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March 26, 2018 | by  | in Arts Music |
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Concert Review: Jordi Savall, Hesperion XXI

NZ Festival, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, 24th February 2018

Having never attended an “early music” performance, I walked into this New Zealand Festival concert with a completely fresh palate. A Spanish folk ensemble featuring traditional instruments was something I never expected to find in Wellington, let alone attend. I trusted my friend’s instincts as he bought the tickets, however, and sheepishly followed him into the stalls, making sure he had purchased tickets for the back middle section (a handy hint for those who don’t regularly attend concerts at the Michael Fowler Centre; try your best to avoid close to the front, and avoid the sides of the stage like the plague!).

What I found in the auditorium was a very homely atmosphere. The instruments, both old and new in classical music terms, were lying almost artistically on the stage floor, propped against chairs, hanging from stands. The number of people in this auditorium — pretty much completely full! — let me know I was in for something special. Then the performers walked on stage. A dozen people, mostly dressed in black, with a few in traditional Spanish clothing,took their place amongst the exotic but strikingly familiar instruments.

Even when they began tuning, it felt like the music had already begun. The ensemble’s harpist provided the tuning for the rest of the ensemble, strumming arpeggiated chords in A, at various registers, which rang through the auditorium.

The concert from that point on was awash with the sounds of Spain. The strums of multiple guitars of different sizes, shapes, and tessituras wandered around the auditorium, waltzing away with the sounds of violins. The instruments were gorgeous, even when seen from my seat near the back of the auditorium: beautifully carved guitars and ancient instruments, some of which looked brand new or refurbished heavily, but must have been centuries old. The music was old too, dating back to 16th and 17th century Spain.

The concert was not your run-of-the-mill concert, that your friends who don’t listen to classical would class as “boring shit that I would never listen to”. The music was full of life, and almost made you want to run on stage and join the women flamenco dancing to the ringing castanets, and the men parading around them. The applause after the end of each piece rang out louder and louder as the night went on.

Our request for an encore was met with great enthusiasm by the ensemble, and they did not disappoint. The night ended with a lively and soulful rendition of a traditional Spanish piece, showcasing one of their smallest instruments, a guitar named the “mosquito”. Its strums were light but pervasive, ringing alongside the voices of the singers, and the virtuosity of viols and violins alike.

The concert ended there, but I had a strong yearning for more. I always treasure experimenting with and exploring new genres of music, and I hope to attend many more early music concerts in the future.

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