By Matanya Ophee
Here we go again!
This was the fourth time I was invited to take part in this important festival, and, surely, I will not miss the invitation I just received for this year’s event. The program for 2001 is still to be finalized, but I am sure it will be just as impressive as the one that took place last November. To put it plainly, it just does not get any better than that!
This time, all major concerts were given in the Teatro Ocampo, a regular concert hall with all the usual fixtures, and mainly, well shielded from the street noises that marred many events in the 1999 festival. The major aspect in 2000 was the program.
Festival Director Manuel Rubio with his wife Carla and niece Gabriela
I must consider it as a special compliment to the Artistic Director of the Cuernavaca Festival, Manuel Rubio, that we were able to pass an entire week, thirteen concerts in all, without one single Koyunbaba, without one single Sunburst, with only one each of the Ginastera Sonata, the Britten Nocturnal, the Koshkin Usher Walse and only two Rodrigo Invocations and dances and Giuliani Sonatas Eroicas. Of course, there were the obligatory pieces by Ponce, particularly by those who played the afternoon concerts in the hall named after Ponce at the Jardín Borda, with the Suite in a minor receiving two renditions. There was also the usual flurry of Scarlattis and Paganinis, but on the whole, there was a remarkable lavishness in repertoire that, familiar as I am with the repertoire of the guitar, I had never heard before. I cannot think of a more powerful justification for attending a festival of this stature.
Jaime Márquez, Teatro Ocampo
The Inaugural Recital, on November 19, a las cinco de la tarde, preceded as usual with speeches by the Mayor and other dignitaries, was offered by the young Mexican guitarist Jaime Márquez. He came with impeccable credentials, having studied at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música of Madrid and the Schola Cantorum in Paris. He participated in master classes given by José Tomás, José Luis Gonzáles, Javier Hinojosa, Manuel Barrueco and Andrés Segovia. One would think that we should have heard more from this artist, but judging from his one performance here, I am not particularly anxious to hear him again. He played the Suite XXV l’Infidel by S. L. Weiss, perhaps his own transcription, the Suite in a minor by Manuel M. Ponce, and after the intermission, the Theme, 20 variations and Fugue by Ponce and the Invocación y Danza by Rodrigo. A most demanding program but marred by the artist’s habit of sight reading from the score, and at the same time, looking at his left hand. As I said elsewhere, this is an invitation to disaster and a sure way to miss something in switching from one mode of playing to another. He missed often. Another troubling aspect of his playing was the almost complete elimination of a breathing space between phrases. That always reminds me of the text of commercials on TV, where every second costs money. TV producers edit out the pauses between sentences, totally out of phase with the rhythm of normal speech. Something like Ican’tbelieveIatethewholething. When a performer resorts to this sort of phrasing, one wonders what mind set drives this false time efficiency. And then stopping in the middle of a piece to tune the guitar is a good indication that the artist listens to what he plays, but a crude interruption of the listener’s perception. So much for the inaugural recital.
Roberto Aussel, Teatro Ocampo
Same day, the evening concert. There is no need for me to speak in praise of Roberto Aussel. I have done this so often in many different venues over the many years I have been listening to this fine artist, ever since I first heard him at the Esztergom Festival back in 1982. But now, that Roberto and I shared a cup of yerba maté at the traditional post-concert meal at the Marco Polo restaurant, I must say, once again, that this shy man is one of the giants of our world. He opened his program with baroque transcriptions by Simone Molinaro, Giovanni Zamboni and Dietrich Buxtehude, closing the first half with a magnificent rendition of the Grand Overture Op. 61 by Mauro Giuliani. Very well orchestrated, giving this war-horse the true colors of the Viennese ambiance from where it originated. Bravo!
