Modernismo Rumbero Concert at Americas Society

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It was with great interest that I spied that  The Americas Society  on Park Avenue had scheduled a concert of vocal and chamber works dedicated to the young mavericks composers that headed up the early 20th century modernist movement in Latin American music in the 1920’s and 30’s.  The names on the program are composers that I knew from my own forays into songs of the early to mid 20th century composers of Latin America:  the Cuban composers Alejandro García-Caturla, Amadeo Roldán and the Mexican composer Carlos Chávez; so it was with great it was expectation that I made my way via an invitation from America’s Society Martha Cargo to attend the concert with the intriguing and inventive title of  “Modernismo Rumbero” on March 28, 2016.

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The second of a two part series, the  “Modernismo Rumbero” concert that took place on Monday March 28, 2016  highlighted the most avant garde of movements of the 20’s and 30’s known as “Afrocubanismo“, which in many ways heralds the Harlem Renaissance movement, and which interestingly enough key members of the respective movements were in close contact with each other, such as American poet Langston Hughes and Cuban poet Alejo Carpentier. Also to be noted are friendships and communications between American composer Henry Cowell with the musical factions of Afrocubanism via an association called the Pan American Association of Composers (1928-1934) also known as PAAC, founded by Edgar Varèse. A fascinating collective of music creators, this group sought to forge with new sounds and new identity a way to separate themselves from a past European musical heritage.  Although this concert of  two pioneer musical exponents of Afrocubanism includes Mexican composer Carlos Chávez (how could it not!) with his ties to NYC and to the movement Pan American Composers collective, this concert sought to offer a vision of this very exciting time that involved  identity, race politics in poetry and music creation in the Americas.

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Cuban composer Alejandro Garcia Caturla

Pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine began the first half of the program with Garcia-Caturla’s “Preludio corto” (1927)  with its ragtime scales laced with dodecaphony, followed by Roldán’s “Rítmica No. 1” (1930). The pianist delved into both of these piano miniatures with verve and imagination, exploiting the percussive nature of the pieces;  these two short piano pieces were over too soon, and I immediately wished to have the opportunity hear them again; I didn’t know at this point in the concert in the concert that my wish would be granted. The concert continued with the remarkable woodwind quintet ensemble The City of Tomorrow and  soprano Sarah Brailey, with a performance of Carlos Chávez settings of text by modernist Mexican poet Carlos Pellicer for high soprano and wind ensemble called “Tres exágonos” (1923) and “Otros tres exágonos” (1924).  The intrepid Sarah Brailey entered with spiked short blonde hair and an arm sling; with her free hand she yielded a tuning fork. The group subsequently launched into a highly difficult three movement .  I appreciated Brailey’s clear soprano and well pronounced Spanish text, which breathed of the surrealism that was contemporary to this composition. The playing was assertive and energetic.  A serious piece and not for the faint of heart, “Tres exágonos” (1924) reminded me of a possible plaintive flapper Ophelia recounting her troubles listlessly on an analyst couch. “Otros tres exágonos” was a well chosen subsequent piece to contrast, full of humor and highlighted the virtuosity of the guest violist Stephanie Griffin.  I enjoyed the somewhat theatrical music that Chávez assigned to the bassoon part in these pieces, which was full imaginative interjections for the ensemble as a whole. The Carlos Pellicer texts were certainly eye catching, surreal and dreamlike; I post her a translated excerpt:

The ship has crashed into the moon.

Our luggage was suddenly illuminated.

We all spoke verse

And referred to the most hidden facts.

But the moon sank

In spite of our romantic efforts.

The Chávez chamber vocal ensemble piece was followed by a folk like piano solo miniature by Roldán “Preludio Cubano”, and Afro flavored “Mulato” (1932) as well as Garcia Caturla’s “Comparsa” (1930).  To end the first half was the surprisingly long phrased lines of the song for voice and piano “Yambambó” (1933) by Garcia Caturla, a musical setting of the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén famous poem. The song is remarkable on many levels, the first of which that it unites the two most important exponents of the new Afro Cuban modernist aesthetic in both music and poetry.  Having sung several versions of this text, the setting of García Caturla’s was surprising to me. Brailey sailed almost too delicately thru the strongly cadenced Afro Cuban “nonsense” text. The contrast and choice was probably drawn from the composition itself, perhaps in García Caturla’s effort to create his new aesthetic to perhaps to astonish a concert going public of the time, the pairing of a classical soprano with Guillén’s text of drunken black man, with music that harmonically in its melody was close to the Afro-Cuban sound, but arching phrases wise closer to an aria from an opera.  I couldn’t help of thinking of the contemporary art scene analogous to these pieces, the interest in African art and masks of Picasso for example as well as the sheer energy I felt from these pieces of these young composers, wanting to create a new language and a new expression.  How did the public of these pieces react when hearing this music? what did the first interpreters of “Tres exáganos” make of this music, what were their choices?  90 years later the pieces still sound very daring.

