Music On Slow Return To Normality

Taking a careful step towards the return of live arts events on Lanzarote, The Cabildo (government) recently presented The Zaragoza Enigma Auditorium Chamber Orchestra playing at the Teatro Victor Fernández Gopar, known locally as El Salinero, the nickname of the fisherman / poet after whom the theatre is named.
This took place on Friday 13th November and with such dates renowned as presenters of bad luck we had not been surprised when our tickets, which we had reserved on line at the ticket agency (none were distributed directly to customers) were then despatched to a wrong e-mail address. Further investigation showed this to be our error (it seems my wife, who did the ordering, doesn’t KNOW my correct e mail address !) but fortunately we had been able to put that right.

Strict covid protocols were observed on the night, with reduced theatre capacity enabling socially distanced seating after a comfortable but rigorous entry procedure of identification for track and trace purposes and face mask and hand sanitiser application had been undertaken. The concert began at 8.30 pm and lasted for almost ninety minutes, which represented excellent value when the tickets were free and would have still been excellent value had the tickets cost us twenty euros each.

The Chamber Orchestra Of The Auditorium of Zaragoza (Enigma Group) has established itself as one of the most original and outstanding projects of those that have emerged in recent years in the Spanish music scene. It was founded by Juan José Olives, Canon conductor and composer, who was its artistic director and holder from the beginning of the orchestra until his death in 2018. Olives provided the group with its imronta staff and the idea around which Enigma has grown and continues to work.

Thanks to the auspices of the Auditorium of Zaragoza, the orchestra has carried out a constant work focused mainly on the interpretation and dissemination of 21st century music and that other strictly contemporary.
This Images concert revolved around the idea of music as an image generator, through the work of six relevant Spanish creators. Particularly noteworthy in tonight´s programme were Divertimento one of the last compositions of Carles Guinovart, who died last year, as well as the work Enigma by Nino Díaz, a composition written in homage to Juan José Olives.

The program was completed with works by Teresa Catalán, Carlos Suriñach, José Evangelista or Olives himself, from which his interesting Quintento was interpreted. This was a playlist that showed the genealogy of musical creation in Spain from the middle of the twentieth century to the present day.

Music journeys, though, on many light years of travel, from its creators to its players, through its reviewers and critics like me who manipulate it into new and different contexts to fit our own preconceptions and on to its thousands, maybe millions of viewers and listeners who each form their own interpretations often shaped by personal circumstance and social climate of the time of first hearing.

So, for this reviewer, delighted at seeing people in a theatre again, and basking in the hope that such a sight carried, this became a selection of music about the invisible, stalking terrors dropped upon us by covid; the separation from loved ones, the confinement, the sense of alienation caused by the necessary changes to our everyday lives of social distancing, hand sanitising and face-masks, the loss of employment and the scarcity of evenings such as these and the inevitable slow decline into the inertia of a desultory life punctured by moments of a hope that is never quite realised.

This was a concert that by any standards contained drama and pathos and expression but in the usually still and tranquil world of chamber music was like nothing I had ever seen.

There were never more than seven players under the conductor’s guidance and there were sometimes as few as two, as musicians exited the stage for some pieces and returned for others. The playing was quite superb, for it is as difficult to play discord as it is to play harmony. Each of the instrumentalists made their pieces sound as if they were sometimes seeking harmony or reunification with their fellow players and at others as if they were being deliberately separated from them, and the discords seemed to represent squeals of anguish. A percussive sound was frequently created, too, by a less than gentle pizzicato technique on the piano or violins or baby cello as well as complex hand-clapping patterns and rhythmic finger-clicking.

Your fanciful reviewer was hearing sounds of tumbling memories of happier times slowly conceding to wearying enforced solitary confinement. That two players seemed to simply down instruments at one stage, and wander to the back of the stage and play a game of ping pong in a disinterestedly pointless manner seemed to remind us of the longeurs of solitude or loneliness.

The above is to deride neither the quality of the music nor of its playing. There were many short, beautiful passages and even some lengthier runs of glorious melody, but the punctuations seemed constant, until the final piece of the evening when the three or four players who had strolled off-stage in the earlier sets now returned. There was a feeling of the dancing in the streets and in the fields and on the shorelines that is bound to occur if the current fight-back against covid enables us to once again travel freely.

Almost a dozen short dance pieces were played, conveying appropriate merriment, and ending this compelling performance on an optimistic note.

In the opening piece of the evening I was sure I was hearing a repeated but fractured refrain of My Favourite Things from The Sound Of Music, and I mentally noted that, as this refrain faded and somehow became less familiar, that this might be a reflection on how hard it has been during lockdowns to hold on to such memories of even our favourite things.

This final piece of the evening though, spoke of being reunited with each other, and of the joy of carefree conversation that has always been one of my favourite things. We weren’t quite dancing in the aisles yet, the covid is still too close, but we were nearly there and there was enough in this concert to suggest the time for dancing is not too far away.

And if you are wondering how on earth my interpretation had anything whatsoever to do with the composers´ original intent, allow me to try to briefly explain.

Among my favourite things are ´things that work´, that function properly and covid has surely forced us to re-evaluate the soundtrack that twenty first century industry and technology reassuringly provided in pre-coronavirus days. We thought of such sounds as familiar, but not, perhaps, musical and yet, after not having heard them for so long, players and audience embraced their strange musicality.

All this was brought to life by Asier Puga, music and artistic director unobtrusively leading flute, oboe, cello, violin, viola, viocello and piano from a piece, Quintet, composed in the final quarter of the previous century, through to the Divertimento of 2019 into the Enigma that is 2020.

Composers, conductor and players deserved the ovation given at the end, and the audience filed out, guided by stewards, hoping and thinking that this might just be the start of a new beginning.