I’ve put this off because I wanted to do it justice, but gardening and the intrusion of events, (and, I’m afraid, congenital laziness), have rendered this shamelessly overdue. I appreciate, more than I can say, those of you who keep checking this site to see if I am still at it. I am.
Over a year ago, I saw that the Chicago Symphony would be playing several of my favorite pieces, in an evening of music of Spain and South America. I didn’t want to miss it and called Ann immediately (with few exceptions, she shares my taste in music). She ordered tickets and, in the normal course of events, that would have been that. This spring, however, the course of events was far from normal.
CSO went on strike, and I was sympathetic. I learned as a teacher there are times when a decent wage and working conditions have to be fought for. Chicago, for over a century, has been home to one of the finest – often the finest – musical organizations in the country. Its world class artistry is beyond dispute, something of which a troubled city can be proud, and deserving of financial support.
That said, I began to chew my nails as the shadow of the work stoppage spread out, swallowing events for which I had tickets: a jazz concert, then another, and then what would have been the debut of Caitano Veloso, an artist I’d been longing to see. Darkness edged closer and closer to the last of my planned evenings. Ann and I checked the papers daily, commiserating over bleak prospects.
The strike was settled just in time. I sat behind Ann, fifth row center which afforded an intimate view of the performers. I find it exhilarating to watch this array of gifted lips and fingers, poised to pluck and bow and breathe life to the instruments they hold, glinting in this well lit hall. I’m fascinated by the differing ways in which they wait out a passage that doesn’t require them. One handsome violinist kept brushing back a shock of the most enviable hair, when he wasn’t smiling at a pretty Asian colleague. They seemed to share a private joke. There were players of all ages and ethnicities, each of whom, with talent and grit, had survived the pitiless winnowing process that leads to a chair in this splendid company. This was a stage full of masters, with me close enough to see whose brows had beads of sweat.
The conductor, Giancarlo Guerrero, was new to me, as were his methods. He’d pounce, like a tiger, directing with his entire body, his elbows, his shoulders, his hips. Then he’d go absolutely still, save for the subtle dancing of his eloquent fingers. Had you watched him through sound proof glass, you’d still have a strong sense of what the orchestra was up to.
The program tore off like a bullet train, four dances from Ginastera’s Estancia, some propulsively rapid fire, some hauntingly ethereal, all exquisitely realized. Guerrero is a passionate conductor, well suited to this music, fervent, but also crisp and precise, utterly in control. Nothing was blurred, always a danger with pieces as heady as this.
Latin rhythms, classically rendered, have the power to transport me to a state of blissful excitement. So it was with the second offering, a particular favorite of mine, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. You know some of it, even if you think you don’t. Miles Davis celebrated it in his Sketches of Spain. I’ve heard this concerto countless times, but the soloist, Pablo Sainz Villegas, made it his own, each phrase newly minted.
Villegas was also quite something to behold. Smoldering dark eyes and an impish smile, curly jet black hair, a muscled torso ready to burst through his formal garb. He settled in, caressing his guitar like a paramour, raising one foot to rest on a tiny stool. I’ll abandon this description before I make a total fool of myself. Suffice to say, Ann and a friend of hers suggested we pool our resources and adopt him.
After a wild and deserved standing ovation, he played an encore, somehow turning his guitar into an entire orchestra, complete with drum rolls. We eagerly await his return.
Intermission was followed by another favorite piece, Chabrier’s Espana. It doesn’t take a Spaniard to evoke Spain. The French have done quite handsomely by it, as witness Debussy and Ravel. Often, even at a good concert, my mind will drift off pleasantly for a moment or two. Not this evening; my attention was riveted to the music at hand.
The final work, Astor Piazzola’s Sinfonia Buenos Aires, had three tough acts to follow. I like Piazzola, but on first hearing, this struck me as tango on steroids. It didn’t matter. I stumbled out onto Michigan Avenue dazed and gratified to have heard what I’d heard and seen what I’d seen.