Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco – Pick Your NY Times Critic

Flamenco, as Itself and as It’s Been Tidied Up – 1997 Review by Allan Kozinn

In March of 1997 I participated in a concert and educational event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  An otherwise distinguished panel discussed the obvious influences of flamenco on Manuel de Falla, among other Spanish composers.

The musicians and experts seemed to take the influence for granted.  But at that time, and in later versions of the event, I crankily insisted that I could not actually hear much actual influence of flamenco.  Granted, the music seemed evocative of Spain, and Spanish music.  But in reality, it didn’t seem to use flamenco’s metric system or compas, the cycle of twelve beats of which five (!) are accented (beats three, six, eight, ten and twelve).  It also didn’t seem to evoke the flamenco way of employing the Phrygian mode as it functions in flamenco singing.  (For that matter, it didn’t evoke or employ flamenco’s way of driving home its emotional points, or the strange near-insanity, the knife-edge balance between the normal world and some transcendent place, that marks great flamenco performances.)

Both that mode and that metric system are evidently Spanish, and not exclusive to flamenco. But I thought that Falla didn’t use the metric system at all, and his use of the mode seemed Spanish but not particularly flamenco.  Or so it seemed to me, but not to the vastly more qualified authorities on the panel who certainly carried the day.

Here’s a New York Times review of the event by the very savvy critic Alan Kozinn, which doesn’t address my main points but still makes a good case for saying that classical music can have a clear connection to flamenco:

Flamenco, as Itself and as It’sBeen Tidied Up.”

by Allan Kozinn

“Nationalist schools of composition have always been defined by their crossbreeding of folk styles with classical forms, but in most cases the classical side is unquestionably dominant. Typically, in fact, composers have used folk elements to temper either modernist or distinctly individualistic styles with recognizable, earthy roots. Bartok and Stravinsky did this; so did Gershwin and Copland.

For the Spanish nationalist composers — or, for that matter, for non-Spanish composers who wanted to evoke Spain — flamenco was the obvious motherlode. Yet composers like Falla, Albeniz, Granados and Turina did not want merely to mine flamenco as a local flavoring. They hoped to elevate it to classical stature, and to that end, they poured its vital dance rhythms, its Eastern-tinged melodies with their Gypsy, Arabic and Sephardic Jewish influences, and their modal harmonies, into the refined timbres and symmetrical forms favored by composers elsewhere in Europe.

Flamenco, both on its own terms and filtered through the sensibilities of the nationalist composers, was the subject of a series last weekend at the Brooklyn Philharmonic. The Brooklyn orchestra has been undertaking musicological adventures of this sort for the last few seasons, and it has the concept well in hand. A thick, nicely illustrated program book, with informative historical notes by Pablo Zinger and Brook Zern, proved a useful tour guide; lectures and a panel discussion offered further (if spottier) enlightenment. And films of flamenco singers, captured at work in taverns and living rooms in the 1960′s, put the live performances in perspective.”

The Saturday evening installment (which had also been performed on Friday) was mostly orchestral, with dance and traditional flamenco singing providing a link between the raw and processed forms. Robert Spano conducted the orchestra in bright, outgoing accounts of Turina’s ”Orgia,” with its Puccini-like wind scoring, Carlos Surinach’s vibrant ”Sinfonietta Flamenca” and Roberto Gerhard’s ”Alegrias.”

End of Allan Kozinn’s review of the event.  I think the headline made the most important distinction, the one I was hoping to make — that when all is said and done, the composers were not working in the realm of flamenco itself, but were presenting something that they had deliberately or unwittingly “tidied up”.  Frankly, I prefer the term “neutered”.

Just sayin,,.

Brook Zern

February 18, 2012   No Comments