New World Symphony Embraces Every Aspect Of ‘Spanish Dances’

Written By Helena Alonso Paisley
December 7, 2022 at 2:15 PM

Esperanza Fernández has sung “El amor brujo” with orchestras across the globe and joins the New World Symphony for concerts this weekend performing Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s work. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Falla, flamenco and a fiery soprano make for a triple treat of a concert. Mexican conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, who first led the New World Symphony as a guest conductor in 2019, will be leading the ensemble in “Spanish Dances” at New World Center on Friday, Dec. 9 and Saturday, Dec. 10.

On the bill are flamenco diva Esperanza Fernández, Colombian American opera singer Catalina Cuervo and, of course, the Spanish dances of the title, performed by the Isaac Tovar Compañía Flamenca. The program will include Manuel de Falla’s “El amor brujo,” “El sombrero de tres picos” and selections from “La vida breve.”

At Prieto’s New World debut three years ago, the conductor was lauded for his easy rapport with the musicians, and the energy and brio he coaxed from the ensemble.

Best known both as a champion of Latin American and new music from living composers, Prieto is also very much at home with young orchestras. In addition to international appearances with renowned groups such as the London Philharmonic or the Chicago Symphony, he has also worked extensively with Washington’s Youth Orchestra of the Americas, as well as with England’s National Youth Orchestra.

Principal dancer Isaac Tovar was also in his teens when he became a professional artist, and his very first contract in 2004 was in a performance of Falla’s work in which Esperanza Fernández, coincidentally, was the singer. This is the first time the two have performed together since then.

Spanish dancer Isaac Tovar was a soloist with the Ballet Nacional de España and performed with companies like the Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía before founding the Compañía Flamenca Isaac Tovar in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Félix Vázquez)

Tovar adheres faithfully to the sacred commandments of Spain’s best male dancers: Thou shalt be fleet of foot and elegant of line; thou shalt spin like a top and stop on a dime. Oh, and you must be able to accomplish all of these things while playing a musical instrument, the castanets (which audiences will hear from the hands of a master in these performances). A soloist for years with the Ballet Nacional de España, Tovar’s technical virtuosity encompasses the many different styles of Spanish dance that company requires of its performers.

“Spanish dance is like a tree,” says Tovar, “with flamenco as only one of its branches. It’s varied–it’s flamenco, it’s stylized dance, escuela bolero, it’s folklore.”

“El sombrero de tres picos,” in the second half of the program, will showcase many of the different dance and music styles.

Manuel de Falla, one of the great Spanish composers of the 20th century, was born in the southern port city of Cádiz. The warmth and passion of the Andalusian spirit infuses his music, as does an affinity for flamenco that was only deepened through his friendship with poet, playwright—and pianist—Federico García Lorca. Both composer and writer loved cante jondo, flamenco’s “deep song,” even organizing a contest in 1922 at the Alhambra to find the best, most “pure” flamenco singers of their time period.

Roma music like the csardas of Hungary or the flamenco of Andalucía has long held an outsized impact on the Western classical music canon. Composers from Beethoven to Brahms to Bartok have been inspired by Roma melodies and rhythms, and Spanish composers have certainly also felt this pull. “El amor brujo” is not only steeped in the sounds of Roma singing, but also in the romanticized image of Roma people that Falla—and other artists like Isaac Albéniz, Lorca, and Pablo Picasso, to name a few—were so enamored of.

Guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto makes his second appearance leading the New World Symphony in a program featuring the music of Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. (Photo courtesy of Benjamin Ealovega)

Falla wrote “El amor brujo” in 1915 for the famed Sevillian singer Pastora Imperio; it is fitting, then, that another legendary singer from Seville, Esperanza Fernández, should be performing this piece with the New World Symphony.

Born into a Roma family in Seville’s Triana neighborhood, Fernández’s life was always centered around the arts: her father, Curro Fernández, was a famous flamenco singer, and her mother, Pepa Vargas, a dancer. The daughter originally opted for dance, but fate had other plans: Fernández was only a teenager when the great choreographer and dancer Mario Maya asked her father to allow her to go to Madrid to sing for his company in a new Lorca-inspired production,“El Amargo.” With her father’s blessing, she joined Maya’s company, and so the die was cast.

Faithful to her roots but always open to new ideas and influences, Fernández is one of the few artists in her genre who has been able to bridge the gap between flamenco and the classical concert stage.

“I have been performing ‘El amor brujo’ since 1994 with orchestras all over the world,” she says in a telephone interview. The first time she sang the piece, she had to completely memorize the role with the patient assistance of her conductor, who saw in the young singer a great Candela.

“I don’t know how to read music,” she explains, “but it’s true that flamenco artists have a real talent for capturing any type of music by ear and then being able to recreate it.”

The program’s second half shifts focus from flamenco to the more varied styles of Spanish music and dance.

“There are very technically demanding Spanish dance sections, others with more of a flamenco style, then in the last section we dance the jota,” says Tovar about the joyous, athletic folkloric dance of the northern region of Aragón. The company includes Irene Lorenzo, Natalia Novela and Laura Peralta, and the dancers will be wearing costumes sewn from the designs Pablo Picasso created in 1919 for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

Colombian American soprano Catalina Cuervo’s “year of Manuel de Falla,” 2017, saw her singing the composer’s work with four different orchestras throughout the U.S. This performance marks her New World Symphony debut. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

“El sombrero de tres picos” will be sung by Cuervo. Nicknamed “The Fiery Soprano,” Cuervo is something of a Falla expert herself, having performed a number of the works included in this program with noted symphonies and opera companies throughout the Americas. Cuervo, who was born in Colombia but is based in Miami, is well known to South Florida audiences; among her most important roles was her portrayal of Frida Kahlo in the Florida Grand Opera’s “Frida” and that of María in the FGO production of “Maria de Buenos Aires,” based on the music of Astor Piazzola. This is Cuervo’s New World Symphony debut.

Performing with artists like Cuervo, Fernández, Prieto, “and of course, the orchestra itself,” say Tovar, is “a luxury.” He hopes that in the future more symphonies will open themselves to this type of collaboration.

“I think there should be more frequent opportunities to do projects like this one, where dance is incorporated with orchestra performances, especially Spanish dance,” he says. “Falla’s music is a jewel, and dancing to it is so much fun.”

WHAT: New World Symphony with guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, flamenco singer Esperanza Fernández, soprano Catalina Cuervo and Isaac Tovar Compañía Flamenca in “Spanish Dances”

WHERE: New World Center, Michael Tilson Thomas Performance Hall, 500 17th St., Miami Beach FL 33139 (Saturday’s WALLCAST® takes place in the park adjacent to the Center)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9  and 10

COST: $38 – $130  Note: WALLCAST® concerts are free, no tickets required.

INFORMATION: 305-673-3330 or is a nonprofit source of dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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