Two of the most popular works for guitar and orchestra were the products of composers who did not themselves play the featured instrument. The “Guitar Concerto in D Major” was a masterwork by violinist Antonio Vivaldi; and the blind pianist Joaquin Rodrigo wrote the dazzling “Concerto de Aranjuez.”
Luckily for those two gifted composers, skilled instrumentalists were found to satisfy the technical demands of each work and bring each concerto to life. Luckily for Aiken audience members, the Feb. 16 concert of the Aiken Symphony Orchestra will feature a highly accomplished soloist in its performance of these two major pieces for classical guitar.
Because she subsequently accepted an offer to perform in India, the virtuoso originally advertised as the featured performer for this concert, Sharon Isbin, will not grace the Etherredge Center stage as she did in 2007. However, her replacement, Colin Davin, a rising star of the guitar repertoire, is more than up to the challenge posed by both Vivaldi and Rodrigo. After earning his master’s degree from Juilliard, Davin joined the faculty of the Cleveland School of Music and the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music. With this foundation as both a student and teacher, he launched a performance career, appearing, for example, at the Aspen Music Festival each year since 2012 and releasing his first CD titled “Infinite Fabric of Dreams.”
Originally written for lute, which differs from its successor the guitar in its greater number of strings, the “Concerto in D Major” is one of around 350 concerti Vivaldi wrote for solo instrument and strings. For three decades, the so-called Red Priest was under contract to a Venetian orphanage for abandoned girls to produce two compositions per year. The student orchestra and choir at the Ospedale della Pieta had an international reputation in the eighteenth century for the quality of its musical program. It is not certain that this particular concerto was written for that institution; indeed, during the 1730s, when the three-movement piece is thought to have been composed, Vivaldi was also travelling to a number of European countries, fulfilling commissions from a variety of patrons.
Rodrigo’s iconic “Concerto de Aranjuez” (1939) was inspired by the gardens of one of four royal palaces built by Philip II of Spain in the 16th century. Most visitors to Madrid include in their itinerary a day trip to the Escorial – I know I did – the most famous of Philip’s royal residences; but the palace of Aranjuez, about 30 miles south of the city, is also well worth a visit. It is famous for its gardens, and Rodrigo himself said his concerto was written in an effort to capture the “fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains” on the palace grounds.
So popular did this particular guitar concerto become and so closely associated was the composer with the outdoor spaces around the palace that Juan Carlos I elevated Rodrigo to the nobility in 1991 by giving him the title of Marquis of the Gardens of Aranjuez. Since the composer’s death in 1999, his daughter Cecilia has held this hereditary title.
Two other notable orchestral works have been selected by Maestro Donald Portnoy for the upcoming concert: Johannes Brahms’s “Variations on a Theme by Haydn” and Alberto Ginastera’s “Estancia.”
Presumably the work that launched Brahms as a serious orchestral composer, the famous variations were inspired by his acquaintance with music librarian Karl Ferdinand Pohl, who in 1870 introduced the 37-year-old musical genius to a short piece for wind instruments erroneously attributed, as it was later discovered, to Joseph Haydn. The theme, identified as the “St. Anthony Chorale,” Brahms used as the foundation in 1873 of five variations and a recapitulative finale.
The folk music of Argentina inspired Ginastera to compose “Estancia” or “Ranch” in 1943. Presumably conceived as a tribute to the gaucho, the landless horseman of the Argentinian plains, the work is divided into four parts: “The Land Workers,” “Wheat Dance,” “The Cattlemen” and “Malambo.” Ginastera was a central figure in the Argentinian music scene largely for his use of indigenous folk tunes and for his encouragement of other composers – he counted Astor Piazzolla, creator of “nuevo tango,” as one of his students.
For ticket information on the ASO concert scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 16, at 7:30 p.m., visit the Etherredge Center online at etherredge.usca.edu the box office at 803-641-3305.