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Soprano Sarah Brailey

At intermission, music director of the Americas Society concert series Sebastian Zubieta talked of the “nonesense”poem tradition in the early 20th century Latin America from which the text Yambambó is born of; he cited  Lewis Carroll,  but I couldn’t help thinking of a much closer contemporary, Gertrude Stein and her path breaking text for the opera Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thomson. I was also reminded of the US version of these experimental concerts, the well known “Friends and Enemies of New Music”.  Like many movements, these modern Latinos are coming out of a very specific zeitgeist.  Zubieta spoke how the evenings concert was also an homage to these very same concerts that these composers produced to show case their work, and how in the second half of the concert the pieces were repeated; this was the case with the concert of the evening. All the pieces were repeated in a different order, and I must say it was with different ears that I was able to hear the very same music.

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A stamp commemorating the Cuban composer Amadeo Roldan

The Americas Society is to be congratulated for the programming of these seldom heard pieces, which in the light of the new diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, it is certainly on point for us to get reacquainted as a concert going public with the musical ties and history between Cuba, the rest of Latin America and the US.

A link to a PDF of “Modernismo Rumbero” concert program can be found via this link:

http://www.as-coa.org/sites/default/files/Modernismo_Rumbero_at_Americas_Society.pdf

Concert for piano, guitar and voice for Musica de Camara of NYC

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The tireless Eva de la O, soprano, producer, arts promoter and artistic director of Musica de Camara of NYC has been a supporter of my activities for many years now.  She first programmed me in a solo recital at the Museum of the History of New York in 2006, and has followed my activities both here in town and in Spain. She miraculously appeared at my dressing room at a concert I did in San Juan, Puerto Rico and was at hand to zip me up in a somewhat tight orange satin number that I wore…

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Anna at the Festival Ibero Americano de las Artes in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Eva has helped many musicians and interpreters like myself thru the years that are either of Latin American descent and or committed to music by Spanish and Latin American composers, by presenting these artists in concerts at important NYC venues.

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Soprano and artistic director of Musica de Camara, Eva de la O

 I was thrilled when she asked me to be part of her series of “Charla Conciertos” (lecture concerts) which take place at New York’s Museo del Barrio, and be part of her season this year which celebrates the accomplishments of the composer Roberto Sierra.  I had the opportunity of interpreting his piece for mezzo and wind quintet called “Dona Rosita la Soltera” with text by Federico Garcia Lorca (see an earlier blog article I wrote regarding this piece). This time I was asked to perform his newly composed cycle “Julia”, for voice and piano on text of my favorite poet, Julia de Burgos (1915-1953)

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Poet Julia de Burgos

Together with the cycle for mezzo and piano by Sierra, a piece for solo guitar by this same composer was programmed, “Tres piezas breves” to be interpreted by my new friend  the guitarist  Oren Fader, along with two short songs by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa- Lobos and a cycle for voice and guitar by the Cuban/Spanish composer Eduardo Morales-Caso called “Homenajes”. Both “Julia” and “Homenajes” are NYC premieres.

Its not my first incursion in interpreting musical works with text by Julia de Burgos; I did a special concert project called Canciones para Julia in Madrid (Spain) in the occasion of the centennial of her birth, with my friends at Aeterna Musica and the group from the editorial La Discreta in 2015 but that’s the subject of a future blog article!

I enclose the program notes I wrote for this concert, which will take place on Friday March 4 at 8 PM at El Museo del Barrio of NYC; I will be writing a detailed article on my experience and impressions of the song cycle “Julia”, which I perform with  my good friend, the pianist/opera conductor and composer Samuel Kardos.

