Here Come The Classicals

39th Canary Islands Music Festival
Tenerife Symphony Orchestra at Jameos Del Agua

Sinfónica de Tenerife, a true cultural reference on their island, arrives on  Lanzarote as part of the program for the 39th Canary Islands International Music Festival.

The Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, or Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife, known more familiarly as the OST, first started life back in 1935, initially being called Orquesta de Cámara de Canarias, or the Canary Isles Chamber Orchestra. It was only in 1970 that the collection of musicians became a fully fledged symphony orchestra and the OST was born.

During the 1980s, the OST enjoyed a period of continued success, swiftly becoming recognised as a major musical force on the international orchestral stage. At the start of the 21st century, it is still going from strength to strength.

These days, the OST is based at the Auditorio de Tenerife, the striking white building situated by the sea in Santa Cruz. It provides an annual programme consisting of some twenty events. During the season, it also diversifies, with special concerts for schoolchildren, participation in such events as the Canary Isles International Music Festival and the Tenerife Opera Festival, in addition to undertaking international tours and spending time in the recording studio.

It had been announced that this concert would be directed by the Japanese Eiji Oue maestro, who has led some of the best orchestras in the world and is recognized for his extraordinary performances and his characteristic good humor and great energy. The chief conductor of the orchestra is the internationally renowned Lü Jia, a relatively young man born in 1964 in Shanghai, China. He was initially the orchestra’s artistic director in 2006, becoming chief conductor a year later. 

We met, in our usual furtive manner, with our ´researchers´, DCI Detours and Superintendent Sidetracks, in a hidden layby in Yaiza at a time that would allow us to dine prior to the concert, at El Charcon in Arrietta, just a couple of km from the incredible Jameos Del Agua theatre, envisaged and created by the late Cesar Manrique. The Superintendent drove through the remnants of the daylight as the DCI brought us up to date with her findings on the usual suspects coming and going on Lanzarote.

This continued into a Tapas meal at the restaurant as our sharp eyed DCI cast her gaze over fellow diners, wondering if they, too were on their way to the concert, and it later transpired that they were ! So, too, was the rest of the world it seemed, as we watched an endless trail of car headlights heading past the restaurant on their way to the concert. After a lovely meal and very friendly service we set off again to follow the red lights of the cars into what was, at 7.30pm, a half hour before the concert was due to begin,  a car park that was already very full, and very, very dark ! A place of shadows cast by a pale moon and a million very distant stars and half a dozen attendants guiding us by flashlight to a parking space.

The scene in the car park always recalls for me of passages from science fiction novels, and cinema scenes from ET, and the car lights reminding me of Field Of Dreams. 

If anyone ever said to Cesar Manrique´, when he first spoke of his dream of a theatre in the caves, ´build it and they will come´ their prophecy was shown to be correct as gazed in awe, having seen them scores of times before, the whit spiral outdoor staircase that leads down to the swimming pool and cliff faces shaded by hidden lighting and walked up to the top of the auditorium and looked down on a full house in an area that looks somehow both ancient and modern. Truly wonderful !

So, too, was the music chosen for this concert.

Felix Mendellsohn, composer of the opening piece, traveled to England for the first time at the invitation of a German Lord , on the occasion of his twentieth birthday.  After his trip to England, the composer went to Scotland , where he composed his Symphony No. 3 or Scottish Symphony . During these trips through the country, he visited the Hebrides and in particular the island of Staffa , where he discovered Fingal’s Grotto, already a tourist attraction at that time. At that time the cave was approximately 11 meters high and 60 meters deep, and contained colourful basalt pillars.

He immediately began writing what would later become the opening theme for the work, sending it to his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn , in a letter stating: “To make you understand how much I have been affected by the Hebrides, I send you the following, which came to my head there.”

The composer finished the work on December 16, 1830 , and originally titled it Die einsame Insel , “The Lonely Island”.  However, Mendelssohn later revised the score, which he returned to finalize on June 20, 1832 , and retitled it Die Hebriden , “The Hebrides”. The title “Fingal’s Grotto” also makes its appearance in the score.  The work premiered on May 14 , 1832 in London , in a concert at which Mendelssohn’s overture A Midsummer Night’s Dream was also performed .

