Bravo!Vail Valley Music Festival brought a Latin Flavor to Vail Colorado
When I arrived at my hotel in Vail Colorado there was a couple speaking in Castilian Spanish, later a family enjoying the beautiful Betty Ford Alpine Gardens were conversing in yet another variety of Spanish with a hint of Portuguese and at the concert I met a friend of the Peruvian Consulate. Not since leaving Edinburgh have I felt surrounded by such an International presence; all of this is due, of course, to the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Peruvian Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conducting pieces with a Latin flavor.
The evening began with Ravel’s Rhapsodie Espagnole. Ravel is a master at orchestration, creating a simple, beautiful mantra out of four descending notes. Maestro Harth-Bedoya gently plucked this simple motif from the various elements of the orchestra with such skill to create a dream like state, as if Ravel were recalling the lullabies his Basque mother might sing. The second movement began with a strong sense of rhythm, but not with drums, rather with cellos and double basses in pizzicato – to stir us from slumber transported to a strange new land with a Spanish flair. Eventually ended with a beautiful oboe solo softly fading, no fluttering away like Duende (forest spirits) might. Harth-Bedoya danced his way through the Habanera third movement, coaxing a plethora of dynamics from the orchestra. The final movement begins with an amazing flute solo by Douglas DeVries. Harth-Bedoya brought in the lower strings from a nothingness to rumbling the seats eventually adding Spanish trumpets. Deftly waving in each new element to the piece, to include a hint of what would become the primary theme in Bolero and what had to be the influence for Bernstein’s America from “West Side Story.” From the sensuous beginning to the climactic end, Harth-Bedoya initiated every element from memory, conducting the piece without a score.
We were then treated to a piece by Enrique Iturriaga Sinfonia Junin y Ayacucho written in 1974. According to Miguel Harth-Bedoya in a brief talk before the performance, this piece is part of a large scale project attempting to included elements of South American music from the earliest identifiable sources to present day. The motivation behind this piece is Peruvian Independence, celebrated on July 28th. It depicts in a classical symphonic style (1) the Battle, (2) the mourning, (3) brotherhood and (4) Patriotism. Stylistically, the music is heavily romantic in style, with the first movement relying on sweeping strings and brass - although there is a great trumpet solo and demanding timpani part. The second movement gave an interesting glimpse at the Latin sense of mourning - extremely passionate. Although there were quiet moments with a touching flute solo, there were also moments of great strength capturing a sense of loss, remembrance and still grief. In the third movement we are exposed to a variety of dances. Harth-Bedoya practically breaks out in the flamingo, dancing across the podium as the music flits rhythmically across the orchestra. The Philadelphia Orchestra handles the intricate rhythms and constant shifts in meter expertly. The final movement starts quietly and eventually returns with brass fanfares and sweeping strings, but it had a rather unimaginative ending. The applause after Rhapsodie Espagnole was more enthusiastic than that for Sinfonia Junin y Ayacucho even though the later was obviously more authentic. Perhaps if Iturriaga had not been constrained by the classical symphonic style (more Germanic in origin than Spanish) the piece might have fared better.
The second half of the evening began with a piece by Joaquin Turina, Danzas Fantásticas. We really got a chance to see Maestro Harth-Bedoya in action. Again there were a vast number of meter and tempo changes, each one effortlessly directed as if Harth-Bedoya was teaching the Philadelphia Orchestra to dance. Rather like watching a prize winning dancer take the hand of a pupil for the first time; no matter how much we might expect the student to falter, the teacher makes them both glide through the movements as if they were born to them. With Latin Dancing there are subtle shifts of the hips, and hands. Harth-Bedoya used these throughout Danzas Fantásticas to extenuate the music.
Closing off the program was another piece by Ravel, perhaps his most famous, Bolero. Ravel himself described the piece as an experiment in creating a 15 minute crescendo. He succeeded in creating a piece that has so very much more. From the astonishing control of the lower strings with their nearly imperceptible pizzicato in the beginning to the radically regulated percussionist on the snare drum (whose exacting slow crescendo through out the piece has to be the most repetitive figure in classical music), the Philadelphia Orchestra displayed their ultimate command of their instruments. Musically the piece builds repeating the same theme over and over again, beginning with a soft spoken flute, then to the clarinet, to the bassoon and through the orchestra until more instruments or sections are added creating a sense of build. Each soloist was in command of the music making their solo unique including the slides from the soprano sax and trombone - and yet each iteration was the same theme. A resounding standing ovation at the end was perhaps the only way to truly cap the evening and complete the crescendo.
Tomorrow night the Philadelphia Orchestra plays their final concert at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. The opening piece will be Rainbow Body by Christopher Theofanidis written in 2000 - so you will get to hear some cutting edge classical music. The orchestra will then be joined by Aliza Weilerstrein on Cello for Bloch's Schelomo, Rhapsody for Cello & Orchestra with Rossen Milanov conducting. Closing out the program is Rachmaninoff's incredible Symphony No. 2. It should be a night to remember.