After intermission we were treated to Nuncio d’Angelo’s Due Canzone Lidie, a work that is fast becoming a staple in concert programs. First audition for me, and a welcome departure from the more mundane staples we are constantly bombarded with. Roberto continued with yet another work I had not heard before, the Cantos Yorubas de Cuba by Héctor Angulo. I suppose the work is meant to commemorate the contribution of African music to the current Cuban musical environment. I am not all that familiar with either, and therefore, cannot really say how successful it is as either African or as Cuban music. Nevertheless, Roberto’s performance of it, a first performance in Mexico, was well played and for whatever it’s worth, I’d like to hear it again. He closed the program with the Sonata Op. 47 by Alberto Ginastera. A unique opportunity to hear this very Argentinian work played by an Argentinian who well understands the intrinsic aspects of his own heritage.
Kevin Gallagher, Sala Ponce
The following afternoon concert was given by the American guitarist Kevin Gallagher, a young man who won several important competitions and is a beneficiary of a fast growing reputation, with several important recordings already to his credit. And for a good reason. Kevin Gallagher is a formidable player and I wish him a fruitful development of a well-deserved career. His program consisted of, in the first half, transcriptions of the Marionas by Francisco Guerau, 3 pieces by Luys de Narváez, and the Third Lute Suite (BWV 995) by J.S. Bach. After intermission, we heard the Paisegens e Visöes by the Brazilian composer Leonardo Boccia, a piece I have not heard before. Again, my knowledge of contemporary serious Brazilian music is not what it should be. I suspect there is a vast qualitative difference between the productions of the usual Bonfa-Nazareth-Pixinguinha-Belinatti lollipops and the works of the likes of Heitor Villa-Lobos and Karl-Heinz Koelreuter.I was recently introduced to the music of Alexandr J. Eisenberg, a Brazilian flutist who writes guitar music who won the first prize at the Rodrigo Riera composition competition in Caracas a couple … Continue reading
I would need a couple more auditions of the Boccia piece to determine where it belongs. Kevin followed that by another obvious Braziliana, the 5 Preludes by Villa-Lobos. Not exactly my cup-o’-tea these days, no matter who plays it, and how. The program closed with yet another first hearing for me, the Some Dances by American guitarist/composer Phillip Rosheger.
Eliot Fisk, Teatro Ocampo
I once wrote, and unfortunately, also published, a devastating review of a solo concert by Eliot Fisk. I am not going to tell you when and where this was done, and I hope you never find it. Eliot and I know exactly, and this is sufficient. It was an immature piece by an incompetent writer who should have known better. It was at the First American Guitar Congress in 1986 that I heard Fisk again, playing the Arpeggione Sonata by Schubert with double bass player Gary Karr. In my review (Classical Guitar magazine, January 1987), I expressed the thought that “[Eliot Fisk’s playing exhibited] passionate musicianship.”
Without hesitation, I would like to recycle this thought. Eliot Fisk’s concert, on November 20, 2000 at 9 in the evening, was the highlight of my listening experience in many years. It was a stunning spectacle of not only incredible virtuosity, but also a mature and passionate musicianship not encumbered by false pretenses. The man delivers!
Eliot opened the concert with another work I have never heard before, an Introducción y Allegro Op. 14 by Fernando Sor. I say truthfully that I have never heard this particular rendition of Sor’s Gran Solo before, because, quite simply, what I heard from Eliot did not resemble any of the known versions of the work. This was not Sor, but rather Sor/Fisk, and the application of the unusual title (in the program book) to the work amply indicated what’s to come. Here was a unique personal interpretation by a performer who fully understands the style of Sor’s time. Performers enjoyed then the freedom to modify the composer’s text any which way they wished, in order to demonstrate what they had to offer. No false pretensions to academic purism, no rationalizations or apologies. Just plain music making at its best. I enjoyed this immeasurably.
Next we heard an arrangement by Fisk of the Partite sopra l’aria detta “La Frescobalda” by Girolamo Frescobaldi. Not the usual truncated Segovia version, but a completely new transcription based on the original, magnificently played. It is difficult sometimes to listen to worn-out war-horses that have lost their currency a generation ago. One tends to shut one’s ears automatically and sub-consciously on hearing the first couple of chords of such pieces. Here, particularly after understanding from the printed program that this is different, I kept on listening for a couple more chords, and immediately got sucked into the rest of it, holding my breath. Eliot followed this with 3 Scarlatti sonatas and the C Major Suite (BWV 1005) by J.S. Bach. The last movement of the Bach, an Allegro assai, was perhaps a bit more Allegro than assai, but when delivered with flawless virtuosity, with such a breath taking assault on one’s senses, one succumbs quickly to the sheer pleasure of it. Intermission time was a welcome interruption which allowed me to go outside and breath again.
Eliot opened the second half of the program the American Bouquet by George Rochberg. First hearing. The work contains allusions to Gershwin, blues and other Americana. Difficult to assess on one hearing, but mostly the sort of music I would welcome a second hearing of. The program closed with the Shenandoah pastiche by Robert Beaser and 4 Paganini Caprices, transcriptions that have become synonymous with Fisk. Several enthusiastic encores followed, but I was too emotionally drained by then to note them down. Like I said, it does not get any better than that!
Stefano Raponi, Sala Ponce
Stefano Raponi, a young Italian guitarist, director of the Fabritio Caroso guitar Festival in the environs of Rome, perhaps here on some kind of mutual exchange, a common feature of scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours interaction between Artistic Directors of guitar festivals, played the afternoon concert the following day. He played the Sonata in a minor by Ponce, Giuliani Sonata Eroica, Castelnuovo-Tedesco Tonadilla, Brouwer El Decameron negro and a flamenco piece by Victor Monge. ’nuff said.
Wolfgang Lendle, Teatro Ocampo
I was looking forward to the evening concert. It is no secret that Wolfgang Lendle is one of my favorite guitarists. We have been good friends ever since we first met in Esztergom almost 20 years ago. I was fortunate to receive from him two major works for the guitar, which I published, the Variations Capricieuses d’après Paganini, and the Carmen Fantasy after Bizet. I heard Wolfgang perform both works in Esztergom and fell in love with them instantly. I was going to be rewarded with a live performance of the Carmen Fantasy and was not about to miss this. Now that I have stated my bias, I will not say how I personally felt about the concert. You won’t believe me. But I will report on the audience reaction. This concert, quite obviously, landed on the guitarists present, teachers and students, professional performers, Mexican and foreign, distinguished amateurs et al, as a bombshell. After each of the pieces, they gave Wolfgang an earsplitting applause, a standing ovation at the end of the concert and would not let him go until he delivered some 8 encores. On the program, Suite in c minor (BWV997) by J.S. Bach, the Sonata III by Manuel Ponce, and after intermission, a set of his own Etudes Obscures, and the Carmen Fantasy.
OK, I lied. I will tell you that that bombshell fell on me too. I knew what to expect, and yet, I could not accept the offering with indifference. I was touched. As a bonus, for me personally it seems, Wolfgang performed a new work of his, a pastiche based on the Happy Birthday To You tune, drawing on many well-known guitar hits such as Brouwer’s Elogio de la Danza, Dyens’ Tango en Skäy and some Piazzolisms. Of course I fell in love again, and of course I was fortunate to receive from Wolfgang the rights to publish it. It is now called Anniversary Paraphrase, from Marilyn to Astor. And the Marilyn in question, of course, is Marilyn Monroe. The work is now engraved, and will be published shortly. Not for the under-equipped, to be sure. None of Wolfgang’s works are. But what a fun piece to listen to!
I have it on good authority that Wolfgang Lendle, together with his singer wife Bertha Casares, will be on the program this year too. Do yourself a favor: go there and listen to this stupendous guitarist. You will be glad you did.
