International Joaquin Rodrigo Festival: 2009
In 2009, El Paso joined the cities of Madrid, Alicante, Valencia and Barcelona (Spain), as well as Vienna, London and Prague in paying homage to one of Spain’s most adored composers, Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999). 2009 marked the tenth anniversary of his death, where the maestro died in his home in Madrid, surrounded by his family. The leading member of that family as well as the only child of the composer, Cecilia Rodrigo traveled from Madrid to El Paso with friend and colleague Katherine Zegarra in order to participate in the International Joaquín Rodrigo Festival: 2009. The four day event was hosted by the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP), where concerts, lectures, recitals, video-viewings and round-table discussions ensued energetically and emotionally from February 22nd through the 25th. In addition to the esteemed guests from Spain, the festival welcomed Chilean guitar virtuoso Carlos Perez, who has already made a name for himself by specializing in the works by Rodrigo. Even at his young age, Mr. Perez is wracking up accolades in the competition and recording world, and his boundless energy through the most difficult passages of Rodrigo’s Concierto para una fiesta para guitarra y orquesta, as well as the amazingly tender and mature lyricism, shocked the large El Paso audience members who attended the performance. Some of the highlights of the festival included a dramatization of Rodrigo’s life, where the Chairman of the Department of Music, Dr. Lowell E. Graham—as the maestro—joined El Paso media personality Felipa Solis in a narration called, El niño quien soñó la música (“The Boy Who Imagined Music”). Live music clips and performances of Rodrigo’s music joined the story told of his life, including several hardships of his blindness. Joaquín Rodrigo was struck by diphtheria at the age of three and as many have attested (including the composer himself), arguably became a musician as a result. Nevertheless, his music is profoundly inspirational as was witnessed by the pre-collegiate students from the community who were the audience members that day. Several visually impaired students also attended the outreach performance, and the look on their joyous faces after the concert was worth their weight in gold. A large, collaborative university event, Tuesday afternoon brought a lively discussion entitled “Spanish Nationalism in Twentieth Century Spain,” and included UTEP Professors Rita Triana (dance), Roberto Gonzalez (the Spanish Monarchy from 1898 to 1931), Matthew Desing (the Spanish Civil War) and Hector Enriquez (Spanish culture and civilization). One other round table discussion engulfed the controversial topic of recordings/arrangements based on Rodrigo’s most famous piece, The Concierto de Aranjuez and included thoughts of Dr. Keith Pannell (Chemistry), and Guitar Professors John Siqueiros (classical) and Curt Warren (jazz). Other UTEP Department of Music professors and guest El Paso musicians performed select works by Rodrigo and other Spanish composers on the first evening of the festival and included Vanessa Cedillos (violin), Elisa Wilson (mezzo-soprano), John Siqueiros (guitar), Sang-In Han (tenor), Oscar Macchioni (piano), Leslie Chen (violin), Ben Vickers (cello), Felipa Solis (dance) and Dena Kay Jones (piano). The following evening’s concert was performed by UTEP’s large student ensembles conducted by Drs. Ron Hufstader and William McMillan and included Rodrigo’s Adagio para instrumentos de viento (“Adagio for Wind Instruments”), select works for acapella chamber choir, select scenes from the zarzuela El hijo fingido (“The Professed Son”), La sonata breve para violoncello y piano (“Small Sonata for Cello and Piano”) and the Concierto para una fiesta (“Concerto for a Festival”) with Carlos Perez as guitar soloist. It was amazing to see the El Paso youth absorbed with this music and this experience. Many of them could relate well to the soloist, enjoying his easy yet professional manner and imagining themselves some day in his position as concert artist. All of the piano majors at UTEP were required to learn a Joaquín Rodrigo piece, as piano was the composer’s principal instrument. They performed a special program for Cecilia Rodrigo and Katherine Zegarra of only piano solo and four-hand works, hoping to offer a special homage not only to the composer but also to his wife, Cecilia’s mother, Victoria. It was known that Joaquín and “Vicky” would often play piano four-hand repertoire together. The collaborations went beyond the city of El Paso as Professor Gregory Fritze of the Berkley School of Music in Boston offered the opening lecture on the Wind Band tradition of Valencia, Spain (Rodrigo’s native province). Professor of Piano at the University of Texas in Austin Gregory Allen performed select solo works and participated throughout the entire festival. His historic recordings of all Rodrigo piano works (Bridge Records, 1997) were noted throughout as having major significance in the dissemination of Rodrigo’s music within the United States. “It has been a long time coming, this meeting with Cecilia Rodrigo. I was in communication with her parents just previous to the release of my CD, but I never had the chance to meet the maestro. I can’t believe that I am meeting her in El Paso, Texas!” Drs. Justin Badgerow (piano) and Erin Lippard (mezzo-soprano) traveled from Alpine, Texas and Sul Ross State University to share their beautiful interpretation and thoughts on the Cuatro madrigales amatorios (“Four Madrigal Love Songs”), and artists Pilar and Walter Rubin traveled from Houston, Texas, where he is retired faculty emeritus at the University of Houston. Both of the Rubin’s have a special connection to Joaquín Rodrigo: Walter was once a student of the composer’s at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and Pilar painted a work with the same name as a composition by Rodrigo, “In Search of the Beyond.” Both pieces were honored at the U.S.’ Bicentennial celebration that took place at NASA, Houston (1976). In addition, Victoria and Joaquín Rodrigo were the godparents to the Rubin’s son. As a way to signify the importance of this festival as well as their connection to the composer, Pilar and Walter have left a lithograph of “In Search of the Beyond,” whose original actually traveled into space with Rodrigo’s music, and can be viewed in the Department of Music at UTEP. In addition to the emotion felt upon hearing the various performances of Rodrigo’s music, equally as stirring was hearing his only child, Cecilia Rodrigo speak about her father. She offered two lectures entitled, “Guitar Music in the Correspondence of Joaquín Rodrigo and His Contemporaries,” and “Joaquín Rodrigo and Fifty Years of Historical Links across the US from 1958 to the Present.” She also offered numerous commentaries as we watched video and film footage of her father and entire family. It was difficult to witness the endearing scenes of Cecilia as a small child with her father as they were replayed in front of our esteemed guest. As the opening ceremonies began, and she wiped away tears filled with appreciation, remembrance, love and emotion, she whispered, “This is so difficult.” It was obviously clear that she is dedicated to keeping the memory of her father alive and well in the world of music—even despite the emotional journeys forced upon her as a result. In addition to the numerous stories of Rodrigo’s spirit, we also discovered how Cecilia’s mother had tried to diminish the fact that her husband was blind and yet how Cecilia feels that it is a necessary component that one must realize in order to fully appreciate and understand the music of her father. The topics of his visual impairment, struggles, depression and the overcoming of numerous other challenges were at the forefront of many sessions. Cecilia answered every question and met with each faculty, student and community member who wanted to meet her. Several questions for future research became evident in this festival, such as: 1) what music did the composer annotate through this Braille system? and 2) why has Spain not offered an extensive festival in honor of Joaquín Rodrigo, much like the one that took place at UTEP? This festival was made possible by funding offered through the Program for Cultural Cooperation Between Spain’s Ministry of Culture and United States’ Universities and the University of Texas at El Paso.
Dena Kay K. Jones Dr.. "International Joaquin Rodrigo Festival: 2009" 2009