On Casals and us

An introduction to tonight's program, from its curator Michael Unterman. Enjoy! 

This is not the first time we have played a concert that owes a debt to Pau Casals. When we play the music of Bach, or any of the works for cello or orchestra he recorded, his interpretations are felt, whether directly or indirectly. We also think of Casals when we think of Spain, of Catalunya, as one of the great heroes of that country and region. He left an indelible mark on the musical history of New England as well, through his 13 summers at the Marlboro Festival, teaching many of the musicians we admire today and with whom we have studied. Finally, he is there in our minds when we think of social justice and the struggle for peace as one of the great, principled, humanist statesmen. It would be difficult to plan a program that didn’t relate to Casals in some way: he is a giant.

Then again, this program in particular owes near everything to him, with all the pieces being either the subject of his recordings (as cellist and conductor), his own compositions and arrangements, and the Ginastera, which is dedicated to him. The Brandenburg Concerto that opens is a nod to his lifelong championing of Bach’s music, most notably of the Suites for Solo Cello, but also his interpretations of Bach’s orchestral works which he recorded twice. Our performance will be based on these recordings, to be played in more of an “old school” style, rather than our usual practice of borrowing elements from historically informed practices; most notably that means using a grand piano for continuo, rather than a harpsichord.

The next set of works for cello and orchestra features pieces that are the subject of celebrated Casals recordings. First, his arrangement of “El cant dels ocells” (“The Song of the Birds”), a Catalan folksong that, through Casals performances, became known as a song of protest against the Franco regime, of solidarity with the oppressed Catalan people, and as a plea for peace. Then, rounding out the first half, Schumann’s Cello Concerto. For these two works, we are honored to be joined by Lluis Claret, a cellist whom we adore, and also one who shares a deep family connection to Pau Casals, who was his godfather, and studied music with Pau’s brother, Enric.

The second half celebrates Casals the composer. First through his “Sardana de l’exili,” Sant Martí del Canigó, one of his many compositions, little known outside Spain; then in Ginastera’s brilliant Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals, a work dedicated to Casals on his centenary. And now, this year, we also celebrate Ginastera’s 100th.