Choirs, Flamenco & An Orchestra

Choral showcase 2019. First night at El Salinero, June 2019

Theatre Victor Fernandez Gopar “El Salinero” recently hosted several musical events, of very different styles, all organised by the Cabildo de Lanzarote, in the course of one wonderful week This brought together six of the most important choirs on the island, performing on 21st and 22nd June, Flamenco Fusion on 28th June and the full orchestra of Lanzarote Ensemble on Saturday 29th.

The choral performances were designed under the co-ordination of Óscar Pérez, Advisor, and as they had been in previous years, were aimed at promoting one of the most popular manifestations of Lanzarote music. Choral singing is entwined in the long tradition of folk lore music in particular and with other genres of music too. These showcases aimed to raise awareness and give value to the musical work done by these cultural groups.

This was a larger venue than has been used in previous years and although it is renowned for its wonderful acoustics, this Arrecife city centre theatre takes some filling. Despite the best marketing efforts of the choirs themselves, and of Juan (aka by us as ‘The Cabildo Kid’) and all his enthusiasm from the arts box office, I have to say the hall looked to be holding a disappointingly low turn-out by the time lights were dimmed on the first evening.

This was especially disappointing because we know from previous years how well these choirs can perform, and a ticket cost of only 5 euros was not at all unreasonable. With three choirs, on the first night, each of more than fifteen members, we could have expected somewhere between 150 and 180 friends or family of the singers to attend. The event had been well enough publicised, in The Cabildo’s monthly cultural agenda booklets and Miguel had published what details he had in his weekly newsletter what’s on column over the previous couple of weeks.

Nevertheless I invite artists or those serving as publicists for groups such as choirs or drama to send their advance information of events to me here at all across the arts on .

That way we can perhaps write a preview article to place on these pages, or perhaps even print an interview with an artist or organiser concerned with the event. Whether that would help increase audiences I’m not sure, but it couldn’t do any harm could it? We would certainly reach an English speaking audience that The Cabildo or artists indigenous to the island might not.

The first choir to perform on the opening night was that of El Cribo Canta, founded in 2002 by Mariola Ferrer. Since then, conductors Cristian Morales and Beni Ferrer have had time directing the choir, which is now under the baton of Arnold Bonilla. El Cribo Canta was originally formed by members who had themselves, or had family members and friends who had, suffered with mental health issues. The aim of the choir, therefore, was to raise awareness of, and open doors to, the social inclusion of those suffering poor mental health.

Sartorially, at least, this was to prove the most colourful of the choirs over the two nights, though they began with a lovely, but slightly dark Hallelujah. That, though, seemed to settle any nerves they may have had and their musical director, whilst playing guitar, led them into a song of softer colours and more carefree times. He clearly took great pride in their performance and his choir patently adored and trusted him, and the male members of the choir, after a somewhat rigid and nervous start now began to relax and were seemingly having the time of their lives, taking lead vocal duties on the romantic folk lore song that followed. An a capella offering was lively and joyful, and the last couple of songs in their set continued to delight the audience.

A good number of other nationalities are actually represented under the banner of Coral Alemana (German Choir), In Dulci Jubilo. We saw some members of this choir perform recently, and brought a review of their excellent performance of a Handel piece to these pages.

They reprised a selection from that show here at El Salinero. The music they sang and played tonight all emanated from workshops of Baroque music that became a presentation of the oratorio, L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato.

The guest conductor that night, in the smaller teatro of Tias, had been specially commissioned from his home in Argentina and he had made much delight that although this music was a contrast between Melancholy and Merriment, it was perhaps in the piece called Moderation where a haven was to be found.

Tonight Marianne Whelpdale stepped out front from the orchestra to musically conduct the choir from her keyboards. Haste Thee Nymphs, with its libido and calls for hedonistic delights, was a sparkling offering but Come And Trip It As Ye Go was, in both title and type, like one of those contemporary but traditional sounding English folk songs, written by a wonderful group of the sixties, The Incredible String Band. I know that those folkies would have loved what In Dulci Jubilo achieved here. Similarly we know that our friends Iain and Margaret, regular readers of these pages who first pointed us towards that earlier Handel concert, would have enjoyed this encore tonight.

For the British of a certain age it is also almost impossible to listen to a work entitled Come Pensive Nun without thinking of the somewhat less reverent song of a similar title and ilk by Jake Thackery, also from the nineteen sixties. However the choir erased all such memories from our minds with an engaging and engrossing delivery.

The splendidly moustachioed Alan Taylor, a ubiquitous figure on the choral music scene in Lanzarote, gave us a solo performance of joy and mirth with Oh Let The Merry Bells Ring. Harmonies on the final number, These Delights If Thou Can Give’st and indeed, throughout the performance, were of the precision and excellence we have come to expect from this choir, who were all dressed in dazzling white.

