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Spokane Symphony highlights French composers’ love of Spanish music in ‘Spanish Nights’

Violinist Aleksey Semenenko joined the Spokane Symphony on Edouard Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole” during “Classics 8: Spanish Nights.” (Christian Steiner)
Violinist Aleksey Semenenko joined the Spokane Symphony on Edouard Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole” during “Classics 8: Spanish Nights.” (Christian Steiner)

In a 2000 review of a concert by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Anthony Tommasini, chief classical music critic at the New York Times, wrote “Though it’s not polite to say so out loud, some of the best Spanish music was written by French composers.”

The Spokane Symphony is banking on that sentiment for “Classics 8: Spanish Nights,” Saturday and Sunday at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, as three of the four pieces on the program were written by French composers.

Music director Eckart Preu will first lead the symphony in Emmanuel Chabrier’s “España.”

Inspired by a trip to Spain that Chabrier and his wife took in 1882, “España” is a mix of elements of the music of the Andalusia community and Chabrier’s improvisations on the theme.

The symphony will then perform Edouard Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole,” joined by guest artist Aleksey Semenenko on violin.

“Symphonie espagnole” is one of Lalo’s most performed pieces, with each of the five movements corresponding to Spanish dances and folk rhythms, according to the program notes.

The only Spaniard in the bunch, Enrique Granados, will then get his turn in the spotlight when the symphony plays Danzas Espagnolas No. 4, Villanesca, and 5, Andaluza.

Each dance, 12 in all, comes from a different region in Spain. The program notes describe Villancesca as a stately, old-fashioned dance, while Andaluza, with characteristics of flamenco, is considered the most popular of the dances.

“Classics 8” closes with Claude Debussy’s “Ibéria,” part two of “Images pour orchestra.”

Each of “Ibéria’s” three movements represents a time of day: midday, night and early morning.

In the first movement, “Par les rues et par les chemins (In the streets and byways),” woodwinds and brass represent midday.

The second, “Les parfums de la nuit (The fragrances of the night),” opens with an oboe solo, accompanied by violin, celesta and timpani, all representing night.

The final movement, “Le matin d’un jour de fête (The morning of a festival day),” welcomes a new day, which becomes more and more jovial as more musicians chime in with “haphazard fragments of Spanish tunes,” resulting in a cacophony of festivity.

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