By Ted AYALA
The 2009/2010 season of the Santa Cecilia Orchestra came to a spectacular close on April 25 with a concert celebrating the bicentenary of Mexico’s independence. The program, held at Occidental College’s Thorne Hall, was devoted exclusively to orchestral works by Mexican composers. Mexico has its own very long and proud tradition in classical music, but it wasn’t until the composer Manuel Ponce began making headway in the early years of the 20th century that Mexican classical music began reaching a world audience. The composers performed at this concert represented some of the works by Mexico’s finest musical sons.
The concert began with the Symphony No.2 “Sinfonía India” by Carlos Chavez, one of this composer’s better known works. The work begins with a propulsive motoric rhythm over which a sonorous trumpet melody is heard. It’s a spiky, Stravinskian work brimming with youthful energy. Next was Chavez’s colorful “republican overture,” Chapultepec, a tribute to Mexico’s City’s central park. Composed in 1935, Chapultepec sounds like Chavez’s answer to his rival Silvestre Revueltas’ popular 1933 tone poem Janitzio. Revueltas’ acidulous humor and disorienting shifts in mood and rhythm were nowhere to be found in this more amiable work, but it made a very good impression nonetheless. Especially memorable was a string cantilena midway through the work that would not have sounded out of place in a film score by Nino Rota.
Blas Galindo Dimas’ Sones de Mariachi, a sparkling work infused with the spirit of mariachi music closed the first half of the program. It begins with a riff from the famous mariachi song, La Negra, and dazzles the listener with its vibrant color and exuberance. No wonder the audience leapt to its feet after the last chord had resounded.
The second half of the program began with Arturo Márquez’s Danzónes Nos. 2 and 4. Márquez, born in 1950, is one of Mexico’s most prominent living composers. His Danzón No. 2 is one of the most often performed Mexican works. Both Danzónes wound their way agreeably enough, though this listener felt the music to be somewhat generic next to the vibrant hues of the Chavez and Galindo works that preceded them. The audience, however, disagreed with yours truly and gave a very loud and prolonged standing ovation to the composer’s family who were attending the concert.
The concert came to a brilliant end with Jose Pablo Moncayo’s Huapango, Mexico’s most popular orchestral work. The stirring piece with its dazzling harp solos brought the audience to its feet in joyful applause.
The Santa Cecilia Orchestra is the finest of the county’s civic orchestras and its conductor, Sonia Marie de León de Vega, conducted with great brio and elan. Her excellent orchestra bristled with energy and followed her every step of the way. Especially noteworthy was the fine work of trumpetist Raymond Burkhart and harpist Andrea Puente Catan. The musicianship of this orchestra and conductor are very high indeed. Bravo to all. I can’t wait for the 2010/2011 season.
For more about the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and its conductor, Sonia Marie de León de Vega, visit http://scorchestra.org/index.html.
Ted Ayala is a music critic who has studied classical music extensively. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.