By Pablo Heras-Casado, Principal Conductor, Orchestra of St. Luke’s
“Pablo, you’re Spanish—why don’t you do a Spanish program?” The starting point for this concert was as simple as that. In nearly 20 years of conducting, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve presented a Spanish program—so it’s time, here in New York, to finally bring the best Spanish music and the best Spanish artists to Carnegie Hall with the best orchestra.
The key, to me, is that we are combining two masterpieces with two smaller pieces that are unfamiliar and, in fact, are Carnegie Hall premieres. This is a tradition I’ve created with Orchestra of St. Luke’s that I’m very proud of—offering music from the main repertoire together with music that the audience will most likely be discovering for the first time.
Each half of the program opens with the lesser-known works, pieces for string orchestra by Joaquín Turina and Eduardo Toldrá. Turina’s La oración del torero (The Bullfighter’s Prayer) was originally written for a lute quartet and later reworked for strings. He was struck by the contrast between a public arena with thousands of spectators waiting to see a bullfight, and the moments before the fight where the torero is alone with his soul, his emotions, and his prayers. It’s this tension that Turina strived to depict. Toldrá, a Catalan composer, drew inspiration from the poetry of Joan Maragall when he wrote Vistas al mar (Views of the Sea). The three movements portray three different impressions of the Mediterranean, painting a musical portrait of the smell of the sea, the warmth of the sun, and the special colors and atmosphere of the Catalonian coast.
The two works by Manuel de Falla on this program are both deeply inspired by Spanish culture, but in very different ways. Written for orchestra and piano, Noches en los jardines de España is an impressionistic, multicolored impression of Spain, depicting three different gardens. The first movement in particular, “En el Generalife,” is very special to me because the Generalife are the gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, which is where I am from and where I still live. I can see these gardens from my front window of my home! This music truly feels like a part of me, reflecting the culture I grew up with.
To me, it’s significant that the soloist on this piece is also intimately connected to this culture—the Spanish pianist Javier Perianes, who makes his Carnegie Hall debut on this program. Javier follows in the tradition of Alicia de Larrocha; he is absolutely the next great pianist to come out of Spain.
El amor brujo was inspired by Falla’s fascination with flamenco. In the early 20th century, he and the other artists and intellectuals in his circle were the first to consider flamenco not just as popular art, but as a very sophisticated art form. Falla decided to write a piece featuring flamenco singing, which has a distinct tone that follows the aesthetic of flamenco poetry. Rooted in Spanish traditions, the piece is also very modern as a result of Falla’s time spent in Paris.
The original version of the piece, premiered in 1915, was theatrical—with spoken text, dance, and song—and was written for a chamber ensemble. Later, Falla expanded the orchestration, cut the spoken dialogue, and transformed the piece into a ballet, which is the version we’re presenting. Often, it is performed with a classical mezzo-soprano singer, but I firmly believe that it should always be performed, as Falla intended, with a flamenco singer—and we’re lucky to be working with one of the best, Marina Heredia.
From the composers, to their inspirations, to the artists, everything is from Spain—and especially from Granada. I’m so happy and so proud to bring our spirit, our culture, and our knowledge of this special world to New York, to Carnegie Hall.