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Santa Fe Pro Musica plays Handel suite once set to fireworks

SANTA FE, N.M. — It was pyrotechnic music for an English king, fresh from Germany.

Santa Fe Pro Musica will perform Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks” in two upcoming concerts.

In 1749 King George II commissioned Handel to write a wind band suite set to fireworks in London’s Green Park. The event marked the end of the War of the Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. The king asked the composer to write music for a large ensemble of “warlike instruments” to accompany the explosions. Handel had been kapellmeister to the German Prince George of Hanover, who became England’s George I in 1714.

“Handel followed him to England,” Santa Fe Pro Musica director/conductor Thomas O’Connor said. “He spent 47 years there and was buried at Westminster Abbey.”

It was musical entertainment on a grand scale. The king had asked Chevalier Servandoni, a famous Paris Opera stage designer, to design a 114-foot-high fireworks machine containing more than 10,000 rockets. The performance did not go well. Technicians argued about both the operation and the safety of the mechanics. An explosion set a pavilion on fire. The frustrated Servandoni drew his sword, police disarmed and arrested him.

UNM violin professor Cármelo de los Santos will solo in concerts with the Santa Fe Pro Musica. (Courtesy of Leko Machado)

UNM violin professor Cármelo de los Santos will solo in concerts with the Santa Fe Pro Musica. (Courtesy of Leko Machado)

The Santa Fe musicians will play on oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani, strings and keyboard sans fireworks.

“There’s lots of use of trumpets and horns; they’re effusive, ebullient,” O’Connor said. “Handel was one of the great geniuses.”

The program will open with not Handel’s, but Telemann’s “Water Music” instrumental suite, written for the centennial celebration of the College of the Admiralty in Hamburg, Germany. The suite represents the River Elbe, as well as the gods and nymphs of the sea.

“Some of them are gentle, some of them are sleepy, some are dreaming,” O’Connor said.

Vivaldi’s “Autumn” and “Winter” suites from “The Four Seasons” will bridge the Telemann and the Handel. Vivaldi’s fluid melodies and brilliant instrumental effects make his some of the most popular music of the Baroque era.

Brazilian-born University of New Mexico violin professor Cármelo de Los Santos is the soloist. “He’s a virtuoso player,” O’Connor said. “He has the kind of chops that place him in the highest tier of the concert violin.”