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Ensembles in Kansas and Missouri are collaborating on 'this crazy idea': connecting authentic flamenco with midwestern orchestras

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Deborah Carberry
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Dancer Melinda Hedgecorth with members of Ensemble Iberica.

Kansas City's Ensemble Iberica joins forces with the Springfield and Topeka symphony orchestras alongside traditional flamenco artists to present a never-before-seen concert celebrating the Spanish art form.

This story was first published in Classical KC's "Take Note" newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox the first Wednesday of every month.

Kansas City’s Ensemble Iberica partners with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and the Topeka Symphony Orchestra for a celebration of the music, dance, and passion of flamenco.

Conductor Kyle Pickett, music director for both the Springfield Symphony and the Topeka Symphony, initiated the collaboration. He reached out to Beau Bledsoe, founder and artistic director for Ensemble Iberica, which performs music from the Iberian peninsula and its diaspora.

“I have this crazy idea,” he told Bledsoe. There are no flamenco shows packaged for orchestras, in the same way an orchestra can hire some singers and a book of orchestrations for a Broadway or Beatles show. “We had to be really creative,” said Pickett.

“We are doing a lot of things that have never existed on the earth in this concert,” said Bledsoe. “It’s a good 40% –or probably half–of this program has been custom-made by a team of people of different traditions. And that’s rare.”

With the ensemble (guitar, cello, percussion), the concerts feature dancer Melinda Hedgecorth and singer Alfonso Cid.

For the orchestras, these concerts are the culmination of a celebratory season, back together in the concert hall.

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Courtesy of artist
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Conductor Kyle Pickett.

“The music that has been written for dance is some of the best music for that: upbeat, exciting, energetic, feel good music,” Pickett said.

They also wanted to expand the cultural base of the composers they were presenting. “Dance is one of those forms that crosses all cultures,” he said.

Doing a flamenco show has been on Pickett’s bucket list since his college days, when he participated in a performance of Paco Peño’s “Misa Flamenca.”

“It was one of the most incredible and powerful musical experiences I had ever had in my life….it was my first real introduction to flamenco,” said Pickett. He was enamored. “So I’ve had it in my mind for years, almost 20 years.”

Since the show didn’t exist, they had to create it. TSO’s multi-talented assistant conductor, Raffaele Cipriano, created orchestrations and arrangements for many of the works, including Bledsoe’s composition, “Alegrias atoche.”

Hedgecorth has choreographed new work for three of the pieces on the program. Originally from Kansas City, she spent 14 years in Spain, studying flamenco in its birthplace. Returning to the Midwest in 2014, she performs locally and internationally, and teaches flamenco.

Though most of the performers are local to the Kansas City area, cantaor (flamenco singer) Alfonso Cid is originally from Seville, Spain, where he started learning flamenco from his mother and grandfather. He’s now based in New York CIty. Cid performed with Ensemble Iberica in 2019.

Ensemble Iberica performs “Soleá” with singer Alfonso Cid and dancer Melinda Hedgecorth during a September 2019 concert. 

There are three songs for singer and orchestra, from Federico García Lorca’s “Canciones Españolas Antiguas.” Usually these songs are performed with an opera singer, said Pickett, “but we have this remarkable, amazing, authentic real deal flamenco singer.”

“I can hear that in my head…a flamenco singer with an orchestra,” said Bledsoe. “It’s going to sound really cool.”

The concert features some Spanish orchestral stand–bys, like “Ritual Fire Dance,” from Manuel de Falla’s ballet “El Amor Brujo,” as well as some more obscure pieces. The concert relies heavily on the music of Falla. He bridged the gap between orchestral repertoire and authentic flamenco influence.

“Falla is one of my touch stones throughout my life,” said Bledsoe. “For flamencos, he’s kind of their favorite composer, because he doesn’t really quote the music, he writes his own music.”

They will perform sections of Falla’s “Homenajes,” first with orchestra and then with Bledsoe on guitar and Melinda dancing. Originally written for guitar, Bledsoe said it’s one of his favorites of the repertoire.

Recently, Pickett and his family traveled to Spain and had the opportunity to see flamenco. The experience was just as invigorating as the first time.

“The song is gut-level passionate, and the dance is so extreme in so many ways…it’s so powerful and strong,” said Pickett. “It just knocks your socks off, it is just so thrilling, and that’s part of what I want people to understand.”

Ensemble Iberica joins conductor Kyle Pickett with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra in Springfield, MO on May 7 and the Topeka Symphony Orchestra in Topeka, KS, on May 14.

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She's written for KCUR, KC Studio, The Kansas City Star, The Pitch, and KCMetropolis. Libby maintains the culture blog Proust Eats A Sandwich and writes poetry and children's books. Along with degrees in trombone performance, she was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University.