ASO to tour Spain in July 2022
By Rick Hutzell
How do you make a regional orchestra with a sound far beyond its size better known?
You play more music for more people in more places.
The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra will do just that this summer, traveling to Spain as part of its ambitious five-year plan to lift the regional symphony to wider acclaim.
Hometown supporters of the orchestra will be able to join the orchestra on its first overseas tour through the Official Patron tour. Those who stay at home can listen to some of the performances.
What’s more, they all can expect to see an artistic group return to Maryland Hall with a sound improved by the experience of playing together over such a concentrated period in some of the best concert halls in the world.
“In my experience, the tours that I have done, both as a conductor and as a player, I’ve always grown a lot, both artistically and as a human…” said José-Luis Novo, artistic director of the orchestra.
“I think that you get to spend more time with your colleagues and, you know, not only work on music, but you also get to know them better…. To share, not only music, but the rest of your life values. So all that put together. I think it’s an incredible opportunity for such a wonderful orchestra, the Annapolis Symphony, to grow.”
The trip to Madrid, Zaragoza, Valencia and Granada in July will be the first time ASO has traveled overseas, although Novo led a travel excursion with the Friends of Annapolis several years ago.
The tour is four years in the making, delayed by the COVID pandemic. The roughly $700,000 cost was paid for by seven donors led by Michael Kurtz, vice chair of the Friends and a longtime leader on the ASO board.
Edgar Herrera, executive director of the orchestra, has been working to make the tour a reality since he arrived in Annapolis almost two years ago. He recently returned from an inspection tour of sites where the ASO will be playing and staying during the trip.
Taking 70 musicians, all their instruments plus support staff and their equipment to Europe for a month is no small undertaking. Herrera hired a Houston travel agency that specializes in working with symphonies, and a logistics company in Spain that makes sure everyone, and everything gets where they should be on . Herrera has hired a tour manager to handle all aspects of the trip.
Many large orchestras travel to many different countries on tour, for example hitting Spain, France and Germany in Europe all on one trip.
But the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra decided to focus on one country for its first venture overseas, in part to capitalize on Novo’s relationships in his native country but also to make sure the tour is done right.
“First, well, we don’t have all the resources that the big ones have,” Herrera said. “But also we knew Spain had all these different concert halls. Because we’re going to stay … within just one country, then we can have the opportunity to perform in more places.”
Some of the music will be familiar to audiences who have enjoyed the symphony’s performance in Annapolis and at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda.
Novo said he chose Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 because the composer demonstrates an essential character of the United States, the ability to accept and embrace musical traditions from around the world and produce something uniquely American.
“This was planned before the whole crisis with Russia,” Novo said. ”But Rachmaninoff obviously was born in Russia and ended up coming to the states and ended up becoming a U.S. citizen. So I think it’s a way of saying this country observes the cultures of any place that want to join in. And this is the case with Rachmaninoff, who was eminently Russian to start with, and then ended up spending the rest of his life in the states and falling in love with this country and having his music better appreciated in this country than in Europe.”
“So, we thought that it was important composers to bring a token of what the United States is these days.”
The same reason explains his choice to perform music by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce and Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo among others.
The orchestra will perform Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with Pepe Romero, a beloved Spanish classical and flamenco guitarist performing for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
“So, we are trying to make a program that is sort of Pan-American, with Mexico, Spain, and Russia and U.S., which is pretty much what this country’s is about. This is a mix of cultures and how they blend together. You come up with something that is absolutely unique,” Novo said.
If the pieces chosen are important to this tour, so are the concert venues themselves. Each is a cathedral of music.
The Auditorio Nacional de Música in Madrid is the largest, seating 2200. The Palau de les Arts in Valencia is visually stunning, reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House.
Herrera believes the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra will the first American orchestra to play in the Valencian palace of arts.
“I don’t understand why there are very few orchestras go to perform there, because it is really, really outstanding,” he said. “So, we want to do this right.”
All the concert venues were created as performing arts centers, and that will be a change from the orchestra’s home base at Maryland Hall in Annapolis. It is a converted high school, and although millions have been poured into renovations to improve the acoustics and the facilities, there are limits to what is possible based on its origins.
“I think this is also a point for us to realize what we are missing in Annapolis, which is a concert hall that honors the quality of the orchestra that we have,” Novo said. “And not just an orchestra, but all the artistic activities…
“I think that there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that, and that’s not to bring any diminishing or demeaning factors in what Maryland Hall has done for this community.”
Some of the performances will be recorded, and one may be captured on video. The results should be available in two ways.
The recordings are likely to feature in one of three upcoming albums currently in the works for the ASO, but also on the Symphony+ platform the orchestra used to connect with listeners when the pandemic prevented live performances for more than a year. A livestream of one of the concerts is still being negotiated.
“We are still looking into it,” Novo said. “But definitely we will be able to put something on Symphony+ so that our audiences here that aren’t able to travel with us will be able to see the orchestra on the other side of the Atlantic performing for all the audiences.”
The tour is a major financial undertaking for the orchestra, and the effort to fund it was led by Kurtz, a longtime major benefactor of the orchestra. He convinced William E. Seale & Marguerite Pelissier, Katherine Lantz, Paula Abernethy, Mary McKiel, Stephen Sotack and David Huggins to join him in covering most of the costs.
It also required a special agreement with the union representing the musicians. Because the orchestra has never traveled before, there is nothing in the current bargaining agreement that covers how musicians will be paid and what is expected of them. Between COVID and other factors, the negotiations took months.
The financial support of a small group of backers and the agreement by the players union will come back to benefit home audiences beyond a having more mature orchestra.
Herrera said that as a regional orchestra, the ASO must compete for the time of its musicians, who make a living by playing with multiple groups in different settings. That means there is limited time to rehearse and perform together.
By spending weeks together, rehearsing and performing, Novo said, the musicians will refine their sound and simply become a better orchestra.
There’s also a benefit to the institution from generating buzz by playing overseas. It raises the profile of the ASO, makes it something people talk about beyond Annapolis. The orchestra will be the only regional symphony in the area touring outside the United States this year.
That higher profile means more opportunities, both for performances and to collaborate. Future concerts are under discussion, and those could someday include plans for the Orion Youth Orchestra run by the ASO.
And, as musicians see what playing for the Annapolis symphony can mean in terms of professional development and chances to shine, it will make the group something top musicians are eager to join.
“So, you know, if you want to be part of the Annapolis Symphony, you’re going to have to commit if you’re going to have the chance to perform with us,” Herrera said. “I think that that’s a big one… I believe we’re going to be able to attract the best musicians in the region because we tour.”
Ultimately, that is the point of touring, to grow. Novo expects it to be hard work for everyone involved.
“It’s something you don’t do a whole lot,” he said. “It pushes the boundaries of us as professionals.”
But taking on difficult projects is what makes a good orchestra great.
“This orchestra has gotten to be this good because we keep adding challenges, one after the other,” Novo said. “To my delight, the musicians keep delivering.”