When major American orchestras tour Europe, they sometimes deliver “superficial” performances. But when ensembles without “big fame” come to the continent, they are dedicated and highly motivated, producing “magnificio” results.
That’s how a Spanish music critic described the Annapolis Symphony’s first performance in Madrid last week, when the orchestra kicked off a four-city tour of the Iberian Peninsula. Nearly two dozen Anne Arundel County business leaders and philanthropists funded the $700,000 trip, and a busload of supporters is on board, touring the country with 73 musicians.
Edgar Herrera, the orchestra’s Mexican-born general manager, described the trip as a bonding experience for the musicians and their fans. “It really brings the symphony together,” Herrera said, speaking by phone ahead of an opening concert at Madrid’s Auditorio Nacional. So far, he says, everything was going well and the musicians were inspired. “It’s like going to the Olympics or the World Cup.”
Herrera organized the trip alongside music director José-Luis Novo, who hails from the city of Valladolid north of Madrid. Given the bandleader’s connections and his own ability to speak Spanish, Herrera said Spain was a common-sense choice for a first-ever overseas tour. To attract local crowds, the orchestra hired renowned Spanish guitarist Pepe Romero to play the most beloved piece of his country’s classical canon: the “Concierto de Aranjuez”, written in 1939 by Joaquin Rodrigo.
“We chose this program because we wanted to speak to Spaniards with their own language,” Herrera said.
And yet, it was a bold choice that could have backfired, since Spanish audiences would experience a poor performance of “Concierto de Aranjeuz” when they heard one. In a fairly famous comparable scenario, a quartet of American opera singers on tour with the New York City Ballet were once booed off stage in Germany by the public demanding that they “stop singing” the “Liebeslieder Waltzes by Johannes Brahms.
Luckily, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra heard nothing but kudos for their performance of the Rodrigo, at least in Madrid, and the booking of Romero, who is based in the United States, turned out to be brilliant. Writing for Spanish music site Codalario, critic Raúl Chamorro Mena praised the orchestra for its “exquisite accompaniment” and singled out the English horn player for delivering an impeccable solo.
“Rarely has a guitar been heard to ‘sing’ so high,” Mena wrote in her review of Romero’s playing, which has been translated into English.
The concert also included Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3, a lesser-performed work by a composer best known in orchestra halls for his piano concertos. The Annapolis Symphony also brought Mexican work across the Atlantic, opening its four concerts with the 1921 symphonic poem “Chapultepec” by Manuel Ponce.
“We wanted to show the whole symphony at its full power,” Herrera said of the musical selections.
From Madrid, the tour continued to Zaragoza and Valencia, ending in Granada on Thursday evening. Along the way, donors and musicians visited medieval cathedrals, visited art museums and ate lots of tapas.
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As the reviewer pointed out, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra performed in venues that often host larger orchestras, including the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics. These orchestras are usually hired by venues rather than booking the concert themselves, as the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra did. Aside from the global pandemic, paid tours are becoming increasingly popular with American orchestras and their supporters, explained Rachelle Schlosser, spokeswoman for the League of American Orchestras.
“It is not at all uncommon for orchestras to create their own tours paid for by sponsors and donors, and it is common for orchestra stakeholders to travel with the orchestra,” Schlosser wrote in an e-mail. mail. “Touring is a form of cultural diplomacy, and local businesses often use it as an opportunity to showcase their businesses to new audiences overseas.”
Michael Kurtz, a retired University of Maryland professor and longtime benefactor of the Annapolis Symphony, convinced other supporters to fund the trip. Other donors include William E. Seale and Marguerite Pelissier, Katherine Lantz, Paula Abernethy, Mary McKiel, Stephen Sotack and David Huggins.
For fans of the orchestra unable to write such a big check, good news: two of the Spanish performances were filmed, including one in the magnificent Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, and combined into a single video available for everyone from of August 6. Virtual viewing tickets start at $9.99.
The orchestra can then be heard live on September 4 at the annual “Pops in the Park” concert at Quiet Waters Park. Since ASO is a part-time orchestra, made up mostly of musicians who also play in other area ensembles and theaters, Herrera believes local audiences will notice a difference when the orchestra meets next. at Maryland Hall. Despite the smaller confines, he hopes the chance to play together in some of Spain’s finest venues will continue to inspire the orchestra.
“When you come back, you have this new normal,” Hererra said. “It’s getting better and better.”
Michael Paarlberg, assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, contributed to the translation of this story.