When you think of Tenerife, the first thing that springs to mind may well be sandy beaches, sun loungers and holiday cocktails. But the largest of the Canary Islands is also home to the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, based in Santa Cruz, among the most respected of symphony orchestras in Spain. It began life as a chamber orchestra (in 1935) but achieved full symphony status in 1970. For its second season under new Principal Conductor Antonio Méndez, the orchestra presents a 19-concert programme which spans the centuries from Johann Sebastian Bach to Daniel Bjarnason.

© OST
© OST

Central to the new season is a trio of concerts devoted to Robert Schumann, all conducted by Méndez, which offer all four symphonies and all three concertos. Although there is a Calle Robert Schumann towards the south of the island, Schumann never visited Spain, being a reluctant traveller (his concert tour of Russia in 1844 led to a severe bout of depression).

The genesis of Schumann’s four symphonies span the years 1841 to 1851, a prolific period of composition. In the wake of Beethoven, Schumann’s symphonies are smaller in scale and ambition; they are classically cut, closer to Felix Mendelssohn (from whom Schumann learnt much about orchestration and conducting). The First and Third Symphonies are the better known of the quartet, possibly down to their nicknames: the First was dubbed “Spring”, according to Clara Schumann, because it was inspired by the closing lines of Adolf Böttger's poem Frühlingsgedicht; the Third bears the subtitle “Rhenish” after the Schumanns’ trip to the Rhineland, the fourth movement depicting Cologne Cathedral.

Antonio Méndez © OST
Antonio Méndez
© OST

The Third was actually the last to be composed. The “Fourth” Symphony dates from 1841 (the same year as his First), but Schumann revised it ten years later before publishing. Johannes Brahms, however, greatly preferred the original version and arranged for its publication. Méndez and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife present the earlier version of Schumann’s Fourth for the first time.

Schumann’s Piano Concerto is very much a concert staple, but his concertos for violin and cello are performed more rarely. Collaborators of the quality of Inon Barnatan, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Veronika Eberle should do the three concertos complete justice.

The Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife season also has examples of thematic concerts. It opens with a programme anchored in the sea. From the storm-tossed waves of The Flying Dutchman and Peter Grimes, there is an Italian detour to Respighi’s Fountains of Rome before ending with Debussy’s La Mer, depicting the sea in all its moods and colours.

Mendelssohn wrote his incidental music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1842, a full 16 years after he spun his gossamer magic in his Overture, but miraculously picking up the thread exactly where he left off. Alexander Medem will direct actors in a concert performance of this wonderful fairy music. Mendelssohn also provides one of the choral blockbusters of the year – the orchestra’s first performance of Elijah. Víctor Pablo Pérez conducts a cast which includes Mark Stone as the Old Testament prophet.

Star soloists appearing in Tenerife this season also include Alban Gerhardt (playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor) and Rafał Blechacz (Chopin’s First Piano Concerto). Veronika Eberle will be a familiar face to audiences next season. In addition to Schumann’s rarely heard Violin Concerto, she performs concertos by Bartók and Haydn.

Auditorio de Tenerife © OST
Auditorio de Tenerife
© OST

The OST also has a commitment to contemporary music, with two world premieres by Tenerifan composers Rubens Askenar and Gustavo Trujillo. Askenar’s work Lloro del vino. O alegoría de las heridas (I cry from the wine. Or allegory of the wounds) is a large symphonic piece, thematically programmed to follow extracts from Parsifal, Wagner’s Bühnenweihfestspiel traditionally performed around Easter time. Trujillo’s Tangaraste should crank up the decibels as it is a concerto for four percussionists. Tangaraste is programmed alongside Daniel Bjarnason’s Collider, a 15-minute work written for huge forces, including a glass harmonica.

Unusual repertoire isn’t confined to contemporary works. Sir Edward Elgar’s Polonia was premiered at a Polish Victims' Relief Fund Concert in London’s Queen's Hall in July 1915. It draws on Polish national music and the works of Chopin and Paderewski, the latter of whom went on to serve a brief spell as Polish Prime Minister in 1919.

Although Carl Reinecke’s “Undine” Sonata for flute is quite well known, his Flute Concerto in D major is a real rarity. Composed in 1908, it is full of late Romantic ardour and has sometimes been described as the sort of flute concerto Brahms might have written (had he not been so in love with the clarinet!). Swiss flautist Sébastian Jacot appears with the OST and Gergely Madaras in November.

The season ends in the grandest possible style with the longest symphony in the regular concert repertoire, Mahler’s mighty Third, capping a rich and varied programme in Tenerife.

Click here for full Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife listings.

This preview is sponsored by Patronato Insular De Musica de Tenerife