The evening was brought to conclusion by Coral De San Bartolome, founded in 1997 at the initiative of the town’s council. The first director of the choir was Professor Carmen Siverio, but that role is currently undertaken by Mariola Ferrer. This is no simple task, for the choir is comprised of thirty female voices, who can deliver in three, four, or five threads depending on the harmonic requirements for the music.

In direct contrast to the previous choir, San Bartolome were attired completely in black, but painted a pallet of warm colours for us with their song selection. From an offering that was a gentle a capella piece, they jumped comfortably into a song that was full of complex and lovely melodies. They were equally at ease with their choice, too, of folk lore with a dance feel and high harmonies. Tonight’s repertoire included title like Dos Gardenias, You The Beautiful Lola and When The Sun Warms Up.

This had been a lovely evening of ‘ordinary’ members of the public taking their hobbies and learning to levels of excellence they might never have dreamed of when setting out on this road, by ‘nipping out to join the local choir.’ Indeed, such had been the height of this excellence that we were already looking forward, even as we left the building, to returning the following night, to see three more choirs.

Choral Showcase, second night at El Salinero, June 2019

When we did return on the Saturday evening we had grown from two into four, and settled into our seats near the front of the stage as if we were the X factor judges. Indeed, we were perhaps more like Cowell and his acolytes than we would have liked as our foursome now included my wife Dee, and her visiting friend Lynne, and these two were once colleagues in Rochdale Festival Choir. Lynne continues to sing with the choir that was almost devastated by my wife’s emigration over here to Lanzarote. Any choir would miss such a great mime artist !

The opening choir on this second evening took to the stage before another slightly lower turn out than we might have hoped for, but Coral Polifonica San Gines are the best known and perhaps best loved choir on the island, so we had no doubt they would rise to the occasion. They are also one of the longest established choirs on Lanzarote and have been around now for almost fifty years, with Braulio de Leon currently serving as musical director. He has performed all over Europe including the UK, France, Italy and Portugal as well as across The Canary Islands. The choir has collaborated with chamber and classical orchestras and even solo musicians such as acclaimed timple player Jose Antonio Ramos.

Tonight’s delivery was entitled Limelight and accompanied by a backdrop of edited silent shots from silver screen classics that added hugely to our interest in the songs on offer. As an example, I Will Wait For You, which I had forgotten was included in the soundtrack for the film The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, was beautifully sung.

This is perhaps why I and too, some people like freelance arts curator Estefania Camejo, enjoy multi-disciplinary arts presentations.

One art form often works in such collaborations to lead us to further investigation of the other, and after hearing many of this choir’s selections tonight I found myself not only wanting to hear more of the film score each came from but also wanting to see and understand more of the narrative of the films that had also informed this offering. The choir had fully captured the interest and attention of the audience and safely opened the gate for the following choirs to step through.

Next on stage was the choir we were all particularly looking forward to. We have seen Agrupacion Vocal De Yaiza many times, in performances that have been for public entertainment and sometimes, too, as part of a church service. The group also includes several ladies who are members of my wife’s yoga group and Dee had been extolling their virtues to Lynne all week. The performance of the choir justified Dee’s recommendations of them and under musical direction from Nuvi Tavio Garcia they gave us a repertoire that included Dindirin Dindirin (not as similar to the Dr. Who theme tune as it might sound) and Ay That I Come and Vive Tutte Le Vezose. These were all lively and beautifully delivered and some members, like our friend Jacqueline, were clearly having a great time.

That brought Coral Polifónica Villa de Teguise on stage to close the event. Founded in the year 1988 driven by the municipality of Teguise and directed then by Josefina González Gil, this choir now boasts more than thirty years of history. Throughout the year, it works both in Teguise, and beyond its borders and has worked in the Canaries and on the Peninsula in various festivals and musical events. Tonight they delivered Nobil Pacem by W. A. Mozart, Oh Sad, That I Come by Juan de el Encina, Piel Canela by Bobby Capó and their version of Viva Tutte Le Vezose, composed by Felice Giardine.

All the choirs then united, in response to the shouts of bravo and encore from the audience. Their combined power in the encore they delivered was simply amazing.

Flamenco Fusion step in the right direction, El Salinero 2019

The Flamenco Fusion of Antonio de la Rosa Theatre, a collection of musicians brought together by a Flemish party guitarist, produced a dynamic fiesta atmosphere of their own at El Salinero less than a week later, on Friday 28th June. They presented a show they had titled As Water, paying homage to Paco de Lucía and shrimp of the island. Antonio had enlisted Carlos de la Rosa and had recruited numerous guests such as Sergey Saprychev, Rafael Maldonado, Eva Aroca, and had invited musicians, well known to the island, to join the party; Carlos Loma, Ayoze Rodrígez and Anna Villacampa greatly added to the atmosphere.

