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The unrepeatable concert of the most exceptional cello of the Spanish heritage

National Heritage launches a documentary on the performance of the cellist Guillermo Turina at the Royal Palace with the Stradivarius 1700, a true jewel of its collections.

Carlos III has traditionally been blamed a certain neglect for the musical arts. However, the education that he tried to impose for his son, the future Charles IV, offers quite a different behavior. In 1772, the Spanish monarch commissioned Father Brambilla to acquire a set of instruments made by Antonio Stradivarius from Cremona, with which he intended to expand the endowment of the Prince’s Royal Arch Instrument Chamber, which would become one of the best-endowed orchestras from all over Europe.

These instrumental jewels are one of the most exceptional and unique pieces of the Spanish historical heritage, whose strings rarely reproduce the notes that delighted the Court three centuries ago. One of these concerts was held last October in the Columns Hall of the Royal Palace of Madrid, an emblematic place where they exist, but it had to be behind closed doors, without an audience, due to the pandemic circumstances of the moment: the second wave of the coronavirus advanced unstoppable.

But at that juncture, the new National Heritage team saw an excellent opportunity to bring one of its great treasures to the world: to record a documentary of the event. Stradivarius 1700. A real dream, which premieres this Wednesday, February 17 on YouTube, tells the intrahistory of the performance of the cellist Guillermo Turina (Madrid, 1986) with the delicate instrument, from the musical challenge itself, in which he was accompanied by the soprano Eugenia Boix and the harpsichordist Eva del Campo, until the process of conservation and preparation of the piece.

“It has been a dream, a wonderful opportunity, a unique experience … I doubt that something like this will happen to me again in life”, confesses to this newspaper Turina, musicologist and main cello of orchestras such as the European Union Baroque Orchestra on tours around more than a dozen countries. In addition to the possibility of playing the Stradivarius, the other exceptional ingredients have been the setting – one of the most notable rooms in the Royal Palace, witness to important events – and the chosen music, the same that was written to be heard by the kings.

During the concert, the interpreter played sheet music by Antonio Literes, a cellist from the Spanish royal headquarters at the beginning of the 18th century and a famous author of zarzuelas; José de Torres, titular teacher of the Royal Chapel; a couple of works by the Italian Giacomo Facco, and several pieces by the cellists José de Zayas and Francisco Supriani. “They all had a close relationship with the Madrid Court and when they asked me for the repertoire for the concert, I thought it would be very interesting to do it about musicians who could be related to this instrument”, reveals Guillermo Turina.

The conservation

Lorena Robredo, curator of Musical Instruments of National Heritage, emphasizes that the sound of the Stradivarius 1700 is “especially extraordinary”. It was made with the same materials, the most select and durable, such as maple wood for the body and spruce for the soundboard – originating from the famous “forest of violins” of Paneveggio, in the Italian Alps – as those of the Palatine Quartet. They have a very narrow vein – carried out during the period known as the Maunder Minimum, some especially cold years – that influences their resonance and makes them “unique and unrepeatable works”.
For Guillermo Turina, the cello he could play is “the best Ferrari of Ferraris”: “It is a little bit bigger than today’s standard models, it is impressively well preserved and everything works well. In addition, it has a spectacular history and it was played by the best musicians of the 18th century. ” The only difference with the cello of the Palatine Quartet is that it has no decoration.

“The care taken with these instruments is exceptional. I’m scared if I have to take them, they impose a lot,” confesses Lorena Robredo. They are objects that suffer a lot from humidity and that are handled with great care so that they do not lose an ounce of their sound qualities. Every year a luthier comes from New York to check their condition and the bowman who prepares them before each concert is Francisco González.

Although it is relatively common to be able to listen to the vibrations of the strings of the Royal Quartet – the only set of decorated instruments left from the hands of Stradivarius that is preserved in the world – in chamber concerts organized by the National Heritage, it is more strange to be able to enjoy the Stradivarius 1700. “This occasion has been unique, an unrepeatable concert”, highlights the curator.
Also because of the space where it was held: a room that was initially designed by the architect Juan Bautista Sachetti to house one of the branches of the staircase that should give access to the queen’s apartments and that Carlos III ordered Sabatini to replace with a large ceremony hall. In that place, the Accession Treaty of Spain to the European Communities was signed on June 12, 1985; or, more recently, the sanction by King Juan Carlos I of the organic law of abdication in his son, Felipe VI, on June 18, 2014.

A Hall of Columns presided over by the sculptural group of Carlos V dominating the Furor, a copy of the one preserved in the Prado Museum, and that exhibits on its walls the wool and silk tapestries woven in Brussels at the beginning of the 17th century according to the cartoons that Rafael painted for the Sistine Chapel, in which the Acts of the Apostles are told. A refined and exclusive decoration for a project that seeks to recover the musical heritage. “We have made a great effort for the public to see what our culture and art were like 300 years ago”, Guillermo Turina closes.

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