Andorra is a tiny country nestled in the Pyrenees on the border of Spain and France with a landmass and population far less than Vancouver.
Most of us have probably never visited Andorra, but Salvador Brotons has done so many times, and his “Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra,” which was inspired by the music from the principality, will be featured in this weekend’s concerts with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
Brotons wrote the “Double Concerto” in 2017 for a commission that he received from an Andorran foundation and the General Council of Andorra. The piece celebrates the 50th anniversary of the professional careers of Gerard and Lluis Claret, twin brothers who have performed internationally as soloists and chamber musicians. In 2018, Brotons conducted them in the world premiere of the piece with the National Classical Orchestra of Andorra, and the “Double Concerto” has been repeated with performances in France and Catalonia.
“I wrote the concerto in two months during the summer,” said Brotons. “I had a little more time than usual. I composed the piece quite fluently, although the whole composition process took three months, including finishing the orchestra parts.”
The “Double Concerto” (subtitled “The Andorran”) consists of four movements. The first movement contains a theme that was written by Brotons’ father, Josep Maria Brotons, who played the flute and piccolo in the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra for more than 40 years. The second movement has two Andorran tunes, and the final movement draws on the “Ball de la Marratxa,” a popular melody from the Andorran parish of Sant Julia de Loria.
If You Go
What: Brotons’ “Double Concerto” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
When: 3 p.m. Saturday, June 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, June 2.
Where: Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.
Cost: $50 for reserved seats, $38 for general admission, $34 for seniors and $10 for students.To learn more: https://vancouversymphony.org/
“I did some research to find the Andorran melodies,” remarked Brotons, “Also, I was advised by some people from there who shared some of their traditional songs.”
For the Vancouver Symphony performance, the orchestra’s concertmaster, Eva Richey, and its principal cellist, Dieter Ratzlaf, will be the featured soloists.
“The Brotons’ concerto has melodies that sing in my head,” noted Richey. “They are not dissonant and unrelatable. We exchange themes with the orchestra. Sometimes the orchestra introduces the theme first, and then we come in. At other times, we come in first. It might be a rhythmic figure that we start with. Sometimes, we are all playing together. The third movement is one big cadenza that Dieter and I play that leads directly into the fourth movement. It’s short and has a slow part and a fast part.”
Ratzlaf is enthusiastic about his part of the concerto.
“It uses almost all of the range of the cello,” remarked Ratzlaf, “just not the super-high register. It explores a lot of articulations, a lot of string crossings, and a lot of fast playing, which is pretty cool.”
Both soloists have to make some assumptions before playing the concerto with the orchestra.
“Part of the challenge of playing this piece is that we have no YouTube or recordings,” said Ratzlaf. “We are just doing it the old-fashioned way. We’ll get together with Michael Liu, who will play the piano reduction of the orchestral score. That will give us a better idea of the whole piece. It will be great to work with Salvador when he arrives, since he is the only one who really knows the music.”
Although Richey and Ratzlaf have a long history of working together, the opportunity to be the soloists in a brand new work written by the orchestra’s music director is a unique experience.
“It’s wonderful to play this fun piece written by our conductor,” remarked Richey. “It’s not so technically hard that I’m freaking out in my shoes. It has some seriously difficult areas. He told me that he couldn’t write it too easy, because then no one would play it! The piece is really written well.”
The other big work on the orchestra’s program is Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” one of the most popular pieces in the orchestral repertoire. Mussorgsky wrote it as a piano suite in 1874, but it was Maurice Ravel’s brilliantly colorful orchestration almost 50 years later that made it so well-known to audiences.
The piece depicts several paintings and drawings that Mussorgsky saw at an art exhibition of works by the Russian architect Victor Hartmann. All of the instruments of the orchestra get a moment to shine, and Brotons will be in his element on the podium with the very expressive music.