We had been promised ´a great Flemish party,´ and Antonio de la Rosa and Flamenco Fusion absolutely turned As Water into the heady wine of riotous and joyous celebration.

We went around the world in about eighty minutes as these musicians, singers and dancers took us on a journey through Time from the origins of flamenco, through its traditions and into its modern flamenco fusion styles of today. Throughout the journey the ensemble showed their gratitude towards Paco de Lucía, creator of the musical source that has always inspired Antonio de la Rosa from his first lessons as a guitarist, and also to Camarón de la Isla, author of the book which lent its title to this show.

At times Antonio strummed his instrument with a ferocity and power that shouted with the beatbox and the strange looking percussive set up, as well as with the staccato clicks and clacks of the heels of the dancer. Most of the time, though he filled musical spaces we wouldn’t have otherwise known were there with marvellous, melodic runs that sounded like water trickling away, and complementing the similarly liquid sounds often being made over on the percussion.

Not that I have ever seen one but somehow this drum area had more the look of an opium den, with its long, looping pipe which somehow re-created the gurgling of water. The trembling bells were strange and colourfully attired in some tribalistic adornments. Beside them, though, was a futuristic drum pad, itself next to a pair of bongo style drums that the player caressed and teased with his fingers and slapped with the palms of his hands. There was even a look-alike of an Irish hand-held drum, for only occasional use it proved, that lay beside him on the floor.

This instrumentation provoked, and reacted to, the sounds emerging from the beatbox player, and with amazing precision he and the percussionist were always together in parallel at the beginning and the end of every piece, no matter how far they had strayed from each other during the performance. They created wonderful rhythmic pattern, and even on their own these two could have provided a brilliant show. Creeping in and around them, though, was beautiful violin playing, by a handsome young lad; all swept back hair and gleaming smile. Both his manner and his playing reminded me of Bobby Valentino. a member of Hank Wangford And The Lost Cowboys, a country music band in the nineteen eighties in the UK- Bobby left them to go to America for a big recording contract and was billed as The Man Who Invented Jazz.

This violinist played tonight in what I think was a gypsy style, but there was also a highly elegant classical feel to what he produced as he partner-waltzed with Ayaze Rodriguez, playing saxophone and clarinet variations, in the chair beside him.

So, in what we had been told would be jazz fusion styling, we had a modern beat box, a percussion set that would have looked more at home in a shabeen in Moss Side, Manchester, a gutsy and glorious guitar and a violin to remind us of Dexys´ Midnite Runners

And yet tangos and ronda stomped through this wide range of musical influences, from the peninsular, Europe, Africa and The United Kingdom, highlighting the percussion of Sergey Saprychev, and echoing the aires morunos and Hindu musical influences which inform the flamenco percussion of Rafael Maldonado. All this was accompanied by the singers Eva Aroca and Carlos de la Rosa.

The band was enhanced by the voice of guest vocalist Carlos Loma, who also has an intricate hand clapping style which he frequently employed to augment the music as well as taking lead and background vocal duties. He added, too, just a hint of romance and mystery by wearing his wide brimmed black hat pulled low over his eyes, and a stunning high-buttoned red jacket adorned by a chequered ´hobo´ neckerchief.

The skills of musicians like Ayoze Rodrígez on clarinet and saxophone were constantly evident and dancer Anna Villacampa was fast and furious in her movements, but never frenetic. She never sacrificed precision as she danced with such passion and in fact the sounds of her shoes on the stage-floor were an integral part of the overall percussive rhythms.

The show culminated with a performance by everyone who had participated in preceding sections, giving us an incredible “fin de fiesta” Gypsy style ending to an extraordinary evening.

Although the tickets had cost us only 10 euros per ticket, Flamenco Fusion did not quite have the full house they deserved, that would have created a fantastic crescendo with the music they played. However, it all brought to mind that handful of wonderful Cuban musicians who a few decades ago, having been ´discovered´ by Ry Cooder, released a live album of the kind of typical jam session they had been playing for years in The Buena Vista Social Club. The cd and video recordings topped charts around the globe as the whole world fell in love with Cuban rhythms.

There is a distinct similarity between how those Cuban musicians re-awakened the world to their island´s music and culture and the first step of the mission undertaken here by Flamenco Fusion. This could build into something huge !

Lanzarote Ensemble House Of The Agustin Culture de la Hoz

The very next evening, Lanzarote Ensemble took its ´triangle of the 20th century´ to the House Of The Agustin Culture de la Hoz just a half a mile or so away, in Arrecife. The Orchestra, driven by the Cabildo of Lanzarote provided a program with works by Charles Loeffler, Francis Poulenc, Gordon Jacob and Nino Díaz of Lanzarote.

