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Soirées de Barcelone, Roberto Gerhard’s ballet tribute to his beloved Catalonia returns in its complete form on a Spanish premiere tour by the Joven Orquesta Nacional de Cataluña, including a Barcelona concert at the Palau De Música on 15 July.

Roberto Gerhard’s hour-long ballet score, Soirées de Barcelone, one of his most important Catalan-inspired works dating from 1936-39, receives its first Spanish performances in the orchestration completed by Malcolm MacDonald in 1996. A three-concert tour by the Joven Orquesta Nacional de Cataluña conducted by its artistic director Manel Valdivieso visits L'atlantida in Vic (13 July), the Universitat at Cervera (14 July) and finally the Palau De Música Catalana in Barcelona, the city that inspired the work (15 July).

> Visit the Palau De Música website

Gerhard’s work grew from a dance commission from Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo: the score was underway when the composer fled from Barcelona in 1939 following the Spanish Civil War and the fall of the Republic, settling first in France, then in Cambridge in the UK. With the further double blow of the ballet company’s bankruptcy and the outbreak of World War II, the composer remained tied into the contract but had no opportunity for the score to be realised on stage. Gerhard had completed a piano score but left the ballet’s orchestration incomplete as he turned to other projects, and this was the case up to the time of his death in 1970.

Gerhard had adapted the piano score into a 16-minute ballet suite for keyboard around 1958, and David Atherton broadcast a four-movement orchestral suite drawn from the extant full score in 1972 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Composer, musicologist and editor Malcolm MacDonald made a preliminary study of Gerhard’s materials for Soirées de Barcelone in a Tempo article in 1981, proposing that a completion would be possible, and Boosey & Hawkes commissioned him to undertake this complex task in 1995. The following year saw the 57-minute ballet’s first complete broadcast with the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester conducted by Matthias Bamert on 29 September 1996, as part of BBC Radio 3’s 50th anniversary celebrations. The complete work’s London premiere followed more recently in May 2023, performed by the Salomon Orchestra under Edmon Colomer, a leading champion of Gerhard’s music.

The plot of the Soirées de Barcelone ballet is located in a town in the Catalan Pyrenees during the festivities of the summer solstice Night of Saint John the Baptist (Saint John is the patron saint of Catalonia). Fire symbolizes purification and fertility. During this night, two antagonistic religious traditions are mixed, the pagan and the Catholic. These two paradoxical elements appear and intertwine, so that the story becomes a metamorphic representation of the beliefs of the Catalan tradition.

The past decade has seen a revival of interest in Gerhard’s music in Spain, particularly in the Barcelona region. His orchestral masterwork, the ballet Don Quixote, was performed complete by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra for the first time in the city in 2019 as an upbeat to events honouring the 50th anniversary of the composer’s death the following year. A new recording of the complete Don Quixote, coupled with Pedrelliana and the Alegrias Suite is planned for September 2024 release by Chandos, with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Juanjo Mena.

> Visit our audio survey of Gerhard’s music
> Visit our Gerhard playlist on Spotify

>  Further information on Work: Soirées de Barcelone (complete ballet)

Photo: Roberto Gerhard in Barcelona

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