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Seville Cathedral - a fitting site for world-class organists

© By Mike Keenan

       

Synchronicity is a remarkable phenomenon. You make exhaustive, detailed travel plans, talk to others, visit the library, research and then book accommodations at just the right place, but inevitably, as if it were one of Murphy's immutable laws, something unexpected always adds zest and memory to a trip that formerly looked like a shopping list.
     For us it involves music. Once, we toured San Francisco and visited the beautiful Opera House. With a flourish, the famed Boston Pops conductor, Arthur Fiedler, arrived, a camel coat draped over his shoulders, followed by a large entourage. We stood in awe. He exuded energy. Into the theatre he strode and, like pieces of metal attracted to a powerful magnet, we fell behind him, caught up with his dash and vigour. We listened to him fastidiously rehearse the orchestra for an hour. It was unforgettable, catalogued under pure chance.
     A similar event occurred in Seville, Spain. The prime attraction for tourists is the enormous cathedral, the Catedral de Sevilla, which we discovered in time for the 21st Lenten Organ Recital, a series of free evening concerts by the best musicians in Europe. Unfortunately, we missed the opening night performance by Spaniard, Jose Jame.
     Daniel Zaretsky, principal organist from the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Hall, began with Bach and moved to Prokofiev, finishing with Koehler's variations on the old Russian national anthem. He looked like he had consumed his last meal two weeks ago in a gulag. His suit fit poorly on his bony back and an unkempt black beard covered his face, yet he played with passion.
     Jean-Paul Imbert is principal organist at the Basilica of Notre Dame des Neiges del Alpe d'Huez. He stuck to a French program, mainly contemporary, which included Clair de Lune. Dressed in a spiffy Nehru-style suit, he played with fancy flourish and verve. Hans Leimer from the Cathedral de San Esteban de Passau, returned safely to Bach and concluded with one of his own compositions. Like the others, he was superb and the incredible sound filled the vaulted ceilings and bounced off the marble floors.
     Listening to masters play Bach on the massive cathedral organ ornamented with carved wooden angels was a peak experience. Beethoven referred to Bach as the "immortal god of harmony." Roger Fry, Virginia Woolf's associate, admirably stated that "Bach almost persuades me to be a Christian."

     

     We shared the same space that occupied kings and queens, conquistadors and famous navigators such as Christopher Columbus whose journeys to the Indies and the New World resulted in unparalleled amounts of gold and silver transported to Seville, fashioned into altar, chalice, candle holder and other church accoutrements deposited for safekeeping and on display in the treasury The altarpiece, the huge retablo, the life work of Flemish carver Pieter Dancart, dripped in gold leaf and took my breath away.
     The Moors lost Seville to the Christians in 1248 and in 1401 their mosque was replaced by a cathedral on a grand scale. Accordingly, it's the third largest in the world after St. Paul's in London and St. Peter's in Rome. The side chapels resemble small churches. Construction lasted for four centuries. The mosque's minaret, the Giralda, remained as a bell tower and is accessed by 32 ramps built for the muezzin to ride his horse to the top to summon the faithful to prayer. (We made it to the top.) The other Moorish remnant is the Patio de los Naranjos (oranges), a relaxing ablutions area used prior to entrance into the mosque.
     The cathedral is a prime location for horse-driven buggies that ferry tourists around the streets and bravely compete with cars, buses and scooters. It's the hub for spokes of narrow streets featuring tapas bars, restaurants and ceramics shops, a vibrant area to sit and enjoy vino and cerveza after a free organ concert.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo credits
Mike Keenan

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Seville Tourism & Convention Bureau: http://www.turismo.sevilla.org/paginas_en/portada.asp
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seville,_Spain
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Seville

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