We didn’t have to travel as far as Caracas last night to experience the distinctive, atmospheric sounds, rhythms and textures of Latin American music. Bolivar Hall is attached to Venezuelan Embassy’s cultural complex in London’s Fitzrovia, a short walk from Goodge Street or Warren Street Tube stations.
London-based Venezuelan-born pianist Clara Rodriguez has curated a short series of concerts at Bolivar Hall over the course of the last month, showcasing the talents of established artists as well as up-and-coming young musicians in concerts featuring the best of South American classical music and jazz. In the final concert of the series, she was joined by Efrain Oscher (flute), Cristóbal Soto (mandolin, cuatro, guitar), Gabriel León (double bass) and Wilmerr Sifontes (percussion) to present a musical journey from Argentina to Puerto Rico with a selection of Tangos, Joropos, Merengues, Waltzes, Salsas and Sambas. From the foot-tapping sambas and merengues of Brazil and Venezuela to the passion and pathos of the tango (most notably in Astor Piazzolla’s heartfelt ‘Adios Nonino’, a hommage to his grandfather), the musicians played with commitment and conviction, and a very palpable and infectious sense of pleasure and musical friendship.
As a classically-trained pianist (she was a pupil of the late Phyllis Sellick at the Royal College of Music), Clara brings a deep understanding of musical shape and expression, phrasing, dynamic shading, texture and beauty of sound to her playing, even in the more raucous and rousing pieces. But her Venezuelan heritage shines through in her ability to handle with apparent ease the differing and complex rhythms of the music (although as she admitted at one point during the performance, it isn’t easy music to play, with the emphasis “off the main beat”, and on syncopation and cross-rhythms.
The other musicians were equally skilled: I was particularly struck by flautist Efrain Oscher’s performance. Haunting melodies, sometimes almost whispered, contrasted with bright motifs and some impressive technical/textural effects (triple tonguing). Meanwhile, double bass player Gabriel León showed the richness of the instrument’s voice in some soulful accompaniments and solos. My husband was fascinated by the percussionist, and the myriad sounds and patterns he was able to achieve with simple taps of his fingers or hands. The guitarist, Christobal Soto, brought perhaps the most distinctive Latin flavour to the music: flamenco strumming or the shimmering sounds of the mandolin.
Two encores confirmed just how much both musicians and audience were enjoying the concert. And on the homebound train, our feet were still tapping to the irresistible rhythms of the evening’s music.
A keen champion Latin American piano music, Clara Rodriguez has recorded the piano works of Teresa Careno, Moises Moleiro, Ernest Lecuona, and Federico Ruiz (a contemporary Venezuelan composer with whom she has enjoyed a close collaboration), as well as an impeccably presented album of the late piano music of Chopin, including the Piano Sonata No. 3 and the Polonaise-Fantasie Op 61. Clara’s recordings are available digitally on via iTunes and Spotify, and from good CD retailers.