Alejandro Laza, Sala Ponce
Alejandro Laza is a Mexican guitarist who specializes in new music. He offered a program on the afternoon slot the following day, we are now on Wednesday, November 22. His program was indeed challenging, not only to himself but also for his listeners. He played pieces by mostly Mexican composers such as Ana Lara, Arturo Fuentes, Hebert Vázquez and Alejandro Laza, and some pieces by American composers Daniel Asia and Steve Reich (Electric Counterpoint). Someplace, out of the blue, he also included there the Rodrigo Invocation. He began his recital by talking to the audience, in Spanish, at great length. After playing, finally, the first piece on the program, he talked again, at great length, in Spanish. As I said before, I have a special distaste for performers who need to talk to the audience. They rarely have anything of importance to say, and when they say it, nine times out of ten it is dead wrong, or totally irrelevant to the matter of concert music making. I may be unfair here. There were many Mexican students in the audience who may not know much, if at all, about contemporary music. Surely they would have benefitted from the verbal introduction. I would have accepted the performance if it was billed as a lecture, in which case I could choose to either avoid it, or to listen intently. My knowledge of the Spanish language is sufficient. I would also have forgiven the artist for mouthing off if his music making was anywhere near acceptable. It was not and I left after intermission.
Karin Schaupp, Teatro Ocampo
Karin Schaupp is another talker. This time in English, to an audience whose knowledge of the language is rather limited or non-existent. Evening concert. This young German-Australian performer is gaining a following world-wide, offering the usual mixed-bag of apfel-strudel mit exaggerated body language. It’s a tough racket and the competition in the field is fierce, with several prima donne and Alpha males vying for dominance. Her Scarlatti Sonata L. 423 was done well, only to be marred by unfortunate memory lapses in the piece that followed, Giuliani’s Sonata Eroica Op. 150. Her commendable tribute to Australian composers would have been more welcome if the choice was not so grating on my sensibilities. Richard Charlton’s Threnody for Chernobyl is one of those works where the composer uses his inspiration to deliver a political message based on the suffering by innocents. A most noble thought, but when I think of the daughter of one of my close friends who is dying of cancer contracted in the Ukraine right after the Chernobyl disaster, I cannot reconcile the thought with the idea of a musical entertainment accompanied with flashy smiles and suggestive gestures. The Barrios Contemplación that followed, so completely an antithesis to the supposed expression of grief in the preceding piece, was more in line with the performer’s apparent temperament and intellectual depth. The audience liked it. Karin closed the first half with the Ponce Sonatina Meridional. I am not sure if the adverse reaction to that by several prominent Mexican guitarists in the audience, was based on the fact that she played the usual Segovia edition and not the more current version based on the composer’s original manuscript, or simply on the fact that she missed the very Mexican context of the piece, so evident even in the Segovia transcription. Either way, it was as good a performance as any.
Where Karin Schaupp could have used her vast repertoire of body language to great advantage, was in the piece that opened the second half, the Hungarian Fantasy Op. 65 No. 1 by Mertz. Here is a perfect demonstration of Hungarian gypsy mannerisms based on the verbunkos motif, so characteristic of the genre. Unfortunately, and Karin Schaupp was no different here than the majority of non-Hungarians who take up this piece, the Hungarian Fantasy is not a mere exercise in finger pyrotechnics, but a culturally specific presentation of an old and venerated tradition. Playing this piece at the virtuoso level almost metronomically precise, which she did, and applying all the wrong body movements, would have made any gypsy girl in the puszta grimace with laughter. Phillip Haughton’s God of the Northern Forest, another tribute to her Australian homeland, sounded to me like another New Age self-indulgence which, to my jaded ears, you heard it once, you heard it all. The performer finally came into her own with two transcriptions of French songs by Roland Dyens. It took some courage to play this with the composer present in the audience, but it was well done. In style. She closed the program with an unusual Agustín Barrios, his Aires Andaluces. A typical flamenco piece so reminiscent of the music of his Spanish name-sake, Angel Barrios. Needless to say, the audience liked this concert very much and demanded two encores. She delivered in kind. The Villa-Lobos Choro No. 1, and the Tárrega Recuerdos de la Alhambra.
Matanya Ophee, Sala Ponce
There was no afternoon concert on Thursday. The slot was filled by yours truly, delivering a lecture, in Spanish, on the subject of Repertoire Issues. A most enjoyable experience for me, particularly the questions after, with some poignant questions and general remarks presented by Eliot Fisk. Signing autographs is not something I am used to do, but one cannot escape the demands of all these wonderful Mexican kids. I complied.
