This was the final performance in a series of four free concerts, and we had been lucky enough to claim two free seats at all of them, simply by turning up before the venues became full. These events had been funded by the government to provide a showcase platform for musicians at various stages in their careers and to increase public awareness of the classical genre and to provide easy access for those interested in taking part, even if only from a seat in the audience.
It was entitled Con Aires de Mujer, the meaning of which became clearer as we tried to translate the programme notes.
The musical selection had been collated to address the status of women in classical music and to consider their numbers as composers, musicians, singers and any other roles in the genre. As in many aspects of life, women in classical music have, it might be argued, been victims of such ‘cultural violence’ that it seems almost paradoxical that it is a woman, Saint Cecelia, who is the patron saint of music. The female gender in classical music has historically, due to lack of public awareness and lack of interest in their works, been relegated and restrained.
Nevertheless, it is clear that these restraints are slowly being unshackled and we are seeing increasing numbers of women fully participating in, and developing, classical music. Even today, though, patriarchy in music costs society dear as we still do not yet see a representative number of females playing leading orchestral roles such as directing or writing the music such orchestras might play.
It was pleasing then to see tonight’s line up including three women and one man, (Patricia Garcia on first violin, Juanma Diaz on second, Esther Alfonso on viola and Johana Kegel playing viola-cello), performing to a full, and obviously keenly interested audience at the Casa De La Cultura Augusta De La Hoz in Arrecife.
The programme opened with the first of four pieces from the nineteenth century with Duo de la Flores de la Opera Lakme by Leo Delibes. This was played in a stately fashion by the smaller instruments with the viola cello providing a haunting tone beneath them.
Habanera de la Opera Carmen saw Bizet’s most famous refrain played softly at first before building to a luscious, rich tone.
I have been fascinated by the pizzicato style of playing ever since hearing strings being plucked on the Buddy Holly song Raining In My Heart. Una Furtiva Lagrime Opera l’eliser d’amore, from Dinizetti saw, as did many of the pieces tonight, instruments being played pizzicato, the sound here lending an appropriate air of intrigue.
For Ava Maria, a famous piece by Gounod it was Juanma Diaz who carried the lovely melody with the three female players providing a reverential setting.
We moved into the twentieth century with Ravel’s Pavana para una infanta difunta, and it opened with a solo violin playing over the pizzicato style of the other instruments until the viola-cello was introduced to the bow, and together the Cuarteto de Cuerdos OCL sent the music swirling around the audience.
Suddenly we returned to nineteenth century music with Bellini, and Ah non credeos Opera La Somnambula. This was played so beautifully, and sometimes only clichés can be found to serve. Truly, though, the piece had light and shade, warmth and coolness and seemed to dip into all the colours an artist might have on his (or her) palette.
Next was another piece of twentieth century music with the Tema de amor de Romero y Julieta. Its full, rich opening implied that joyful, first flush of young love but a sudden sweep from playfulness to sobriety reminded us that when it comes to love, life so often gets in the way.
Our next selection of music was very recognisable to those who grew up in the pop music scene of the latter half of the last century. Recorded by Frenchman Charles Aznavour, She, an homage to womankind as much as a specific love song, was a very appropriate inclusion on the programme. A collaboration with Herbert Kretzmer, this was an example of perfect cross-disciplinary work. The playing was so excellent that even those of us who remembered it as a pop song could hear how it justified the classical soubriquet applied here.
Besame Mucho, composed by Consuela Velazquez, immediately soared with the viola cello being finger picked at times to sound like the incredible double bass playing I remember from those Buddy Holly recordings I mentioned earlier.
Gracia a la Vida, written by Violeta Parra was, for me, the evening’s most thought provoking piece. I found myself wondering what kind of life had inspired such gratitude and appreciation and was the dramatic finale an echo of that rage against the dying of the light that Dylan Thomas referred to in his poem of that title that might have been contemporaneously created with this piece?
Bohemian Rhapsody, written by Freddie Mercury, of course, was as mind-blowing in this (new to me) format as was the record (and video) when first released. There was excellent call and response in the introductory passage and each instrument contributed clear and distinct parts.
It, and all that had preceded it, drew a prolonged standing ovation for a quartet that had been confident and witty throughout, playing beautifully to address some of the social issues raised by the choice of music. The programme had not only been discursive but had also been hugely entertaining and must surely be considered for recording.