Concert Link for March 4 Concert Presented by Musica de Camara – Premiere of cycle Julia by Roberto Sierra

The song cycle Julia (2014) by Roberto Sierra is a commission by the Chancellor of the University of Turabo in Puerto Rico in occasion of the centennial of the birth of Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos (1914-1953), who is acknowledged as one of the great poets of Latin America. Ranging from the folk like and elegiac beginning of “Amante”, the cycle continues its journey taking its cues from Burgo’s projection of the self onto nature with “O pájaro de amor” with its euphoric triad piano figures, to the portrayal of intense self-scrutiny of different states of being using quasi recitativo passages over a syncopated walking bass (“Momentos”). Sierra’s usage of Neo-romantic color is reminiscent at times of Robert Schumann and the great German romantic lied composers; he is able to approach the subtle and at times dramatic cadence of the text, with usage of vocal melodies that transition into intense and at times frenetic heights; this in turn is coupled with an accompaniment that brings the listener to emotionally “complex” moments. The setting of the Spanish text is satisfying and organic, giving full rein for both the interpreters and audience to experience a work that is honest, thoughtful and in synch with the emotional landscape of the poet. Tonight’s performance constitutes the New York premiere of this song cycle for mezzo soprano and piano.

The guitar works and concertos by Roberto Sierra are being commissioned by solo guitar artists and orchestras both here and in Europe; his works for solo guitar are currently being lionized and recorded by the likes of Manuel Barruecos for Naxos with pieces such as his Concierto Barroco and Folías, which incorporate themes and aesthetics drawn from Latin American narrative, folk and baroque music; witty and highly colorful, Piezas Breves was premiered in 1997.

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos hardly needs introduction, as he is considered one of the giants of 20th century Latin American classical; he is represented tonight not in his avant garde, Amero-Indian or Debussy like aesthetics, but in a almost sentimental vein that harks to an imagined 19th century romanticism of his native Brazil: Canção Do Poeta Do Seculo XVIII (1948) is a melancholic melody that like many pieces by the composer, gently balances between art song and popular ballad. Nhapôpé is taken from the first collection of Modinhas e cançðes, composed in 1936 and tells of the legend of a forest goddess that comes during the night seeking a lover.

Homenajes” for mezzo and guitar (2014) by Cuban-Spanish composer Eduardo Morales-Caso is described by the composer as his “most meaningful lyrical-music, which offers historical continuity of the transcendental legacy of Spanish composition.” Each piece offers a separate homage to three of the most important composers of 20th century Spain: Joaquín Rodrigo, Frederic Mompou and Manuel de Falla.

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The works of Roberto Sierra are edited by Subito Press. Pictured here is an edition of            Julia de Burgos poetry entitled “Songs of Simple Truth, which I bought at a leftist bookstore in the Village called “Revolutions”,  translated and edited by Jack Agueros

España alla Rossini en el Real Círculo de Labradores de Sevilla, Critica del Diario de Sevilla

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España alla Rossini en el Real Círculo de Labradores de Sevilla, Critica del Diario de Sevilla

ESPAÑA ALLA ROSSINI

Programa: Canciones de Gioacchino Rossini de inspiración española. Mezzosoprano: Anna Tonna. Tenor: Alain Damas. Piano: Emilio González Sanz. Lugar: Real Círculo de Labradotres y Propietarios de Sevilla. Fecha: Viernes, 15 de enero. Aforo: Lleno.

Antes de su visita a Madrid en 1831, Rossini ya había tenido ocasión de entrar en contacto con España y su música, una música por la que siempre manifestó un interés especial y que cultivó hasta sus útimos días parisinos. En 1815 conoce en Nápoles a la cantante madrileña Isabel Colbrán, que acabaría siendo su primera esposa y por mediación de la cual se produjo el feliz encuentro con el sevillano Manuel García. Ya en París, el reencuentro con García le abrió la posibilidad de conocer a muchos músicos españoles exiliados, además de al banquero también sevillano Alejandro Aguado, su gran protector hasta su muerte.

En tal entorno, Rossini se entusiasmó con los ritmos y aires españoles, como el bolero y la tirana y muestra de ello es el inteligente y novedoso programa que ayer se ofreció en el Labradores (en su brillante nueva andadura musical) con casi toda la obra españolista de Rossini.

 Anna Tonna es una mezzo de poderosos medios, con una voz de considerable volumen y timbre de gran belleza, ancha, profunda y sedosa, con bien resuelto pasaje y agudos penetrantes. Desde el punto de vista expresivo cabe subrayar en ella su elegante legato y su fraseo lleno de intención y de emotividad, tanto en las piezas más lánguidas (A Granada, La viuda) como en las más rítmicas, llenas de gracia y de garbo. Con todo, me quedo con su Fac ut portem, una maravillosa muestra de delicadeza en el fraseo y de control de la voz. Damas cumplió con brillantez sus dos participaciones y González acompañó con mimo y con riqueza de sonido, delicadísimo en Una caresse muy íntima.

 

Andrés Moreno Menjibar

Diario de Sevilla

16 de enero 2016

Review of Espana alla Rossini in Scherzo magazine

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Review of Espana alla Rossini in Scherzo magazine

“It is well known the relationship that Rossini had with Spain, as he was married at one point to the soprano Isabel Colbran, had an intimate friendship with the Garcia family, spoke Castilian, composed for a Spanish public using characteristic themes of the (Iberian) peninsula for several of his (compositions) pages.  Here are we have 16 brief numbers, which are easily understood as being as salon music, although said with all due respect as it belongs to the great Giaochino of Pesaro. They are works for the occasion, and we all know how much advantage he could take of said occasions.  Its enough to give a look at his Sins of old Age, as he himself called them.  The fountains (from which the material) can be easily discerned to the ear, and its exquisite treatment is evidenced.  Rossini was inevitably gracious, melodious and amorous to the voice, and ingenious with the piano. It includes the dances tirana and bolero, religious inspiration, the breaking of love and the furtive (love) scene.  It is always Rossinian, with that all is said.  The interpreters have given care (to the pieces), know what this style asks for, and the sound of the pianoforte gives the atmosphere the color of salon and the peculiar flavor that helps to transport ourselves towards the airs of this infrequently heard music.  For its document and profesionality of the labor, it deserves many lauds”.

Blas Matamoro, Scherzo magazine, January 2016

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“Rossini’s inherent Spanishness” disc review of España alla Rossini by Fernando Fraga

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“Rossini’s inherent Spanishness” disc review of España alla Rossini by Fernando Fraga

“One can say that Gioachino Rossini enjoyed a special relationship with our country, if one keeps in mind that the two basic ties that can bind one to this relationship are:  the bed and the pocket. Isabel Colbrán, his first wife was from Madrid; his banker, (Alejandro) Aguado was Sevillian by birth although he later became a French national.  There are other less prosaic details that allows us to  unite the Swan of Pessaro to our country.  Thanks to a Spanish prelate from Madrid Manuel Fernández Varela, we owe the sublime composition of his Stabat Mater.

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Rossini Stabat Mater and Spain: Frontspiece of an early edition of the Stabat Mater; Convento of San Felipe del Real in Madrid. Archdeacon Manuel Varela and mezzo Emma Albertazzi, interpreter of the first complete performed version of the Stabat Mater in Paris.

His most popular works, those which never lost its contact with the public such as the Barber of Seville as everyone knows, and the setting of his astonishing Matilde di Shabran, take place in a Spanish locale.  The first Almaviva of Barbiere was the Sevillian born Manuel García, father of Malibran and Viardot, interpreters of the first order (especially the former) of several of Rossini’s titles. Soprano Lorenza Correa, who was from Malaga and was the first Zenobia in Aureliano in Palmira in 1813 at La Scala in Milan, as well as essaying the role of Rosina in the first Madrid production of the Barber of Seville, which took place in the Spanish capital.

During his childhood tournées to the royal courts of Europe, Mozart never crossed the Pyrenees. Neither Bellini or Donizetti stepped on Spanish soil, although the second one could have planned it for himself, if we keep in mind that 10 of his opera works take place throughout the geography of the land (one in a former Spanish colony: Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

Three decades before Verdi’s visit, Rossini arrived in Madrid on February of 1831, were he was received with delirium by its residents, and was festooned regally by Ferdinand VII and his Neapolitan wife Maria Cristina. Even the King’s brother, the infante Don Francisco, was capable of singing for him Azur’s aria from Semiramide (his favorite piece) as an unexpected and surprising homage.  We have no record of the reaction of the composer.

Within the collection of songs composed by Rossini figure many with rhythm, themes, texts or dedications to persons that have to do with Spain. On that basis, the happy idea of dedicating a disc to these theme came into being, which logically carries the title of España alla Rossini, the authors of which are the North American mezzo soprano, who has ties to Spain for artistic reasons (perhaps her most salient one) Anna Tonna and the pianist Emilio González Sanz.