The autographed manuscript is held at the Bodleian Library , Oxford .

The piece is written for a standard orchestra and lasts approximately 11 minutes.

Although The Superintendent later pointed out that tonight´s line up of musicians was not actually, in terms of numbers of personnel or instruments, a standard orchestra wed were all delighted by the 

It does not tell a story and therefore cannot be described as a symphonic poem, but as program music. It is a description of an environment, the painting of a scene or landscape, making it one of the first musical works to attempt something similar.  The overture consists of two main themes: the initial notes, played by the violas , cellos , and double basses , establish the theme that Mendelssohn said he wrote in the cave itself.  This lyrical and suggestive theme of the beauty of the cave is intended to inspire feelings of solitude. The second theme, on the other hand, represents the movement of the sea and the waves.  As a whole, the work uses the standard form of the overture genre , with a final coda returning to the opening theme.

Tonight Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, with a beautiful lightness of touch, of the  vastness of landscape even here on a tiuny, confined island. Conductor and musicians, through mutual respect and trust create the sound of ebb and flow, that might have been tidal or spatil, or even temporal. There could have been no finer setting for Mendellsohn´s sublime music, and no more sympathetically could it have been played.

The second selection of music brought Robert Schumann´s Concierto para piano y orquest en La menor opus 54. This is a concertante piece for piano and orchestra written composed by Robert Schumann between 1841 and 1845 . It premiered on December 4, 1845 in Dresden , and its first publication took place in 1846. The work is dedicated to the German pianist and composer Ferdinand Hiller . It is one of the most performed and recorded piano concertos of the romantic period .

Schumann had already worked on several piano concertos. He began one in E flat major in 1828, between 1829 and 1831 he worked on one in F major and, in 1839, he wrote a concerto movement in D minor . None of these works was completed. Already on January 10, 1833, Schumann first expressed the idea of ​​​​writing a “Piano Concerto in A minor”. In a letter to his future father-in-law, Friedrich Wieck , he wrote:

From May 17 to 20, 1841, he wrote his Fantasia in A minor for piano and orchestra . Schumann tried unsuccessfully to sell this one-movement piece to publishers. In August 1841 and January 1843, the master revised the piece, but was unsuccessful. His wife Clara, an accomplished pianist, then urged him to enlarge it into a full piano concerto. In 1845 he added the Intermezzo and the Allegro vivace to complete the work. It was the only piano concerto that Schumann finished.

Schumann wrote seven concertante works , including his three concertos for solo instrument and orchestra —the Piano Concerto , Op. 54 (1841); the Cello Concerto, Op. 129 (1850) and Violin Concerto , WoO 23 (1853), in addition to free-form concert pieces such as Konzertstück op. 86 , op. 92 and op. 134. The one for piano is the first to be composed, the only one he did for this instrument and the one that has achieved the greatest diffusion. It is considered one of the basic columns of the repertoire for piano and orchestra. Schumann had composed a fantasy for this combination in 1841, but not being satisfied with it, he let it rest for a while. In 1845 he carefully revised it and added two more movements to the opening, from which he formed his Piano Concerto .

The result was a singular work, far from the concert model established by Mozart and consolidated by Beethoven , which Schumann himself described as “something between concert, symphony and great sonata”. It is a particularly difficult score for the soloist, but it is not a virtuosic work in the usual sense of the term: musicality, style, sensitivity, are more necessary than technical or mechanical dazzling. The very personal orchestration used by its author contributes to the intimate environment of the score, far from any whim of vulgar sensationalism.

The premiere of the piece was held on December 4, 1845 at the Hotel de Saxe in Dresden , with Clara at the piano under the baton of Ferdinand Hiller , to whom the work was dedicated. Shortly afterwards, on January 1, 1846, the concert with Clara at the piano was repeated at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig under the direction of Felix Mendelssohn . Finally it was performed in Vienna and Prague conducted by Schumann himself and again with his wife at the piano. Until almost the end of her days, in 1896, this great artist played her husband’s concerto in the auditoriums of Europe .Edvard Grieg , who was a student at the Leipzig Conservatory at the time, heard the concerto performed by Clara Schumann in 1859 and later reflected the Schumanian influence in his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A minor , Op. 16 .

