In Spain we live in a province called Teruel (pronounced Tear Well as in tearing a piece of paper –well). Many Spanish say this is the place no one comes from and no one goes to: it has an incredibly low population for its vast size. Here drivers proudly display a ‘Teruel Existe’ sign, in case of doubt. There aren’t any big cities of course. Our nearest is Alcañiz and it’s small.
The decision to go to a concert there was a last minute one – it was Saturday night and we were already going to a play somewhere else. The play started at 10 pm (really); the concert started at 7 pm – so we had time to do both (everything is arranged around dinner which is at nine). We arrived at the Teatro Municipal on time. We then had to wait for Spanish 7 o’clock to arrive. Still it gave us time to look around at the audience which contained a frightening proportion of children: a fact that does not bode well for a classical concert. But it was cheap and in aid of a charity for the disabled. And the theatre was warm, plush and comfortable.
At last a tall, elegant lady appeared on the stage in a sparkling, figure-hugging, dark-grey dress. She gave a long introduction and the curtains then opened to display the orchestra (actually a banda). Shock and horror – no violins – and some very young musicians mixed with some older ones. They were not good. Dvorak rose from his grave and committed suicide during the mercifully shortened version of his ninth symphony. Still they tried. It is, I believe, very difficult to synchronise wind instruments. I was fascinated by a large white-haired man who stood, without moving a muscle, to the right of the orchestra during the entire first half. He played no instrument, held no baton, showed no emotion. He just stood there. Why?
After a short and noisy break, a long announcement, awards given to various members of the audience, a present for the announcer which she unwrapped while we watched, a box of sweets for the players, and individual introductions to a large proportion of the banda the second half finally got under way. It was very good: especially the rendition of Gulliver’s Travels. I suppose the first part included rising musicians, the second the top echelon. However, my enjoyment faded after a while, the brassy effect of a wind orchestra began to offend my ear so I started to watch the audience.
Amazingly, late comers kept arriving until almost the end of the show – and they were still allowed in! Some stopped to chat to people they recognised as they made their way to a seat. One member of the orchestra, a youngster, got up from his seat in our row and went into the corridor to play with his friends! We could hear them running about. Two little girls in front of us were fighting. They were separated which started multiple trips to the toilet, then conducting from the floor, then playing with their parents’ hair. A little girl behind me clapped a lot whilst the music was playing. She also wandered around the aisles smiling at anyone who would respond. At last the performance seemed to be over. Everyone had been hugged and kissed, the curtain had closed, and the audience had risen to its feet. Then the encore started. We slipped out.
The journey to Cretas took over half an hour. We just had time for a quick carajillo in a nearby bar then into the place where the wine festival is held for the play. It started at 10 pm which was odd. Actually it started at 10.20 pm which is normal. Why so late? People have to have their dinner, explained Willy, a friend from our village and the reluctant husband of one of the stars. This is the first play that I had seen which was entirely in Spanish, without sub-titles, and where I knew everyone on the stage – including Patchy who is a part-time barman, part-time builder and the play’s producer, writer and performer. He is a big man and, on stage dressed as buxom female civil servant, he seemed gigantic. My Spanish understanding was too poor for me to follow the play, but it was fun to see Dolores (the wife of Willy) perform as the unwanted grandmother who the daughter (Christina, the tour guide in our village) was trying to commit to a home, and to see Dolores real daughter Sandra appear as her marijuana-soaked granddaughter. The performance was enthusiastic, the stage set fragile, the audience large and mixed in age, the ticket price zero, the length of about an hour just right. After the curtain call Patchy whipped off his wig to show his glistening baldhead and to thank everyone of the cast by name and individually. The Spanish like to glow. And so ended our night of culture. It was good. Not at all like being in Oxford of course – but when in Spain...