If there’s one musical instrument that defines Spanish music, it’s the guitar.
If there’s one piece for guitar and orchestra that towers above all others for the genre, it’s Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.
Finally, if there’s one guitarist who you really must hear play the work that was inspired by the gardens at the Royal Palace of Aranjuez in Spain, it’s Pablo Sáinz Villegas.
“He is an incredible Spanish guitarist, said Grand Rapids Symphony Marcelo Lehninger, who worked with Villegas last year in North Carolina.
Villegas, a past winner of the Andres Segovia Award as well as the first winner of the Christopher Parkening Guitar Competition, returns to the Grand Rapids Symphony’s stage for Rhythm of the Dance, a program of Spanish and Latinx music from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Lehninger leads the Grand Rapids Symphony in music by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla Suite No. 1 from The Three-Cornered Hat at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, January 18-19 in DeVos Performance Hall.
A pre-concert conversation, “Inside the Music,” will be held at 7 p.m. Tickets for the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series concert start at $18 for adults and $5 for students. Call (616) 454-9451 or go online to GRSymphony.org.
The program includes Three Latin American Dances, a contemporary work written by Gabriela Lena Frank, a Grammy Award-winning American composer of Peruvian descent.
The Brazilian-born conductor also will lead the orchestra in Alberto Ginastera’s Four Dances from Estancia.
“It’s such a fun piece,” Lehninger said. The last movement makes you want to jump out of your seat.”
Having lost his sight at the age of 3, Rodrigo was a virtuoso pianist and gifted composer. Though he was not a guitar player himself, several of his works for guitar and orchestra are among the most beloved in the repertoire.
Composed in 1939 and premiered the following year, Concierto de Aranjuez includes one of the most hauntingly beautiful English horn solos in the symphonic repertoire. It was inspired by the gardens at the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, the spring resort built by King Philip II in the latter half of the 16th century in the town of Aranjuez, 30 miles south of Madrid.
Pablo Sáinz Villegas, who performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony two years ago this month, returns to perform the concerto that transports audiences to another time and place.
“For me, the guitar is the most wonderful and expressive instrument,” Villegas told Billboard Magazine in 2016. “When I play a concert, people always say, ‘I never heard the guitar sound the way that you play it.’ And that is exactly what I am looking for. We’re talking about an emotional connection through the music using the guitar.”
Born and raised in La Rioja, Spain, a region full of wineries and bodegas in northern Spain, Villegas has shared the stage with such distinguished musicians as Plácido Domingo, who has described him as “the master of the guitar.”
Villegas’s work as an ambassador of the Spanish guitar has taken him across the globe, performing before members of the Spanish Royal Family as well as other heads of state and international leaders such as the Dalai Lama. He has received over 30 international awards.
Five dancers from Grand Rapids Ballet – Cassidy Isaacson, Emily Reed, Josue Justiz, Levi Teachout and Nathan Young – will join the orchestra on stage to dance to Two Tangos, Oblivion and Primavera Portena, by Piazzolla, the Argentinean master of the tango.
“It’s really wonderful when we can partner with other organizations in the community,” Lehninger said.
On his ninth birthday in 1910, Piazzolla received his first bandoneon, an instrument related to the accordion, that his father bought from a pawn shop for less than $20. Piazzolla soon mastered the instrument, performing the music of Bach, Mozart and Schumann as well as folk music of his homeland.
Intending to become a serious composer of classical music, Piazzolla spent a decade writing symphonies, piano concertos and chamber music. After winning a composers’ competition, he was given the opportunity to study with the famed French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, mentor to such composers as Aaron Copland and Philip Glass.
In a 1988 interview with the Washington Post, Piazzolla recalled presenting his work to Nadia Boulanger. “All of a sudden she says, ‘Why don't you play a piece of the music you write in tango? I'm very much interested.’ I played eight bars and she just took my two hands and put them against her chest and said, ‘This is Astor Piazzolla, this is the music you have to go on writing, not that. Throw that into the garbage.’”
“And that's what I did,” he continued. “I threw 10 years out of my life into the garbage. Now I write classical music, or symphonies, but always with a tango taste in it, trying the most to be Astor Piazzolla always.”