By Ted AYALA
Toys, coloring books, cartoons, play. For most of us, our lives as first-graders revolved around these and other innocuous pastimes. It’s only later – for some of us beginning in our teens, for others later still – when our minds turned to the study and contemplation of those facets of life that stretch beyond the reach of what our fingertips touch. The ability to concentrate, to be able to nurture the life of the mind is a trait we often only acquire with maturity.
A few of us, however, manage to get a head start on the other budding artists and thinkers.
For Sonia Marie de León de Vega, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra’s music director, it was at the age of 6 when she had one of those life-altering revelations. Like the ripples of a suddenly dropped pebble upon the placid surface of a pond, something deep stirred within.
“I was standing at the radio,” she recalled, “twisting and playing with the dial, just listening to all different stations that came on. Then I came across it. I had never heard anything like it before. I just had to stop.”
The dial had come by chance to rest on the local classical music station. The music that captivated the young girl’s attention? The solemn “Allegretto” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.
“It’s such timeless music,” she said, “so beautiful.”
It was at that moment when de León de Vega stood face-to-face with the dream that would guide the rest of her life – becoming a musician. It was a dream that finally bore fruit years later when she founded the Santa Cecilia Orchestra. Twenty years after its founding, that dream will come full circle when she and her orchestra play that very same inspirational work during the final concert of their 20th anniversary season on Sunday, April 21.
Sharing the program at Occidental College’s Thorne Hall will be Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides Overture” and another work by a composer whose hundreds of compositions are often overlooked: Alan Hovhaness.
Hovhaness was born in 1911 in the Boston area and later became a resident of the Pacific Northwest until he died in 2000. He had his musical voice shaped by encounters with such diverse musical styles as Japanese court music (gagaku), Indian Carnatic music, and Korean folk music, among many others. It was his discovery of Armenian music and culture in the 1940s that marked much of the music he composed in this period. It is for this music that Hovhaness is best remembered.
His “Tzaikerk” (Armenian for “Evening Song”) for flute, violin, timpani, and strings from 1944 exhibits some of the qualities most associated with his style: light dance-like rhythms gently textured with a folk-flavored lyricism; a wistful nostalgia which shades, but never ominously darkens his music.
“I love Armenian music,” explained de León de Vega. “It’s something I’ve wanted to perform for a long time in tribute to the Armenian community that neighbors Northeast Los Angeles. Like some of the great Latin American composers, like Silvestre Revueltas, Carlos Chávez, or Alberto Ginastera, this piece blends traditional music with classical music. In a way, I wanted to show how much our cultures had in common, how we can make great things together.”
“It was also a perfect piece for our principal flutist Salpy Kerkonian,” she added. “Her artistry is incredible. This was exactly the piece I thought would best feature her talents.”
As de León de Vega and the SCO prepares for its last concert of the season, she looked back on the path that led her and her fellow musicians to this point.
“It’s been a lot of work,” she said. “We’ve been hit these past years with a terrible economic recession. But whereas many other orchestras are withering away, scaling back their operations or closing up altogether, we’ve been able to continue forward. We’ve never had to cut back. We’ve had a lot of support – and I’m looking forward to that support carrying us over for the next 20 years.”
To obtain tickets and for more information, visit http://www.scorchestra.org/ or call (323) 259-3011.