October 3, 2013

A taste of Spain

By ROBIN CAUDELL Press-Republican

---- — SARANAC — Pianist Martin Söderberg showcases composers of his native Spain at Hill and Hollow Music’s Sunday-afternoon concert, “A Musical Journey Through Spain.”

Söderberg, of Swedish and Spanish descent, has performed since he was 12 and made his recital debut in Las Palmas, Spain. After winning first prize in the 1985 “Pilar Bayona” International Piano Competition in Zaragoza, Spain, he concertized extensively in Europe, China and the Americas. In 1988, he won the Artists International Auditions in New York and was presented his recital debut at Carnegie’s Weill Hall.

In Sunday’s program, Söderberg presents Spanish composers’ finest and best-loved piano music.

“As a child, I listened to this music and fell in love with this music,” said Söderberg, who has recorded three CDs — “Piano Music from Spain,” “Piano Music of Rafael Landestoy” and “The 24 Chopin Etudes” — as part of his ongoing recording project, “World Piano Collection.”

“All my teachers back in Spain would give me pieces of these composers,” he said. “When I came to the United States to study 25, 27 years ago, I realized that was part of the repertoire that was not very well-known. I enjoy playing these programs now just to make it better known to the public. It’s not known to the level it should be.

“It’s baroque music. It has a lot of different colors to it. It’s piano music for all kinds of audiences, for someone who wants to listen to music.”

Söderberg will begin his musical journey with three brief sonatas by Antonio Soler (1729-1783). His most celebrated works are his 150 keyboard sonatas. Soler, who hails from the Catalonia region near Barcelona, straddles the baroque and classical periods.

“He was a pupil of Domenico Scarlatti,” Söderberg said. “This music is much modeled after Scarlatti, music conceived for the harpsichord. It requires a little bit different touch with the modern piano, a very light touch on the keys, very Baroque so to speak with the different treatment of the piano like the harpsichord.”

Söderberg performs “Sonata in D major,” “Sonata in F sharp major” and “Sonata in G Minor.”

Next, Söderberg segues to Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), best known for his piano works based on Spanish folk music.

“He’s a typical Romantic composer, very powerful, a lot of writing for the piano, all the typical Romantic writing — heavy chords and heavy octaves,” Söderberg said. “He’s the Franz Liszt of Spain. He reminds me of that kind of style.”

On Sunday, Söderberg performs slow, lyrical works, which conjure geographical places: “Cadiz,” “Mallorca” and “Cordoba.”

“These are pieces that paint certain scenes of daily life. I will address the audience and give them all the specifics so they can enjoy this music,” he said.

Albéniz hails from Garona in the Catalonia region of Spain. Composer Enrique Granados (1867-1916) is also from Catalonia and known for his evocative solo-piano works.

“I’m telling you, Catalonia has such a wealth of talent, the same with painters,” Söderberg said. “All the great painters come from Catalonia except Picasso. Dali and Miro are all from Barcelona. We have the best soccer team in the world.”

Söderberg will play “Spanish Dance No. 5” and “Allegro de Concierto.”

Granados, a very Romantic composer, drew a lot of inspiration from Chopin.

“His music is expressive and has a lot of ceiling to it,” Söderberg said. “He also incorporates nationalist elements of his country, certain dances and rhythms that make exciting music. He combines all that. It’s really beautiful, beautiful music.”

Manuel Infante (1883-1958) is another pianist-composer who tapped Spanish folk traditions.

“He’s from Seville. He composed this piece called ‘El Vito, variations for piano on a popular theme.’ It’s a very technical piece. It has lots of notes, and people like listening to this. It’s just a virtuoso piece. I tell the audience I give them a little surprise with this piece. I won’t give it away. I ask them questions. I try to make it fun and engaging for the audience.”

It’s a musical leap to Cadiz in Andulasia to Manuel de Falla (1876-1946). With Albéniz and Granados, he is one of Spain’s most important musicians of the first half of the 20th century. “Ritual Fire Dance” is a movement from de Falla’s 1915 ballet, “El amor brujo.”

“This piece is a transcription from a ballet, ‘Love the Sorcerer,’” Söderberg said. “This is a very powerful piece (with) lots of big effects and big chords. People love hearing that. I always play a couple of encores if people want me to continue playing until they do not want any more.”

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IF YOU GO WHAT: Hill and Hollow Music presents pianist Martin Söderberg in "A Musical Journey Through Spain." WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday. WHERE: Saranac United Methodist Church, Route 3. ADMISSION: Open seating. Tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for students and seniors; and free for children under 12. CONTACT: For questions, call 293-7613 or email