LANZAROTE ENSEMBLE: sharing Mahler´s Jubilation
by Norman Warwick
Gustav Mahler (German: 7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was an Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th-century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect, which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 his compositions were rediscovered by a new generation of listeners; Mahler (left) then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers, a position he has sustained into the 21st century. In 2016, a BBC Music Magazine survey of 151 conductors ranked three of his symphonies in the top ten symphonies of all time.
Born in Bohemia (then part of the Austrian Empire) to Jewish parents of humble origins, the German-speaking Mahler displayed his musical gifts at an early age. After graduating from the Vienna Conservatory in 1878, he held a succession of conducting posts of rising importance in the opera houses of Europe, culminating in his appointment in 1897 as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Hofoper). During his ten years in Vienna, Mahler—who had converted to Catholicism to secure the post—experienced regular opposition and hostility from the anti-Semitic press. Nevertheless, his innovative productions and insistence on the highest performance standards ensured his reputation as one of the greatest of opera conductors, particularly as an interpreter of the stage works of Wagner, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. Late in his life he was briefly director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.
Mahler’s œuvre is relatively limited; for much of his life composing was necessarily a part-time activity while he earned his living as a conductor. Aside from early works such as a movement from a piano quartet composed when he was a student in Vienna, Mahler’s works are generally designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists. These works were frequently controversial when first performed, and several were slow to receive critical and popular approval; exceptions included his Second Symphony, and the triumphant premiere of his Eighth Symphony in 1910. Some of Mahler’s immediate musical successors included the composers of the Second Viennese School, notably Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten are among later 20th-century composers who admired and were influenced by Mahler. The International Gustav Mahler Institute was established in 1955 to honour the composer’s life and achievements
When Mahler met Sibelius in 1907, he told him that ‘a symphony must be like the world, it must embrace everything’. In none of his nine completed symphonies did Mahler come closer to filling that prescription than in the Third, premiered five years previously.
Nowadays we’d say the Third has an ecological agenda. The opening movement – all 35 minutes of it – depicts the natural world awakening, its primeval heavings eventually engendering life from ‘soulless, rigid matter’. Primary sensual phenomena infuse the music, with its ‘atmosphere of brooding summer midday heat’ where ‘all life is suspended, and the sun-drenched air trembles and vibrates’. In movements two and three flowers sway elegantly in the meadows, and birds and beasts disport themselves in the forest. The arrival of humankind in the ‘very slow, mysterious’ fourth movement brings introspection, resolved in the pantheistic love song to all creation in the sublime, lingering finale. It’s long, but it’s an aural adventure, to be sure.
Lanzarote Ensemble (right) gave their first public performances in January 2019, fully demonstrating their potential in two concerts held on January 5 on the eve of the Day of Kings.
These took place in the Plaza del CIC El Almacén and in the Insular Hospital of Lanzarote. The public appreciation was great and evidenced the need for a group of musicians delivering this kind of music with a manner and attitude that reflected Lanzarote´s appreciation of and approach to this kind of music.
Lanzarote Ensemble remain the flexible formation, as was first envisaged, that responds to the different situations, scenarios and repertoires. This ´attitude´ reminds me in some ways of the role of the poet laureate in the UK. Newly created works remain fundamental in this project, which still aspires to be an innovative, malleable, functional and above all professional ensemble.
Lanzarote Ensemble these days enjoy a stable concert schedule and sufficiently spaced in time to ensure the attention of the public. Such stability of itself ensures continued all professional training. To continue to meet the highest standards Lanzarote Ensemble recognise the need for continuity of public performance, regular rehearsals and of course, a fixed schedule of concerts to prepare for and deliver. they have already played in the UK and USA.
The ensemble is still directed by composer and clarinetist, Ayoze Rodríguez. In addition to researching and reviving classical pieces, Lanzarote Ensemble also commission the composition of works to authors from Lanzarote and the Canary Islands for its world premiere. The rest of the Lanzarote Ensemble includes musicians Pablo Araya, Manolo Becerra, Alberto Blanco, Pablo Blanco, Iván Curbelo, Marta Curbelo, Cristo Delgado, Javier Díaz, Miguel Angel García, Modesto González, María Larumbe, Tania Mesa, Bruno Muñoz, Ana Muñoz, Rosalinda Pradillo, Marta Palczarska, Jonas Quesada, Ivanoff Rodíguez, Salvador Santana, Javier Santos, Sara Sánchez and Ayoze Rodríguez himself..
Lanzarote Ensemble, had two excellent guest artists appearing with them tonight.
The soprano. Sheyla Rizo, (left) from St. Bartolome, who holds a degree in music and singing from The Felix Verela Conservatory and The Institute Sperior De Arte In Havana, Cuba. She is a holder of several singing awards and her professional career has seen her interpret a range of different roles in operas in countries like Argentina, Spain, Barazil, Colombia, Germany and The Dominican Republic. Sheyla currently lives on Lanzarote where she combines her opera career with giving singing lessons.
The second guest was the concert-master and violinist Barbora Valiukeviciute.
Born in Kaunas, Lithuania, Barbora (right) began her studies at the age of five at J. Naujalis Music Gymnasium. She has gone on to perform around the world, most recently at the Veronica Hagman Concert Hall and Staller Center for the Arts in the United States. She has also performed recitals at the Auditorium al Duomo in Florence, the Fukuoka Across Hall in Japan, the Metropolitan Museum Concert Hall in New York, and the National Philharmonic in Lithuania.
Barbora has served as co-concertmaster of the New York Symphonic Ensemble under the baton of Takahara Mamoru, leading the orchestra for five years in tours around the United States and Asia. As a guest concertmaster she led the Pan-European Philharmonic at the Aegean Music Festival in Greece. She has collaborated with many famous conductors and critically acclaimed musicians such as: Kurt Mazur, Vladimir Jurowski, Philippe Entremont, Juliam Rachlin, and Maxim Vengerov.
Her international performance tenure is wide-reaching, including chamber and solo music festivals and master classes at:
ISA Music Festival (Austria),
Mozarteum Summer Festival and Academy (Austria),
Aurora Chamber Music Festival (Sweden),
Eilat Chamber Music Festival (Israel),
Bowdoin Music Festival (USA),
and has joined further master classes with well-known musicians such as Vadim Gluzman, Pavel Vernikov, Mauricio Fuks,Michael Vaiman, and Hatto Beyerle.
Barbora regularly teaches master classes as a guest artist at Accademia d’Archi Arrigoni in Italy and previously taught at the Barenboim-Said foundation in Palestine.
Barbora is currently at DePaul University in Chicago studying under Ilya Kaler. She also attended Manhattan School of Music, where she studied with Grigory Kalinovsky, and Stony Brook University with Philip Setzer.
The playing by Lanzarote Ensemble tonight captured perfectly that sense of a re-awakening world we referred to earlier. We could almost the eyelids opening, the five senses returning and there was a sense that each instrument was seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching something eighter brand new or something treasured but almost forgotten.
This was no raucus dance of jubilation, though: not a flag waving triumphalism. This was the jubilation, it seemed to me, of the satisfaction of survival and a new-found freedom to move forward. It was a jubilation that carried memories of those lost along the way.
Instruments flitted and flirted, went off in search of new and within a few bars were back again with something to share. I loved the playing of the double bass, all picking and plucking and bowing and beating, and the lady who played the sleigh bells (I know they weren´t !) somehow created a feel of Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. For a few seconds I thought the sound might have been out of place, but in fact that strange and eerie little poem by Frost is of itself a contemplation of jubilation in the simple pleasures of nature, and throughout the performance there were thought provoking moments from every one of the musicians, with particularly effecting piano runs.
Their two guests each made a massive contribution, with Sheyla Rizo delivering a gentle piece that her wonderful soprano voice carried to every member of the covid restricted audience who rewarded her with great applause
On first violin, Barbora Valiukeviciute, gave an uncomplicated, quiet delivery that was never-less than riveting and her work in the ensemble was seamless.
There was jubilation of a different kind at the end of the concert as the audience immediately and simultaneously rose to their feet to deliver a standing ovation to an orchestra that has come so far in such a short time. It continues to deliver on its initial remit and after only two or three years is not only playing with a verve and a confidence and mutual trust but is also successfully reaching out into a community to promote this music and attract non-traditional audiences.
The admission price by the way was only 10 euros, which might just about buy an ice cream in the interval at a similar UK performance.
There is a habit in the UK of describing such great artists, who resonate with a diverse audience, as ´a National Treasure´ and I certainly think Lanzarote Ensemble should be known as an Island Treasure over here. We have seen them perform on a number of occasions and i feel that one of the great attributes of the Lanzarote Ensemble is that it so easily welcomes and accommodates guest musicians from different genres. Most such musical outfits would find it difficult to play sufficiently softly behind a solo singer but we have regularly heard them achieve this. Many such classical outfits would look and sound incongruous sharing a stage with and accompanying the large and sonorous folk lore groups we have over here but Lanzarote Ensemble regularly do so, and each musical genre is then enhanced by the other. We have heard many spectacular sounds from the, especially when performing in the eerie, exciting acoustics of the underground caves of Jameos Del Agua, (as shown below) but tonight, in this capital city-centre theatre, they were playing their part in guiding the island out of lockdown with careful but celebratory steps. Jubilation indeed.