35TH Festival Internacional De Music De Canarias 2019

Convento de Santo Domingo, Teguise – January 2019

The 35th Annual Festival Internacional de Musica De Canarias had already provided us with two super concerts, by Quarteta De Cuerda Quiroga and by London Conchord Ensemble. Having enjoyed them so much. but then having had to miss the Orquesta De Cadaques playing in the Auditorio De Jameos Del Agua, we were hugely looking forward to this Festival spot by Orquesta Barroca de Tenerife. (OBDT).

The Festival advertising offered a brief history of the group, telling us that it was only formed as recently as 2017 to explore the formidable maturity of ancient Spanish music. That phrase ´formidable maturity´ has probably emerged from a translation into English of a note written in Spanish, in a phraseology we might not recognise as being typically English. What a description, though,…,. with the ´ancient´ emphasising the ´maturity´ and somehow giving an idea of how daunting it can be for contemporary musicians to approach music that is centuries old and seemingly cemented in limited ways, to explore how its history, instruments and styles can be re-constructed.

The Orquesta Barroca De Tenerife remains undeterred in its determination to bring baroque music to 21st century audiences. Using instruments and styles of playing relevant to the periods in which they were composed, the Orquesta, promised pieces by Stradella, Corelli, E.F. D´all Abaco, as well as Albinoni, Locatelli, and Geminiani.

The venue, Convento De Santo Domingo, lends much to the ancient former capital of the island, properly known as Villa De Teguise. The convent is over two hundred years old, having been built at the beginning of the eighteenth century, over an existing church that had stood on the same spot for the previous hundred years or so.

The grandeur and historical significance of this building helped this square, to the side of the town centre, acquire the refined title of The Royal Noble and Majecestio Villa de Teguise.

The area originally covered by the Convent has diminished slightly, with part of its land being used for the construction of a new Town Hall. However, the original altar piece of the temple remains intact, and is dedicated to Our Lady Of Grace.

I had read a recent press release from The Cabildo saying that it supports applicants that choose subsidies aimed at the restoration and conservation of heritage interest buildings. I don’t know if this building falls into that category but, if so, then it could benefit from a fresh lick of paint, perhaps. That said it has a wonderful atmosphere that might strangely evaporate if too much renovation were to be applied.

These days, the building is used to house events such as visual arts exhibitions and live music, and as we have learned at previous concerts here, this old building and classical and traditional music is truly a marriage made in heaven. This would again be evident tonight.

The word ´baroque´ describes a period or style of western music that was prevalent throughout the fifteenth century and the first half, too, of the sixteenth, existing neatly between the Renaissance period and the Classical era of music, of which baroque now forms a major part of the canon. Composers such as Bach, Vivaldi and Monterverdi contributed hugely to this library of work, of course, as did Handel, Purcell and Pachelbel amongst many others.

Publicity photographs for OBDT and this event portrayed an orchestra of thirteen players, and that was indeed the number that took to the stage. With musician and director Adrian Linares came Lorena Padron and Maria Brana (volines Barrocos 11) and Ivan Garcia and Melchor Garcia  (violas barrocas) Fernando Santiago and Diego Perez (violoncello), Juan Carlos Baeza (violon), Carlos Oramas on Tiorba and Raquel Garcia to play Clave.

The gentlemen players were all neatly dressed in trousers, white shirts and blue buttoned waistcoats which was just slightly confusing to the English in the audience as Adrian, with slim figure and neatly trimmed facial hair, looked a lot like our country’s national football manager !

