Fort Worth — The Fort Worth Symphony’s second night of its Latin Spectacular was a tremendous send-off to Peruvian music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who is in his last year in this position. Through his efforts, the music of Latin America has frequently delighted audiences.
On Saturday night two large works were on the program: Azul, for cello and orchestra, by Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov; and La noche de los Mayas by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas. Harth-Bedoya conducted both.
The cello concerto, written by Golijov in 2006 for the cello superstar Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony, was unlike any you may have heard before. In this performance, the impressive cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi, who is on the Texas Christian University faculty, took on the significant challenge. This wild trip has a cello part that is mind-blowingly difficult. Fortunately, Castro-Balbi was in complete control, delivering a superb performance that was only marred by scant and excusable intonation troubles.
The work is cast in two large movements and asks for a huge orchestra, including an extensive percussion section made up of instruments originating in Africa, the Middle East and South America. One odd instrument is the Hyper-Accordion, which was played by its inventor Michael Ward-Bergman. The instrument incorporates what appears to be recorded sounds. As to style, the composer’s Argentinian roots are evident, colored by his Jewish-Romanian origins — but so are other influences such as minimalism, neo-romanticism, klezmer, and his native tango. All these elements are combined but not in any fathomable order. Like a musical salad, he tossed everything high up into the air and the pieces descended, seemingly randomly.
The first movement, “Paz Sulfúrica,” combines a very romantic melody with an effect that brings endless space to mind. The second, “Silencio,” has a romantic melody in the cello and subtly features the collection of unfamiliar percussion instruments. But it eventually explodes with two astronomically named codas, “Pulsar” and “Shooting Stars.”
It is this combination of the divine and vulgar that sets up a conflict that the codas try to resolve.
The second work was completely different, yet somehow similar. La noche de los Mayas is a suite assembled from Revueltas’ film score for a 1939 picture of the same name. The film deals with the pre-Columbian history of Mexico. He had to fit it into an already completed film, so writing seemingly unrelated musical units was a good solution; but as with most film score suites, without the visuals or narration, it loses dramatic impact in performance.
It had another kind of impact in this performance, which was created by increasing decibels. Much of the music was too loud and the ending was deafening. Still, there is much to admire in this score. Some of the most enjoyable moments were rhythmic with changing accents and mixed meter. A highlight was the extended percussion cadenza.
The importance of Harth-Bedoya’s introduction of Latin-American composers to this area cannot be overstated. We can only hope that a similar vision will stick around in other hands.
During his tenure in Fort Worth, the musical maturation of the FWSO has grown immensely. We watched as he changed from a showboat conductor to a fine musician who happens to conduct. His replacement will have really big shoes to fill.
» Read our review of the first night of the Latin Spectacular festival here; regrettably we will not have a review of the third night.