In performance: Falla and Flamenco
The Post-Classical Ensemble catches Falla
by Anne Midgette
Concerts are usually organized by genre: a recital by a pianist, or a concert by an orchestra, is more common than a mix of different performers on a single program. This is partly a matter of economics: if you present a concert that includes a string quartet, a singer, and a chamber orchestra, you have to find a way to pay them all. But some champions of thematic programming defy these limitations: like Leon Botstein, whose wide-ranging festivals at Bard College explore the work of a single composer, or Joseph Horowitz, the co-founder and co-director of the Washington-based Post-Classical Ensemble. Horowitz’s latest thematic program, “Falla and Flamenco,” wildly ambitious, included everything from a solo piano piece to a fully choreographed work of dance. It played in New York, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, on April 17; on Friday night, it came to the Harman Center for the Arts.
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) was profoundly curious about Spanish traditions, particularly flamenco and the form of deep Gypsy singing known as “Cante jondo” which gave it birth, and he certainly worked them into his music. The problem with a program focusing on these influences is that it may be hard to apprehend them without a deep knowledge of the style itself. Falla’s music incorporates the watercolor washes of so-called French Impressionism as well as the guttural melismas of flamenco. His “Nights in the gardens of Spain” (which Angel Gil-Ordóñez, the Post-Classical Ensemble’s other founder, conducted Friday in a chamber-orchestra version) is clearly informed by Debussy; his “El corregidor y la molinera,” a rustic dance-pantomime that won him a commission from the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and that formed the second half of Friday’s program, draws more purely on Spanish themes. To fully understand the flamenco component of the evening, though, the audience was required to do some homework (a film was shown before the performance, and a discussion session held after it). What the concert offered was Falla’s interpretation of it.
(read more after the jump)
The program’s first piece was chronologically the last: the “Fantasia baetica” for solo piano, written for the virtuoso Artur Rubinstein after -- according to notes by the soloist, Pedro Carboné -- Falla tired of hearing him play his “Ritual Fire Dance” out of context and wanted to write him some real Spanish music. Awash in clouds of color, demanding and dream-like, the music, authoritatively performed by Carboné, was somewhat stymied by the tinny percussiveness of the piano. The “Nights in the garden of Spain” continued both the same theme -- expanding on dreamy musical illustrations of the Spanish landscape, tinged with touches of various local colors -- and the piano; it is less a concerto than a conversation among instruments, with the piano an insistent voice in the crowded orchestra.
The second half of the evening strayed even farther into the realm of interpretation: rather than a literal recreation of Falla’s dance scenario, it offered a more abstract and decidedly darker retelling. “El corregidor” was the basis of the ballet “The three-cornered hat,” but it had, according to the Post-Classical Ensemble, never been staged in the United States until Gil-Ordonez led it at BAM on the 17th. It is a leaner version of the better-known later work, which has a reworked second half and a larger orchestration, but tells the same basic story: rich magistrate tries to seduce miller’s beautiful wife, and is repeatedly foiled.
In the hands of Ramón Ollier, however, a Spanish choreographer and dancer, it became a tale of sexual power plays and coercion related in a contemporary balletic idiom that included flamenco touches -- notably clapped or stamped-out rhythms, sometimes drummed by the dancers’ whole bodies on the floor. A full-scale choreography, with members of the New York-based Peridance Ensemble and the Barcelona-based Passatges Dansa forming a full troupe behind the four principals, it outweighed in seriousness the light little folk ballet music that kept showing through in the worthy reading of Gil-Ordóñez and his players. The sinuous music that accompanied the fluid and never-ending dance of Sandrine Rouet in the taxing role of the miller’s wife became almost incongruous as humorous phrases sang out behind the controlled and rather frightening movements of Ollier as the black-clad, street-clothes-sporting Corregidor, incongruous in age and costume among the faun-like young dancers around him. The choreography, like the music, incorporated a range of influences. Elements of flamenco kept peeking through in the lithe roiling of Rouet’s forearms and the taut arcs of Ollier’s body, but they were too well worked into the balletic whole to assert themselves as more than flicks of color.
April 26, 2010; 12:03 AM ET
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