The work of Alessandro Stradella was the first to be presented to us. Although he died at only forty three years of age in 1862 he is described on wikepeadia as ´an Italian composer of the middle baroque period´. It is interesting that he is often further described as a freelance composer working in a way that allowed him to collaborate with distinguished poets of the time and to write to commission when the opportunity arose. In fact he produced over three hundred works in a variety of genres, and his music is currently gaining rapidly in popularity, perhaps because of modern fascination with the perceived adventurous and hedonistic life styles of artists, Stradella, after all, is noted by some writers as having been ´an aristocratic lady-killer!´

The orchestra took their place on stage and, with only an almost imperceptible nod from their director, began playing Stradella’s sinfonia for violins. The opening bars led us in what seemed quick tempo dance music, with the deep notes of the violoncello then joining in to create a full orchestral sound as the piece wound gracefully to its close.

OBDT next introduced us to the work of Arcangelo Corelli, an Italian composer and violinist, who widely influenced his contemporaries and, indeed, future generations of music makers. Born in 1653, of an earlier generation than names such as Bach and Handel, he established himself in Rome in the sixteen seventies, after studying in Bologna.

The Orquesta played selections from his Concert Grossi en Re menor, Opus 6. His largo allegro piece had all the orchestra playing together at a slowly increasing pace that saw the violins run away with it at the end, but Corelli’s Largo was more restrained and haunting.

His two allegro pieces seemed to me to move from an exploration of loss or regret into an explosion of joy.

Any other laymen like me in the audience must surely have been enjoying such a blanket introduction to so many of the movers and shakers of Baroque music. Whilst the music does indeed carry a distinctive and recognisable style, the sheer numbers of composers being celebrated here offered an astonishing diversity.

The next composer to be attributed was Joseph Abaco (full name Joseph (Giuseppe) Marie Clément Ferdinand dall’Abaco) (1710 –1805). He was an Italian violoncellist and composer. He was born and baptised in Brussels, then capital of the Spanish Netherlands, and was musically trained by his father, Evaristo Felice dall’Abaco, who was, himself, the son of renowned guitarist Damiano dall’Abaco.

The interpretation by OBDT was amazing. They played from his Concerto Grosso Opus 5 and 6 with a cheerful and delightful opening Alegro with the Aria being slow and stately and supported by the excellent playing of bass notes. The Ciaccona (allegro e spiccato) again saw the OBDT playing in a stately and refined manner whilst gradually building a tsunami of sound that rose from what had seemed, from its opening, to be a gentle boat-bobbing sea. The Rondo Allegro, played as a meandering ensemble piece, gave way then to the merry dance of the final allegro.

And the first half was over with not a word uttered by either the musical director or any of his musicians. There had been nothing to distract us from the gloriously simple, yet sophisticated, music emanating from the stage.

During the interval we bumped into Iain and Margaret, a couple we had met last year at a similar event, but had not seen since. They are keen readers of Miguel’s weekly newsletter and, indeed, of these pages on the Lanzarote Information web site and it transpired that, like us, they had been to the two previous concerts in this classical festival and, also like us, had been very impressed.

They intend seeing the The Orquesta Filarmonica De Camara De Minsk, at El Salinero in Arrecife. Dee and I have to miss that as we will be at another arts event in Playa Blanca, but who knows, I might be able to pick Iain’s brains to make some comparisons of the four festival events he and Margaret will have seen.

The OBDT returned to the stage after about ten minutes and their first piece, again without any introduction in either Spanish or any other language, was composed by Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni. He became proficient as both a singer and violinist at an early age. As he wasn’t yet then a member of The Performers´ Guild he could not give any official public performances. This saw him concentrate on composing music and he simultaneously published his first opera and his first piece of instrumental music. After the death of his father, a wealthy paper merchant, in 1709, Tomaso was able to cultivate his love of music for pleasure rather than profit. He continued to live in Venice where he had lived all his life. He married and then composed more than eighty operas over the course of his lifetime and his music often clearly proclaimed his love of the oboe. In fact some of his concertos featuring one, or two oboes, were among the first of their kind to be published, becoming successful and well-loved by the public.

OBDT opened Albinoni’s work with a cheerfulness of violins played over what I can only describe as a ´walking blues´ beat from the bass instruments. These two almost contrapuntal sounds, though, took us through this piece with an impressive dignity. Albinoni’s Longhetto, however was seemingly a sadder, more intense offering.

Indeed it was here that I most noticed that, with all the violin string section to the left of the stage and the upright bass instruments to the right, the sounds each produced seem to meet in the middle and rise up together to the high ceilings of this wonderful building and then to pour down on us from there like warm rain. The allegro asso that concluded the Albinoni contribution was played in a delightfully sprightly style.

OBDT then played work by Pietro Antonio Locatelli, born in Bergamo, Italy in 1695, and often called the first of the great baroque violin virtuosi.

He began playing the violin as a boy and his talent was clearly recognized early, as in 1711 at the age of sixteen, he was given leave to travel to Rome, to learn his trade and study with other masters of the craft. Over the next decade Pietro gave major public performances in cities such as Venice, Bavaria and Berlin.

In much the same way as people thought of me, when I was a young footballer who couldn’t get into his school team, there were those who, even though it was highly praised, found his work too brilliant; likewise, although the originality of his work was admired, others criticized a lack of technique and invention. Perhaps the light currently being directed by the likes of OBDT and others will lead to a critical reassessment of Locatelli’s work. If so, I can continue to hope that perhaps Gareth Southgate, who looks so much like the musical director of OBDT, will call me up to the England team. I’m only sixty six. I’m part of the ´youth policy´.

The deep notes of the bass section and a prominent piece on clave created a dramatic start to Locatelli’s work. That gradually subsided to subdued notes that spoke to me of yearning. The Allegro Adogio was given an intriguing opening by the ghostly playing of the violins whereas the Largo of the next piece spoke of death, I felt, before the final allegro was played with a wonderful rise and fall.

This gifted Orquesta had still one more intriguing name to introduce to us.

Finally this Tenerife based orchestra gave us the name of Geminiano Giacomelli (sometimes Jacomelli) (1692 – 1740) an Italian composer born in Piacenza. In 1724 he was named to the post of Kapellmeister to the duke of Parma. Following the first performance of his opera Ipermestra, in 1724, he became one of the most loved opera composers of his era, composing 19 operas between 1724 and 1740. His best known work in this field is Cesare in Egitto of 1735. He also wrote sacred music, including eight psalm settings for tenor and bass. In 1738 Giacomelli again became Kapellmeister, this time at the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto the city in which he died in 1740.

Geminiani’s two pieces were ideal closers for this concert, with OBDT delivering his works with full ensemble treatments that somehow privileged the violoncello section as the concert came to an end.

Still, not one word had been spoken, in stark contrast to some fairly lengthy introductions by other orchestras in previous festival performances. The applause from the audience of circa 500 was loud, long and sustained and gradually everybody rose to their feet to give the OBDT the standing ovation they deserved.

With me and Iain reluctant to leave the building until we had explored every opportunity of purchasing any CDs recorded by Orquesta Barroca De Tenerife, we managed to fall into conversation with one the company’s players. He explained to us that the band has not yet had time in the studio but it is something they hope to do in the future. He was delighted by the size of tonight’s audience and its response to their music and also pleased with the acoustics produced by this venerable building.

Now, I had assumed that this annual Festival of Classical Music that each year sends prestigious orchestras off on tour of The Canary Islands must be a bit like the old rock and roll tours where all the musicians from each band travelled and socialised together, and in so doing had great ´jam sessions´ that help them all better understand each other’s music. Not so, apparently. OBDT had seen neither hide nor hair of any of the other orchestras, as the details of each band’s itineraries are too complicated. If I was putting a comment in a wish list suggestion box, it would urge the festival organisers, who do a wonderful job, to try to schedule a huge concluding festival day that would see all the orchestras playing on the same bill. I should not complain at all, though. The twelve governmental supporters of the Festival and its twenty four corporate sponsors help deliver such wonderful music to our islands every year, and instead of asking for more I should, like Abba, be saying Thank You For The Music.