The year 1841 constituted another compositional annus mirabilis for Schumann, after his extraordinary “year of song” (1840). During this year the composer’s first orchestral works were created, including Symphony No. 1 , Op. 38 , Symphony No. 4 , Op. 120 (substantially revised and published a decade later), and Overture, scherzo and finale , Op. 52. In each of these works the thematic unity between the movements is of central importance, an idea widely explored in his work. In each of these works, the thematic unity between the movements is of paramount importance, an idea widely explored in the Romantic period in forms ranging from the idée fixe of Berlioz ‘s Symphony of the Fantastic ( 1830) to the leitmotifs of musical dramas. from Wagner.

The inclusion of this work in tonight´s concert by Tenerife Syphony Orchestra (around forty members strong, according to The Superintendent) also introduced us to pianist Andrey  Gugnin.

The changing moods that characterize much of Schumann’s music are clearly evident in this concerto. Nevertheless, and despite the interval between the composition of the first movement of the concerto and the remaining two, the unity between the movements is one of the main concerns of the work. The concerto is almost symphonic in character, in stark contrast to the then predominant view of the concerto as a primary vehicle for virtuosic display, exemplified by the concertante works of Franz Liszt .and Nicolò Paganini . In fact, Liszt showed scant enthusiasm for the Schumann concerto and taunted the composer (who had earlier written a ” Concerto without an orchestra “) by referring to it as a ” Concerto without a piano “. Although the technical demands of the work are not negligible, they are almost totally subordinated to thematic interest and structural clarity.

Andre Gugnin, according to Gramaphone magazine. possesses an “extraordinarily versatile and agile technique, which serves an often inspired musical imagination” (Gramophone), pianist Andrey Gugnin is rapidly gaining international acclaim as a passionately virtuosic performer. In 2020, the BBC Music Magazine Awards named Gugnin the winner of the Instrumental Award for his recording Shostakovich: 24 Preludes – Piano Sonatas 1 & 2 (Hyperion). Since winning the prestigious Sydney International Piano Competition in 2016, Gugnin has gone from strength to strength in concerts and recordings which exhibit his impassioned interpretations.

In addition to winning in Sydney, Gugnin also received prizes at this illustrious competition for Best Overall Concerto, Best 19th/20th Century Concerto, Best Violin and Piano Sonata, and Best Preliminaries for his first-round recital. His also won the Gold Medal and Audience Award at the XCI International Gina Bachauer Piano Competition in 2014, and second prize at the 2013 Beethoven International Piano Competition in Vienna.

Increasingly in demand as a concerto soloist, Gugnin has been invited to perform as a guest artist with notable orchestras worldwide, such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia, the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, Utah Symphony, West Australian Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony, and has performed under the distinguished batons of Jaap Van Zweden, Reinbert de Leeuw, Daniel Raiskin, Stanislav Kochanovsky, Dmitry Matvienko and Asher Fisch. He has also collaborated in a more chamber context with the Asko Schönberg ensemble, Orchestre de Chambre de Genève, Jerusalem Camerata and Camerata Salzburg and on several occasions as the duo partner of violinist Tasmin Little.

As a recording artist, Gugnin has published a broad scope of repertoire ranging from solo piano to symphonic works. His release of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes (Piano Classics, 2018) were commended as Editor’s Choice, and distinguished Gugnin as “one to watch” (Gramophone). Other notable recordings include his duo programme with violinist Ioana Cristina Goicea (Atoll Records, 2019), an inspired selection of solo piano suites entitled Pictures (Steinway & Sons, 2016), and a collection of piano duets with Vadim Kholodenko (Delos International, 2010). Andrey has also extensively recorded for TV and radio in Croatia, The Netherlands, Austria, Australia, Switzerland and the USA.
Currently Gugnin continues his collaboration with Hyperion Records. His latest album of complete Scriabin’s Mazurkas (2022) was awarded the Recording of the Month by Limelight Magazine.

