Vancouver Island Symphony conductor Pierre Simard and a 14-person string section present Spain and Strings on April 23. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)

Vancouver Island Symphony concludes season with salute to Spanish strings

'Spain and Strings' is final concert in live-streamed 'Symphony from your Sofa' series

The Vancouver Island Symphony is closing out its 2020-21 season with its biggest concert of the pandemic.

To cap off a live-steam series that featured mostly small ensembles, on April 23, VIS conductor Pierre Simard will be joined by 14 string players to present Spain and Strings. The program showcases the works of three Spanish composers, as well as a piece by Mozart and variations on a theme by Tchaikovsky by “completely unknown” composer Anton Arensky.

Simard said he enjoyed putting the program together. He said the Spanish pieces appeal to his “musical sensitivity” and presenting them will feel like “old slippers” to him.

“Spanish classical music, I would dare say, is much more rooted in their own folklore than pretty much nearly any other type of national music or national classical music,” Simard said.

He said that’s particularly the case with the evening’s first composer, Isaac Albéniz, who Simard likens to a scholar.

“He really garnered, throughout his life, information almost like an ethnomusicologist,” Simard said. “He went to the roots of folklore, folk music and sort of made that bridge between simple melodies, simple harmonies, but treated in a classical manner.”

Simard said he’s always admired the “craftsmanship” of Spanish composers, especially Manuel de Falla, whose work concludes the program.

“De Falla wrote in total maybe 30, 35 pieces in his whole life so he was really picky and really revised his pieces. He revisited them all the time,” Simard said. “He really wanted to leave pieces that were absolutely perfect in his mind so I have huge respect for someone like that who really is the definition of quality over quantity, in musical terms.”

The other Spanish composer in the program is Joaquín Rodrigo. He’s a victim of what Simard calls “the curse of the famous pieces,” as his works are overshadowed by his 1939 classical guitar composition Concierto de Aranjuez.

“Name me another piece by Rodrigo,” Simard said. “Not many people would be able to do that.”

For Simard the Spain and Strings performance will be his first since October and he said “there might be a bit of rust in my conducting arm.”

“I know it won’t be the case for the musicians because pretty much all the musicians, they find opportunities to perform. It’s either chamber music or they go on teaching,” Simard said. “But for a conductor the orchestra is the instrument and no matter how I start making choreographies in my living room, there’s still no sound coming out.”

He said the concert is going to be “a happy reunion.”

“It’s going to provide hope for the future because it also sends the message: ‘we’re still here,'” Simard said.

WHAT’S ON … The Vancouver Island Symphony presents Spain and Strings as part of its Symphony from your Sofa live-stream series on April 23 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $25, available here.

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