Category Archives: Spain

Under the Spanish sky

I haven’t played piano in a while.  The piano which I bought with my first paychecks years ago stands silently in the living room. There’s never a good time to play the piano: I’m either home too late at night or always out on weekends. Perhaps I need to change my schedule.  A stack of newly acquired music scores are just sitting on the shelf, waiting to be massacred by me. Among them is a collection of Enrique Granados’ piano pieces. The least I could do is flip through and read it. Play some air piano.

At the Patios de los Naranjos, the Cathedral, Seville, Spain. In October 2008

At the Patios de los Naranjos, the Cathedral, Seville, Spain. In October 2008

I’m reminded of one notable champion of Granados: the great Spanish pianist, Alicia de Larrocha. Although a small woman –  said to be only 4 foot 9 tall (shrunk to 4 foot 5 later in life) – de Larrocha played the big virtuostic works of Rachmaninov and Liszt to rave reviews. But it is the music of her native country that she championed the most and brought international recognition to: composers such as the aforementioned Granados, Albeniz and Manuel de Falla. On youtube are a handful videos of her playing with fire and spirit at the ripe old age of 78.

Seville, Spain. In October 2008.

Seville, Spain. In October 2008.

As I’m reading the scores, I have been listening to de Larrocha’s recordings of Granados’ music. Listen to the range of colour and tone, the instinctual phrasing, the effortless way in which the dynamics fall into place, the inimitable nuances. Is it in her blood? Granados’ music is already elegant enough. But de Larrocha makes a simple valse from Granados’ Valses Poeticos sound extraordinarily poetic.

De Larrocha once said Spanish music is very very hard to play. It is. But that’s not going to stop me from trying.

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12.08-13.08.10 – Salamanca, Segovia

Took the Renfe to Salamanca and stayed overnight there. Passed through the countryside that brought back some memories of earlier travels in Spain. Also passed by Avila where you can see the famed city fortress.

Salamanca has a lot of interesting heritage buildings to see, but I think the most unique one has to be the University. This is apparently the third oldest university in the world. Afraid you can’t locate the site? You can’t miss the incredibly ornate facade.
Went to Segovia from Salamanca the next day. Again, without a map or guidebook. Will keep this post short as Segovia’s old town itself is littered with interesting buildings (sometimes the exteriors bely the interiors) and just mention that the Roman aquaduct – one of the best-preserved Roman remains in Spain – is impressive. Best-preserved because apparently the Turks gave up trying to take it down because it was too difficult and time-consuming. Goes to show what structural marvel the Romans erected. The Alcazar is also mildly interesting, although don’t be swayed by all that talk of how it is the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella castle, because I remember another castle in Germany that purportedly gave that inspiration too. Anyway that’s Segovia’s old town, although there is more to see on the outskirts. Maybe some other time. For now, I have to go back to Madrid.

Jazz in Madrid

Haven’t listened to jazz in a while, and stumbled across Cafe Central which is just a stone’s throw away from my hostel. Later I was told by someone at the bar that there aren’t many places to listen to live jazz in Madrid and I was lucky to be here.

And it is here that I first heard this unbelievable double bass player, Javier Colina, playing in a trio with saxophonist Perico Sambeat and pianist Albert Sanz. Amazing skills. I’m told he is the best double bass player in Spain.

All in all, the trio gave some good performances. Also liked that they played quite a bit of Thelonius Monk who I was secretly mad about during university days.

Liked it enough to come back twice!

11.08.10 – Madrid: Distractions

In spite having been to Spain at least 3 times, this is the first time I’m here during summer. The afternoon heat is crazy, no wonder people here need siesta (so do I!)

Anyway, so much for trying to sight-see in Madrid. It is now 4pm and I have not managed to venture more than a 300m radius from the hostal. There are just too many shopping distractions!

10.08.10 – Reverse culture shock in Madrid

After 10 years, I’m now back in Madrid.

Now that I’m here, I remember why I didn’t particularly enjoy it as a student then.

Don’t get me wrong. It is a vibrant city with tonnes of museums, shops, bars and restaurants. But some of them are exceedingly expensive even for a working adult. After almost 2 months in South America, I need to re-tune my travelling senses so I don’t bankrupt myself while enjoying this capital city.