Our wonderful Monterey Symphony begins the year with maestro Max Bragado Darman leading the orchestra in a gorgeous program dubbed "Charismatic Glow."
Bragado is indeed always a charismatic figure as he guides the ensemble. This month he has invited pianist Joaquin Achúcarro, his friend and countryman from their native Spain, to perform Rachmaninoff's entrancing masterpiece "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43."
No question, a high-voltage charisma factor emanates from Mr. Achúcarro as well. He comes to Carmel as an acclaimed artist with a distinguished international reputation. He and Bragado have known each other since they were young men immersed in musical studies together.
"Our friendship is from 50 years ago," says Achúcarro. "We did a lot of work together with the Spanish Castile and León Symphony Orchestra, of which he was the principal conductor and music director. We played many concerts in Spain with that orchestra, and also toured outside of Spain."
When asked about his most memorable moment making music with his good friend and colleague, he replied, "Perhaps the time we did both Brahms (piano) concertos in one night."
Among the many times they performed together was a performance of Manuel De Falla's gorgeous work "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" in Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
The two also came together for a performance of a lesser-known Joaquin Rodrigo concerto in Louisville, Kentucky. Achúcarro says Rodrigo gave him carte blanch to rework his concerto, to make some alterations if he felt it would improve the piece.
"Modestly, I think I know more about the piano than Rodrigo did," he says. "... Some things I have rewritten have a more effective sound."
But the Rachmaninoff "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" is in his bones and blood, says the pianist. He played the work for the first time for a young and unknown student conductor by the name of Zubin Mehta, now recognized as one of the great maestros of our era.
"My performance of this piece in Monterey is going to be the 116th time I have played it. And I am still studying it and learning it and enjoying it. I continue to find more and more beauties inside it. Every masterpiece that I have performed and studied in my lifetime grows, and its genius continues to be revealed. That's a great thing."
Described as "one of the greats" by ABC in Madrid and "the consummate artist" by the Chicago Sun-Times, Achúcarro has performed recitals in 60 countries and appeared with over 200 orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Born in Bilbao, Spain, Achúcarro studied in Madrid, Paris, Vienna and Salzburg. His international career was launched with his victory in England at the 1959 Liverpool International Competition and subsequent debut with the London Symphony.
He has received Spain's highest honors in the arts, including the Premio Nacional de Música, the Gold Medal of Fine Arts and the Great Cross of Civil Merit honoring his lifetime achievement. He was also named "Artist for Peace 2000" by UNESCO and "Beloved Son" by the city of Bilbao.
Completing the program, Bragado will be guiding the orchestra through Dvorák's "Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70" and "Prelude to La Boda de Luis Alonso" by Spanish composer Gerónimo Giménez.
Performances of the Monterey Symphony take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Salinas at Sherwood Hall, and in Carmel's Sunset Center at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
Pre-concert lectures by Todd Samra take place an hour before each performance. For tickets and more information, call 646-8511 or visit www.montereysymphony.org.
Carmel Bach Fest in February
The Carmel Bach Festival has established a triumphant new chapter in its planned expansion into a year-round music- and event-producing organization. Violinist Edwin Huizinga's evening at St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church in Carmel Valley last Thursday evening proved an ecstatic success.
Not only was the performance a virtuoso delight from start to finish, but the church itself, a new location for the festival, proved an ideal setting for small chamber programs. St. Dunstan's provides a lovely acoustical environment that allows the sound to billow evenly throughout the space in a warm musical embrace.
It also possesses what its charming pastor Rob Fisher called "good feng shui" in his comments before the program. The sanctuary is designed in the form of a Pythagorean triangle, which gives the space a dynamic and engaging quality. According to Fisher, the church has ordered a new 18-stop pipe organ, which will no doubt sound glorious in this space, perfect for Bach.
Huizinga introduced his audience to two superb artists who shared the stage with him, pianist Ian Scarfe and guitarist William Coulter, with whom he works on various projects and tours. The short, dazzling program showcased the trio's artistry in an eclectic mix of works ranging from Bach to gypsy violin to a new work by the renowned John Adams.
Watch for more of these gems.
For more by Barbara Rose Shuler, see www.barbarasbest.com.