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Mezzo soprano Anna Tonna and pianist Emilio Gonzalez Sanz

It is a juicy program. It begins with a song the text of Émilien Pacini, the son of Rossini’s French music editor, A Granada, translated later on into Spanish by non other than Ventura de la Vega, the poet and playwright of the book for the zarzuela Jugar por fuego by Barbieri.  Rossini dedicated this song to Isabel II of Spain.  The disc concludes with “O giorno sereno” sung by four voices and piano, giving the opportunity for the duo of voice and piano to incorporate Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina and Aurelio Viribay to the disc with a world premiere recording of this piece.  It is a perfect ending to this new sound register, as Rossini composed it in honor of the birth of one of the sons of his banker Aguado; the child is simply baptized with the names Artur0, Olimpo, Jorge.

The rest of the program belong to diverse compositional eras of the son of Pesaro; some are well known such as “La promessa” with verses by Metastasio, or “L’invito” with verses by Count of Pepoli, the librettist of Bellini’s I puritani; others less frequently heard such as “La vuida del náufrago”, as well as the song with text attributed to the Baron of Santo Magno, “Amori Scendete”, a composition realized during his Spanish voyage in 1831, taking up a composition that he had started ten years before in Naples, and which autograph belongs to the House of the Dukes of Alba.

It is remembered in the disc, as a sort of thanks and nod the role that the archdeacon Varela played in the creation of that Stabat Mater, of which one should never cease to sing praises to, the inclusion of the mezzo soprano’s Fac ut portem; it does not sound bad at all in proximity with the  Zorzico, the Spanish tirana and boleros with text by Metastasio in a quartet grouping that begins with Mi lagnerò tacendo; the character of Loadice sings this same melody in act II of Siroe Rey di Persia; these are verses that Rossini idolized, if we are to judge upon the fact that he musicalized them in numerous occasions and different opportunities;  rumor had it that the list extended to the hundreds, another exaggeration among the many anecdotes told about about the popular but enigmatic author.

Two items from the disc that should be especially noted:   the tirana for two voices Les amants de Séville from the third volume of Sins From My Old Age, due to the limpid female voice summing up to the seductive timbre and delicious sound of the Madrilian tenor Miguel Borrallo.

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The other item is the vibrant Spanish song (Canzonetta spagnuola); the possibility exists that the text was excerpted by Colbran herself, perhaps in a moment of drunken inspiration, “En medio a mis colores”.  A delicious melody that originates in Ermione and later in a melody that Rossini was able to incorporate (in his opera) Semiramide when the queen of Babylonia makes her majestic entrance on the stage; the adaptation of this same melody is unique to his gifts, and could only be associated with a genius such as his.  This song was unveiled to us by the great Marilyn Horne, and later taken up with special charm by Cecilia Bartoli. The present execution,  includes with assured taste the rich accompaniment of castanets played by  Cristina Gómez Tornamira the castanet artist and the pianist effect a crescendo of great originality and hair raising abandon.  And it is here that we find the central point of what characterizes this musical duo: Anna Tonna with her clear mezzo soprano of uniform registers, musical and committed, of fresh and youthful timbre and of immediate simpatico to the listener; Emilio González Sanz, a pianist full of rhythm (in this case an item of the utmost importance) with rich and piercing sonority, that comes together and accompanies as an infallible compliment to the stylistic play of his partner.  One can hear that both know how to give each other’s part its sense, and we can perceive the love and enjoyment of interpreting this music, just as surely as the author had when he composed it.

For the next 150th anniversary of the death of Rossini (in 2018), this disc could be considered, due to its excellent thesis and its supreme achievement and cared for presentation, as a good starting point for the expected and not to be done without celebrations.

Fernando Fraga is a noted Rossini scholar and author of Rossini (1998) Verdi (2000) as well as a frequent collaborator and critic for Radio Nacional de Espana and the Spanish classical music magazine Scherzo.

