Wonderful ‘Winter Journey’ for a summer day

Program: Hans Zender, Schuberts Winterreise, a composed interpretation for tenor and chamber orquesta.National Youth Orchestra of Spain. Conductor: José Luis Estellés. Soloist:. José Ferrero (tenor) Patio de los Mármoles, Hospital Real. Date: June 26, 2014. Capacity: 100% attendance.

Granada Music and Dance Festival wanted to join the celebration of the National Youth Orchestra’s 30th anniversary, a training institution that year after year inspires promising young musicians of our country and provide them the opportunity to work with great conductors and perform diverse repertoires. To mark this celebration, JONDE has been present at the Festival with two very interesting concerts.

The second concert was conducted by José Luis Estellés, well known in Granada for his work as principal clarinet of the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada and his intense performing activity leading ensembles as TAiMAgranada. On this occasion, José Luis Estellés took again the baton to conduct JONDE with a program never heard before in our city: the particular vision for tenor and chamber orchestra that German composer Hans Zender had on Winterreise by Schubert in 1993.

Winter Journey is the second cycle of lieder (songs) written by Franz Schubert between February and October 1827. Itself, is a legacy of Schubert’s spirituality and musicality, as it builds a psychological journey to the soul of the poet Wilhelm Müller from the feelings and experiences of the composer himself. However, those who came to Hospital Real hoping to listen the Schubert song cycle in its original form  probably were amazed, not disappointed, with Hans Zender re-reading of it.

Zender’s Winter Journey is a reinterpretation after the original work, which essentially preserves the structure, melody and text, but is substantially modified in accompaniment, now with 24 musicians in charge of it. The template includes orchestral strings, woodwind and full brass (except tuba) and a rich percussion section; also suggestive colors like harp or infrequent instruments in the orchestra like the guitar or accordion. This rich tonal palette serves the semantic meaning of the work, and so evidence Zender’s deep knowledge and respect for the Schubert cycle to include numerous effects and alteration of the original score.

On one hand, instruments are treated as an open group, with multiple solos and even movements around the hall. In addition, the orchestration is not done in a traditional way, simply translating part of Schubert’s piano to orchestral; on the contrary, multiple juxtapositions and overlaps are added to the timbre effects, creating new harmonies on numerous occasions that do not belong to the original work, but are at its service. To all this we can add several fragments Zender composed ex novo as a prelude, interlude, or postlude, as appropriate.

Several factors made the performance successful. First, and most obvious, is the great vocal quality tenor José Ferrero, a performer with a beautiful voice for Schubert’s music. Ferrero, with a clean and beautiful timbre, adapted his performance to the expressive demands of this contemporary version, and was able to transmute Winter Journey in a perfect, very believable and fantastically interpreted extemporaneous speech.

At the same time, members of the JONDE proved to be carriers of the best musical values of our country. Everyone in each section, these 24 musicians faced a difficult score in both the solo part of each instrument and the necessary time and blending ensemble playing. While it must have been a challenge for them, exceeded by far with professionalism and efficiency, showing the audience to be enjoying the performance.

Finally, the conductor’s job is praiseworthy with a work as complex as this. José Luis Estellés, who on numerous occasions has approached contemporary music, showed  a clear and precise idea of Zender’s score, and knew very efficiently how to transmit it from his conducting stand. A profound knowledge of contemporary sounds and an extensive experience with the baton are the guarantees for the wonderful performance Estellés gave us of this particular Winter Journey, a gift that left delighted all the audience on a warm summer night.