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Friday, May 26 News

Spanish and Latin compositions explored at library presentation

When I think about Spanish Flamenco music, fiery dance rhythms strummed or picked on a nylon-stringed classical guitar come to mind. Rarely does a piano enter the picture. As it turns out, there is a rich Spanish musical heritage associated with the piano, and, not surprisingly, the guitar is involved.

In a free program taking place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 25, in the Lamb Room at the New Canaan Library, Dr. Donald Alfano presents a piano recital on Spanish and Latin American piano music that spans 1738 to 1965. The compositions span many years and originate from Spain and selected countries of Latin America. They’ll be interspersed with brief spoken commentaries and, most likely, the guitar will be part of the conversation, as it was when I interviewed the knowledgeable pianist-educator recently.

“Two things that Spanish and Latin American music have in common are song and dance,” said Alfano, who is also an author. “There is also the aspect of nationalism, since both Spanish and Latin American composers were influenced by their native dances and customs and incorporated them into their music. The guitar has been a source of inspiration for Spanish composers for centuries, and that influence is apparent in the 19th and 20th century music of Spain, where composers imitate the guitar. In fact, many guitarists play piano music by these composers on the guitar, and it is very instructive for the pianist interested in Spanish music to know the workings of the guitar and hear guitarists play this repertoire. Much of the Latin American music composed for the piano was composed during 20th century. Often times, it is more venturesome harmonically and can be more dissonant. Some of it exploits the percussive aspect of the piano.”

Sunday’s program includes works by Mateo Albéniz, Domenico Scarlatti, Isaac Albéniz, Alberto Ginastera, Manuel de Falla. “I have performed some of this repertoire before, but I also play more ‘traditional’ programs and just performed a program of Haydn, Chopin, Prokofiev, Scriabin and Debussy,” said the pianist, who teaches music history and appreciation and popular music in America at Housatonic Community College and has taught jazz history and Latin and Caribbean music in the past. He also teaches privately in the New Haven area and lectures on various aspects of piano teaching for teachers such as repertoire selection and teaching adults.

As an author, Alfano has always enjoyed writing, and his first published article was as a doctoral student in 1989. He earned his doctor of musical arts degree from Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he was the recipient of the Victor Babin Award in piano and was awarded an accompanying fellowship. “Since then, I have contributed many articles, mostly on a pedagogical nature,” he said.

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He sees himself first and foremost an educator, though, and studied with many diverse instructors “such as John Browning, Contstance Keene, and Jack Radunsky, and coached with Alicia de Larrocha. Their ideas on technique and interpretation were all different, but they were all very detailed in their approaches,” he explained. “I have incorporated some of their teaching into my own teaching but have also synthesized the information, done a lot of reading, attended conferences, played in, and attended master classes and so forth. I think working with the playing mechanism in a natural way is crucial from a young age, and I am always maneuvering the hands and arms, checking body balance, posture, shoulders and elbows for freedom and flexibility. I do not think anyone learns from one person, though, and if a student is studying with me for several years and is advanced and sophisticated enough to absorb the subtleties of the repertoire, I suggest they go to a different teacher to get another perspective.”

The New Canaan Library is located at 151 Main St. in New Canaan. Call 203-594-500, or visit newcanaanlibrary.org

In case you hadn’t heard, Norwalk’s Wall Street Theater is in now in business. Macy Gray, the multi-award winning, multi-platinum selling singer, songwriter, and actress performs there at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 24. Tickets range from $30 to $100. The Wall Street Theatre is located at 71 Wall St., in Norwalk. Visit wallstreettheater.com.

Mike Horyczun’s Sound Surfing column appears every Saturday in The Hour. Mike can be reached at news2mh@gmail.com.

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