Craig Russell incorporates jazz and flamenco influences in 20th century classical

Craig H. Russell set out to extend a brief, four-measure theme written by his teacher Emilio Pujol in 1971. Six years later, Pujol received the completed homework assignment when Russell finished the four-part Concierto Romantico. Russell may have overshot his teacher’s mark, but one can hardly deride the results.

Concierto Romantico is just one of Russell’s compositions spotlighted Friday in the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s concert at Lisner Auditorium. The other featured piece, Rhapsody for Horn and Orchestra, was commissioned in the ’90s by the San Luis Obispo Symphony. The Lisner concert is just the second of two East Coast performances, following Wednesday’s performance at Carnegie Hall.

Russell spans a wide range of influences in the two pieces. The presence of classical Spanish guitar, performed by award-winning guitarist Jose Maria Gallardo Del Rey, plays a central role in Concierto Romantico. The second performance also boasts its own guest soloist, French horn player Richard Todd. Both Gallardo Del Rey and Todd will perform at Friday’s concert.

Todd, who has performed under the baton of conductors Seiji Ozawa and Andre Previn, is skilled in both classical and jazz styles. He has worked on more than 600 film scores and on recordings of a broad range of artists such as Frank Sinatra, Madonna and Michael Jackson.

Todd’s ability to perform a number of styles is displayed powerfully in Rhapsody, which functions on Russell’s concept of “alternating siblings.” The first and third movements function as “sisters,” and movements two and four work together as “brothers.”

While the “sisters” movements call to mind Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, the second and fourth movements, titled “Dizzy Bird” and “Tito Machito” carry musical references to the great traditional and Latin-jazz artists Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Tito Puente and Machito, whose names adorn the individual movements. The fifth and final movement brings together all previous movements as the pace grows ever faster.

Gallardo Del Rey first debuted in his native Seville, Spain, when he was 10, and has since received numerous accolades worldwide. Gallardo Del Rey is a composer in his own right. Two of Gallardo Del Rey’s own works, “Airs de Sevilla” and “Rosales,” are featured with the album recording of Concierto Romantico (SoSo Sol Records), available through the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s Web site, www.slosymphony.com. A CD featuring Rhapsody for Horn and Orchestra and two other works by Craig Russell is also available.

Craig H. Russell, who was nominated for a Grammy Award for his work with vocal group Chanticleer, has taught at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., for almost two decades. He has received several teaching awards, including the President’s Arts Award. Conductor Michael Nowak is in his 17th season with the San Luis Obispo Symphony.

Although separate in their musical influences, Concierto Romantico and Rhapsody for Horn and Orchestra float lightly in the same amiable, jubilant and occasionally bombastic spirit. The swift, flowing, softly plucked notes of Gallardo Del Rey’s guitar match the jazz-turned-classical muted swagger of Todd’s French horn. Each soloist brings a luminescence to the pieces that the San Luis Obispo Symphony expertly accompanies.

San Luis Obispo Symphony
Michael Nowak, Conductor
Friday 8 p.m.
Lisner Auditorium
Students $10-$15
1-800-551-7328
or Lisner Box Office

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