- - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

March roars into the Kennedy Center where the “IBERIAN SUITE: Global arts remix” celebrates the culture of the Iberian Peninsula through its music, art, history, theater, dance, literature and cuisine.

The eye gravitates to striking displays, one in the Hall of Nations conveying the influence of urban environments and street life, another in the Hall of States of the blue-and white Chinese porcelain transported by Portuguese ships that inspires modern fashion designers and artists.

In the Terrace Gallery, giant video maps trace the migration over seven centuries of people to and from Iberia to achieve the global remix.

The feast of events in the Concert Hall begins Thursday, when Maestro Jesus Lopez-Cobos, a native of Spain, conducts the National Symphony Orchestra in a program of “fado” that defines the people of Iberia and their culture. This distinctive music incorporates the African rhythms and dance patterns of 18th century Brazil that traveled over the ocean to Portugal. There it mixed with oral traditions about fate and evolved into the songs of seamen and poor urban dwellers lamenting a loss or sorrow of some kind.

“Fado is folk music that is traditionally accompanied by the Portuguese guitar and the viola de fado,” Mr. Lopez-Cobos explained. “In our Thursday program, the two singers will perform with the orchestra and with the fado instruments. These are not classical instruments, but they have a soul that captures the mournfulness and melancholy of fado songs.

The guest soloists are famous Portuguese fadistas Camane and Carminho.

Camane began singing at live gatherings in the traditional style he learned at an early age from his family’s record collection. He signed with EMI in 1994 and has since released pop albums that are more mainstream and backed by jazz instruments.

Like Camane, Carminho was raised singing fado. After appearing in the award-winning film “Fados,” she released her first album in 2009, aptly entitled “Fado.” She has since released “Alma,” which zoomed to first place on Portuguese charts and made an impact on international charts. Her career has taken her throughout Europe and to Brazil where her 2013 performances at the Carnival of Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and elsewhere were sold out.

Mr. Lopez-Cobos says the program for Friday and Saturday entails music by Spanish composers Joaquin Turina, Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albeniz and Cristobal Halffter, plus entries by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. Spanish pianist Javier Perianes will perform de Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain.”

Soprano Juanita Lascarro will also perform Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5,” written for soprano and eight cellos.

Ms. Lascarro studied biology in her native Colombia before moving to Cologne to study opera, a move similar to that of Mr. Lopez-Cobos, who switched his career goal after graduating with a degree in philosophy.

“As a child living in Spain, I sang in a choral group and was exposed by my father’s family to the music of German composers Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven and others,” he said. “While attending the University in Madrid, I volunteered to conduct the university choir and loved it so much that after graduating I went to Vienna to study, because no diploma in conducting was offered in Spain.”

His decision has been rewarded many times over. Mr. Lopez-Cobos is the recipient of many distinguished awards and travels the world to work with symphony orchestras and opera companies. He was general music director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin (1981-1990), music director of the Teatro Real in Madrid (2003-2010) and music director of the Lausanne Chamber orchestra in Switzerland (1991-2000).

No stranger to America, he is conductor emeritus of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, where he also served as music director from 1986 to 2001, during which he led the orchestra on highly successful tours of Europe and Asia and conducted the musicians in 21 acclaimed recordings for Telarc, two of which are revisited in this concert.

From the Grammy Award-nominated “The Music of Turina and Debussy,” he has chosen Turina’s three “Fantastic Dances.” The five pieces on the program from his recording of Albeniz’s “Iberia” deftly explore the soul of that part of the world.

“The Kennedy Center’s Iberian Festival gives the audience a chance to listen to different kinds of music and demonstrates how rich the music of the Spanish world is, from Iberia to Brazil,” Mr. Lopez-Cobos said. “I enjoy this kind of variety.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Jesus Lopez-Cobos conducts the National Symphony Orchestra featuring fadistas Camane and Carminho

WHEN: March 5 at 7 p.m.

WHAT: Jesus Lopez-Cobos conducts the National Symphony Orchestra, with soprano soloist Juanita Lascarro from Colombia and pianist Javier Perianes from Spain

WHEN: March 6 & 7 at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20566

INFO: $10-$85, 202/467-4600, 800/444-1324, Kennedy-Center.org

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