Thursday 10 December 2015

Historical Ancestral Mansion at Cambados, Galicia, Spain

The Parador group in Spain is a collection of historical monuments converted into luxury hotels, run by the Spain government.  Here at the Parador in Cambados, heart of the Albariño vineyards in Galicia, we had the opportunity of staying at what was once an ancestral mansion.  Its squarish layout betrays its somewhat austere past, but its interior decor was charming and inviting.  

Wednesday 14 January 2015

How did monks live? Try staying at a Monastery-Hotel. Asturias, Northern Spain

Ever wonder how monks used to live?  Well, I am not suggesting an ascetic lifestyle but at least we could put ourselves in their habitat - an 8th century Benedictine monastery, to be exact.  

The Monastery of San Pedro de Villanueva was founded during the reign of the King Alfonso I (693-757, reigned 739-757) in Asturias, the northern province of Spain.  Every Asturian will tell you the glorious history of the Reconquest, when King Alfonso I eschewed a luxury life of a king and waged lifelong battles against the Moors, retaking the entire Northern Spain that was, during his father's generation, conquered by the Muslims.  

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Massif des Calanques, a 6-million-year-old natural wonder near Marseille

Marseille is best known for its port, its 13th century Basilica, a massive cathedral, the fish market, the Arab market, and the heavenly bouillabaisse.  However, not all of Marseille is connected to city life and human history.  In fact, human existence is a recent addition to this amazing coastal city.

Drive down towards the southern coast of Marseille to a town called Sormiou.  Keep heading south until you pass all the houses to an area where car access is restricted.  Continue on foot for about 45 minutes until you reach the ocean.  Here, the coastline forms a roughly horizontal plane east-ward until Cassis, and it is here a geological event happened around 6 million years ago.

Monday 12 January 2015

Medieval Catalonia: Millennium-old town of Besalú

If you think Barcelona is all you are going see when visiting the northeast part of Spain, you are missing out on some of the most beautiful sights of the region.  The county of Catalonia traces back a thousand years, when many  market towns thrived along the important trade routes north and south of the Pyrenees mountains.  The town of Besalú was documented since the 10th century.  

At that time, Spain as a country has not yet emerged; a region called Marca Hispania roughly covers what is now Catalonia, and was a zone created by Charlemagne as a defensive line against the moors occupying Al-Andalus in the south.  Before that, the Muslim forces had conquered as far north as Narbonne (250km north of Barcelona).  

With Charlemagne taking control of the region, peace reigned

Sunday 11 January 2015

The legacy of Ricardo Viñes

I had been learning Spanish music since I was a schoolboy, everything from major composers such as Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados to lesser-performed Catalan composers such as Ricard Lamote de Grignon and Ricardo Viñes.  With equal part fantasy and theatre, Spanish and Catalan music never fails to captivate me.  Here is something by Catalan composer and pianist Ricardo Viñes (1875 - 1943), recorded eons ago at a home concert.  

Ricardo Viñes (1875 - 1943) is a personal hero of mine, as he was the pianist credited with the most number of premiere performances, of works by his contemporaries such as Debussy and Ravel and Turina and Mompou and all.  Abandoning the traditional recital programme of Austro-Germanic piano works, Viñes was responsible for spreading and campaigning the names of "new " composers to audiences in Spain and France and Latin America. Without Viñes we might never hear of them today.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Possible concert idea: "Shuck and Play" with music by Breton composers?

There are other composers who wrote great Nocturnes too, you know.  Guy Ropartz (1864 - 1955) was a French composer who added three beautiful Nocturnes to the piano repertoire. His music can sometimes take after Cesar Franck and Vincent d'Indy, especially apparent in the first Nocturne; at other times, like in the second and third Nocturnes his music offers a palette of stunning harmonic colours and nuances that are unmistakably French.  

Though living well into the 1950s, his late-romantic language