Aisha Syed Castro
Although I have lived in Los Angeles most of my 54 Years and have passed by the old Château Élysée located at 5930 Franklin Ave. on the corner with Gower many times, I had yet explored this iconic architectural masterpiece. Luckily the stars aligned on Wednesday when I was able to attend the wonderful concert by Dominican virtuosa violinist Aisha Syed Castro at the property’s conservatory (greenhouse) venue on the grounds of this gorgeous complex that now houses The Celebrity Center owned and operated by the Church of Scientology.
Built in 1927 by the silent film star Elinor K. Ince, the 77-unit hotel was designed by architect Arthur E. Harvey as a replica of a 17th century French-Normandy castle, it was declared a L.A. City Historical Monument in 1987. This building and its grounds have seen guests such as Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Edward G. Robinson, Carol Lombard and many more film stars but on this evening we were to witness and hear a new star of Classical Music.
Aisha Syed Castro was born in the city of Santiago, Dominican Republic to a Pakistani father and Dominican mother as the second of four children. She began studying the violin and flute at the age of four and debuted at the age of 11 with the National Symphony Orchestra, as its youngest solo performer. Since then Ms. Syed at the tender age of 25 has accumulated multiple awards, performed with important orchestras from around the world and in 2012 released her first recording “Pasión Latina” with pianist Nigel Hutchison.
The evening began with an introduction by Master of Ceremonies Ron Lizardo who acknowledged the presence of the Group of Latin American Consuls including Celeste Jimenez from the Dominican Republic who hosted the event. The theme of the evening was titled “Con Spiritu, Con Moto, Con Emozione” (With Spirit, With Motion, With Emotion) celebrating Human Rights Day, which was accented by copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in both Spanish and English distributed to every person in attendance.
Playing on a vintage Stradivarius violin and accompanied by the very talented pianist Mark Robson, the beautiful and statuesque Ms. Syed began the evening with “Danse Espagniole” by Manuel De Falla followed by “Romanza Andaluza” by Pablo de Saraste both Spanish composers. Both pieces are complex and melodic and were executed with virtuosity and “sabor”(flavor) as the evening showcased several Spanish & Latin American composers.
One of the highlights of the evening was “Polonaise in D’Major” by Polish composer Henrk Wieniavsky which was a lively, tap your shoe on the floor piece that was enhance by the speed and technique shown Ms. Syed and the contribution of Mr. Robson on piano. This was followed by “Meditation” by French composer Jules Massenet who wrote this contemplative, slower piece for the Opera “Thais” conveying a religious meaning which was shared by Ms. Syed’s own Christian beliefs.
One of the most interesting compositions of the evening was “Carmen Fantasy” made up of arias from the famous Opera “Carmen” by French composer Georges Bizet but arranged by Spanish composer Pablo de Sarante. The Spanish flavor and sounds of the story were transmitted via the violin by several techniques used by Ms. Syad including plucking on the neck of the instruments while carrying the melody seamlessly!
After an impassioned speech on the importance and history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by actress Valentina Rendon came the famous violin piece “Czardas” by Italian composer Vittorio Monti based on the Hungarian dance of the same name. Beginning with a slow, melancholy piano introduction it morphed into a fast and danceable climax at the prodigious hands of Ms. Syad.
Paying homage to the Dominican Republic was “El Primer Beso” (the first kiss) by native composer Julio Alberto Hernandez, a piece focused more on feeling and melody rather than speed and technique. “La Campanella” by Italian composer, violinist and guitar master Niccolo Paganini which followed, on the other hand showcased fully the extent of Ms. Syed’s technique and passion for the violin.
To close the evening on a “high note” (pun intended), the audience was treated to the tango “Por Una Cabeza” (a horse-racing phrase meaning “by a head”) by iconic Argentinian composer and singer Carlos Gardel. Showcasing the passion of the tango thru her playing, Aisha Syed Castro literally made her violin “sing” as we were transported to a Buenos Aires milonga (tango dance club) to close an evening full of beautiful music brought to us by one of the instrument’s youngest, and most talented ambassadors.