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Program Notes for Fall 2021 Concert

By Michael Gelfand, Guest Conductor

The Colorful Music of Spain!
Sunday, October 24, 2021, 3 p.m.
First Presbyterian Church, 256 Mahoning Avenue, NW, Warren 44483

Gerónimo Giménez (1854-1923)
​Intermezzo ​from La Boda de Luis Alonso​​

​    Gerónimo Giménez became one of Spain’s most prolific zarzuela composers, composing well over 100 of them between 1878 and 1920. The zarzuela was a light, comical, and uniquely Spanish form of musical theater, incorporating spoken dialogue, musical numbers, and dancing. One of the most successful of his works was the one-act zarzuela from 1897 titled La boda de Luis Alonso (The Wedding of Luis Alonso), a collaboration with playwright Javier de Burgos. The story centers around the title character, an aging dance master who is engaged to a much younger beautiful woman, and features a whole series of ridiculous comic twists — including a climactic scene where a stray donkey is mistaken for a fierce bull which has escaped from the bullfighting ring! Luis Alonso throws himself out a window to get away from the bull and is injured, but calm is restored and the couple continues to celebrate their wedding. Set in a romanticized Andalucia in southern Spain, La boda de Luis Alonso has hints of flamenco style in several of its musical numbers, including the Intermezzo heard here. The Intermezzo, originally written to accompany a dance sequence at Luis Alonso's wedding feast, begins with a bullfight fanfare, followed by a series of brilliant flamenco-style tunes that include prominent solos for the castanets. Giménez died in poverty, yet his zarzuelas became very famous and beloved after his death.

Joaquín Rodrigo (1902-1999)
Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra
Guest soloist: Grammy Award recipient Jason Vieaux, Guitar

    This popular concerto was composed for the virtuoso guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza, who was the soloist for the world premiere in Barcelona in 1940. Rodrigo used the name Aranjuez which was the name of the spectacular summer palace of the Spanish Kings, and was quoted as having said of his concerto that "it is meant to sound like the hidden breeze that stirs in the tree tops in the parks; it should be only as strong as a butterfly, and as delicate as a veronica," a particularly stylish pass in bull fighting, requiring the utmost elegance and precision of execution. The concerto is in three movements, the first lively and spirited; the second heartfelt, ornate and emotional; the third charming and peppy with rhythmical twists mixing three-quarter and two quarter time. Cadenzas highlight the wonderful talent of tonight's virtuoso guitarist, Jason Vieaux.

Enrique Granados (1867-1916)​
Intermezzo from Goyescas

    Granados was born in Catalonia, the Mediterranean coastal region around Barcelona. He remained proud of his Catalan heritage and reflected that heritage in his music, but he also freely adapted musical influences from across Spain. Equally well known in his time as a piano virtuoso, Granados was among the first Spanish composers to have a worldwide reputation. Among his greatest works is Goyescas, a 1911 suite for solo piano that pays tribute to Spain's great romantic painter Francisco Goya (1746-1828). Granados was himself a talented painter and idolized Goya.

    In 1915 Granados finished work on his sixth opera, also titled Goyescas, which was a series of vignettes based upon six paintings by Goya, and adapted melodies from the popular piano suite. Unable to produce the opera in Europe during World War I, Granados accepted an invitation to premiere Goyescas at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 28, 1916 — the first Spanish-language opera ever performed at the Met. The opera was quite successful, and Granados was later honored by an invitation from President Woodrow Wilson to perform a piano recital at the White House.

​    This successful trip to America had a tragic end. As Granados and his wife were crossing the English Channel on the last leg of their return trip to Europe, their ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and both of them perished. Though the opera Goyescas is almost never performed today, its lyrical Intermezzo — originally a piece intended to cover a scene change — has long since taken on a life of its own as a piece of concert music. Beginning with a brash statement from the strings, it is based upon a languid Spanish-style melody laid out by the cellos. There is a bolder contrasting section for the full orchestra, before the original melody returns briefly, and the piece ends with a melancholy pastoral episode for the woodwinds.

​Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Capriccio Espagnol, op. 34

    There is an old saying in music that the best Spanish music was written by French and Russian composers! Examples include the great opera, Carmen, by Georges Bizet, Maurice Ravel's Rapsodie espagole, Emanuel Chabrier's España, and of course, Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov.

     Even though Rimsky-Korsakov never traveled to Spain, he became enchanted with the color, vibrancy and variety of Spanish folk music. It is from this material that he derived the music for his Capriccio Espagnol, (1887). Rimsky-Korsakov loved orchestra color, and, using it with the virtuosity of a great painter, crafted a masterpiece in five movements, each of different character and all based on Spanish song types. He presents us with fascinating and exciting solos and cadenzas for many of the orchestral instruments in an alborada (morning song), gypsy dances and the fandango in which appear castanets. Towards the end of the piece, Rimsky-Korsakov builds to a furious coda and brings the work to a breathless conclusion!

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