TRIO ARRIAGA

VIOLINIST, CELLIST, PIANIST & page turner

Teatro San Bartolome, Friday 9th July 2021

37th Annual International Music Festival Of The Canary Islands

a review by Norman Warwick

´Living in these turbulent times of pandemic, but already with clear signs of heading towards a general improvement of the situation, we put all the illusion in the celebration of the 37th edition of the International Music Festival of the Canary Islands, which will take place, for the first time, in the summer.

July 2021 marks more than 36 years since that kind of day when the first edition of the Canary Islands International Music Festival (FIMC) was inaugurated. That January 11th, 1985 would be a key date for music in our islands: from that day on, the Canaries were able to enjoy world-class orchestras, conductors and soloists, which otherwise would be very difficult to attract. And this meant, therefore, placing the Canary Islands on the international map of classical music, with a highly prestigious cultural event.

After more than three decades we can speak of a Festival consolidated and appreciated by the public: some 28,000 spectators attended the FIMC in its latest edition (2020). The progressive increase in the public, year after year, motivates us to continue maintaining the seal of quality and prestige.

We present a new program for the 37th edition in which we intend to revive the success of recent years: Gustavo Dudamel, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Grigory Sokolov, Thomas Hampson, Fabio Luisi, Basel Chamber Orchestra, Ivo Pogorelich, Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra of Baviera, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, René Jacobs, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ivan Fischer, Javier Perianes, Trío Arriaga, Nancy Fabiola Herrera, Pedro Halffter, Víctor Pablo Pérez, Ainur Chamber Choir, a stellar cast of singers of international stature for the Opera Cosi Fan Tutte, an arrangement of the Carnival of the Animals and Abubukaka, as well as some programmatic innovation that you can discover for yourself.

Our purpose is to re-unleash the enthusiasm generated by music of the highest level, that which awaken the senses and that helps to escape the lethargy that the pandemic has imposed on us.

We will maintain the strict protocol for holding events in closed spaces that the situation requires.

Thank you very much for trusting us!´

So read an open letter and press release from the organisers of the 37th International Music Festival of the Canary Islands. Having seen most of the acts under that banner who have performed on Lanzarote since we came to live here in 2015 I can reassure them that we know we can trust them: We trust them to bring us the best in classical music and (although it has never needed saying previously) we trust them to consider our health and safety in doing so,

Trio Arriaga

The Arriaga Trio is the meeting place of three musicians of recognized prestige and where their careers as soloists converge: Juan Luis Gallego (violin), David Apellániz (cello) and Daniel Ligorio (piano). The Canarian public has been able to enjoy on numerous occasions to see and hear the talents of these three performers, although this was the first time they had performed within the framework of the International Music Festival of the Canary Islands The Arriaga Trio have also performed live in important chamber festivals in Italy, France, Belgium and Spain, in addition to visiting the main concert halls and auditoriums of our country.

Among the milestones of their career is the performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, which gave them the opportunity to collaborate with various symphony orchestras and to collaborate with prestigious violist Gerard Caussé.

They have played many concerts in several of the best European festivals and have collaborated with the vast majority of Spanish orchestras and by some of the best European orchestras.

The Arriaga Trio also has to its credit an intense record production pointed out by critics as referential of the repertoire. Examples of this are the integral work for trio of Turina (Columna Música, 2010) and works by Catalan authors of the twentieth century (Naxos, 2011). Among his next most outstanding projects is the recording for Eudora of works by Tchaikowsky and Shostakovich and another for Warner in 2021, dedicated to Astor Piazzolla in his centenary, a preview of which we able to enjoy tonight..

The Arriago Trio used their Festival platform  to pay tribute to composer Astor Piazzolla on the centenary of his birth.

Astor Pantaleón Piazzolla was an Argentine tango composer, bandoneon player, and arranger. His works revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed nuevo tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. A virtuoso bandoneonist, he regularly performed his own compositions with a variety of ensembles. In 1992, American music critic Stephen Holden described Piazzolla as the world’s foremost composer of Tango music.

This was a reference to the past by three classical musicians very much of the contemporary generation. As a trio they have recorded more than 25 albums – some for labels such as NAXOS or Sony – and have won multiple awards in national and international competitions.

Magazines such as Gramophone or BBC Magazine highlight their exquisite filling and beautiful sonority.

There were strong and identifiable elements of tango throughout the programme we heard tonight which was built of the following works of Piazolla.

Adiós Nonino
La muerte del Ángel
Soledad
Revolucionario
Libertango
Las cuatro estaciones porteñas (Arr. Leonid Desyatnikov)
Oblivion

There was a lengthy Spanish language introduction from Juan Luis when the trio (and piano page-turner) stepped on to the stage. A page-turner is a person employed to turn sheet music pages for a soloist or accompanist, often a pianist, usually during a performance.

While some music is arranged so that the pages end at places where the musician can spare one hand to turn them, this is not always possible. A page-turner is often necessary for musicians who are playing complex pieces and prefer not to play from memory. A page-turner needs to be able to understand the musician’s signals and follow the music to know when to turn the page, and to do so quickly and unobtrusively. Page-turners are sometimes acquaintances of the performer or members of the accompanying orchestra doing a favour. Professional page-turners are often freelance casual workers, not associated with any given concert hall or orchestra.

Mechanical page-turners are also available, sometimes controlled by the musician via a foot pedal. Charles Hallé is said to have invented the automatic page-turner. Foot pedals to turn pages are also available for music displayed on computers.

Page turning can be a nerve-wracking experience as the turner feels a great responsibility to “get it right” for the performer. Turns should be discreet and silent (turn from the left of the pianist, using the left hand to turn the top of the page):  in effect the turner should be “invisible” – and the turner should be sure never to turn too early or too late. In addition, the turner has to be able to understand and act correctly upon repeats, da capo and dal segno markings, and other quirks of the score. Turners also need to be alert to concert hall conditions: drafty halls can be stressful as stray gusts and breezes may blow the pages around. Page turners have to observe correct on stage etiquette: they must follow the performer on to the stage and know not to rise from their chair nor fidget during pianissimo passages. They leave the stage after the performer has taken his or her applause and only step forward to receive plaudits if invited to by the performer. Much of the turner’s role is about being able to “read” the performer’s body language and be acute enough to act upon sometimes highly discreet signals. I don´t suppose page-turners should discuss their anxiety with the performer, nor expect the performer to give them tips or advice about their own playing or musical careers.

I found myself thinking about all this, somewhat distractedly, throughout the opening introductions. However, although I understood not one word, there was a quality to the speaker´s voice that suggested sincerity and warmth and it seemed obvious he was speaking about the composer as Piazolla´s name was mentioned, and I recognised some international words like Buenas Aires and Tango and Argentina, as the violin player concluded his introduction by reading what sounded like two pieces of poetry.

Then, they were playing, in teatro San Bartolome, a venue that, pre-covid, we were used to seeing  bursting at the seams. Tonight it was the new-normal story of pre-booked tickets, roped off seats, socially-distanced seating plans and a reduced capacity audience all masked up to hear three world class musicians playing glorious thought-provoking music to around 150 fans where two years ago would have been 700.

We are not sure of the precise role of the promoters and ticket agencies in all this, but tonight´s wasn´t quite as streamlined an event as at Arrecife´s El Salinero where several recent concerts have been very smoothly operated.

This, as far as we are aware, was the first such concert back here in San Bartolome. We overheard that some people had purchased tickets at the door (though whether on the night or prior to the event was unclear) but that procedure seemed to have caused some confusion or lack of communication about what seats were deemed ´saleable´.  There seemed to be rows of three seats together not reserved for people from a single household. None of this is to blame or point the finger at anyone but is merely reportage of where we stand (or sit) as we ease, and finally leave behind, lockdowns. I believe clarity and uniformity of what we can and can´t do will be essential in months to come. None of this is to criticise staff on the night who were calm, helpful and always, unfailingly, smiley and courteous.

Regardless of the above, what a wonderful recital we were given.

The interplay between the instruments was joyous and glorious, sometimes in a carefree chase for lead position and at others of polite, ´please sir, after you sir´ consideration and courtesy.  The piano, that for a few bars even seemed to incorporate a jazz-style vamp, was perhaps the ringleader in all this; sometimes leading the violin and cello in a merry dance and other times walking soberly beside them offering firm support and accompaniment. The violin wandered off on explorations of its own, as if without a care in the world whilst the cello, as cellos will, seemed to cry at the beauty of it all.

The opening piece, Adios Nonina, is now one of Piazzolla’s most well-known and popular compositions, and has been recorded many times with many different arrangements and with various instruments. Nonino is an Argentine variation of the Italian word Grandfather (Nonno) used in the diminutive (Nonnino).  Tonight we imagined an aged grandfather amused but bewildered by the playfulness of a young child, and the three instruments skilfully conveyed the scene.

Adios Nonina has a melancholic melody, perhaps emerging from the fact that Piazzolla wrote it so far from his native country while suffering from severe depression, The music evokes a strong sense of nostalgia and has become a symbol of the Argentine diaspora. Tonight, though, the music struck me as nostalgic for sure, but not so much nostalgic for a country or culture but rather for the playfulness of a youth long-gone but being re-enacted in the childhood of later generations.

“Adiós Nonino” was composed (essentially as a modified version of a theme Piazzolla had previously written) in 1959 following the sudden death of Piazzolla’s father, whose grandchildren playfully called him nonino.

The second piece of the repertoire came from the nineteen sixties and bought us La muerte del ángel (from a series of Piazolla´s  ‘angel’ pieces), During this period he formed the Octeto Buenos Aires and then the Quinteto Nuevo Tango as the performing vehicles for his compositions, working out of his own club in the city.. This is one of the distinctive pieces with which Piazzolla shook the conservative world of tango. “Nuevo tango = tango + tragedy + comedy + whorehouse” was an equation Piazzolla used to define his new direction. And where he leads I will follow ! The Arriaga Trio delivered this whole piece with verve and nerve, with pizzicato and hand percussion on the bodies of their instruments. There was an air of revelry, and this classical music was beginning to sound like my kinda jazz !

