Working on Spanish repertoire –the music with which I started my career as a conductor– has helped me to understand the music of all cultures. Consider the internationally popular Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. The fact that Almodóvar is so unusual, so local (not just to Spain, but to Madrid), so true to his own vicinity in rendering feeling and experience – this is what makes him so universal. The more I studied the composers of Spain, the more I was able to appreciate the German or French repertoire – or, in the case of tonight’s concert, the music of Mexico.
Tomas Luis de Victoria is a product of the Siglo de Oro (“The Golden Century”) when Spain was the dominant European nation, Philip II was the powerful Spanish king – and Victoria was Europe’s greatest composer. He was born in Avila in 1548. He went to Rome as a young man and was befriended by Palestrina – the leading Italian church composer of the time. He succeeded Palestrina at the Roman Seminary in 1571 and was ordained a priest four years later. But he yearned to return to Spain, which he did some time in the 1590s as chaplain to the widowed sister of Philip II, living in a convent. He died in 1611, having in effect retired from the world.
It is generally known that in the 1920s and early ’30s, Spain’s cultural production was in a moment of extraordinary splendour; one might simply cite the names of García Lorca, Buñuel, Dalí, or Picasso –all of whom were coming into artistic maturity in precisely these years-as evidence of this renaissance.