The review as it appeared in the Spanish online classical music magaine El Arte de la Fuga can read following the link below:

“La españolidad de Rossini” (published on October 6 of 2015) by Fernando Fraga

“Rossini inspires himself in Spain” a disc review of España alla Rossini in Spanish newspaper ABC

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“Rossini inspires himself in Spain” a disc review of España alla Rossini in Spanish newspaper ABC

“The relationship that existed between Rossini and our country is generally well known.  As José Luis Téllez very well brings to our attention in his introductory lines, his first wife was a Spaniard, the great singer Isabella Colbran.  Much further than limiting himself to the Barber of Seville, Spanish themes keep appearing in his songs, without forgetting his Stabat Mater, which was premiered in Madrid.  It was an excellent idea to assemble all the songs related to Spain. The result is an attractive journey thru this repertoire that was being interpreted in the Parisian salons of the 1880’s.  A “minor” musical genre, although this does not take away its charm, is served in an adequate and solvent manner.

Á. Marías

ABC, December 5, 2015

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España alla Rossini Disc Review in Melómano Digital

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España alla Rossini Disc Review in Melómano Digital

“One can be thankful when discographic labels put forth original projects in order to bring to light lesser known repertoire; this is what iTinerant Records accomplishes with a set of songs for voice and piano by the great Rossini, whose commonly known  relationship and source of inspiration is music of Spanish roots; this brings into light the special relation this Italian musician had with our country, and how it is reflected in his music.  Not only was Rossini married with the famous Madrilian soprano Isabel Colbrán, he also had numerous person and professional friendships with Spaniards of different stations of society.

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The selection of songs from diverse compositional periods is interesting, and even though the majority of the texts are not in castilian, the Spanish influence in all of them is clear, including the characteristic rythms like the “seguidilla”, the “Jota” or the “tirana”.  As to the performers, the North American mezzo soprano Anna Tonna posseses a beautiful voice with a stupendous timbre, with musicality and coloratura more than adequate for this rossinian repertoire of salon.  Her special relationship to our country leaves an imprint of her capacity to give this music the necessary Spanish quality it needs. She is perhaps somewhat at her limits in the higher registers, but she is able to bring a great level to the pages of the score that are most genuinely “Rossinian”, as in the songs “Amori scendete” or “La passeggiatta”, as well as the more folkloric in character, such as the well known “canzonetta spagnuola” which has a crescendo that is executed with special inspiration.

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 Emilio González Sanz accompanies with a great sense of rhythm in a historic piano from the piano makers  John Broadwood & Sons, an instrument very much appreciated by Rossini, and which brings us closer to the original sonority of this music.  The interventions of the tenor Miguel Borrallo and the Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina are also correct and appropriate”.

 

David C. Porto

Melónamo Digital

 

 

 

“España alla Rossini” Disc Presentation in Madrid

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“España alla Rossini” Disc Presentation in Madrid

La Quinta de Mahler in the center of Madrid (Spain) is a rare place; a hybrid of a CD shop, books shop, living room and meeting place for passionate lovers of classical music.  “La Quinta” as it is affectionately called, is the place to come to get acquainted with the newest sound recordings of both major and independent label projects taking place in Spain and Europe.  During the day its a quiet place to browse at your leisure and engage in interesting conversations with fans of classical music,  and talk about the latest opera production at the Teatro Real Opera House, which is a scant two blocks away.  In the evening there are lectures and short term classes led by Spanish musicologists and classical music commentators from Radio Nacional de España and the major newspapers and magazines of Spain.  We certainly don’t have a place like it here in New York City, as we have lost most of our classical record stores (save Academy Records in Chelsea) and sheet music shops.

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Disc display at La Quinta de Mahler in Madrid on September 30, 2015

Among the many activities “La Quinta” hosts are CD presentations, of which España alla Rossini participated in on September 30, 2015. In addition to Emilio González Sanz and myself,  we had the great fortune of having our friend José Luis Téllez relate to our audience that evening the story of Rossini and Spain.  Mr. Téllez is a musicologist and commentator, and is on staff at the Teatro Real; in an engaging manner, he told the audience about the anecdotes and facts of Rossini and Spain and how the repertoire of the sound disc is related to our story.

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Musicologist Jose Luis Tellez, mezzo soprano Anna Tonna and pianist Emilio Gonzalez Sanz at La Quinta de Mahler in Madrid

In the audience we had family and friends that had traveled from ouside of Madrid and as far away as New York City. That evening we had many of our supporters and advisers: from our disc label iTinerant Records, to Fundación Don de Juan de Borbón, Fundación Fernando de Castro; many of the persons that contributed to the crowd funding that made the disc possible; among our many friends was the composer Miguel Bustamante who wrote this chronicle (in Spanish) of the event:

España alla Rossini reventó La Quinta

From the disc we first played “A Granada” relating the story of how this song by Rossini is in castillian, with text by playwright Ventura de la Vega, followed by the song “Nizza” so the audience could hear the accompaniment with castanets of Cristina Gómez Tornamira in the disc.  As for the live performance, we began with the song “Beltà Crudele” which was dedicated to the Duchess of Alba and Berwick.

