GIORGIO KOUKL | 4 JUN 2021
On Thursday the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra presented a very appealing all-Latin program conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, with French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist, in the penultimate concert of its continuing Behind the Curtain virtual series.
This music, a real treat for lovers of rhythm, is quite risky for any orchestra due to the need for absolute precision. Besides being extremely spectacular repertoire, it is logically also well-chosen as an introduction for public lesser accustomed with so called “classical” music – although what today is exactly “classical” and where we want to put borders in a rapidly changing music scene is still yet to be established.
Miguel Harth-Bedoya, of Peruvian origin and well known for promoting composers of South America, is already a frequent guest conductor on both sides of the Atlantic. His choice to open the concert with a piece by Jimmy López Bellido (b. 1978) entitled Fiesta is a significant one.
Rarely does a 10-minute symphonic work request such rhythmic precision, concentration and energy. Written in 2007 and commissioned by Harth-Bedoya for the 100th anniversary of the Lima Philharmonic Society, it is now often played by orchestras as a striking way of opening a concert. With its four movements it also serves as a great showcase for the ASO’s percussionists.
It is true that I was somehow critical with the recording of the percussion in the past. This time the sound engineers delivered a real first-class work. In the whole concert the recording of percussion was paramount. This, accompanied with the notoriously well-designed light effects – particularly noteworthy the red-white-red Peruvian flag in the Elegia Andina contributed to the general success.
The orchestra in the first, very nervous and complex piece, was not in a great form. A pity as usually there is nothing to remark about the rendering. Even the gesture of the conductor was not energetic enough to get more result.
After all this, the quieter pace of the Elegia Andina, written by Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972), was a well chosen contrast. This symphonic work from 2000 uses extensively the woodwind instruments, culminating in a sort of flute duet, a choice which has all my admiration. In a harmonic texture of very contrasting artistry compared to the previous music, with some daring choices recalling even Stravinsky and his Rite of Spring, sometimes with quite literal citations, dense and elaborated, inserting a simple passage two flutes alone which last more than three minutes is a way of calming down all the precedent tensions and certainly an interesting solution. Generally speaking, even admitting that none of the music presented this evening will change the course of the music history, the Elegia Andina is the most genuine and original score.
Here the orchestra found itself in its true element. Certainly the two flutists, principal Christina Smith and Gina Hughes, delivered a genuine gem of elegance, but the other woodwind section elements were not of any lesser quality.
Some more tension arises immediately with the next work by Aaron Zigman (1963-), Tango Manos, Concerto for piano and orchestra.
This music was written in 2019 and is dedicated to “my friend Jean-Yves Thibaudet.” Right from the beginning the pianist had the chance to demonstrate his strength, steel-like technique and partly brutal force.
The score in itself heavily leans on the already well-known Hollywood-style tools and is certainly spectacular if sometimes not terribly original. Well known for his recording of the complete piano music of Eric Satie, winner of a Grammy and a former student in Paris of Aldo Ciccolini, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, now 60 years old and still in a technically good shape, delivered a convincing performance. The lighting of the hall once again gave to the spectator the right feeling of the atmosphere. The pianist, in his glittering outfit, was corresponding perfectly to the sort of music he had to interpret and was a perfect example of what was requested from the composer.
The concert was terminated by the well known Suite No. 1 from the ballet The Three-Cornered Hat (“El sombrero de tres picos”) written in 1917-19 by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) for Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes.
As far as known, this was the first time the ballet ensemble introduced other elements of dance then the well known Russian school ballet. Falla made extensive use of Spanish folk-dances like fandango, segudilla or jota, so resorting to Spanish elements in dance was considered strictly necessary. For this purpose the dancer Fèlix Fernàndez Garcia was hired, together with then not-so-well-known painter Pablo Picasso, who delivered the sets and costumes. When, after many delays, it came to the first performance in London on 22 July 1919, Falla was called back urgently to Granada so the young conductor Ernest Ansermet premiered the work.
The rendering by the ASO was a very interesting one, including even the orchestral shouts, rarely performed by other orchestras – a detail which I found fascinating. Once again the orchestra reentered its natural realm and this was a good choice.
What else can be told about this program? Again, this is certainly a good way to conduct people for whom symphonic music is totally alien toward the goal of listening to more of it, instead of remaining forever fixed in established habits. It is also a very lucky way to nearly finish a season, a sort of action which should be done more often.
Seeing the total absence of COVID barriers between the woodwind and brass sections is really good news. Let’s hope this will lead us all towards a better future. ■