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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Cheeky Chapí et al

Monday, 6 January was a bank holiday in Spain – the celebration of the Three Kings. This, traditionally, is bigger than Christmas. That evening, Jen and I with our two visiting long-standing friends Margaret and Neil attended the New Year’s Concert at Torrevieja. Certainly, it wasn’t Vienna, but it was still great music and all tickets were sold out. It was a traditional new year concert with an enjoyable Spanish twist.

The orchestra of Torrevieja was conducted by José Francisco Sánchez, a diminutive man who exuded plenty of bravura and was clearly liked by his musicians. The orchestra was a good mix of males and females, many of them young, and they all played with gusto and fervour and enjoyed the whole performance.

The concert began with El Tambor de Granaderos (Prelude) by Ruperto Chapí y Lorente (1851-1909). Chapí wrote a large number of symphonic, band, choral and chamber works, as well as zarzuelas and operas. He was one of the most popular and important composers of his time. Many of the preludes to his zarzuelas (including those to El tambor de granaderos and La patria chica) have remained staple items in Spanish orchestral concerts, hence its inclusion here.

There followed Tchaikovsky’s Polonesa de ‘Eugene Onegin’ and Vals del Lago de Los Cisnes (Swan Lake).

Johann Strauss’ New Pizzicato Polka was rendered with great precision, one of several highlights of the night; this was followed by the Tik-Tak polka. The first half concluded with the Intermedio de la Boda de Luís Alonso (1897) by Gerónimo Giménez (1854-1923). He was commissioned by Chapí to write the openings to his zarzuelas El Milagro de la Virgen and La bruja. Giménez  was a prolific composer and his influence is often noticeable in the compositions of subsequent Spanish composers, such as Manuel de Falla. In 1939, Joaquín Rodrigo paid his respects with a Homenaje a la tempranica, which contained a solo part for castanets.

The second half began with the prelude to El Bateo (the baptism, 1901) by Federico Chueca (1846-1908). Chueca entered the conservatory aged eight, but his family later forced him to abandon music to study medicine. He was arrested in 1866 as a participant in the student demonstrations against the government. While he spent three days in the Madrid prison, he composed several waltzes that he entitled Lamentos de un preso ("Lamentations of a Prisoner"). Later, his works were orchestrated, and their success helped Chueca leave medicine and devote himself once more to music…

The rest of this half was dedicated to Johann Strauss – Tritsch-tratsch polka, Voices of Spring, the thunder and lightning polka and lastly the Blue Danube waltz, which was beautifully played.

Then we had a good ten minutes of encore music - The Champagne Gallop, a piece of orchestral music by the Danish composer Hans Christian Lumbye (1810–1874) which was written to celebrate the second anniversary of Copenhagen's Tivoli in 1845; this was complete with the traditional popping of corks! Next, the audience was in for a treat with witty and clever piece, The Typewriter (1950) by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975), a novelty instrumental first performed by the Boston Pops. One of the percussionists, the kettle drummer, brought out a typewriter: keystrokes, the typewriter bell, and the carriage return mechanism provide amusing components of the piece. In fact, the typewriter is modified so that only two keys work.

Finally, to be expected, the musical evening concluded with Strauss’ dedication to Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, The Radetsky March (1848).
This concert took place in Torrevieja’s controversial €40m auditorium; it has a symphony hall with 1,452 seats and a smaller hall with 384 seats. This evening’s event was in the symphony hall and was virtually full. The Concert Hall was opened over two years ago, but has only featured a handful of events since then. The extensive music conservatory for more than 240 students, as part of the complex, has never been used. Apparently, two nearby universities have expressed an interest in managing the music conservatory. To date, it is an underutilised gem.

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