"Everywhere else death is an end. Death comes, and they draw the curtains. Not in Spain. In Spain they open them." Writer Federico Garcia Lorca -- probably most famous for his tragic trilogy that includes the play Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding) and his poetry collection Romancero Gitano (Gypsy Ballads) -- spoke these words in a 1933 lecture on duende (also the word for "goblin"), the term used to describe the intangible source of flamenco's intensity. The "living, eternal enigma of death" evoked by the terse lyrics of the anonymous Gypsy poets and the "black sounds" welling up from within the measured cante jondos (deep songs) so moved the Granadan that he spent much of his career both literally and figuratively singing flamenco's praises. In 1922 he organized, with his colleague the famed composer Miguel de Falla, a festival and competition in Granada to bring traditional flamenco singers to the public.
"Lorca may have envied that kind of power and durability.... I think he was striving to match the emotional impact of sung flamenco with his poems," says Brook Zern, an admitted flamenco "snob" and the flamenco consultant to the ethnomusicology department at Columbia University in New York (where Lorca studied in 1929). In some ways Lorca's 1933 lecture reads like a morbid text to his violent end three years later, at age 38, when he was murdered by Falangists during Spain's Civil War. In the lecture Lorca said, "A dead man in Spain is more alive as a dead man than anyplace else in the world."
Along with Zern, the New World Symphony's ¡Flamenco! -- An In-Context Festival celebrates Lorca's living legacy with an approximately 45-minute Musicians Forum concert titled "Federico Garcia Lorca and the Poetry of Flamenco." In addition to performing works by early- to mid-twentieth-century composers, such as Carlos Surinach and Enrique Granados of Spain, symphony members will recite Lorca's poetry in its original Spanish (English translations will appear on a screen) to the strains of Zern's guitar.
"I've been told that Lorca felt that poetry was only truly alive when it was being recited rather than read," Zern says. "And often in Spain, I would hear his poetry lovingly recited by people whom I knew were illiterate. They had memorized countless Lorca poems, and their performances were always moving and sometimes overwhelming." Now that's duende.