No one can discount the warming hues of Spanish culture. Spain is a country whose musical blood runs as thick as the Tagus River cascading to the Atlantic laden with fiery élan and effusive passion. The evening’s highlights were encased by the inescapable grandeur of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) and bookended with two dichotomous works by Manuel de Falla. Gustavo Dudamel’s flavored selections were intense, straddling both extremes of the musical spectrum. Both de Falla and Rodrigo were influenced while studying in Paris, retaining discernable skeletal extracts of French impressionism; however, their final equations retained a lineage of highly saturated Spanish character and individuality.  

Siudy Garrido © Kike San Martín
Siudy Garrido
© Kike San Martín
The evening’s program was a progression of sorts: Dudamel’s coterie first channeled through amiable waters inside the Suite No. 2, an extraction from the pantomime-turned-ballet, The Three-Cornered Hat (1919). Though a sliver of timid restraint ensued in opening bars of “The Neighbors’ Dance”, it was not long before The Philharmonic gained momentum. Gustavo Dudamel unobtrusively and magically extracted from the strings those beautifully undulating sweeps alongside variant exotica extracted through woodwinds, especially oboes, inside “The Miller’s Dance.”  Similarly, Concertmaster Martin Chalifour funneled the strings into persuasive peppery whirls of Chabrieresque (i.e. España – 1888) coloring during the “Final Dance.”  Dudamel’s tutti orchestra pulled “the full monty” by blasting every nook and cranny with grazings of bombastic brass and snappy percussion in the closing bars. Superb.  

But the evening’s most memorable event went to famed guitarist Angel Romero whose association with Rodrigo began at age 16, ironically the same year Romero made his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic performing the same piece in 1964.  Concierto de Aranjuez was a conduit to their mutual admiration, a connection no other guitarist could attain.  Romero termed Concierto as “diabolically impossible” (Andrés Segovia refused to play it because it was too difficult.) If the guitar complexities appear facile, they are undoubtedly not.

Mr. Romero’s attachment is instantaneous and rooted in rote. His pauses are sincerely reflective, the gesticulations ever-present.  Rodrigo composed the searing “Adagio” as a musical outcry to the miscarriage of his wife’s first child.  Perhaps this devastating event could explain the music’s heightened intensity while he was subconsciously grappling with his own physical loss (blinded at age three.)

Clearly, Dudamel conceded to the wishes of Romero by way of tempo, flavoring and punctuation. A split-second hesitation commencing the second movement showed a man barely holding back a tear, yet ready to tackle the piece with elegant grace, respect and devoid of flashiness. Romero mimicked the conducting of the score from his chair in between moments of sans guitar, often making eye contact with Chalifour and Dudamel so as to give his nod of approval and affirmation that they were “on the same page.”  Dudamel never overstated his position and maintained duteous distance.

Darker and more turbulent waters loomed ahead inside de Falla’s sinister and dark flamenco opera, El Amor brujo.  The work's disjunctive past began as a gitanería (1914), followed by an orchestral version (1916) that eventually translated into a one-act 'ballet pantomímico' in 1924. The latter was the foundational anchoring, featuring Manuel de Falla’s original 13 movement composition, that was protracted in this production with help from renowned flamenco dancer Suidy Garrido, who spent six months delving into the details of de Falla’s score to enhance and convey flamenco in the truest sense of the word.

Here is the conundrum, however: Garrido added a “Prologue”, tagged a new sung character (a witch-like Shaman) and truncated the synopsis. The limited “shelf” above the orchestra stage housed the bulk of the action. To Garrido’s credit, she economized the use of movement in such a long and narrow space, hand movements were fluid, supple, yet, at times, jerky. Taconeo (heel stomping) choreography was deafening so much that it side-tracked de Falla’s (and Dudamel’s) music into oblivion. Overall choreography fought against the music rather than aiding it.  Despite supertitles, the synopsis was hard to grasp.  (Note: staging was hard for many audience-goers to view, so they were hanging over the railings…a distraction.) The uneventful costuming, compliments of Suidy Garrido and Maritza Filomena Fernández, were outlined in predominant black that muddied character distinction, raising more questions about the storyline rather than elucidating.  It was all confusing... Dudamel would have been better served in adhering to the true concert version.