In addition to these recordings, Gugnin’s Shostakovich Concertos (Delos International, 2007) were selected to feature on the soundtrack of Steven Speilberg’s Oscar®-winning film Bridge of Spies.
Gugnin’s expanding list of performance venues include Vienna’s Musikverein, Auditorio Nacional in Madrid, Victoria Hall in Geneva, Carnegie Hall in New York, Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, Sydney Opera House, the Great Hall of the Moscow State Conservatory, the Louvre in Paris, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space and Asahi Hamarikyu Hall. Gugnin has also participated in a plethora of international festivals, including Verbier, Klavier Festival Ruhr, Mariinsky International Festival, Dubrovnik Summer Festival, the Ohrid Summer Festival and the Duszniki Chopin International Festival.

In 2020-21, as allowed by the covid pandemic, Gugnin embarked on performing numerous solo recitals at prestigious venues in Russia. Gugnin joined Tasmin Little in her farewell concert at the Southbank Centre as one of her four favourite pianists to collaborate with, which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and for which Andrey was praised for his ‘emphatic, mesmerising playing’ (Bachtrack).

The 2022/23 season will see Gugnin performing solo recitals across Europe and America, including Vienna’s Ehrbar Hall, Lithuanian National Philharmonic Hall in Vilnius and Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City. Gugnin will also showcase a number of piano concertos in the 2022/23 season, including Ravel’s Piano concerto for the left hand with Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Rachmaninoff’s Piano concerto no. 3 with Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, Stravinsky’s Concerto for piano and wind Instruments with Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, Grieg Piano concerto with South Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tonight, with Shumann´s music, with these musicians in this arena Andrey delivered magnificently, with understated panache. He captured the moods of Schumanns´work and conveyed them fully to the audience through the music he made. There was no showmanship, no ´´look at me´ attitude: instead, as do all great musicians, he gave himself to the music.´ He was brought back to the stage by a standing ovation and gave us another recital, for which he was brought back again by another ovation, but this time he bowed and bade us goodbye. The increasingly high regard in which this player is held is well deserved, and was revealed by the adoring looks of the ensemble members and the empathy with whiuch they accompanied his work.

There came then an interval of fifteen minutes or so and there was a real buzz in Jameos del Agua as half the audience stepped outside to look up again on a night of a thousand stars and the other half of the audience remained in the theatre to discuss this particular night of forty odd magnificent stars.

These brightest of stars returned to the stage and by that time the house had re-filled.

Of course it had, for there was more Mendelssohn to hear. We were to be treated to his sinfonia 4. en La mayor opus 90, Italiana.

The “Symphony No. 4 in A Major” Op.90 (Italian) was started in 1831 when he was in Rome. The date of its completion is March 13, 1833, in Berlin. The long time spent on its composition is typical of Mendelssohn’s work. He was very detailed and reviewed his works many times. So much so that he didn’t publish it, waiting for a final review, which never happened. The work was published after his death.

The symphony premiered in London in March 1833, becoming one of his most popular works. Mendelssohn himself subtitled it Italian . We find ourselves here as in the case of Berlioz, in the classification as pure or programmatic music. The difference between symphony and symphonic poem becomes subtle. But we will admit as a symphony the works that respect the division between several movements. The symphonic poem is a homogeneous composition without separation, but there comes a moment of confusion when considering symphonies in a single movement. We will talk about this topic again in the essay on the work of Berlioz, the undisputed leader of the programmatic symphony.

The work is a symphony in its classical sense, in which Mendelssohn reflects in his themes, the impressions of his trip to Italy. The first movement allegro vivace has been subtitled Carnival, especially for its captivating main theme, presented by the violins on tremolos of the winds. In its repetition it is accompanied by drum rolls and wind chords. The second theme is more lyrical, introduced by clarinets and bassoons. After the complete repetition of the exposition, the development separates from the classical structure, by using a third theme that becomes a fugue. Interspersing the first two themes, an unconventional re-exposition is presented. The classical symphony begins to fall apart. The coda begins with the third theme that plays with the first and is animated, until the second appears on the low string, increasing the tempo in the last bars, ending exuberantly.