The ensemble believes that Germany, France and the United States. represent the three highest points of classical music creativity and activity in the first half of the 20th century. It is for this reason that this piece has been christened as ´the triangle of the twentieth century´, and why Lanzarote Ensemble have devised this special concert with pieces by composers of these three countries. However, the further inclusion of a premiere performance of a work of the Lanzarote composer Nino Díaz, reminds us that the island has also contributed to the genre.

The inclusion here then of work by Charles Loeffler further complicates the issue. He is described on ´wike´ (so it must be so) as being ´raised in Germany with a French sensibility.´ It is certainly true, however, that he became one of America’s greatest composers whilst serving for over twenty years as assistant concert-master of The Boston Symphony Orchestra. So revered did he become that on his death he was referred to in obituaries as ¨The Dean Of American Composers.´ His work is characterised by its ironic compositions.

The music of Francis Poulenc is notable rather more for his compositional subtlety. The compositions of this French composer and pianist include melodies, solo piano pieces, chamber music, choral pieces, opera, ballet and, of course, orchestral concert music.

Gordon Jacob’s pieces are identified by their innovation and chutzpah. Work by these three authors was complemented by Engine, written especially for this occasion, by Nino Díaz.

Lanzarote Ensemble (lite) consisted on this occasion of piano, violin and four wind instruments of various shapes and sizes. These three females and three male players, made some extraordinary full musical sounds. Loeffler’s pieces were emphasised by sudden peaks and troughs with Poulenc’s more often taking the road less travelled to some surprising interplay between the instruments.

There was a huge roar of appreciation for Nino Diaz when he was introduced to step forward and conduct this premier performance of his own piece and he and the orchestra seemed equally delighted to be taking part in such a special occasion.

This new work veered between soundscape and melody and seemed to speak of the harshness of the land and included moments when the composer allowed the music to exhale, shall we say; to take a rest, catch its breath and then move on with its journey with renewed energy. This was hinted at by the several occasions when the music employed single notes played from extremes of the scale, which to me seemed to deliberately signal fatigue and revival. There were, though, long celebratory breaks too, with the air of the gentrification of the frontier that informs the best of Copeland’s work, that were to be echoed in the closing piece of the evening.

Gordon Jacob CBE was an English composer and teacher who died in 1984, who not only composed and created but also wrote four books and many articles about music.

Until his retirement in 1966 he was a professor at The Royal College of Music in London and although he composed almost seven hundred pieces of his own he also orchestrated words by other composers such as Edward Elgar and Noel Coward. The programme of his works selected by Lanzarote Ensemble tonight was certainly sweeping, ambitious and grandiose in the way that Copeland’s music always seems to me.

It made for a rousing finale that drew calls for an encore from the 100 or so people who had filled a room with its walls adorned by bold and sometimes harsh landscapes of the island by Canarian artists, reminding us that this landscape once had to be tamed, but respected, in the same way as had that of Jacob and Copèland.

This had been a deserved encore as each musician had made a significant contribution to the overall sound delivered; the violin, for example rose and fell beautifully and elegantly, and the wind instrumentals each made lovely individual music and even more glorious ensemble sounds.

Then there was the man at the back, at the piano, out of any mechanical spotlight. However, half hidden from most of the audience he gave us trills with a classical touch, as light and thrilling as Nat King Cole or Oscar Peterson, and at times seemed to vamp it like Elton John looking for his Saturday night fight.

Dee seemed to think he had also served the previous week as musical conductor and accompanist for one of the choirs we reported on earlier in this piece. I took a second look, and I’m pretty sure she is right and if so, this tops and tails this all across the arts review very nicely with another example of the versatility and flexibility of musicians on Lanzarote.

By ignoring countries of origin, or work-related points of domicility, The Lanzarote Ensemble had indeed created their three points of the triangle and showed us the colours of the musical landscapes those points accompanied. As landscapes are, some were gentle and invigorating, some challenging and daunting and some indomitable. The musical performance captured all this and, like all good art, had left us sated but with plenty to think about.

The Lanzarote arts scene really is complex, contrasting and confusing,…. and absolutely engrossing.

So, we’ll wrap up here and won’t continue with our usual two or three paragraphs to tell you how alive and glorious San Gines looked as walked back to the car park. It would be folly to carry on and tell you about my Bianca pizza (with pear) at The Davinia Italia or the Tiramassu to die for, nor even the aubergine dish that Dee is still raving about.

Nor should we tell you here that we only arrived at this car park after driving through the narrow, inner streets of Arrecife because the major roads were closed due to a concert on the beach. We seemed to reconstruct car chase scenes from films like The French Connection as we made our way from one side of the city to the other, but whenever we travel all across the arts, as I once said in one of my own songs, ´the ride is worth the fare!


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