Roland Dyens, Teatro Ocampo
What can I say about this man that I have not said before? Here, shamelessly recycled, is what I said about his concert at the previous year’s Cuernavaca festival:
Describing a concert by Roland Dyens is like trying to catch the wind. The moment you thought you got him figured out, he is already elsewhere exploring new worlds. A Dyens recital traditionally opens with an improvisatory piece which he creates extemporaneously right then and here. Having heard him do this so many times by now, I swear these improvisations are all different. Not even the same formulaic structure one finds in such exhibitions by others. The program, never advertised in advance, then continues with a selection from his compositions, the inevitable Mes Ennui Op. 46 by Fernando Sor, and an unexpected surprise or two.
This year’s performance was not any less. I love this man, and so did all the professional performers who were present.
I am sure you can easily recognize the smiling faces of Eliot Fisk, Thomas Kirschoff, David Russell, Dale Kavanagh, Paul Galbraith, Karin Schaupp and Wolfgang Lendle. The man in white shirt in the middle is Matthew Dunne, the director of the 2000 GFA festival in San Antonio, and behind him smiling young Gabriela. The audience too, loved Roland and his very special brand of music making.
The Amadeus Duo, Sala Ponce
Friday, afternoon concert. I just heard the Amadeus Duo in their concert in the Mikulov festival with pretty much the same program. I reviewed their concert then and it would be a redundancy to say much about it now. All I can say is the Thomas Kirschoff and Dale Kavanagh are both formidable musicians and I suspect their impact on the Mexican audience was much more powerful than it had been on the Czech one. They are good people to have around and I for one, was happy to be able to provide Thomas with a good cigar now and then.
Paul Galbraith, Teatro Ocampo
The evening concert on Friday was given by the eminent Scottish guitarist Paul Galbraith. He played, as he does these days, on this 8-string Brahms guitar, which he holds cello fashion with a collapsible end pin. All very interesting, but when it comes to the sheer aural experience, the direct communication between performer and listener, it is entirely besides the point. I am not interested in how a performer holds the guitar, or if he uses this or that playing technique or if he advocates this or that philosophy. As a listener, I am only interested in the music. Of course, the unusual sitting position and the very instrument used is a visual distraction which can interfere with the musical experience. But when compared to the visual distraction provided by pretty faces with exaggerated body language, it is an easy one to ignore. As for the musical experience with a Paul Galbraith concert, there is no question that what you get is a solid musicianship accompanied by awesome virtuosity, all delivered without the support of cheap lollipops, without the need for silly facial grimaces, without the false pretense of stand-up comic routines. Good old-fashioned music making, very serious, almost cerebral, and most of all—utterly honest. I heard Paul only a month before at the GFA festival in San Antonio, with more or less the same program. I think. I’ll have to look it up to be sure. But getting to participate in this experience so soon, I had to be thankful. Paul played his own arrangement of a Sonata by Haydn (Hob. XVI 46), the Britten Nocturnal, and after intermission, The Bach c minor Suite (BWV 997) which we heard only a couple of days before from Wolfgang Lendle, and the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, (BWV 998) transcribed by the performer in b minor. There is more than one way to skin a Bach Suite, there is more than one way to make an audience happy. I was happy.
Judicaël Perroy, Sala Ponce
Last day. The afternoon slot filled by young French master Judicaël Perroy. He opened with the Grand Sonata in A Major by Niccolò Paganini. You know the one. Originally composed for violin and guitar and played by most guitarists senza violin. Doing so, it seems to me, is to miss the entire point of the composition. But habits get ingrained and when a violinist is not readily available, why the hell not? What I do not understand is where this false designation of the work as Paganini’s Op. 39, so printed in the program book, come from. There is no such thing in the entire literature on Paganini, and particularly not in the Moretti-Sorrento Thematic catalogue of Paganini (Genova 1982). Actually, it is clear from this catalogue that there are only 5 opus numbers associated with the music of Paganini. Obviously, this false designation was not invented by Judicaël, as I have seen it used by other European guitarists. Pedantic nit-picking which I find it difficult to resist.
