Monday, March 11, 2013

Festival de Música Antigua: Úbeda and Baeza’s Classical Music Festival

Way back in November it was a pleasant surprise for me to learn that my adopted hometown of Úbeda (along with neighboring Baeza) would be hosting a classical music festival spanning the next couple of weeks. Ever since I was young, I have always had a big place in my heart for classical music, from listening to WRR 101.1 FM in Texas growing up, attending as many concerts, performances, and recitals as possible in college, and singing in choirs throughout my “formative” years. So I was naturally delighted when I found out this little-visited corner of Spain would be home to a series of concerts centered on just that—classical music. 

Festival de Música Antigua de Úbeda y Baeza
Informative booklet about the festival

The Festival de Música Antigua is a month-long celebration of “ancient” music that is often forgotten in the classical music world, mainly medieval- and Renaissance-era works. Organized by the regional department of culture of Andalucía, the provincial government of Jaén, the town councils of Úbeda and Baeza, and the universities in Baeza and Jaén, the festival goes on from the middle of November to the middle of December in settings across the province of Jaén, but mainly the cities of Úbeda and Baeza.

Festival de Música Antigua, Úbeda, Spain
Úbeda town archives
This year, in addition to several academic lectures and educational exhibits, there were seven ciclos, or concert series centered around a specific theme. This year’s headliner ciclo was titled Paisajes Sonoros Urbanos, or “urban soundscapes,” and featured pieces written by composers from Venice, Paris, or Granada at a given concert.

One ciclo presented music that would have been played during the time of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, a watershed conflict in the year 1212 between the Spaniards and the Moors that occurred near Úbeda. Another ciclo was a concert series held in churches across the province designed by the famous and prolific Renaissance architect Andrés de Vandelvira.

Festival de Música Antigua, Úbeda, Spain
Sacra Capilla del Salvador, Úbeda
In the first concert I went to, a Peruvian classical guitarrist and Spanish soprano performed early Romantic-era music, really beautiful, but the real treat was the venue. It was held in Úbeda’s archives, a vast hall lined with bookshelves of ancient records stretching back to the Renaissance and topped with a rich, Mudéjar-style ceiling. From the porthole windows, the entire Plaza Vázquez de Molina could be seen, the historic center of the town.

Later I attended a concert by a small vocal ensemble singing Renaissance masses and motets by the Spanish composer Alonso Lobo—get this—in the architectural highlight of Úbeda, the Renaissance-style Sacra Capilla del Salvador. For years, I’ve enjoyed the beautiful, ethereal harmonies of Renaissance choral music, and to hear it— live—in such a stunning historical setting, was almost too much to handle.

Festival de Música Antigua, Baeza, Spain
Waiting to enter the
Church of Santa Cruz, Baeza
Over in Baeza, in the Convent of San Francisco, I got to enjoy music with a more Middle-Eastern feel to it played by the Ensemble Andalusí de Tetuán, a group from Tetouan, Morocco, that specializes in the style of music that flourished on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea during the Middle Ages.

The final concert I attended was also in Baeza, this time in the Romanesque-style Church of Santa Cruz. A women’s ensemble called Vox Feminae (Latin for “Voice of the Women”) sang a dozen or two plainsong and polyphonous pieces from the High Middle Ages, ethereal music that sounded oddly foreign, almost hard to believe it was foundational for the Western tradition.

If you happen to be passing through Úbeda and Baeza in late November and early December, be sure to check out the website to see if you’ll be able to make it for any concerts! Don’t worry, you don’t have to dress up!

Have you chanced upon festivals while traveling? Do you like classical or “ancient” music? Join the discussion below!
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