurred during the sixties. The cream of Mallorcan society, now even more wealthy, gathered to hear the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

The auditorium, and it is the same with the Palacio, was looked upon as a facility to assist with the diversification of Mallorca's tourism. This was diversification in terms both of product (culture) and season. For all talk of there having once been a thriving winter season in Mallorca, the truth is rather different. And from the sixties onwards there was an obsession with attempting to broaden the season and not be reliant on the summer months.

The narrative over the nearly fifty years since the auditorium opened hasn't really altered. The Palacio is the latest part of this narrative, one which might prove to be very much more decisive than the auditorium was to be. But such is the narrative, and so the attempts to promote the low winter season, that at the start of the 1960s a competition was run.

In 1960, the newspaper Baleares set its readers a task. Find a slogan to promote the low season. This slogan had to be in both Castellano and English. The best won a prize of 5,000 pesetas. It said: "Mallorca has everything, except winter." Others were "Relax this winter in sunny Mallorca" and "Mallorca is even better in winter".

How little has changed.

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