Madison Early Music Festival Inspires Anew

Xavier Diaz-Latorre makes us all time travelers


It’s bad enough that the Madison Early Music Festival only blooms for eight days each summer; more’s the pity when one can only attend one of their events. But as we (finally) learned last year, even one MEMF concert can stick in the mind for a year.

The 18th season of this ever more cherished event is titled “Quixotic Musical Treasures from the Golden Age of Spain,” but in the course of two hours under the spell of Xavier Diaz-Latorre (pictured above), a large Mills Hall audience traveled even farther afield than Cervantes might have imagined.

Diaz-Latorre wove his magic on the five- and six-course viheulas, instruments roughly similar to the Renaissance lute. To the untrained eye, and from a distance, they look much like slightly smaller guitars, but have a delicate appearance matched by their transparent sound.

Most of the first half of the evening was devoted to Luys de Narvaez (c. 1500-c.1550). And now it’s quibble time…we were without program notes, and many in the audience were unable to clearly hear Diaz-Latorre’s comments. He is a soft-spoken gentleman, and a microphone would have been greatly appreciated.

Then again one could be quickly persuaded that Diaz-Latorre lets the music speak for itself; certainly the audience could not have been any quieter or more attentive throughout the first half, which concluded with a well-known (and probably oft-arranged) tune by Mudarra, from 1546.

The visual aspect of the evening was nearly as entrancing as the playing, Diaz-Latorre sitting on the stage with just enough soft lighting to illuminate him. Playing the first half with music and with the small step typical of classical guitar, the second half found him seated flat-footed and with the music in his head. After numbers by Guerau and Murcia (both late 17th/early 18th century composers), Diaz-Latorre offered five works by Sanz, most of which did involve improvisation. The latter works saw a move away from the predominant gentleness and subtlety of the melodic lines and harmonies, to a more aggressive strummed style, with the occasional syncopation. Diaz-Latorre’s list of accomplishments (which includes not only the highest accolades for his solo playing, but also work in Baroque opera and other early music) only hint at what one experiences in his live performances.

And so the bottom line, as it was last year when I heard the Baltimore Consort at MEMF, is that I am thrilled that there is so much great music—and compelling performers—that remain new to me after a lifetime of listening and playing mostly music from 1750 on. And to think it happens it my own “backyard” every summer…There are events every day from July 11 through the 15th, except for Wednesday; find some time to put a new bloom in your summer.

2 thoughts on “Madison Early Music Festival Inspires Anew

  1. Thanks Greg for your excellent evaluation of Sunday’s concert, you caught the essence of that evening perfectly – including the involvement of the audience, which was deeply respectful of Señor Diaz-Latorre’s performances and unfailingly enthusiastic at their conclusions.


    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Dan! I honestly felt a little inadequate to describe the music in detail, so I’m particularly gratified to hear that I captured the feeling of the event, which is really always my number one goal. Blessings!


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