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Lontano at 30


Concert I: Happy Birthday Lontano
The Warehouse, London 1 September 2006


Silvina Milstein Cristales y Susurros (Quintet version)
Raymond Yiu Jewelled Elephant Syndrome (1st performance)
Martin Butler Going with the Grain

Odaline de la Martinez
Cantos de amor
Mihailo Trandafilovski Strike-Flow (1st performance)
Eleanor Alberga Dancing with the Shadow


Conductor Odaline de la Martinez
Helen Semple: Soprano
Joby Burgess: Percussion
Flutes: Rowland Sutherland Clarinets: Andrew Sparling Violin: Caroline Balding
Viola: Reiad Chibah Cello: Robin Michael Piano: Dominic Saunders


Lontano is celebrating its 30th year with three London concerts, and marking the occasion also by launching a new Lontano/Lorelt digital download website - the first classical MP3 site by an independent label in the UK.

Concert I: Happy Birthday was a happy occasion at The Warehouse - an ideal venue for a mixed chamber ensemble. The audience of some 80 included many friends and musical colleagues (most critics will have been at the Proms for Rattle & the BPO !).

Everyone will have had their own preferences, but this was a successful example of thoughtful programme planning, finishing with the invigorating rhythm of Eleanor Alberga's Dancing with the Shadow, which had featured Andrew Sparling's clarinet, before the champagne flowed!

Odaline de la Martinez's own Cantos de amor (1987) was an ideal vehicle for up-coming lyric soprano Helen Semple; a pity that with nearly two empty pages space was not found in the programme for the original Spanish poems alongside the English translations provided. Raymond Yiu's colourful piece, a birthday present for Odaline was written whilst he was heavily engaged with The Original Chinese Conjuror, his Aldeburgh/Almeida opera. Jewelled Elephant Syndrome is work in progress still to be completed, lacking a forceful finale, as he freely concurred with me.

Three works combined to make this for me a concert to particularly savour and remember. Silvina Milstein's delicate reduction for quintet of Cristales y Susurros (whispering crystals) fulfilled its promise of "ripples left by the pleasures and intimacy of a magical night". Martin Butler's Lontano commission Going with the Grain (1991), new to me but recorded on Lontano's Lorelt label, was a treasurable marimba concerto "without the Bash", as Joby Burgess said. An intimate work, rarely raising its voice, allowing the marimba to "float freely in the environment provided by the other instruments - - the ensemble at times sounding like one giant marimba"; delicious. And most memorable of all, for its promise as well as achievement, Mihailo Trandafilovski's piece specially written for this concert; a harsh, acerbic creation for strings and piano (using extended sounds organically rather than decoratively), a tense, rhythmic start giving way to chilling stasis (hear two of his works on Trandafilovski's website).

I have followed the work of Lontano and de la Martinez intermittently through these long years (they are probably to be heard abroad more than in UK) and have turned up on the web my response to the festival of Latin-American music at London's South Bank Centre which she co-directed in 1989*

*-- One of the greatest peculiarities of Britain's notorious musical insularity is the neglect of the central and southern American repertoire, which doesn't take itself so seriously as the usual symphony concert fare in this country. The keynote is energy and a zest for life, and dance is never far away. A brilliant South Bank Festival !VIVA! in 1989 gave enormous pleasure to those who attended and was a critical success, but audiences were small and it was embarrassing to be covering one unforgettable concert at which a huge orchestra and massive choir, who had flown in for this one event, far outnumbered the scattered listeners. I have indelible memories of the Cuartetto Latinamericano (have they ever come back again?) and of the conducting of Eduardo Mata, shortly before his untimely accidental death. - - It is high time for another !VIVA! festival - now that South Bank Centre is no longer a forbidding palace of Classical Music, larger audiences might more easily be persuaded to join the fun.
Peter Grahame Woolf


© Peter Grahame Woolf