Among themes for orchestra programs, few are more common than Spain. The evening of Spanish music.
Give the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra extra credit, then, for breathing new life into the concept. On its season finale Tuesday night at the Amphitheater, the CSO and Music Director Rossen Milanov rewrote the Spanish playbook, augmenting their own sparkling performances with the work of a legitimate flamenco dance troupe.
What a treat it was. Flamenco alone is compelling enough, but witnessing it in combination with live orchestra was an experience this listener won’t soon forget.
Not that the Flamenco Company of Columbus or dancer Griset Damas-Roche couldn’t have held their own. On the contrary, the troupe, which included a vocalist, guitarist and percussionist, easily could have headlined the evening. No offense to Milanov or the CSO.
On the company’s first appearance Tuesday, performing what was listed as “Tientos-Tangos Flamencos,” the four guest artists held the nearly-full house in the palms of their hands. For every varied, passionate phrase supplied by the musicians, Damas-Roche delivered an exact, ferocious replica with her heels or toes, tapping or stomping on a piece of special dance flooring.
The precision of it was remarkable. No matter how rapidly or slowly the guitarist strummed or the drummer pounded, the team remained in perfect alignment, collaboratively raising the pulses of every person under the roof.
Damas-Roche did the same thing two more times at evening’s end. In separate dances with fan and castanets, the dancer fleshed out her artistic personality and steered the CSO even clearer of any Spanish routine.
In Ruperto Chapi’s Overture to La Revoltosa, Damas-Roche treated the brilliant red fan in her hand as much more than an accessory. She didn’t just snap it open and shut, in traditional flamenco fashion. She waved, embraced and paraded it, as if it were a human partner. The effect was mesmerizing.
But the showstopper, literally and figuratively, was Las Bodas de Luis Alonso, by Geronimo Gimenez. There, Damas-Roche revealed herself to be a castanet virtuoso as well as a star dancer.
Milanov may have been the conductor, but it was Damas-Roche who was in charge, belting out incredible licks with her hands in time with the orchestra, even as she kept up twirling and stomping. Never has the label “triple threat” applied so well.
The other half of the evening belonged to the orchestra, and the orchestra owned it. Milanov and the CSO may have been playing familiar scores, but their performances were such that the music sounded anything but tired or threadbare.
Chabrier’s España got the night off to a sparkling start. Thanks especially to vivid contributions from the orchestra’s brass and percussion sections, the brief rhapsody was impossible to resist.
Ditto the two suites from de Falla’s “The Three-Cornered Hat.” In that case, though, it was harder to credit any one individual. The entire ensemble proved as colorful, evocative and technically adept as could be. What’s more, Milanov led with passion and a palpable understanding of the many dance forms involved. The crowd was right to clap in the middle.
No Spanish evening is complete without Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, and the CSO’s season finale was complete in every respect. Acting concertmaster Vahn Armstrong gave a dynamic performance of the work’s chief solo part, and his peers in the woodwind, brass and harp sections added character to an alert, well-paced reading already full of life and animation.
Had the evening ended there, listeners could have gone home happy. At that point, though, the CSO still had more to offer, in the form of Damas-Roche with her fan and castanets. After that, all went home ecstatic.
Zachary Lewis is the classical music and dance critic of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio.