Proof that you don’t need big halls and big bucks to hear top notch musicians was proven by Ismael Alcalde‘s appearance on a balmy Saturday evening in the unlikely location of a public library. As it proved though, books are not just good to read, they also provide a good acoustic environment. The solar roof of the Stadtbucherei St Nikolaus in Bonn-Kessenich also sent soft and shimmering Summer evening light onto the 100 or so people enjoying the music.
Flamenco has an uneasy musical niche next to Classical Guitar. Ismael recalls with a wry smile how classical maestro Andrés Segovia always stated that, in order to preserve the pure tone and integrity of classical music he had to ‘unlearn’ everything he had learned from Flamenco guitarists. Segovia built a wall between the two styles “but now”, says Ismael, his smile growing ever larger, “I am going to play a piece that incorporates both styles and knocks down that wall!” Ismael Alcalde really does have the looks, the charisma and the ability to be a major musical star – pulling in a new audience on an old instrument the way that Nigel Kennedy has so successfully done. His own compositions, such as the opening ‘Antonia’ dedicated to his mother are every bit as fascinating as the works he plays by masters such as Sabicas, Francisco Tarrega and Isaac Albeniz.
Beautiful, and beautifully played music was on offer, with Ismael’s playing seemingly increasing in intensity and feeling with each composition. So much so that by the finishing classical guitar piece ‘Preludi’ composed by Ismail’s classical guitar teacher from Barcelona Sergi Vicente, my eyes were closed as I listened to each note wrung with intensity and emotion. When I finally opened them again, it was to discover that, more often than not, the eyes of my fellow concert-goers were similarly shut tight in subjugation to the music. Magic is a word thrown around a lot to describe what usually isn’t. Tonight though Ismael Alcalde was the preacher, and Stadtbucherei St Nikolaus his Church.
Actually, Ismael wasn’t alone for the whole excellent concert. He was joined on two occasions by a certain ‘Juan del Rhin’ (who looked not unlike a gentleman named John Hay from the World Music Bonn Folk ensemble!) ‘Juan’ is himself no slouch around a flamenco fretboard, and his playing, as well as the transparent goldpeadores (traditional tap plate/scratchplate) on his instrument, were proof that he is quickly becoming an accomplished player in his own right. With Ismail as a tutor he certainly has a head start.
A big shout out of thanks to the staff at Stadtbucherei St Nikolaus, who laid on some great food and drink for thirsty visitors. The library is one of 370 Catholic public libraries (KÖB) in the archbishopric of Cologne and if Kessenich had a Town Hall then this would be it. Essentially run by volunteers, the library is open five days a week, and works hard to make the center of Bonn-Kessenich a lively and attractive location. They work closely with local schools, and offer facilities for reading, promotion and literary discussion groups as well as integrating people with psychosomatic problems. Musical events like the concert on Saturday are still rarities, but hopefully they will become less rare in future as this really is a pleasant atmosphere to relax and enjoy music.
Ismael Alcalde is recommended for all who love hearing a guitar played well (not just Flamenco, Mr Segovia!) and he lives in Cologne, so keep your eyes open for future gigs – he is one of those musicians who ‘pops up’ onstage at City events almost out of the blue. Actually, he really would benefit in this respect from having a manager/promoter to make some noise in advance of shows. Juan del Rhin, aka John Hay, can next be seen at the Kunst!Rasen no less, well to be more exact, in the Kunst!Zelt (tent) on 10 July. For future events at Bucherei St Nikolaus, keep an eye on their window in Pütztrasse…
Finally, a tribute to Paco de Lucia (video copyright: John Hay)…