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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Green Music Center / Friday, October 20, 2023
Mineria Symphony Orchestra of Mexico. Carlos Miguel Prieto, conductor. Gabriela Montero, piano

Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto

SONIC FIREWORKS IN MINERIA'S WEILL HALL CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Friday, October 20, 2023

It’s a rare concert occurrence when the most popular classical concerto of all time is upstaged by music the audience never heard of. It happened in Weill Hall Oct. 20 when the 75-member Minería Symphony Orchestra of Mexico presented a powerhouse program of the Tchaikovsky B Flat Concerto and native pieces long associated with the Orchestra.

Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto noted in his remarks from the stage that the evening’s three Gabrielas (composer Ortiz, pianist Montero, timpanist Jiménez) would captivate the audience of 400, and the opening Voltage Suite from 2103 proved his prediction. Starring timpanist Jiménez, a 32-year Symphony member, the music rumbled over 16 minutes with percussion at the forefront. The string sections were seen bowing but mostly not heard.

A timpanist the star of work? Ms. Jiménez was exactly that here, moving acrobatically with her instruments, arms often overhead and her body occasional levitating. There were unique drum overtones and the off-beat accents pushed the potent music forward, even into the second section threnody with violinist Shari Mason’s duos with harp, piano, celesta and trumpet. There was no “off switch” for Ms. Jiménez in her flamboyant performance that drew a surprising standing ovation.

Mr. Prieto conducted without score, perhaps choosing to stay out of the way of the splendidly unfolding sonority from percussionists and their double-headed bass drum, tam tam, and snare.

Silvestre Revueltas’ La Noche de los Mayas comprised most of the second half, a symphonic suite taken from the 1939 film of the same name. In four parts, conducted extravagantly by Mr. Prieto, the result was again a sonic splendor ranging from bucolic scenes to frantic sections – shrill themes from the brass, clarinet (Luis Zamora) duos with upper strings, repetitive hand-held drum solos. Mexican-flavored rhythms only appeared in the Noche de Jaranas section, fast and frothy with piccolo and cello lines and exuberant tuba (Eric Fritz) and horn playing. This was a mélange of sound far from the classical Mexican sound of Carlos Chavez’s music.

The finale (Noche de Encantamiento) unfolded in a tsunami of roaring sound, at times festival in character, with all hands on deck – wood blocks, ocarini, piano dissonances, slashing violin bowing over brass support, more percussion effects, hand slapping on tabla drums, Ms. