Costa Blanca Arts Update – Zelia Rocha and Spanish Brass
There has not been much opportunity to review arts events of late. I am sure I don't have to explain why. But over the last few weeks there have been attempts to ease the restrictions of earlier in the year and a number of venues have offered events, albeit with audiences wearing masks and seated […]

There has not been much opportunity to review arts events of late. I am sure I don't have to explain why. But over the last few weeks there have been attempts to ease the restrictions of earlier in the year and a number of venues have offered events, albeit with audiences wearing masks and seated according to ongoing rules of social distancing. This restricted the recent annual film festival in L'Alfas del Pi to exclude usual venues such as the wonderfully independent Cinema Roma. The festival did happen however, using the spaces provided by Casa Cultura and outside paved areas.

One venue where social distancing is rarely an issue is the Klein-Schreuder sculpture garden. The current exhibition features works by Zélia Rocha, assemblies of iron and steel, largely reimagined engine components and re-created scrap. The forms represented are largely literal, but the construction is utterly abstract. Part of the joy is pausing before each work to identify what each component used to do during its working life and then reflect on how this contrasts with its current setting. The garden's opening times are on its website.

And then last night, Altea hosted the second of its series of concerts Música a Boqueta Nit, in the outdoor auditorium at la Plaça de l'Aigua, a venue that again is easily to socially distance. New rules, new ages, need new compound verbs, it seems.

The group Spanish Brass, a brass quintet described by no less than Christian Lindburg as one of the best in the world, presented its program and they played in all for about ninety minutes without an interval. In the open air, even a brass quintet needs to be amplified, but a group such as Spanish Brass are used to the challenge and the sound proved more than acceptable to even the most discriminating ear. Amplified, of course, it lacked the character of reverberation, but outdoors there is none of that anyway.

The program was varied and, for this outdoor summer evening, largely light, but expertly delivered. It included part of an orchestral suite by Johan Sebastian Bach, Oblivion and Libertango by Astor Piazzolla, and a medley of songs made famous by Edith Piaf. The last work was apt, since on the way to the concert, it seemed that about half of the cars in Altea had arrived from France. Introductions to the music hereabouts are almost always delivered in a mixture of languages, and last night Spanish Brass chose three, English, Castellano and Valenciano, so though the French missed out on the words, they made up lost ground in the music.

Personally, the high point of the evening was the concerto for wind quintet by Salvador Brotons. The composer is a teacher of brass instruments in Barcelona's conservatory and this piece was commissioned from him by Spanish Brass for the 2014 Alzira festival. It may not be common knowledge outside Spain that this eastern part of the country is known for the extent and quality of its bands. These are not the brass bands that used to be so prevalent in the north of England before the community and culture that spawned them was excised. These have the character of a symphonic band, with a mix of brass and woodwinds, mouthpieces and reeds that often march through towns accompanied by a set of timpani on wheels. The overall standard of musicality in these groups, at least one in every town, no matter what size, is so high that they can and often do play rich and varied material.

As a result, there exists a corpus of composers for band throughout Catalunya and Valencia who attempt far more than pop cliché. And so to the Brass Quintet Concerto of Salvador Brotons. The first movement is rhythmically challenging, with its complex and broken, but always punchy lines, a second movement that reminds of Miles Davis and Gil Evans, and a finale that impresses via its neoclassicism and Hindemith-like astringency.

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