Rockford Symphony takes us to Spain

Rockford Symphony takes us to Spain

By Georgia Pampel, Music Critic

The Rockford Symphony opened its new concert season officially Saturday,

September 28, with an evening titled “The Sounds of Spain,” featuring Violinist Lee Chin, while countless members of the orchestra also had opportunities to show their solo skills as well.

For many reasons, geographical, political, cultural, whatever, Spain evolved a strong musical tradition outside of what we usually perceive as Western classical repertoire, but Spain’s use of exotic rhythms and the Moorish character of her melodies drew the interest of many composers trained in the music academies of the continent.

For this program, Conductor Larsen opened and closed with two Russians

(Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov), bracketing a Frenchman (Edouard Lalo), and a

very young up-to-date Chicagoland composer, Carter Pann, born in 1972, now

polishing off his musical education with studies at the University of Michigan.

How do we so quickly recognize the Spanish character in music? There are

certainly technical explanations, centered on use of cross rhythms, shifts between contrasting timings, accents that fall at the end of a motif, but separated from that motif (remember the old conga line chant, ONE-two-THREE, KICK! Well, that “kick” was the separated accent. Simple?).

After facing the audience to welcome their voices in a rousing “Star-Spangled Banner,” Larsen turned back to the enlarged orchestra for Mikhail Glinka’s own memories from a sojourn in Spain, titled “Summer Night in Madrid—A Fantasy of Spanish Themes”.

Different voices weave in and out, over the click of the castanets, while the brass section, particularly trumpet and tuba, reinforces the strong rhythms, continuing even while the strings come in with a particularly silken melody—occasionally breaking for an interruption from the bright brass choir.

Then Violin Virtuoso Lee Chin took the stage. A native of Singapore, trained at Curtis Institute, Mannes College of Music, and Oberlin Conservatory, she was well equipped to tackle the combined lyricism, power and virtuosity called for in Lalo’s French rendition of Spanish styles, his “Symphonie Espagnole”. Five separate movements draw freely from traditional concerto forms, without submerging the Spanish character in the sometimes strict form.

Calling forth forcefulness when needed, Chin was remarkable too for the delicate lace-filigree quality that she brought to the many florid embellishments that adorn this work. She worked with the orchestra, rather than against it, blending in gracefully, while still standing out as the featured soloist.

After the intermission, Larsen took a moment to prepare the audience for

the Pann work. At family night, the open dress rehearsal the Friday before the concert, the Coronado virtually emptied when faced with the possibility of the harsh dissonances that we all have come to expect in “modern” music. The people who fled missed a fair treat.

Pann titles his 1994 work “Two Portraits of Barcelona”. The first “Portrait” tries to convey his impressions of a visit to the cathedral in Barcelona, designed by the distinctive Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. After faint, distant chimes, reminiscent of church bells, there is a hum, a buzz,a sense of motion and intensity within the music, exploring the varied tonalities and textures without succumbing to conventional melodic dominance.

The sounds hold one’s interest, but end soon after, with more chimes, and

the orchestra then breaks into the second “Portrait,” to describe Pann’s memories of his visit to the bullfight, with all the flashing color, stamping feet, and colorful costume for a Sunday afternoon outing at the Arena. There is humor and gaiety in the unpredictable crashes from the percussion, sudden drum rolls, competing with the brass, for the lead position, while the harp occasionally steps in to say “Hey, there, I’m here too!”

And then, to close out the evening, Rimsky-Korsakov’s popular Capriccio Espagnole. The composer spent barely three days in Spain in his youth, as a naval cadet, but clearly had met enough Spanish music all over Europe that he had no trouble two decades later in invoking the Iberian sunshine and energy, and your own imagination can fill the stage with the swinging ruffled skirts, the clicking castanets and stamping feet that distinguish the Spanish peasant dance.

The whole program awakened my memories of my few days in Barcelona, hearing the bands of strolling street musicians with guitars and trumpets, and seeing the dancers on the plaza after the Sunday services, breaking into their own celebration of the day.

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