By Márcio Bezerra
The Classical Concert Series at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach opened its season Monday with a concert by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería of Mexico.
Founded in 1978, the OSM is unusual as its main season runs in the summer in Mexico City (for the rest of the year, the orchestra, according to its website, “performs special programs in Mexico’s most important venues.”)
For a seasonal group, the OSM displayed a remarkable cohesiveness; the sense of ensemble was most audible during the intricate rhythmic passages on its (almost) all-Mexican program heard Monday.
Under the competent direction of Carlos Miguel Prieto, the OSM started the evening with a brand new piece, Kauyumari, by Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz (b. 1964). Composed for the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a reflection on the pandemic, it is a short, colorful and exciting ostinato that builds up to a loud finale. OSM is to be lauded for performing music that is so recent, even more so, by a woman composer. That is how culture progresses and one hopes to hear more substantial music by composers such as Ortiz in the near future.
Mexico’s most celebrated composer of the 20th century, Carlos Chávez (1899–1978), was represented next with his Symphony No. 2. Composed in 1936, it successfully mixes European avant-garde procedures with native Mexican elements. Its concise format does not preclude a refined sense of form and motivic development. This is a true classic of 20th-century modernism and we should be thankful to the OSM for performing it with such brio. To the audience’s delight, prior to the performance, Prieto gave a short explanation of the many unusual percussion instruments utilized by Chávez.
The rest of the program’s first part was dedicated to the artistry of Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero (b. 1970). A true reincarnation of the romantic virtuoso/composer type, she performed her own Piano Concerto No. 1 (“Latin”) with breathtaking technique and colorful tone palette. Even though one had a sense that she was improvising freely, the orchestra was always ready to interact with her. Although this work is mostly a vehicle for Montero’s display of refined musicianship, it has many interesting compositional moments, especially in the energetic finale.
Orchestra and soloist received a well-deserved standing ovation, to which Montero obliged with one of her signature improvisations (this time on Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez’s 1932 classic “Bésame mucho,” as suggested by an audience member.)
More fireworks came in the second part of the program, which consisted of a single work, The Night of the Mayas by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899–1940). Considered for many years a lesser figure to the towering Chávez, Revueltas’ early death did not allow him to develop his style to its full potential. He is never as sophisticated as his Chávez in treating motives, and his orchestrations are often boisterous or Hollywood-conventional. However, his treatment of percussion instruments is unique and when performed with brilliance, his music does not fail to impress.
And that was the case of Prieto and his fellow musicians of the OSM. Together, they made a strong case for a reevaluation of Revueltas’ legacy. Everything was in place: outstanding playing by the strings, beautiful solos by brass and woodwind principals, and a mesmerizing performance by 12 percussion players, who stole the show in the finale – a set of mostly non-pitched, rhythmic variations.
This was, perhaps, the most unusual program since the Kravis hosted the Orquestra de São Paulo all-Brazilian program decades ago. May many more come in the near future. Judging by the standing ovation and two encores given by OSM, the audience seemed ready to expand its musical horizons.