The performance, however, was anything but pedantic. Fire and brimstone and a Romanza played truly amorosamente. Two transcriptions of Paganini Caprices followed, No. 16 and the inevitable No. 24 from Paganini’s Op. 1, one of the few works by him in which he used an opus number. It was difficult not to compare this with Fisk’s performance at the beginning of the week, but as I said, there is more than way to skin a Paganini Caprice and Judicaël dispatched himself here with distinction. The second half of the program was dedicated to music by Nikita Koshkin, the Prelude and Valse, the Usher Waltz and the Sonata. Well done. Nikita recently informed me that he was invited to this year’s Cuernavaca Festival. It will be interesting to hear these two getting together. But the best was yet to come. The first encore was the Mertz Hungarian Fantasy, which Judicaël performed with distinction, in a true Hungarian gypsy style, in last year’s festival. I do not recall if Karin Schaupp was there, but I would strongly advise her to listen to this young man’s interpretation.
David Russell, Teatro Ocampo
Last evening concert, the festival is coming to an end. On stage, David Russell who needs no introduction. His program: Fantasia in C Major by José Broca (1805-1882), two Sonatas by Scarlatti (K. 490 and K. 491), Sueño en la Floresta by Barrios, a transcription of a cello sonata by Antonio Vivaldi, the Homenaje a Manuel de Falla, Op. 118 by Francis Kleynjans (here is a fellow who likes opus number…), dedicated to Russell and three pieces by Antonio Lauro.
One could say that in its general structure, if not in the precise selections, there was not much difference between Russell’s program and that offered by Schaupp. Same eclecticism, same seemingly random choice based on who knows what rationalizations, and no real central anchor as we have seen in the Galbraith program. So why was it that I listened to Schaupp with a raised eye brow, and here I was sitting on the edge of my seat, drinking it all as if I just passed through the Sahara desert?
The only way I can explain it is that Russell could play an evening of the Segovia Scales, for all I care, and I would still be enchanted. There is something in this musician’s make up that grabs me by the throat every time I listen to him, and I have heard him play more often than any other guitarist I know, ever since we first met in Esztergom in what seems now to be a previous life. Perhaps it is a question of stage presence, perhaps it is a question of direct emotional contact with the audience this man is capable of, perhaps it is me. But I know one thing for certain, it does not get any better than that! What a week!
There is more to the Cuernavaca Festival than just concerts. The mornings and afternoons are dedicated to master-classes, given by all the performers, work shops and lectures. I did not attend most of the master classes, but one work shop I had to attend. This was a unique experiment of assigning a non-guitarist musician to coach guitar students. The instructor here was Dr. Margarita Mazo, a distinguished professor of music history at the Ohio State University School of Music. Not being current in Spanish, she was assisted by Carlos Bernal in the three workshops she gave during the week. There was no question that the students, and several of their teachers as well, have gained much from a musician who did not talk to them about technique and fingering, but strictly about music and its interpretation. It is no secret that it was my idea to have Margarita invited. She is my wife, and my chief advisor in matters musical.
The Cuernavaca festival is supported by several Mexican cultural institutions, both Federal and State, many local business and private individuals.
The Cuernavaca 2000 photo album.
You would not find any concert pictures here. Frankly, the camera I had was not all that good in dark halls, or perhaps I need to brush up on digital photography. I also had to discard a lot of other pictures that did not come out well.
Enjoy what’s left!
Information about this year’s festival should become available shortly.
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|↑1||I was recently introduced to the music of Alexandr J. Eisenberg, a Brazilian flutist who writes guitar music who won the first prize at the Rodrigo Riera composition competition in Caracas a couple of years ago for his Prelude, Choral and Fugue. I will be publishing his Pentalogia for guitar quite soon, a hopefully, also other guitar works by him.|