Spanish Classical Music from Around the World, June 2008

After several years of being a successful presenter of recitals at various venues around town, Jodi Kanter formed a non-profit organization, cleverly titled M.U.S.i.C. (Musical Upcoming Stars in the Classics). Some of her presentations are in private homes, but some are in bigger spaces as well, i.e. the InterContinental Hotel on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic, and the Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development in Shaker Heights. The purpose is always to provide performance opportunities for young local professional musicians. (Hint: they are paid for performing!)”’

This latter space is one of the miracles of our community, being a nearly-perfect acoustical space for musical performance. It was, in a former life, known as Malvern School, and this room served as the gymnasium. The maple floor is surrounded by brick walls with a lovely skylight in the high ceiling overhead, and for whatever reason, the combination provides incredible sound qualities. Instrument or vocal—it makes no difference—music is entirely clear and understandable from close up, or the far back wall. It’s especially good for vocals, actually, as no matter where you are, you can easily see the singer’s expression…

This particular event featured music of Spanish-speaking countries—plus the Frenchman Maurice Ravel, who qualifies because his mother was from the Basque region of Spain. The outstanding performers were Jason Vieaux, guitar; Regina Mushabac, cello; Javier Gonzalez, piano; Jung Eun Oh, soprano, and dancer Saundra Stavis Bohl”’.

In spite of a heavy downpour that began about 45 minutes prior to the scheduled starting time, a huge walk-up crowd delayed things a bit more, but no one cared. Once the music began, it was absolutely worth the wait! The first half featured Mr. Vieaux as part of a duo, with each of the artists (except Mr. Gonzalez) while the second half presented Mr. Gonzalez as both soloist and accompanist, while Mr. Vieaux was page-turner!

The Sonata for Guitar and Violcello by Radames Gnattali prompted one to wonder why this beautiful combination of instruments is not heard more often! Ms. Mushabac and Mr. Vieaux took turns playing the melody or accompaniment, with long melodic lines and/or plucked notes. It was by turns langorous or brisk, but overall, infectiously joyous.

Manual de Falla’s Quatro Canciones Populares Espanolas were gorgeously sung by Ms. Oh, whose effortless manner combined with vocal clarity for the four songs. These ranged from a charming miniature to a love song, both happy and sad. This was followed by a perfectly lovely rendition of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. This work (one of a series) was supposedly inspired by J. S. Bach. In my opinion, had Bach known how beautifully his works translated into Spanish, he’d have been on the first boat to Brazil!

One is not often treated to dance on a music recital, and this pairing was nothing short of genius! Ms. Bohl is a co-founder of Flamenco Fire, in residence at Fairmount School of the Arts. Costumed in bright pink with black polka dots and black lace trim, she was stylish and sultry, as she treated us to an exhibit of fiery Flamenco dance to the strains of Sevilla and Asturius by Isaac Albeniz. In addition to swirling her cape in matador fashion, her rapid footsteps and graceful hand gestures prompted shouts of ‘Olé!’ here and there and loud applause for her and her musical collaborator at the conclusion.

It was perhaps to signify a different style of Spanish music—switching from guitar to piano—as the ladies changed colors as well. Ms. Oh’s white shawl became a bright red, and Ms. Bohls ruffled dress became red. Her black shoes suddenly sported bright red heels! But the quality of the music did not change from the superb high standards of the first half.

Mr. Gonzalez began with a scintillating rendition of Amor y Muerte from Goyescas by Enrique Granados. The music is dreamy or passionate, and the performance demonstrated those qualities with great sensitivity and intelligence. Ernesto Lecuona’s Andalucia featured Ms. Bohl, who also used castanets to great advantage in this portrait of the sunny province.

Ms. Oh sang Cinco Canciones Mexicanas by Manuel Ponce with great attention to the composer’s settings: beseeching one’s love, gratitude, adoration, accusation, or a declaration of love. Mr. Gonzalez was a spirited, yet thoughtful collaborator.

Ms. Mushabac (who is of Spanish origin, a few generations back, to be sure) displayed that fiery temperment to great advantage in the final three selections. First, Zapateado by Pablo de Sarasate which is nothing short of perpetual motion! This was followed by the Habaneraof Maurice Ravel, in a rhythmic, yet dreamy setting. de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance (known to most piano students) sounds like a different piece entirely when arranged for cello and piano. No less dramatic or demanding, it was rather more dignified, perhaps. Nana was a lullaby, which should certainly accomplish its goal of sending the child to slumberland. But he would waken again to the strains of the Miller’s Dance from the Three-Cornered Hatfor which the composer is possibly best known.

Tapas followed with wine and a big surprise! The sun had come out again, perhaps to join in the celebration!

Information about upcoming events may be obtained from Ms. Kanter via e-mail:

From Cool Cleveland contributor Kelly Ferjutz