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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

My adventures and misadventures with the Aranjuez Concerto

I am sitting safely and snugly at home after yet another excursion to play the Aranjuez Concerto. It is a nice feeling, especially as I remember some previous occasions which made me feel neither, but more of this anon.

Yesterday I played Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the Maidstone Symphony Orchestra conducted by Brian Wright in Maidstone, a city of some 80,000 inhabitants in the county of Kent some 32 miles south-east of London. It all worked in my favour: a conductor with whom I have worked before and whom I admire, a fine orchestra mostly of local musicians, an excellent amplification system and last but not least a full house with some 1500 people in the audience. The Aranjuez concerto is a work which tests me (and most guitarists too) to the limit, there is scarcely a moment of respite in it. No sooner have I dispatched one set of scales than another looms ever closer, and once that one is over there is some other technical challenge mere seconds away. And where I can relax on the technical front in the fabulous theme from the Adagio there is no respite on the emotional level, the very opposite, for into that theme one has to pour every ounce of emotion.

To pit a delicate guitar against an orchestra, and to demand of its player to lead the way in itself requires a suspension of disbelief. This is defined in drama circles as “The temporary acceptance as believable of events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible.”

The incredible is what Rodrigo managed in his concerto as well as creating a work of great beauty. That would be quite enough by itself, but when finally the orchestra is let loose at the end of the solo guitar cadenza in the slow movement the magnificent intensity of the music is one of the supreme moments of all music.

Playing a guitar concerto (and Rodrigo's Aranjuez is the concerto) is quite different musically from a solo recital, that is apparent to everyone. It is grander and more fragile, both at the same time. The fragility is not just contained in the guitar or guitarist, but in all that is required to lead up to a performance, above all in the meeting of minds between soloist, conductor and orchestra. But there are other considerations, some totally unexpected too.

I recall one occasion when I played the concerto, I think it was in Belfast. I arrived the evening before to be informed by the orchestral manager that the conductor had been taken ill and would not be able to appear, but not to worry they had engaged the services of another excellent conductor. I was happy with this, because I had already worked with him too. The next day, the day of the performance itself, I was having an early lunch when I received another call. The replacement conductor had been taken ill too! At this this moment I thought the concert was jinxed. A third conductor, the distinguished Lionel Friend, jumped on an aeroplane at a moment's notice and breezed into the hall some thirty minutes after the scheduled start of the rehearsal. We now had less than three hours to rehearse an entire evening's programme, not just the Aranjuez Concerto. Sensing the tension in the hall, Maestro Friend launched into telling the assembled orchestra and myself a lengthy joke from the podium to defuse the atmosphere. This was a high-risk strategy which could have back-fired if it had not been really funny, but actually it was. Everyone belly-laughed at some length, after which we were all in a jolly good mood to get on with it.

On another occasion I was invited to play a double bill of the Aranjuez and the Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, in a live concert recording for broadcast on national radio. As the conductor raised his baton to start the rehearsal a member of the orchestra asked a question – in Hebrew. I sat there patiently. Others joined in the conversation. The orchestra was a mix of players from Israel, the United States and the Soviet Union. After what seemed an eternity the conductor asked me to withdraw and return in 20 minutes while they sorted something out. I did as I was told. On my return the conductor told me there was a pay and conditions dispute but they were aware of the importance of this concert and would like to make a proposal: for the rehearsal: would I play and the conductor conduct while they, the members of the orchestra, watched without playing a note? I pondered this proposal for the best part of two seconds and said to the conductor:“no, I couldn't possibly do that”. I was sent away, this time to a coffee bar. An hour later I was invited back. They had patched up their disagreement and it was all systems go for the rehearsal, performance and broadcast, which actually turned out very well.

Yesterday conductor Brian Wright did remind me of a previous occasion of when we worked together. On that occasion the amplification system broke down before the start of the performance and we had to make do without. Believe me when I say, the Concierto de Aranjuez in a large hall without amplification is not the concerto we know and love from recordings. We compromised: Maestro Wright reduced the size of the orchestra and I played as loudly as I could.

After such outings, Maidstone yesterday was a walk in the park. That is why I am sitting so relaxed here today at home, and feeling good, for when all the pieces come together, on stage, back stage and behind the scenes, then that is a truly wonderful feeling.

London, 14th October 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1683 .
© 2019.


  • Paul says:

    Yours is my new favorite recording of this piece. Re the Adagio, do you have any tips on counting note values in this and other highly ornamented Spanish music? All those ties, tuplets, dots and 32nd and 64th notes--just reading it is a challenge. Then again, I read in Wikipedia that Rodrigo praised Paco de Lucia's version, which certainly doesn't follow the score, as "brilliant." I hear a bit of variation even among those who do follow it. So maybe it's all OK as long as you come out on the beat and it's reasonably close to the original and sounds authentically flamenco-ish?

    • Carlos says:

      Hi Paul, some of the Rodrigo Adagio from the concerto sounds like a written out improvisation, I think that was the composer´s intention. Best wishes, Carlos

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