Concerts in Boulder, Denver and Longmont explore music from Spain and the Americas
By Peter Alexander
The Boulder Bach Festival has become an explorer through the history of music.
That is the work of artistic director Zachary Carrettin, who has led the festival since the fall of 2013. A Baroque violinist, electric violinist and conductor of broad tastes, he has played early music and various styles of chamber music around the world, but also shared the stage with Yanni, Ray Charles and Cake. And as director of the Boulder Bach Festival (BBF), he wants to broaden audiences’ knowledge of the music of the past and all the ways it can be experienced.
The festival’s next program, to be presented Thursday through Saturday in Boulder, Denver and Longmont (see below) is a case in point. Titled “Spain and the Americas,” it will not include a single piece by Bach. It will, however, bring to light a repertoire from just before and during Bach’s lifetime that is little known today. And like most performances Carrettin has presented with the BBF, it will explore ways the music can be presented, using both guitar and lute with the bass part and different combinations of instruments with solo voice.
“It is part of my personal mission that we examine performance practices, but not only with the mission of authenticity, or bringing back to life old practices,” Carrettin says. “Also I’m engaging in a dialog about the various instruments then and now, and how they influence our approach to the various musics we play and sing.”
This particular program is a collaboration between Carrettin and Richard Savino, a lutenist and guitarist who also directs El Mundo, a Renaissance and Baroque performance ensemble. Carrettin has played on concerts and recordings with Savino and El Mundo, and he invited Savino to appear with the BBF for this concert.
“I always enjoyed playing with (Savino and El Mundo),” Carrettin says. “His style of playing is so full of life and imagination that it influences everybody else in the band.”
Savino will play both Spanish guitar and lute on the concert, and Carrettin will be one of two Baroque violinists. A second violinist will be Adam LaMotte, concertmaster of the Portland Baroque Orchestra who has known Carrettin since they were both high school freshmen. The cello/continuo will be played by Guy Fishman, principal cellist of the Boston Handel and Haydn Society and a member of the Colorado Music Festival orchestra in the summers.
Vocal soloist for the concert will be mezzo-soprano Clea Huston, an artist-in-residence for the BBF this season. A native of Denver, Huston has sung a diverse repertoire, including music by Wagner, Verdi, Mozart, Handel and Bach.
The music for the BBF concert comes partly from one of Savino’s recordings with El Mundo, The Kingdoms of Castile, but it also reflects Savino’s long-time interest in the music of Spain and the Spanish colonies in the New World. “It’s an area of work that I’ve been researching since the mid-‘90s,” he says.
“Growing up a guitar player you’re always fascinated with Spanish music. Somewhere in the 1990s I became more and more interested in the colonial repertory of the 16th through the 19th centuries, and the music that emanated from the different missions, cathedrals, convents and court environments in Latin America.”
The program includes music by composers from Mexico, Guatemala and Spain, as well as composers from southern Italy, which was under Spanish rule in the Baroque era. Surprisingly, there is also a piece by Handel. Although he was certainly not a Spanish composer, Handel lived for a while in Naples, the seat of the Spanish Viceroy, where he wrote a song in Spanish.
“It’s his only work in Spanish, and it says specifically on the title page ‘con chitarra Espagnola’ (with Spanish guitar),” Savino says. “He basically adopts every Spanish characteristic for it. He’s the great chameleon—he can do it all.”
Savino singles out one of the composers on the program as a favorite. “Jose Marin is a fascinating character,” he says. “He was a Catholic priest, and he was also a thug—I mean like a Tony Soprano thug. He was convicted in some kind of extortion scheme, was defrocked and run out of Madrid. He was caught trying to sneak back in, and then was implicated in a murder scheme.
“But his songs are stunningly beautiful.”
Carrettin shares Savino’s regard for Marin’s music. “We’re ending the first half with a duo by Marin, and it is just sublime,” he says. “It’s so special and intimate, it’s probably my favorite piece on the program.”
A contrasting piece is a Xacara (or Jácara), a type of lively Spanish dance song that was somehow associated with pickpockets. Oygan una Xacarilla was composed by Rafael Castellano, the chapel master at the cathedral in Guatemala City. “It’s a funky pop tune,” Savino says. “It’s great!”
Other works on the program include a set of pieces for guitar alone, by Spanish composer Gaspar Sanz; a two-part piece that opens with a slow, reserved chorale section celebrating the birth of Jesus, followed by a guaracha, a style of Cuban dance that Savino again describes as a “pop tune”; and several instrumental pieces for two violins with cello and guitar continuo.
Savino believes that the most important thing to listen for on the program is an unmistakable Hispanic, or Latino, element to the music. “There is a discernible lineage to Hispanic music that you can hear from the 16th through the 20th century,” he says.
“When you hear Tito Puente, for example, and then you hear a 17th-century guaracha, there’s a connection, and you know that they both are derived from Hispanic musical practices. You can put it together right away.
“And it’s a vibrant repertory.”
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Spain and the Americas
Boulder Bach Festival, Zachary Carrettin, director
With Richard Savino, guitar and lutes
Clea Huston, mezzo-soprano
Adam LaMotte and Zachary Carrettin, Baroque violins
Guy Fishman, cello
7 p.m. Thursday, March 16, Grace Lutheran Church, 1001 13th St., Boulder
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 17, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church,2015 Glenarm St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18, Stewart Auditorium, 400 Quail Road Longmont