Tuesday 15 October 2019

The Rock and a roll call of Gibraltar's finest

ClassicTalk with George Hamilton

Classical connection: Gibraltar
Classical connection: Gibraltar

George Hamilton

Just over five years ago, Gibraltar joined the international football family. Today, the Republic of Ireland go into action at the foot of The Rock.

I always like to seek out musical connections on my travels, which is generally a straightforward enough task. But Gibraltar?

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Go Googling and you'll come up with the name of Albert Hammond, a singer who grew up there, and gave us 'It Never Rains in Southern California' - almost 50 years ago.

Dig a bit deeper, though, and you'll find there is a healthy classical connection.

Twenty years ago, a London-born conductor with roots on The Rock joined a business partner to set up the Gibraltar Philharmonic Society.

Karel Mark Chichon was a trailblazer. In 1998, under his direction, the society began a full season of eight concerts, featuring visiting orchestras and soloists.

Over the past 20 years, with Chichon as artistic director, they've gone from strength to strength.

This anniversary season began in September with the first of 10 concerts, the society's status confirmed by the line-up.

Juan Cantarell conducted the European Symphony Orchestra in performances of Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Symphony No 7. José Maria Gallardo Del Rey was the soloist in Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez.

In April, they'll be welcoming the internationally renowned cellist Steven Isserlis for a recital.

Top soloists who've appeared over the years include Albrecht Mayer, the principal oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic, and the prize-winning Argentine pianist, Ingrid Fliter. The Gibraltar Philharmonic Society boasts a unique venue. St Michael's Cave - one of 150 such caverns inside the Rock - offers a distinctive natural acoustic, perfect for live performance.

The cave as a concert hall seats around 400 along one side, has a concrete stage, and dazzling rock formations to catch the eye. There can't be many musical experiences like it.

Karel Mark Chicon is currently chief conductor of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria.

His career on the podium has taken him from the New York Met to the Liceu in Barcelona, from Vienna to Rome, directing leading orchestras like the Royal Concertgebouw and the London Symphony.

Chichon is one half of a musical power couple. He and his wife, the Latvian opera singer Elīna Garanča, have often appeared on stage together, and have a number of collaborations on disc to their name.

One of those features a work by a Gibraltarian composer.

William Gómez was a guitarist who recorded and toured extensively before returning home to concentrate on writing music.

In an interview with the French classical music website Tutti-magazine.com, Elīna Garanča explains a personal dimension behind the inclusion of this particular composition - his Ave Maria.

Gómez, a very close friend of her husband, Karel Chichon, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died before he had the chance to hear his work being performed.

"Every time I sing this aria," Elīna reflects, "I cannot help thinking about his destiny and it fills me with emotion."

William Gomez's Ave Maria is on Meditation (Deutsche Grammophon 0289 479 2071 7).

George Hamilton presents 'The Hamilton Scores' on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday

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