Two Violins, A Piano & Castanuelas

There are a number of reasons why we love to attend the concerts that seem to have become a regular item this year at El Fondeadero in Puerto Del Carmen. Reason one is that we can drive up from Playa Blanca to Puerto Calero in time to catch the last water taxi up to Puerto Del Carmen. Another reason is that said Water Taxi drops us off at 4.15pm right outside La Veleta restaurant by the harbour. That leaves us two and half hours for a lovely, lazy meal and drinks before we walk the twenty yards to the theatre to find two seats near the front. Dee passed the time with a vegetable risotto and I enjoyed beautiful fillet steak sliced in a sauce. We left quite a long while before ordering the apple tart ´to die for´ as a dessert. All this was a served by a chirpy and respectful waiter, as he took our orders and delivered our meals. With several tables taken by people who sounded like ´locals´ there was a hum of conversation, and some Spanish music on the radio, or Spotify.

The panorama of the harbour, under an endless blue sky, and the comings and goings of the row boats, sail boats and motor boats, commercial boats and sleek, deep sea fishing boats was simply a heaven.

The ride across the water, after parking our car at Puerto Del Carmen, had been a little bit up and down.

We have reported on these pages recently that one of the island’s most loved musicians, Iya Zhmaeva, recently delivered a violin recital with her son Diego Bermudez, (also on the violin) and Javier Diaz, Diego´s mentor at The Conservatoire in Arrecife, on the piano. We hope our review conveyed how impressed we were, both with the music selection and the beauty of its playing.

I was perhaps being fanciful when I thought I could detect something in the sound of the two violins that put me in mind of the vocal harmonies of The Everly Brothers. Nevertheless, I have read so many theories about how and why Don and Phil Everly’s vocals were so wonderful. I think they deliver in what the experts call ´vocal slides´. And yet the harmony is so close as to be almost a mirror, or echo, perhaps. When I listen to All I Have To Do Is Dream I can even “hear” the potential harmony in my head and I think that’s a big component of their sound. I hear what I think is a lot of sliding in Till I Kissed You yet neither of these songs reveal how the voices fit so perfectly.

I have heard people talk about how The Everly Brothers sing in minor 2 chords, whatever they are, and some experts think that explains why the harmonies, on their songs like Ebony Eyes sound so forlorn and mysterious.

We have an interview scheduled with Diego and we look forward to asking him whether he feels anything ´special´ arising in the sound their instruments make together when playing alongside his mother Iya.

Tonight’s concert programme differs from that of a couple of weeks ago. Here we had Handel, Spanish sounds of Turina’s Sonata 2 for violin and piano.

Spanish sauces also dribble over Romanza Adaluza composed by de Sarasate, as well as in de Monasterio, Adios a la Alhambra, de Falla’s Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve. Whenever Iya and Diego were playing together I found myself listening in parallel to this beautiful classical music that seemed to anticipate what Don and Phil Everly would do with their voices a couple of hundred years or more later.

Then when the musicians played notably the Spanish pieces I found myself thinking of the old string bands I used to love and the Appalachian mountain music, often centred around family members playing together.

The term “Appalachian music” is in truth an artificial category, created and defined by a small group of scholars in the early twentieth century, but bearing only a limited relationship to the actual musical activity of people living in the Appalachian Mountains. Since the region is not only geographically, but also ethnically and musically diverse (and has been since the early days of European settlement there) music of the Appalachian Mountains is as difficult to define as is American music in general.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing into the 1920s, nearly all of the early scholarship on Appalachian music focused on “ballad-hunting” or “song-catching,” the discovery of New World variants of ballads and other songs that had originated in the British Isles. Francis James Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1898) served as the canonical text.  One of the most famous of the ballad hunters was Cecil Sharp. He and others helped create an unassailable historical connection between some of the songs of Appalachia and those of the British Isles.

The story of Appalachian music is very similar to the story of music across America, where musicians have never cared much for categories or purity of lineage, but have eagerly mined whatever styles and forms felt suitable for the raw material of new adaptations.

The music played in El Fondeadero tonight, in Puerto Del Carmen, was at times serene and slow and at other times sprightlier, more frivolous and romantic in tone. The pace was lifted when Eva Aroco introduced us to the sounds made by the castañuelas (an instrument that at this stage I can only liken to the castanets, but offering a lightly more precise sound).

Castañuelas are a percussion musical instrument, made up of two pieces of wood joined by a cord. They were already known by the Phoenicians three thousand years ago. Other peoples, such as the Egyptians , used them along with sistrums and crotalos , a similar percussion instrument, in funerary and religious rituals such as the Sed Festival. This hand held percussion was also used as magical instruments of protection against evil spirits during birth. Originally they could be elongated, straight or curved in wood or ivory material and with some figurative motif.

Thanks to trade, they expanded throughout the Mediterranean countries , such as present-day Croatia , or southern Italy, although Spain is the country that has best preserved castanets, developing their use, being one of the national instruments, like the Spanish, classical or flamenco guitar. Other countries where castanets have traditionally been important are Portugal and Persia and Germany .
I return to my first thought, however, that these seemed to offer a more precisely clipped sound than in the castanets, but maybe that precision is all in the playing.

Eva did not employ the sound to invite or accompany flamenco but to somehow add another layer of gaiety to the ensemble playing.
With Javier sure-footedly striding down alleyways and avenues on the piano and Iya and Diego playing off one another in classical music, they created, in my heart and mind anyway, echoes of The Everly Brothers and Appalachian mountain music of the early twentieth century when family bands were formed in nearly every household, this was a divine concert.

Although mother and son combinations would have ben heard frequently in the string bands of the Appalachians I am not aware of such partnerships in the classical music genre in which Iya and Diego and their friends excel.

This superb concert showcased their skills perfectly. Iya has an incredible ability to fade a note and let it hang in the air, and Diego seems confortable and innovative in whatever tempo he is playing.

The entire audience rose to a standing ovation to bring the quartet back to play again, reflecting the buzz that had emanated from the audience throughout the performance.

We stepped outside, and walked to the front of the building where a taxi was waiting (just for us, it seemed), so we jumped in and asked the driver to take us back to our car in Puerto Calero. This he did at Lewis Hamilton speed. Still, he got us there in the nick of time, because the sun had not quite got into bed yet, so I was able to drive home in a good driving-light. We were home for dead on nine o´clock just in time to hear Hislop and Merton asking me Have I Got News For You?

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