The second movement is an andante with a motorcycle that receives the subtitle of Procession or March of the Pilgrims . After a rhythmic introduction, accompanied by the notes of a kind of monotonous continuo bass, the first theme appears in the form of a procession of pilgrims, presented by oboe, bassoon and violas. Some believe, including Ignaz Moscheles, that the theme is that of a Bohemian pilgrimage procession, others that it is a Mediterranean melody, but most likely it is a song by his teacher Zelter, the lied “Es war ein König in Thule”.When the theme is taken up by the violins and decorated by the flutes, one of the best magical moments in Mendelssohn’s work occurs. The second theme presents us with a new procession with an almost Mahlerian flavor. After the restatement, it ends with a repetition of the introduction. The procession moves away, ending with a low-note pizzicato , with a sense of resignation.

The third movement with moto moderato is a minuet , subtitled Salones Romanos . A languid dance in rooms full of mirrors, a kind of waltz that is reflected in them. As if it were a portrait of old Italy. The trio with the sound of the horns marks the seal of romanticism, presenting itself as a nocturnal nostalgic. We can imagine the fairies playing in the forest. In the second part of the trio, the trumpets and timpani increase the magic of this music if possible. In the coda the theme of the trio appears again, unsuccessfully trying to dominate that of the minuetto.

It ends with a frenetic presto , subtitled Popular Dance and named by Mendelssohn himself as Saltarello . It is a dance similar to the tarantella, inspired by the dance of the Neapolitan girls in Amalfi. Four violent chords mark the beginning. Then on the rhythm marked by the violins, the flutes interpret the popular Neapolitan melody. The incorporation of various instruments marks the entrance of the dancers. Mendelssohn seems to revive the scene. A sudden change in rhythm seems to indicate the moment when the adolescents let their hair down to enter the dance. The central point of the movement is the development, in which a continuous crescendo is created, from pianissimo to fortissimo using counterpoint infugato , beginning with a passage for single strings to which the rest of the instruments are added. It begins with an ethereal dance performed by fairies and elves, a moment of great Mendelssohnian expression, which is animated until it recovers the rhythm of the tarantella marked by horns and trumpets. Formally, the movement is a rondo, with the main theme that returns periodically, but whose intermediate episodes do not separate it but merge it into a continuous whole. To conclude, we note that due to its shape it is a symphony, but the nature of its features is descriptive.

The drama and the incredible natural acoustics of these caves enhanced it exponentially. The orchestra flitted between light and shade, reached high and plunged low in delivering a perfect performance. 

All this was made possible by the conducting of their musical director Eiji Oue, who began his conducting studies with Hideo Saito of the Toho Gakuen School of Music. In 1978, Seiji Ozawa invited him to spend the summer studying at the Tanglewood Music Center. There he met Leonard Bernstein, who became a mentor. Oue won the Tanglewood Koussevitzky Prize in 1980. He also studied under Bernstein as a conducting fellow at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute.

Oue became music director of the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras in 1982, a post he held until 1989. He was music director of the Erie Philharmonic from 1990 to 1995. He has also served as associate conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1995 to 2002, he was music director of the Minnesota Orchestra. During his Minnesota tenure, the orchestra saw its attendance decline from 84% to 69% in capacity. He presided over the orchestra’s first tours to Europe and Japan. He also made recordings with Minnesota, most on the Reference Records label. Oue served as music director of the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming from 1997 to 2003.

After a 1997 tour with the NDR Philharmonie Hannover, Oue was appointed its principal conductor in September 1998. In 2003, he was appointed principal conductor of the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra. Oue made his debut at the Bayreuth Festival in 2005, conducting Tristan und Isolde. He became music director of the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona in September 2006, stepping down in 2010. 

Oue’s commercial recordings include Niccolò Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Louis Spohr’s Violin Concerto No. 8 with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Hilary Hahn for Deutsche Grammophon.

He now leads Tenerife Symphony Orchestra. He does so with gusto and some unique directional movements. He wears his chic suits with a carless elegance (Superintendent Sidetracks had noticed he wears odd, striped sock with a casual disdain)  and clearly he loves the music and his musicians and it was obvious as they all shared a standing ovation again at the end of the recital, that the audience recognised the technique and the teamwork, music and mood that had made this concert so memorable.

There is no such thing as too much Mendelssohn. 

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