JUNE 2023 | A Quarter-Century of ILAMS

JUNE 2023 | A Quarter-Century of ILAMS


The Founder of ILAMS reflects on the genesis and legacy of the Iberian and Latin American Music Society on its Silver Jubilee

To establish a music society in London and see it flourish for 25 years is certainly a cause for celebration. This is exactly what we have achieved with the Iberian and Latin American Music Society, whose quarter centenary was marked by an appropriately joyful concert by the guitarist Morgan Szymanski and friends on the 27th April. It is a testimony to the hard work and dedication of a small group of committed people over all those years. The names may have changed over time, that is inevitable, but everyone involved has shown the same enthusiasm and love of Hispanic music in all its varied manifestations.

The prospect and promise of launching a new society for Hispanic music arose when I met with the Argentine pianist Alberto Portugheis in London in the Summer of 1997. He was not the first musician I had approached with the idea, as I had already received an encouraging response from the musicologist Lionel Salter some weeks before, who had recommended that I “spread my net as wide as possible,” not to concentrate on the Iberian peninsula as I had envisaged; it was a piece of advice that proved crucial to the success of the venture.

Alberto Portugheis was a man of energy and vision. From the outset he wanted to create an organisation that was “big and important”, and his list of friends and contacts encompassed the vast majority of Hispanic musical artists and composers who were active at that time. Hence, we soon gathered an impressive list of supporters who would become Honorary Members, and in quite a short time we had established a working committee. It was agreed that Alberto would be Chairman, Lionel Salter would be Vice-Chairman, violinist José Luis García, pianist Enrique Pérez de Guzmán and guitarist Fabio Zanon would be council members, soon to be joined by others including Carlos Fernández Aransay. Carlos would become Assistant Secretary and would make a big contribution to the life of the Society. Administration was provided by me (Gerald Crowson), Secretary, David Walton, Treasurer and Clara Walton, Membership Secretary. Later we would be joined by pianist Mark Troop and by Raymond Picot who would play an important role in the Society in the coming years.

It would be futile, and indeed impossible, to list all the outstanding and memorable concerts and events that we organised in the first ten years under the leadership of Alberto Portugheis. Alberto showed incredible vigour and a large measure of courage in setting up major events in high profile venues. That we had many great successes was due to his leadership combined with the hard work of the entire committee. However, a few events do deserve to be highlighted.

Our inaugural concert at Canning House, Belgrave Square, in February 1998 was a star-studded occasion that promised much for the future. Professional musicians from the council who contributed were José Luis García, Enrique Pérez de Guzmán, Lionel Salter and Alberto Portugheis. Also taking part were harpist Marisa Robles, pianist Cristina Ortiz and guitarist Carlos Bonell. Masterclasses were an important feature of our activities during Alberto’s tenure as chairman. We held a
'Hispano-American Day' at Trinity College of Music in November 2000 which featured masterclasses combined with a concert by members of our council, a format that was repeated with success at other colleges including the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal College of Music. On one occasion we held masterclasses at the home of Enrique Pérez de Guzmán, when piano as well as guitar classes with Fabio Zanon and singing with Patricia Rozario were featured.

A remarkable and unusual event with Paco Peña was presented to a packed Canning House in September 2000. This took the form of an illustrated lecture on the history and traditions of flamenco, with Paco playing as well as talking from a sheaf of notes he had prepared. Our musical horizons embraced flamenco and folklore as well as classical music. A series of Latin American folklore events at the Cervantes Institute included a moving account by Henry Stobart of Royal Holloway College of his time researching the folklore of the Bolivian Andes. Henry spent a year in the mountains living with the people, and collecting their instruments, which he played to great effect in his presentation. On another occasion we were treated to an in-depth account of the folklore of Argentina by the late Nigel Gallop, drawing on his very extensive collection of recordings.

In September 2001 we embarked on a novel project for a music society, a tour to northern Spain for our members with concerts and visits to places of interest in the area. The historic town of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria was well chosen by Carlos Fernández Aransay as a suitable centre, where our chairman and cellist Ricardo Sciammarella provided a concert in the atmospheric 11th-century Colegiata.

Of the many ambitious musical events we organised one stands out for its extraordinary success. We provided the UK launch of a new edition of the Iberia suite by Albéniz at the Wigmore Hall in November 2003. The two chief editors, Jacinto Torres and Guillermo González, came from Spain specially for the event, talked about the development of the edition, and presented a magnificent manuscript facsimile of the entire suite which was donated to the Society. After dinner in the Hall, a public concert of the complete suite was given by Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin. On another occasion we provided the UK launch of a new edition of the complete piano works of Enric Granados. This edition was prepared by the American pianist and Granados specialist Douglas Riva, directed by Alicia de Larrocha and published by Editorial Boileau of Barcelona. The event took place in St James’s Church, Piccadilly with the participation of the publishers and performance of pieces by
Douglas Riva.

As a pianist, our chairman contributed to many of our concerts, most notably as an interpreter of his beloved compatriot Alberto Ginastera. In 2006 the Society launched his most cherished project, a festival of 20 events, many in prestigious venues, to honour Ginastera, surely London’s greatest tribute to the Argentine master. Perhaps the most memorable concert in this spectacularly successful festival was the performance of Ginastera’s rarely heard choral work, the majestic Lamentations of Jeremiah, performed at the Wigmore Hall on 1 June 2006 with Carlos Fernández Aransay conducting his very own choir, the Coro Cervantes.

Our chairman frequently treated us to wonderful food prepared by himself, sometimes in council meetings but more memorably at our AGMs. As a multi-talented person with seemingly limitless energy he managed his own restaurant in West London, called Amadeus. Here he would regale us with a gastronomic tour of Iberia and Latin America. Every AGM would include music as well as food.

After ten years of inspirational service to the Society, Alberto Portugheis stepped down as chairman in 2008. Times change and organisations, even music societies, need to refresh themselves with new oxygen. The election of Helen Glaisher Hernández as chairwoman opened a bright new chapter for the Society. New blood, new vision, new ideas and ways of doing things, combined with youth and a feminine touch completely changed the aspect of our organisation. After 15 years Helen still has the imagination to curate innovative events, to the extent that she has earned for us the highly quotable epithet of 'the UK’s most exciting music society.' With Ray Picot as Vice-Chairman we continue to flourish as we enter our second quarter century.



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