Sunday, March 28, 2010

March Music Month continues with a Spanish Flare

March 25th it was back to the TSO for an evening of Joaquin's and Hector.  The program featured Joaquin Turina's "La Oracion del torero" otherwise known as "The Bullfighter's Prayer", Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez", and "Symphonie Fantastique" by Hector Berlioz.

I was prepared for Symphonie Fantastique, having even gone to the basement the night before and dug out my grade 12 music notes to re-familiarize myself with the story line.  Yes, I know you're all thinking...what? she has grade 12 music notes?!?  What can I say?  I'm a bit of a pack-rat.  I even found all the clarinet test pieces I played that year.  I need to try playing those again to see if I've gotten any better...but I digress.  I knew the Symphonie story involved the artist drugging himself with opium in an attempt to commit suicide but not quite getting there, and that the main theme represented "his beloved" and was characterized by an idee fixe.  But the beginning movements I had forgotten about, so it was nice to read my rather short synopsis of "Reveries and Passions", "A Ball", and "In the Country", the first three movements.  "The March to the Scaffold" is where my memory started kicking in, since this is where he dreams he's killed his beloved and is executed.  "Dream of the Witches' Sabbath" has the idee fixe return but morphed in a grotesque way.  I believe Berlioz used the word grotesque himself for describing it, and so that has continued ever since in any description I've read.

Before the concert Rick Phillips had a Pre-Concert Chat, where he described what I mentioned above, as well as the first 2 pieces of the evening.  He read Berlioz's own descriptions of each movement which was really neat to hear.  The first movement introduces the beloved theme about 5 minutes in.  The whole symphony is slightly autobiographical since Berlioz was infatuated with an actress (apparently to the point of stalking her) and eventually married her, although it wasn't really a happy marriage and they continued their separate lives.  Then in the second movement you hear snatches of the idee fixe as if the artist was capturing glimpses of his beloved across a room.  He's all alone in the third movement, which takes place in the country, and is quite a pretty reflection at times.

This piece uses a large orchestra, maybe that's part of why I like it so much.  The stage was full!

There were 2 sets of timpani, 8 basses, 2 huge bass drums (one played by the principal keyboardist, so it was neat to see her playing a different instrument), 4 bassoons, 2 harps, 4 horns, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, plus the other brass, woodwinds and strings.

Great symphony all around with a bit of everything.  It tells a story, contains a theme you can follow and notice how it changes, there's some very pastoral type sections reminiscent of Beethoven's 6th Symphony (it was written 3 years after his death and was quite ahead of his time), unique playing techniques with the string players using the wooden side of their bows to hit the strings, and great power.

The first two pieces were also really good.  "The Bullfighter's Prayer" was just for the strings, and the "Concierto de Aranjuez" for solo classical guitar and a small orchestra.  The soloist was Pepe Romero, making his TSO debut, part of the famous Romeros Quartet which initially was his father and 3 sons, although members have since changed, but are still all from the Romero's family.  The second movement of the Concierto was instantly recognizable, having been used in various other venues.  But that's what's so great about going to the symphony, you get to hear the whole thing, and discover that the famous section is just the tip of the ice burg to a great piece of music.

The conductor for the evening was Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos.  An older gentlemen obviously well versed in this music since he used a score only for the "Concierto".  He first guested with the TSO in 1970!  So quite a range from first time performer to veteran.

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