Friday, November 09, 2012

Dia de Los Muertos at the Symphony 2: Concert Hall

The enjoyable Dia de los Muertos concert last Saturday included everything but the kitchen sink. It started off with the Youth Symphony playing the Mexican composer Jose Pablo Moncayo Garcia's 1941 Huapango, a suite of indigenous dance tunes for large orchestra. The performance and the lively music sounded as good as the last time the piece was played in 2009, by the adults under Alondra de la Parra. (And when is that fine conductor being invited back to lead the Symphony?) This was followed by a dull, insipid arrangement for the Symphony Chorus of the Mexican folk tune La Llorona, and I kept wishing I was hearing Chavela Vargas sing it in her raspy voice instead.

Luis Valdez, the founder of El Teatro Campesino and writer of Zoot Suit among other legendary projects, was the host. Some of his material worked and other parts didn't, but it was a pleasure to hear his beautiful Spanish and see the old guy looking so good.

The first half ended with Copland's 1932 El Salon Mexico, which is not aging as well as Huapango. It was weird watching a youth orchestra that was predominantly Asian American playing a 1930s gay Jewish socialist's mishmash of Mexican dance tunes. Donato Cabrera was the conductor and he didn't quite have the rhythms down right, but the orchestra itself sounds almost frighteningly good.

After intermission, there were two movements from the 1960s Missa Criolla from Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez, with the Symphony Chorus, the strong tenor soloist Jimmy Kansau, backed by a guitar, piano and percussion. It was reminiscent of the whole Vatican Council moment when native languages replaced Latin in the Catholic Church, and indigenous Masses were popping up all over the world. It would be great to hear the whole piece with full orchestra sometime. The two short movements were gorgeous and lively.

The program ended with a performance by the greatest mariachi band in the world, Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan above, direct from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. The band was founded by the Martinez brothers in 1965 and now the second generation has taken over, with four Martinez sons as the leaders. Suddenly we were in the world of Sabado Gigante, the five-hour Mexican TV variety show that broadcasts every Saturday evening, except we were in a concert hall and it was obvious the band was thrilled.

My late mother loved Guadalajara and La Plaza de Los Mariachis more than just about anything in the world, so of course her spirit descended into the concert hall immediately. It was one of her favorite holidays, Dia de Los Muertos, where dead ancestors are communally worshiped and acknowledged. I could feel her both swooning and giggling at the Mariachi treatment of the song My Way, one of the most amusing arrangements imaginable with four vocal soloists and the horns going wild.

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