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Scalding-hot flamenco rhythms, sultry Spanish guitar and evocative poems of Lorca inspire Pacific Symphony's "Rodrigo's Concierto," led by music director Carl St.Clair

September 30, 2013

Pacific Symphony’s 35th anniversary season continues with the sizzling sounds of 20th-century Spain igniting in the hands of Music Director Carl St.Clair as he leads the orchestra into the exotic world of flamenco, guitar and Spanish poetry. The first Music Unwound concert of the season, the performance spotlights the well-known guitar concerto, Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” performed by renowned Chinese guitarist Xuefei Yang. Hailed for her “feisty virtuosity, impeccable technique and sensitive musicianship… Yang’s guitar sings as if she had grown upin the shaded courtyards of Andalusia” (The New York Times). Then, in honor of William Bolcom’s 75th birthday, the Symphony performs the Pulitzer-Prize winning composer’s “Canciones de Lorca,” a song-cycle based on the language of Spain’s revered poet, Frederico García Lorca, which was composed in collaboration with tenor Plácido Domingo. The evocation of Lorca’s poetry is sung by multiple prize-winning tenor René Barbera and the music is being recorded for future release.

Described by Variety as “fascinating” and “free-spirited,” the work was commissioned for and premiered at the opening of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in 2006, and is dedicated to Pacific Symphony, Maestro St.Clair and Domingo.

The program also includes a vivid Spanish ghost story, as the Symphony plays the five final selections of Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” (Love, the Magician). De Falla’s suite was originally written for a famous flamencogypsy dancer, Pastora Imperio, and tells the story of a woman, Candelas, who is haunted by the spirit of her pastlover. The songs, written in the Andalusian Spanish dialect, are sung by mezzo-soprano Ola Rafało. To set the mood for the concert, classical guitarist Joseph Yashar performs Spanish music in the concert lobby, and guests are invited to create their own poetry using phrases written by Lorca. Taking place Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 24-26, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, the concert includes a preview talk with Alan Chapman at 7 p.m. and a post-concert talkback with St.Clair, Bolcom and the Symphony’s artistic advisor, Joseph Horowitz. Tickets are $25-$109; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit PacificSymphony.org.

“For this Music Unwound program, we wanted to bring to light the fascinating world of Spanish flamenco, which influenced the works of composers Rodrigo and de Falla, as well as Spain’s most famous poet, Lorca,” says St.Clair. “This powerful poetry provides an opportunity for us to delve into his world of words through our world of music. The way Bill Bolcom paints the sonic picture is just marvelous and points to his genius of combining the two art forms.”

The concert opens with Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” a musical portrait of the gardens at the Palace of Aranjuez, 26 miles south of Madrid. He described the concerto as capturing “the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains” at the Palace. The work is enriched with nuances of flamenco’s cante jondo, or “deep song,” and the finale evokes a courtly dance. The middle movement has become familiar to many because of its many adaptations—one of the most famous being the version by Miles Davis in his album, “Sketches of Spain.” It’s remarkable to note that the composer was blind by the age of 3 (he composed in braille), and although he is praised for giving the guitar a place of dignity in the concerto repertoire, he himself was a pianist and never mastered the guitar.

Of the evening’s soloist, Yang, Gramophone wrote, “the guitar world has a new star.” Born in Beijing, she was the first guitarist in China to enter a music school (Beijing’s Central Conservatoire of Music), and became the first Chinese guitarist to launch an international professional career. Her first public appearance was at the ageof 10 and received such acclaim that the Spanish ambassador in China immediately presented her with a concert guitar. Her debut in Madrid at the age of 14 was attended by the composer Rodrigo and, when guitarist John Williams heard her play, he gave two of his own instruments to Beijing’s Central Conservatoire especially for her and other advanced students. She then went on to become the first Chinese student to be awarded a full post-graduate scholarship to study at London’s Royal Academy of Music. In recognition of her distinguished career, Yang was awardedFellowship of the Royal Academy of Music in June 2012.

“‘Canciones de Lorca’ was so well received at the opening of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, whenPlácido Domingo was the soloist, that I wanted to bring the songs back, record them and release them on a CD withBill’s other work we commissioned, ‘Prometheus,’ as a 75th birthday gift,” says St.Clair.

Tenor Barbera, a graduate of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Patick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, has swiftly established himself as a young artist on the rise. At Plácido Domingo’s Operalia 2011 in Moscow, he was awarded First Prize for Opera, First Prize for Zarzuela and the Audience Prize. He is the first artist to be the sole recipient of all three awards since the competition began in 1993. Earlier in the summer of 2011, he triumphed as Tonio in “The Daughter of the Regiment” for Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Of his performance, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, “Tenor René Barbera…has a thrilling voice…His account of ‘Ah! mes amis’—the one with the famous nine high Cs—was tossed off with such apparent ease that some might wonder what all the fuss is about.”

Mezzo-soprano Rafało, a rising star, has a voice that the Palm Beach Arts Paper called “attractive, dusky and powerful.” Her rich voice and dramatic sensibility lent themselves perfectly to the sumptuous roles of Carmen, Eboli in “Don Carlo,” Amneris in “Aida,” and Dalila in “Samson et Dalila.” Rafało has coached with opera greats such as Sherrill Milnes, Tito Capobianco, Fabrizio Melano and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. In 2008, she was awarded Grand Prize of the Elgin Opera competition and First Prize of the Sherrill Milnes Opera Idol competition. She was also anapprentice artist at Sarasota Opera, receiving the Leo M. Rogers award, as well as an apprentice at Opera Tampa.

Now entering its fifth season, Music Unwound is a series of three concerts, underwritten by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, that bring innovative new formats and thematic programming to the concert experience. By creating contextual backdrops, the Symphony endeavors to give the music deeper meaning. Other Music Unwound concerts in the 2013-14 season include “Toradze Plays Shostakovich” (Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2014) and “Carmina Burana” (June 5-7, 201.

Pacific Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation with additional support from American Airlines, The Westin South Coast Plaza, KUSC and PBS SoCal. The Boeing Company is the concert sponsor for the Oct. 25 performance.