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Collage with painting of Isabel II of Spain, author Ventura de la Vega, mezzo Anna Tonna and pianist Emilio Gonzalez Sanz

We then followed with “Canzonetta spagnuola”.  Our surprise encore was the vocal duet “Les amants de Seville”, with tenor Miguel Borrallo appearing from the back and joining Emilio and myself in our final trio.

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Performing the duet “Les amants de Seville” by Rossini at                             La Quinta de Mahler in Madrid (Spain)

Our friends and colleagues from Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina were on hand to speak briefly of their collaboration in the disc with the vocal chamber ensemble “Un giorno sereno” written by Rossini in honor of the baptism of the son of his protector Alejandro Aguado, Marques de las Marismas.

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Collage with Alejandro Aguado, Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina, G. Rossini and an excerpt of the score “O Giorno Sereno”

Gastronomy was not an afterthought in the presentation, given the importance of this topic with all that pertains to the composer Rossini…our friend the food commentator and writer Miguel Almódovar helped us with the menu, and with the help of former chef of the Plaza Hotel and present of the restaurant Sal de Hielo  Juan Miguel López Castañier , our guests could linger over the event at “La Quinta” over tapas and wine, before transferring to the restaurant across the street to say our final goodbyes:

Food article by food writer Miguel Almodovar at Espana alla Rossini

Disc Presentation

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All photos in this article are by Joaquin Guijarro

 

The entire happenings of the evening can be viewed via this link on youtube:

Video presentation of the CD Espana alla Rossini 9/30/2015

“A Granados Celebration”: Uniting artists from Spain and New York City for the Granados Centennial

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“A Granados Celebration”: Uniting artists from Spain and New York City for the Granados Centennial

In 2010 I had the pleasure of meeting thru a mutual friend the American pianist and Naxos recording artist Douglas Riva. Like myself, Douglas had cultivated a career based on the musical culture of late 19th and early 20th century Spain, and specifically so, regarding the Catalan composer Enrique (Enric) Granados (1868-1916).  I met him on the heels of the Isaac Albéniz centennial year, for which I had participated in two events: in NYC a small series of concerts entitled Albéniz the Ultimate Romantic with pianist Alexander Wu and guitarist Francisco Roldan; I had also been invited to participate in Albéniz’s The Magic Opal by my friend the pianist and musicologist Borja Mariño, I helped to  obtain a document about the libretto of this opera at New York University,  was on hand to prepare the chorus and soloist with English diction, as well as sing the small role of Olympia in the revival of this opera at the Auditorio Nacional de España in Madrid. At the time I had hopes of doing an Albéniz concert at the Hispanic Society of America, but the fates were not with me.  Knowing of the special relationship that the composer enjoyed with the founder of Hispanic Society of America, Archer Huntington, Douglas and I had our hopes to produce events for the Enrique Granados centennial year in 2016.

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Composer Enrique (Enric) Granados

In 2012 we initiated the conversation with Hispanic Society and it was met with approval.  Shortly after, the Official International Committee Commemorating the Centenary of Enrique Granados in 2016 and the 150th Anniversary of his birth in 2017 was formed with a group of scholars, professors, heads of foundations and musicians both in Spain and the United States.  The committee is in part hosted and assisted by the Foundation for Iberian Music at the City University of New York Graduate Center.  Part of the committee’s goal is to have an updated calendar of events taking place throughout the world in 2016-2017 of the music of Enrique Granados, symposiums, commemorations and publications.

Two years of planning then took place to organize the events at Hispanic Society; we agreed on a series of three concerts entitled From Barcelona with Passion, with one dedicated to song repertoire and dance, one to the historical recreation of chamber music concert that took place in 1916 with Granados himself and cellist Pau Casals at the Ritz Hotel in NYC, and a final concert showcasing the solo piano music of the composer with Douglas Riva.  The New York based Sylvan Winds also forms part of the Granados music season at Hispanic Society,  with a concert that includes a transcription of a piece by Granados, accompanied by other music related to the time period.  A symposium event and concert has also been planned for March 10 of 2016 in collaboration with the Foundation of Iberian Music, at the CUNY Graduate Center in NYC.

