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Jean Oelrich
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Orchestral imagination and beauty abound when Pacific Symphony plays Tchaikovsky’s radiant Fifth and the intoxicating sounds of Spain, with guitarist Pablo Villegas

Orange County, Calif. — February 16, 2016

The irresistible rhythms of Spain precede the sumptuous tone and mastery of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Fifth for Pacific Symphony’s next classical performance, led by guest conductor Manuel López-Gómez, one of the most exciting talents to emerge from the internationally renowned Venezuelan music program “El Sistema.” The Symphony’s concert includes two Spanish gems—Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio espagnol” and Rodrigo’s “Fantasy for a Nobleman”—the latter performed by guitarist Pablo Villegas, who is hailed by critics as one of the world’s leading classical guitarists. Villegas is also celebrated as an ambassador of Spanish culture with performances in more than 30 countries since his auspicious debut with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. His “beautifully rounded guitar tone” and “soulful rendition” (The New York Times) makes him one of the most sought-after soloists.

The concert takes place Thursday through Saturday, March 10-12, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets range from $25-$110. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“Our program focuses on the Romantic era and begins with the brilliant ‘Capriccio espagnol’ by Rimsky-Korsakov, with a huge orchestration, full of timbres and rhythms with virtuoso cadenzas for instrument solos that explore articulations and particular techniques, like having string instruments play like guitars,” says Maestro López-Gómez. “We also have the second best-known work of Joaquín Rodrigo, ‘Fantasy for a Gentleman,’ composed on themes by Baroque composer Gaspar Sanz. And we finish with Tchaikovsky´s Fifth, a cyclical symphony that explores different emotions from resignation to a triumphant end. This is a program where we will experience different moods, feelings and emotions within a well-balanced frame.”

Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio espagnol” is a sparkling orchestral painting of Spain that reminds audiences of the composer’s supreme mastery of the orchestra. Like the full-blooded, intoxicating Spanish melodies and locales it was inspired by, the suite is bursting with orchestral inventiveness and beauty. The passionate tunes and brilliant colors continue to keep it an audience favorite. It is, in fact, among the most popular orchestral works today, which is surprising because it’s relatively short (an average performance is about 15 minutes). The piece was written in 1887, during a period when the composer was feeling proud of his previous works. He decided that now he would write a glittering showpiece for orchestra and violin. He sketched out this idea, only to then reject it. He reimagined the work, keeping the Spanish theme, but making the orchestral music so glittering and flashy that each and every musician needed to have virtuoso skills to play it well.

The premiere took place in St. Petersburg, with Rimsky-Korsakov conducting. It was a huge success—the audience exploded with applause, and wanted the orchestra to play it again all the way through. Even during the rehearsals, the musicians in the orchestra kept stopping to applaud Rimsky-Korsakov’s genius. Rimsky-Korsakov was secretly annoyed that all most people could see in the piece was the magical orchestration. He thought that the orchestration was a fundamental part of the piece and not just a shimmering facade.

“I’ve never played with Pacific Symphony, but I am convinced we will enjoy working together,” says López-Gómez. “It´s also my first time working with Pablo Villegas. I’m very excited because he is one of the greatest guitar players. It’s a wonderful orchestra, great soloist and wonderful music.”

 “Fantasía para un gentilhombre” (Fantasy for a Nobleman), as performed by Villegas (of whose talents the The New York Times has written: “…virtuosic playing characterized by its vividly shaded colors and irresistible exuberance…”) is also imbued with a highly authentic flavor of Spain. Rodrigo’s music is steeped in Spanish melodies and culture, particularly folk music, and the four movements of the piece are all based on dances from around the country. Villegas transports his audience to the hazy heat of a Spanish evening, particularly in the more lyrical sections where his guitar—an infamously difficult instrument to balance against the orchestra—manages to own the spotlight in the concert hall.

Villegas says: “Music is a social tool, and opening people’s hearts and helping them connect to the inner life of the emotions is my mission.”

“I think of Tchaikovsky as one of the greatest romantic composers, melodist and orchestrators, who always has something special in his music—especially his symphonies, which combine with many other periods and styles of classical music,” says López-Gómez.

Anchoring the program is Tchaikovsky’s enduring Symphony No. 5, featuring the composer’s famous poetic melancholia and the work’s dramatic and triumphant final movement. Tchaikovsky’s melodic gifts are abundant here, along with his harmonic mastery and his ability to sustain a large, complex symphonic architecture. Some consider Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 to be the inspiration or even the template for Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, since it carries the listener along the same rigorous emotional journey, from a foreshadowing of tragedy as the first movement opens to triumphant resolution in the fourth-movement finale. As in Beethoven’s Fifth, this effect is achieved through the recurrence of the fateful opening theme.

Throughout Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, the composer seeks to probe feelings of profundity and depth, especially in its outer movements. Like many great composers before him, he felt the burden of reserving the symphonic form for serious, if not monumental subject matter. Shockingly, the composer proclaimed his work “a failure” after just the second performance; today it is considered a perfect example of a Romantic-era symphony: colorful, complex and above all, passionately emotional. Despite Tchaikovsky’s doubts, the piece has been an audience favorite since its premiere in 1888, not only because of its memorable melodies and emotional richness, but also because of its thought-provoking musical depiction of timeless, abstract concepts like “fate” and “providence.” The composition has gone on to attain immortality.

“Manuel impressed all through his competence, education, generosity, seriousness and talent. He is a young musician and conductor with all the qualities to have a brilliant musical life,” commented Ricardo Castro, music director of the Orquesta Sinfonica de Bahia, Brazil.

López-Gómez is increasingly recognized not only for his groundbreaking work as music director of El Sistema in Colombia, but also as a guest conductor of visionary and inspiring capabilities. The young conductor (still in his mid-20s) is a product of the internationally recognized State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela, commonly known as “El Sistema.” He began his musical studies on the violin at the age of 6, and joined the Youth Orchestra of Venezuela in 1999, subsequently touring internationally with the orchestra. López-Gómez also served as concertmaster of the Youth Orchestra of Caracas for four years under the baton of Maestro Gustavo Dudamel, and he now actively guest conducts around the world. He was a finalist in the Eduardo Mata International Conducting Competition in Mexico, as well as the Sir George Solti International Conducting Competition in Frankfurt, Germany.

The soul of the Spanish guitar runs in Villegas’s blood. Born and raised in La Rioja, Spain—the country with unique and deep ties to his instrument—Villegas is distinguished by performances as charismatic as they are intimate. With his singing tone and consummate technique, his interpretations conjure the passion, playfulness and drama of his homeland’s rich musical heritage, drawing comparisons with such legends of his instrument as Andrés Segovia. At just 15 he won the Andrés Segovia Award, launching a succession of international wins that include Gold Medal at the inaugural Christopher Parkening International Guitar Competition. The first guitarist to win El Ojo Crítico, Spain’s top classical music honor, Villegas has since performed for both the Dalai Lama and the Spanish royal family, and he gave the world premiere of “Rounds,” the first composition for guitar by five-time Academy Award-winner John Williams.

Pacific Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from the Avenue of the Arts Hotel; KUSC and PBS SoCal.

 

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