27 February, 2011

ODÓN ALONSO (1925-2011)

The Leonese conductor Odón Alonso Ordás died on 21 February 2011 in a Madrid hospital, a few days short of his 86th birthday. He is best known among Spaniards of a certain age for sharing with Enrique García Asensio the post of principal conductor of the Spanish Radio and TV (RTVE) Symphony Orchestra from 1968 to 1984, as well as for numerous TV broadcasts of classical concerts. Jess Francophiles the world over, however, may remember him as the composer of two films by the director: Residencia para espías (1966) and El diablo que vino de Akasawa (1971). Jess Franco happened to be Odón Alonso’s brother-in-law and it is significant that all the other films he scored are variously connected with Franco, mainly several films by Joaquín Romero-Marchent in which Franco was active as co-writer and assistant director: the quasi-westerns El Coyote (1955) and La justicia del Coyote (1956), plus the comedy-drama Fulano y Mengano (1959). To these one should add León Klimovsky’s comedy Viaje de novios (1956), a comedy vehicle for the pairing of Fernando Fernán-Gómez and Analía Gadé which had Franco as assistant director; and a short called El increíble aumento del coste de la vida (1976), directed by Ricardo Franco, Jess’s nephew.

Odón Alonso’s filmography appears to have been confined to the titles mentioned above, but then, composing was secondary to conducting in his career, as indeed was playing his instrument, the piano: he dabbled with being a concert pianist early in his musical life until he definitely found his place on the podium, while not, however, abandoning the keyboard altogether: sometimes he would conduct Baroque music from the harpsichord, while providing the continuo.

The son of the conductor Odón Alonso González, also the composer of the hymn of León, Odón Alonso Jr. received his musical training in Madrid and later in Siena, Salzburg and Vienna, his teachers including Paul van Kempen and Igor Markevich, one of his predecessors as principal conductor of the RTVE orchestra. His career as a conductor began in 1953 with a number of Spanish ensembles and in 1958 he was among those considered to succeed the deceased Ataulfo Argenta as the principal conductor of the National Orchestra of Spain. His rise as a star conductor began, of course, with his long association with the RTVE Orchestra, during which he found time to score El diablo que vino de Akasawa and the Ricardo Franco short. Following his period with the RTVE, Alonso settled in Puerto Rico (like his countryman, the cellist Pau Casals) and began a new phase, lasting until 1994, at the head of the Symphony Orchestra of Puerto Rico and the Casals festival. On returning to Spain, he became the principal conductor of the Malaga Philharmonic until his resigned in 1999 due to health problems. Now retired as a conductor, he concentrated on his work as the organizer of the annual Sorian Musical Autumn.

In the midst of all this activity, he received numerous awards and honors and was named adoptive son of both Puerto Rico and Soria. The latter town named both an auditorium and a square after him and the City of León Orchestra also bears his name. His greatest international mainstream exposure came in 1970, when he and his RTVE forces accompanied the guitarist Narciso Yepes in a Deutsche Grammophon recording of Joaquín Rodrigo’s two best-known pieces, the Aranjuez Concerto and the Fantasía para un gentilhombre. On the whole, Alonso’s recorded efforts for international companies (EMI being one) tend to reflect the tradition of confining Spanish musicians to the classical Spanish repertoire, as represented by the likes of the aforementioned Rodrigo, Joaquín Turina or Ernesto Halffter. He appears, nevertheless, to have been a notable interpreter of Tchaikovsky and was responsible for the Spanish premieres of works by Schoenberg and Messiaen (who liked Alonso’s performance of the Turangila Symphony). Moreover, he also conducted (and often premiered) works by such contemporary Spanish composers as Luis de Pablo, Carmelo Bernaola and Antón García Abril.

Link to two clips from Odón Alonso’s score for Residencia para espías:



Below, the pre-credits scene and credits of Romero-Marchent's Fulano y Mengano, scored by Odón Alonso:

Below, a clip of Odón Alonso and his RTVE forces accompanying Victoria de los Angeles's rendition of an aria from Handel's two-act opera Acis and Galatea(1718-1789).(The sound is not very good)

Below, an extract from a performance conducted by Odón Alonso of Prokofiev's oratorio Ivan the Terrible (composed for Eisenstein's film in 1242-44 and posthumously arranged into oratorio form in 1961) for speaker, soloists, chorus and orchestra. Alonso conducts the City of Malaga Orchestra and the Malaga Opera Chorus. The speaker is Rafael Taibo, an occasional voice at the Arcofón studios.

Text by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen

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