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Spanish classical music brings warmth to a winter day

Classical (Music Genre)MusicMusic IndustryCulture

You can visit Spain without crossing the county line, courtesy of the Howard County Concert Orchestra's "Spanish New Year's Celebration" on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4 p.m., at St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.

As with a Viennese New Year's-themed concert that the orchestra did in the past, this Spanish New Year's concert deliberately occurs well into January.

Howard County Concert Orchestra music director Ronald Mutchnik explained, "It's not so much that it's specifically about New Years so much as thinking that as we head into the middle of winter why not extend the New Year's festivities into the new year."

In other words, if it's cold outside and you're suffering from cabin fever, this concert provides a lively excuse to get out of the house. Besides joining like-minded audience members, you'll encounter plenty of performers.

The upcoming concert involves 19 musicians in the Howard County Concert Orchestra. There also will be six costumed dancers from the Howard County Ballet, under director Kathi Ferguson, dancing down the church aisles.

As if that already weren't enough for the ears and eyes, the musical selections will be accompanied by a video titled "The Best of Spain" that offers 340 visual images with geographic and thematic connections to the music.

This vicarious trip to Spain was inspired by a recent trip that music director Mutchnik made there.

"I took a trip to Spain last summer," Mutchnik said. "Spain has a strong and rich history. It made so many contributions to western civilization, and there was a mixing of so many different cultures there including Moorish and Celtic."

Where Spanish classical music is concerned, however, he said that in earlier centuries it tended to be "in the shadow of Germany, Austria and other countries. Spanish music does not really come into its own until the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

An ironic aspect of Spanish music history is that some of the most evocative Spanish-themed music of the late 19th century was composed by French composers. Mutchnik will acknowledge this by opening the program with a French composition from that period, Chabrier's "Espana."

The remaining 13 compositions in the program, though, are all by Spanish composers including Sarasate, Turina, Granados, De Falla, Albeniz and Piazzola.

Immersing himself in Spanish music, Mutchnik said he and his musicians are hearing the attributes that make it distinctively Spanish.

"There's a certain way rhythms are used in Spanish music. There's a fast grouping of notes — a trill or ornament," Mutchnik observed, adding that in Spanish music "there's also a descending bass line" that's frequently deployed.

And, he noted that "the strumming of a Spanish guitar" is something everybody will recognize as quintessentially Spanish.

Collectively, these are "very overt dramatic gestures that are so much a part of Spanish music."

The Howard County Concert Orchestra performs Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4 p.m., at St. John's Episcopal Church, 9120 Frederick Road, in Ellicott City. Tickets are $25, $12 for students ages 18- 24 with ID, free for those 17 and under when accompanied by a paying adult. Call 888-921-7230 or 410-461-0618, or go to http://www.hococo.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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