It was remarkable tonight how these classical musicians captured that Piazolla air of walking bass line and the rhythmically offset, upward leaps of the solo entry he installed in his compositions. 

Soledad was written for Piazzolla’s famous Quinteto Tango Nuevo but seemed somehow to be very appropriate for these current times. It belongs almost to A Milonga, identified on-line on a blog by ´Paul´ as the predecessor of the Tango, with an overall dark tone depicting solitude and loneliness.

And that’s what’s happening currently to us all, even as we step out of isolation, especially for the elderly and the vulnerable, to whom my wife and I now belong. I might even be that old grandfather Piazolla envisaged, bewildered by my ten year old grand-daughter in South Korea and her mastery of modern technology. Mine is a generation told to isolate ourselves and to take great care in physical social interaction, such as concert-going, in order not to get infected with the virus. However necessary, it is still  a painful and sad situation.

Tonight´s performance encapsulated that perfectly,….somehow even the instruments seemed to socially distance themselves from each other for a few moments. There was, though, a quiet and dignified beauty in that pathos.

Revolucionario is a tango written by the Argentinean composer Piazzolla, originally for violin, guitar, bandoneon, piano and electric bass. What we heard from this line-up tonight was an amazing mixture of the passionate Latin American rhythm and some of the counterpoint I associate with Bach.

The Arriaga Trio, somehow, next captured lightning in a jar and showed a Lanzarote as it once had been and will be again. We are a people who carry ourselves with dignity and serenity but Lanzarote is also a place that is wild, sexy and fun and all of that was to be heard in their next piece of music,  

This year marks the centenary of composer Astor Piazolla’s birth (11 March 1921), so it was timely that his Libertango should be the next song on the playlist. There are many versions of this piece, with it having been arranged for a variety of different solo instruments over the years, and in fact there is a sumptuous trumpet version so it is worth looking for links to a recording and performance by the beautiful and brilliant Alison Balsom.

Well, the origin of a traditional tango is thought to be around the 1880s, in the slums and bars of Buenos Aires, where dancers (often prostitutes) would perform to the music. Like a lot of South American dance music, there is a distinctive syncopated rhythm that is repeated throughout. It allows the strong accented beats to land away from where we expect the strongest beats to be, freeing the music from regimentation. A syncopated rhythm is a sway and sashay of hips. A syncopated rhythm cannot walk but must dance.  The tango is also music of stark contrasts, for example spiky, staccato phrases (staccato means very short notes) as well as long, lingering, sensuous melodic passages. Also, sudden changes of dynamics (loud and soft sections), add drama and passion.

Piazolla, though, took such traditional elements and did something more. He called his piece ‘Libertango’ which is a portmanteau combining the words Libertad (meaning liberty) and tango indicating the  jazz influences he introduced into the music. We heard  all this tonight in the freedom each member of The Alliaga Trio afforded his colleagues to enjoy and explore.

There were some playful pizzicato sections, all plucked strings on not only the violin (a la the famous scene in the biopic of Buddy Holly) but also on the cello which made a mischievous sound too, when the bow was drawn across the strings floating under the bridge at the bottom of the instrument. There were almost-not-there-adornments at the ends of some of the riffs. They could have been a wink, perhaps, or a flutter of the eyelashes, a patting of the hair or a come-hither look in the eye. It was all unspoken and unshown but there wasn´t much doubt about what kind of party this was.

The Latin vibe, jazzy improvisations and combination of sultry and flirty instrumental layers summed up that  ´wild, sexy and fun´ pulse that beats quietly but constantly on Lanzarote.

Piazzolla’s music is endlessly passionate—full of yearning—and at the same time tremendously contemporary. There’s a quote to the effect that Piazzolla is the Ellington of Argentina, and in a way it’s true. He actually took the tango to another level by inhabiting his music.

photo Trio Arriaga by Dutton The Button

And here tonight, Juan Luis Gallego (violin), David Apellániz (cello) and Daniel Ligorio (piano) had similarly inhabited that music and had invited us inside to have a look and a listen.

I was probably being fanciful, because I do get carried away when I´m enjoying what I consider to be great music, but when I look now at the few notes I somehow scribbled in the pitch black darkness of the upper circle, I see that I had tried to write some names and phrases to remind me; Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, aching cello, chase and follow, Du Pre and wilful violin.

I hadn´t actually written down the words ´wild, sexy and fun´ but nevertheless these musicians had taken us to a private party where the ghost of honour seemed to be dancing in the middle of the floor. I reckon Astor Piazolla must have really enjoyed the evening,

What a credit this all was to the 37th Canary Islands International Music Festival and to Lanzarote venues and all those on our sister islands who moved heaven and earth and covid to allow shows like this to take place in some kind of normality.

Thank you to everyone concerned and especially to the four members of the trio; the violinist, the cellist, the pianist and the page turner, who so deserved their encores.

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