This ACO collaboration was one of the musical highlights of my life.

SKETCH OF SPAIN
CHAMBER ORCHESTRA OF AUSTRALIA
City Recital Hall, April 6
Also April 8, 9 and 10 then Brisbane, Wollongong
★★★★

The trick was not to copy, but to reinvent. Thus, the arrangers Matt McMahon and Bernard Rofe, the ACO and the trumpeter Phil Slater made Solea theirs. The work is the culmination of a masterpiece of 20th century music: Miles Davis Sketches of Spain – the 1960 album which gave its name to this concert. Composed and arranged by Gil Evans for a 15 piece orchestra of brass, woodwind, percussion and harp, the question was whether it would work when played by a string orchestra, piano and percussion, with no other wind instrument that Slater’s trumpet replacing Milles’.

Much was rolling over Phil Slater’s solo trumpet in Solea’s arrangement.Credit:Nic Walker

Using a flamenco cadence and the 12 beat rhythm of his name, Solea the original impact was largely due to Davis’ hard-hitting improvisation and Evans’ ingenious textural changes, given the tightly restrained harmonic movement. Now, with the string orchestra narrowing the texture palette, even more was straddling Slater.

Still, what came out of it was a highlight of my live music life. Less overtly flamenco-tinged than Davis’ solo, Slater created towering climaxes over the slow swell of the strings, each marking you anew: a celebration of sadness, if you will. In fact, we rather regretted that this collaboration (also including bassist Brett Hirst and percussionist Jess Ciampa) did not attempt the whole album. Maybe another time.

Instead, ACO director Richard Tognetti assembled an eclectic program of composers who had an Andalusian streak or a Catalan ideal lodged in their hearts or imaginations. The other main improv vehicle was Chick Corea’s Spain, again arranged by McMahon and Rofe, and based on an expansive version Corea performed with the London Philharmonic. McMahon brought his silky touch and innate lyricism, and ultimately this less dramatic version suited the composition’s light-heartedness better than that of the LPO.

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An instrumental arrangement of an eight-part composition by Ave Maria by the only Spaniard in the program, Tomas Luis de Victoria, separated Solea and Spain. After being torn apart by Soleathis courteous and elegant comforter was an intruder that was as surprising as it was logical.

Works by Debussy, Ravel, Boccherini and Shchedrin (his crazy instrumental fantasy on Carmen) filled the first half, in the middle of which came Tognetti’s arrangement of the traditional Moorish Sephardic song, Yo era nina de casa altacradling a vivid glimpse of a different time and place in two minutes.

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