PianoArts Presents Music From Spain

Potent works by Granados and de Falla performed by top-flight musicians.

By - Jun 8th, 2023 12:19 pm
William Eddins. Photo from PianoArts.

William Eddins. Photo from PianoArts.

PianoArts offers a piano concert Sunday evening, June 11, celebrating A Night in Spain. William Eddins, pianist and Music Director Emeritus of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, will perform composer Enrique Granados‘ Goyescas, a major suite inspired by the paintings of Francisco Goya.

El amor y la muerte de Goya. (Public Domain)

El amor y la muerte de Goya. (Public Domain)

Pianist Elena Abend and clarinetist Orlando Pimentel open the concert with Manuel de Falla’s captivating Siete Canciones Populares Españolas (“Seven Popular Spanish Songs”) in a less common arrangement for piano and clarinet. Chair of the piano program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Abend has been a champion of Latin classical musical performance in Milwaukee.

The Goyescas suite is rarely performed in its entirety. As with works such as “Pictures at an Exhibition,” the music is inspired by paintings. The set of paintings tell a story. Bohemian lovers in the early 20th century, a “flirtatious maja suggestively leaning into an obliging sword-bearing majo,” begin a courtship reflected through sketches and the text to two featured songs, referenced but not sung, in the suite.

Love and death are celebrated in the second song:

Why does the nightingale sing
His harmonious song in shadows?
That he hopes to find relief in the shade,
Sadly singing love songs?
And perhaps some flower,
Trembling from the shame of love,
Is the slave in love with the singer?
It is a mystery the song which the nightingale sings
enveloped with darkness!
Love is like a flower,
Like a flower at the mercy of the sea.

Goya’s painting reveals the death of the majo, the end of the love story.

Critic Kathryn Koslowsky Schmidt explores the story: “The two songs starkly contrast with one another: the former is a lively dance with words that express the hope and excitement of love, while the latter is a melancholy song with images of the lonely bird in shadows, bearing ‘hidden pain.’ They certainly accurately depict the scope of Goyescas, which confidently straddles both realities,” she writes.

The result is an ‘opera’ for piano. Indeed, Granados created an opera following the suite. The opera received its debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1916. On his way back to Spain, his ferry boat from England to Dieppe was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and Granados drowned trying to save his wife. The manuscript of the opera went down with the boat.

Offering a more serious approach to the subject, the concert offers two masterworks rather than a sampling of short works. This immersion into the soul of 20th-century Spanish classical music may best be experienced by attending a pre-talk by Meaghan Heinrich, who frequently offers talks for Milwaukee Symphony concerts.

Sunday’s concert will be held at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music at the Goodrich Mansion at 1584 N. Prospect Ave. on Milwaukee’s East Side. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with the pre-talk. A reception with guitarists from Siempre Flamenco follows the 7:30 p.m. concert. Tickets are $15 for students; $25 for adults. Reservations are encouraged for this intimate venue. Call 414-962-3055 or email Tickets are also available online.

Next week, PianoArts begins the biennial Wisconsin Youth Piano Competition for pianists aged 10-16. Competitors will participate in Master Classes and other programs. On June 18, six semifinalists will perform the first movement of a concerto with a second pianist and speak about the music. Three finalists appear with a Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra chamber ensemble. The first-place winner will play in a youth concert offered by the Milwaukee Symphony next season. Sunday afternoon and Monday afternoon events are open to the public. Information here.

Next June, the North American Piano Competition for pianists ages 16-21 will feature pre-professional musicians with extraordinary skills. Finalists from the last North American competition will visit Milwaukee throughout next year to offer programs in school systems and public venues.

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