I was in charge of putting together the dance and vocal concert that just transpired this past December 10 of 2015. The first order of business was finding a pianist that could help me program and advise on repertoire, as well as being able to edit (he is also a composer)  “Danza de los ojos verdes” a piece for classical Spanish dance dedicated by Granados to  Antonia Mercé, La Argentina in 1916. The music transcript in Granados’ hand writing is almost unreadable…I needed a virtuoso pianist accompanist, experienced  and sensitive to singers; in him I had all those things.  Borja, like many pianist accompanists in Spain, had been listening and playing the Tonadillas and the lesser known Canciones Amatorias practically all his life.

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Pianist Borja Marino

Our title “From Barcelona with Passion” in my mind necessitated for us to have at least one interpreter from Granados’ native Catalonia.  We invited the lyric soprano Anna Belén Gómez to be part of the concert.  We agreed to divide both cycles between the two female singers.  It was agreed that we would perform 12 tonadillas al estilo antiguo, not excerpted as it is mostly done, but with all its elements, which for the most part is unknown to the general concert going public. The full cycle includes a song with a long recitation that relates a picaresque fable of Goya and an amorous escapade (“La maja de Goya”), a song for baritone called “El majo olvidado”, a duet for mezzo and soprano called “Las currutacas modestas” and the inclusion of an English Horn (for which we invited Dianne Lesser) to play the instrumental obbligato part that Granados composed in “Maja Dolorosa I”.  The program included the entire cycle of the often neglected Canciones Amatorias (difficult for both pianist and singer!) and two of the Songs for male voice by Enrique Granados, recently edited by Douglas with Editorial Boileau in Barcelona (La boira and Noche y dia Diego ronda).  I was able to enlist the help and participation of Argentinian baritone Gustavo Ahualli, fresh from bowing at the Teatro Colon of Buenos Aires, to learn these two elaborate and  difficult songs (La boira is in Catalan), which ranged somewhere between the aesthetics of Mahler, Brahms and Wagner.

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Artists of “From Barcelona with Passion: Dance and Vocal Music of Enrique Granados” in the Library of the Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library in NYC, in a pre-concert photograph on the night of the concert.

One of my favorite figures in this time period is the great Spanish dancer Antonia Mercé, La Argentina (1890-1936).  La Argentina played an important role in our story:  Archer Huntington helped make possible for the Metropolitan Opera of New York to premiere the opera “Goyescas”. The ballet of this opera, the “Intermezzo”, was intended to be interpreted by La Argentina, but there were contractual problems.  Granados as a consolation for the dancer who was already in NYC, wrote “Danza de los ojos verdes”, which was premiered with the composer in the audience in NYC in 1916.  The concert of dance and vocal works included a new reinterpretation of this piece with choreography by Gala Vivancos and interpreted by New York based Spanish dance artist Anna de la Paz.  Anna commissioned a copy of the same dress worn by La Argentina on that occasion in 1916, which was designed by the painter Ignacio Zuloaga. Both the new choreography and dress were essayed on the vocal and dance concert of December 10th at Hispanic Society.

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Antonia Merce, “La Argentina”

One of the reasons this period in Spanish culture is interesting to me is because it is generally called “The Silver Age” of Spanish culture, and a big characteristic of the period is the collaboration and friendships of artists of all genres coming together to create new and at the time Avant garde modern pieces of art.  Granados wrote dance pieces for the dancer Tortola Valencia among others; his contributions to the genre of dance is not generally known. Many painters and visual artists of the period participated in theatrical projects that included the designing of costumes and sets, as Picasso did with Les ballets russe and Sombrero de tres picos by Falla (the backdrop of this ballet currently hangs at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan).  “Danza de los ojos verdes” was also a creation of friends, with composer, interpreter and painter/costume design…

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Collage with an Ignacio Zuloaga painting, and a photograph of Anna de la Paz and Borja Marino interpreting “Danza de los ojos verdes” at Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library in New York City

If any readers of Spanish Song Slinger are performers or musicologists, and have events that can be listed in the Granados Centennial Year of 2016-2017 calendar, please send a press release with the event to the Iberian Music Center, with email heading Granados Centennial Calendar Announcement, to:

iberianmusic@gc.cuny.edu

 

For more information on the Enrique Granados Centennial, please see: http://www.granados100.com/