This past Saturday, on a cold evening in Philadelphia, the world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra transported concertgoers at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall to the far away sunny lands of Spain.
Celebrating the music of composers Joaquin Rodrigo, Emmanuel Chabrier, Manuel de Falla and Maurice Ravel, the orchestra performed a suite of music in tribute of “Viva Espana.”
Guest conductor, Cristian Macelaru, the enthusiastic 39- year-old Romanian-born conductor, led the orchestra throughout the entire performance. Macelaru is the chief conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchester in Cologne, Germany, for the 2019-20 seasons.
The orchestra opened the performance with French composer Emmanuel Chabrier’s rousing composition, “Espana,” which he composed in 1883 for a full orchestra shortly after he and his wife traveled to Spain. In the song, you can hear the joy that this trip brought to him, which musically paints an exotic portrait of experiencing the enchanting land of Spain. The piece builds to a wonderful crescendo and was a perfect opening arrangement for the evening.
In the next part of the evening, the orchestra performed Joaquin Rodrigo’s composition, “Concierto Andaluz.” Rodrigo, best known for his passionate composition “Concierto de Aranjuez” (composed in 1939), was born in Valencia, Spain, in 1901. He lost his eyesight at the age of 3 from the infectious disease diphtheria, but this did not stop him from pursuing his passion.
For this evening’s performance, the Philadelphia Orchestra chose to perform “Concierto Andaluz,” which Rodrigo composed later on in 1967. This rich composition features three movements and, during this concert, featured the Grammy Award-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet alongside the orchestra. This classically trained quartet, formed in 1980, takes pride in being able to cover a wide range of music, from Bach to Bluegrass and many genres in between. Though, on Saturday evening, the quartet took center stage for “Concierto Andaluz” and had the audience on its feet by the end of its performance.
Closing my eyes, the music for me created the pictures of southern Spain in my head of the flamenco dancers with guitars and southern Spain’s Arabic influence.
After a short intermission, the orchestra continued with Manuel de Falla’s composition, “El Amor Brujo” (translated to “Love, the Magician”), which was originally composed for the ballet in 1915. The piece is based on a gypsy story of a married woman in a small village in southern Spain who is in love with another man. In the story, her husband is killed, and the woman becomes haunted by his ghost each night. This mesmerizing piece has dramatic twists and turns and, for me, was haunting, scary and tender.
The final piece featured in the performance was a selection of French composer Maurice Ravel, “Rapsodie Espagnole,” which was composed in the 1907-08 timeframe. In this piece, Ravel pays tribute to his Spanish heritage on his mother’s side. This performance of “Rapsodie Espagnole” brought to my mind the images of dreamy lovers in the moonlight in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, with the smell of jasmine flowers in full bloom. As the piece builds, the lovers break in to a climatic dance, and to match that essence, the orchestra built to a dramatic finale. What a beautiful way to end a terrific evening; all that could be said of the performance was, “Bravo, ole and viva Espana.“
Hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra perform “Viva Espana” live on Saturday evening was pure joy and brought tears to my eyes, and the audience was in awe. Music like this heightens the joy of being alive. It is my personal belief that we could achieve greater peace if we all took the opportunity to explore music like this much more deeply and allow it to take us to new levels.