Banish gray January skies: Take a journey with the Strathcona Symphony Orchestra’s España!
Step out of winter’s gloom and into the Native Sons’ Hall Jan. 26 and 27 to revel in the warm sun-filled soundscapes of Spain.
Hear the castanets, cantos, and guitars. Be caught up in the colours, vitality and drama of Andalusian song and dance. Feel the flame — experience the pride and sophistication in the rhythmic pulse of classic Spanish dances presented by special guest, flamenco soloist Estelle Kurier.
Launching her fourth year as conductor of the Comox Valley’s community orchestra, Pippa Williams opens the SSO’s 2013 season with a lively and challenging program featuring a host of composers who have been profoundly influenced by classical Spanish music and dance traditions.
“I want to create a spicy atmosphere for our España audience,” she says. “I grew up hearing Emmanual Chabrier’s España Rhapsody for Orchestra (1883), and its pulsing rhythms conjured up visual images filled with vibrant colours and dramatic movement. What a way to liven up dreary winter — a thought many non-Spanish composers have shared!”
Chabrier has often been credited with being a major influence in the 19th century vogue for hispanic-flavoured music. The obvious allure of traditional Spanish folk arts — filled with emotional intensity and vitality — inspired such notable works as Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole and Debussy’s Ibéria.
The program selected by Maestra Williams reflects that tradition; indeed, there is only one Spanish composer, Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), represented in the program though all the composers in the SSO’s España found deep connections to Spanish culture.
Albéniz’s Sevilla, which premiered in Paris in 1886 as part of his Suite Española Op 97, contains hauntingly beautiful melodies that have become a significant part of the classical Spanish guitar repertoire.
Familiar rhythms of Andalusian folk music and dance are found in the SSO’s presentation of Georges Bizet’s Carmen Suite from his 1875 opera and in Italian composer Vincenzio de Chiara’s La Española (The Spanish Dancer) popularized in the 20th century by vocalist Mario Lanza.
Few people will recognize the name of French composer Charles Borel-Clerc (1870-1959), though his rousing and celebrated 1905 La Sorella: March on Spanish Themes for Symphonic Band made popular by John Philip Sousa has resonated though generations.
The SSO, under the leadership of its new concertmaster, Blaine Dunaway, will warm the event with Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueña — the sixth movement of his Suite Andalucia inspired by his 1924 tour of Spain.
Though it was originally written for piano, the SSO audience will recall its transformation into a guitar standard by Carlos Montonya and José Feliciano.
There will be more “ah-ha” moments when the SSO launches into Tchaikovsky’s Danse Espagnole that so thrilled audiences in his 1976 ballet Swan Lake that it reappeared as Le Chocolat: Danse Espagnole in the Nutcracker ballet that premiered in 1892, becoming a North American holiday tradition for over a hundred years.
Enriching the audience’s experience of these iconic compositions, dancer Estelle Kurier of Victoria’s internationally renowned Alma de España school and dance company brings the emotional intensity and expressive interpretations of el baile flamenco to the SSO’s concert.
Recalling the success of introducing professional dancers into the symphony’s past two seasons, Conductor Williams made the easy decision to include Estelle in España.
“There is a compelling visual component to this music,” she commented, “It’s easy to be instantly caught up in the energy of this music, its traditional folk origins that are as mysterious as they are rich. I’ve always been inspired by how an improvisational art form — based on interactive song, dance, percussion and music virtuosity — has inspired composers to match its highly technical and sophisticated rhythms and dynamics. Estelle Kurier’s flamenco dance will bring that element of improvisation to España.”
Having performed as a soloist with the Victoria Civic Orchestra in 2011, Kurier, who is also a PhD student in the University of Victoria’s Hispanic and Italian Department, brings her training in flamenco and classical Spanish dance to the Comox Valley.
“I hope to help transport the SSO audience to the warmth, freshness and passion of Spain,” she commented. “Flamenco dance becomes an extension of the music.
“For me, dancing with the SSO is an internalization of the melodies that I then express outwardly. Whether the improvisational dance movements are revealed strongly or softly, through flamenco, I share a piece of myself as I follow the orchestra.”
Furthering the experience of authenticity, the SSO will offer a cash bar featuring Spanish wines as well as sweets and savory tapas. ¡Ah! Divino!
Performances are in the Native Sons Hall this Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets to España are available from Blue Heron Books and Laughing Oyster Books. To reserve tickets, phone 250-331-0158.