We told guitarist Robert Bekkers that his playing made us cry when he performed the "Concierto de Aranjuez" during his recital on Mother's Day last weekend. Being moved to tears is for me a kind of gold standard for live concert music, and Rodrigo's great work for guitar and orchestra is one of my favorite pieces of music.
I was introduced to it decades ago, or to a portion of it, when jazz composer Gil Evans arranged the hauntingly beautiful theme in the adagio for Miles Davis to play on his trumpet. It was a long time before I learned the the theme Evans and Davis made the leitmotif of their "Sketches of Spain" album was taken from that rare thing, a concerto for guitar and orchestra.
Needing to put together a small orchestra for his Doctor of Musical Arts degree recital, Bekkers -- a student of Eliot Fisk at New England Conservatory -- turned to an online fundraiser called gofundme.com. A good number of donors ponied up to a level that earned them "hugs from the conductor," Kristo Kondakci. The rest of us chipped in a little, and got a lot in return. I'm not sure who Robert was hugging after his recital -- possibly himself following a fabulous performance.
The Rodrigo concerto is almost unique. We have major violin concertos; piano concertos; concertos for cello and for almost every other instrument in the symphony orchestra. Mozart wrote a flute concerto and an amazing clarinet concerto and twenty-something piano concertos. Does anyone know how many violin concertos Vivaldi wrote?
But the guitar, as Bekkers pointed out when we heard him perform last fall with pianist Ellyses Kuan, had fallen out of favor by the 19th century.... even though a virtuoso on the instrument, Mauro Giuliani, was contemporary and collaborator with Beethoven, Hummel, Paganini and Rossini. The last of these, impressed by Giuliani's playing and composing, said 'go take my opera music and arrange some tunes for yourself on guitar.' Since Rossini's work was the Beatles music of his age, Giuliani leapt at the opportunity and composed six "Rossiniane," medleys of tunes from the operas.
Bekkers played the first of these at his recital, a work based on music form "Otello", "L'Italiana in Algeri" and "Armida" -- a delightful work, brilliantly played.
Sitting in the second row of a relatively small room, the conservatory's Williams Hall, Anne and I indulged in one of life's great pleasure: getting up close and personal with great music, "Concierto de Aranjuez." Bekkers gave a strong, lyrical and passionate performance. The orchestra matched it. We were moved and inspired; I think everybody was.
Rodrigo's great work for guitar and orchestra falls into the class of works that make me believe that music is one of our principal answers to death and despair. It keeps the heart soft, and the soul from freezing up.