Digital Playbill

The Basque Block

Table of Contents
Premiering March 6, 2021
Music Director: Eric Garcia

Program

Mieloxin
(arr. Apollo Chamber Players)
Jota/Arin-Arin

Pablo de Sarasate
(1844 – 1908)
Zigeunerweisen, op. 20 “Gypsy Airs”
I. Moderato
II. Lento
III. Un poco più lento
IV. Allegro molto vivace

Maurice Ravel
(1875 – 1937)
Piano Trio in A Minor, M. 67
I. Modéré
II. Pantoum. Assez vif
III. Passacaille. Très large
IV. Final. Animé

Musicians

Phyllis Saunders, Violin

Katie Clark, Violin

Aurora Torres, Viola

Chia-Li Ho, Associate Concertmaster
Sponsored by Stephen and Carol Trott

Del Parkinson, Principal Piano
Sponsored for two years by Dr. G. Robert & Dorothy Klomp and Andy and Elizabeth Scoggin, and Jerry Saltzer in memory of Marlys Anne Saltzer

Dawn Douthit, Violin
Sponsored by FRED & PHOEBE BOELTER

Heidi Nagel, Cello


Phyllis Saunders

Katie Clark

Aurora Torres

Chia-Li Ho

Del Parkinson

Dawn Douthit

Heidi Nagel

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Program Notes
The Basque Block

Mielotxin

Jota/Arin-Arin (arr. Apollo Chambers Players)

Mielotxin is not a composer but a folk band from the Basque Country in Navarra, Spain. Matthew Detrick of the Apollo Chamber Players out of Houston, Texas happened upon them on YouTube, and he arranged what he heard for his ensemble. The following is his program note:

“Journeying north to the Basque realms of Spain, one finds a rich palette of rhythms and colors in the region’s folk music. The jota- also in the family of pilgrimage dances - originates from the nationality of Aragon but thrives in a plethora of Spanish regions (including a characteristic form in Valencia, Aragon, Castile, and Navarra, among others). The dance rhythm retains a standard ternary meter, and the music utilizes instruments aplenty, from guitars and lutes to drums and castanets.

The traditional and popular arin-arin dance also hails from the Basque region. In contrast to the waltzing triple-meter jota, the arin-arin moves like a quasi-foxtrot in double meter, its eight-bar phrases displaying high steps, jumps, and violent movements. The two dances make perfect and enjoyable companions. This piece was transcribed and arranged from a work of the same name by a Basque folk band called Mielotxin.

One of the challenges in arranging a work like this involves translating the heavy ‘beat’ and rhythmic drive of the music to an instrument medium incapable of producing such perpetual accentuation; however, after experimenting with clapping, stomping, and the gentle slapping of our delicate wooden instruments, we hope to have found the right mix. (Listen in particular for the cacophonous bridge to the Arin-Arin...) Aside from the novel percussive additions, a strong melodic bass beat in the cello provides most of the needed rhythmic grounding for these two combined dances. One of our favorites, the Arin-Arin melody creates a visceral, sensual journey along beautiful Basque soundscapes.”
- Matthew J. Detrick, Apollo Chamber Players

Pablo de Sarasate / March 10, 1844 – September 20, 1908

Zigeunerweisen – Gypsy Airs

Every superstar soloist from Paganini to Heifetz to Perlman has a signature piece designed to showcase heart, soul, and technical virtuosity. Zigeunerweisen was Pablo Sarasate’s. He wrote it based on music he heard while visiting Budapest, Hungary in the spring of 1877. During that trip he became acquainted with the alluring tunes of the Romani people, the Roma for short. The Roma, a much-persecuted minority without a country of their own, had developed over the years a distinctive music, and it has a magnetic effect on anybody who hears it.

Folk music has long been a source of inspiration for art music, and that tradition flourished during the last half of the 19th century when nationalism was in vogue among major composers. Before Sarasate, Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms composed major works based on the earthy, sensuous, and frequently hot-blooded Romani music. In Eastern Europe, the violin took center stage, in Spain the flamenco guitar.

Sarasate, a Spaniard from the Basque region, was one of the most internationally famous musicians during the 1880s and 1890s. He developed an unparalleled reputation both as a virtuoso violinist and a composer. The esteemed critic George Bernard Shaw remarked that many composers “write music for the violin, but Sarasate writes violin music”. His technique was so effortless that he made everything look easy, even the dazzling final two minutes of this classic. His tone was pure because his bow reportedly made no extraneous sound as he drew it across the strings. Bemused by the cascades of praise that came his way, he said, “A genius! For 37 years I have practiced for 14 hours a day, and now they call me ‘a genius’.” I guess practice does make perfect, if you have 37 years at your disposal.

Maurice Ravel / May 12, 1845 – November 04, 1924

Piano Trio in A Minor, M. 67

Ravel’s orchestra has been called, “a magic forest. . . a theater full of sonic wonders in which the instruments, using their distinctive voices, become actors.” This metaphor perfectly describes his Introduction and Allegro. The flute and the clarinet usher us into Ravel’s colorful world, and the enchantment begins.

What’s not to love about the harp? In Ravel’s hands, it is a wondrous marvel. The story of how this piece came to be written is unusual. You will hear later this season, Debussy’s Danses Sacrée et Profane for the Pleyel and Company in Paris. Pleyel wanted a piece from Debussy to introduce its new chromatic harp. Pleyel’s competition, the Erard Piano Company which manufactured the standard double-action harp, was concerned that Pleyel’s new invention would steal their business. So they asked Ravel to write a new piece featuring their harp in order to display its full potential and expressive range in the best possible light. This ravishing piece is the result. Ravel dedicated it to M. Blondel, Erard’s CEO. It turns out that Erard’s worries were groundless. The chromatic harp was a flop. But, the competition produced two wonderful pieces, and Ravel’s is credited with raising the harp to its deserved pedestal of elegance and splendor.

Writing a trio for piano, cello, and violin might not sound daunting, but it is, very much so. The piano is a percussion instrument with the capacity to overwhelm two lonely string instruments. The disparity in overall sonority is huge. Accordingly, a composer tackling this challenge must be able to reconcile their differences or the result will be unsatisfactory.

Ravel performs this compositional feat so well that you will not be aware of how difficult it is, which of course is always the case when greatness is at hand. He accomplishes this tricky endeavor by skillfully keeping the instruments out of each other’s way. For example, in the introduction the violin plays in a range higher than the piano, and the cello is neatly tucked in between the piano’s left and right hands. The result is an effortless balanced sound. Ravel also resorts to other techniques that give the string instruments a special presence, such as pizzicato, tremolos, trills, and harmonics.

Whether it be sports figures or musicians, the good ones – like Maurice – always make their calling look easy when it is anything but. Oh yes, if you’re wondering why Ravel is on the “Basque Block”, he was born in a Basque town in France near the Spanish border, and his mother was Basque. His family moved to Paris when he was three months old. France claims him, but his roots were in Basque Country.

WRITTEN BY THE HONORABLE STEPHEN S. TROTT

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