By Ted AYALA
When most people recall Mayan astronomy today, chances are the high-camp, would-be apocalypse that came and went in December are the first and only things to come to mind. Well, it’s 2013 and, contrary to the prognosticators of doom ancient and contemporary, we’re still here. But Mexican composer Gabriela Ortíz evokes the civilization whose thinkers had developed a highly ordered concept of the universe, one where the stars above synched in tight choreography with life on earth and existence was ordered along precisely logical lines.
Her song cycle “Baalkah” – which means “world” or “cosmos” in Mayan – is set to be the centerpiece of this weekend’s Southwest Chamber Music evening programs on July 27-28. The song cycle reflects the Mayan conception of the world as divided into the four cardinal directions, with the legendary Ceiba tree that sustains the heavens at the center.
Ortíz’s arresting style, where the cosmopolitan and the traditional mingle freely, has been getting wide notice in Southern California this year, with Southwest Chamber Music among those groups taking the lead in disseminating her work. Sitting side-by-side with Arnold Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night’ and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” Ortíz’s music holds its profile high as one of contemporary music’s most distinctive and surprising new voices.
Stars of a different sort set the mood further east at the Santa Anita Race Track that same weekend when the California Philharmonic Orchestra under Victor Vener presents a program that combines disco fever with classical elegance. Richard Strauss, Sergei Prokofiev, and Manuel de Falla rub shoulders with ABBA, Michael Jackson and Elvis in a program that features choreography by Derek Hough, who was Emmy-nominated for his work on Dancing With the Stars.
In addition to Saturday night’s program at Santa Anita Race Track, a performance will also take place at Walt Disney Hall on Sunday.
Either concert option holds appeal; perhaps rather than choosing, music lovers should make a weekend out of it and go for both. They will no doubt get a first hand experience of the wide range of world-class music-making available in the area.
For more information on Southwest Chamber Music, go online to www.swmusic.org or call (800) 726-7147; for the California Philharmonic, visit www.calphil.org or call (626) 300-8200.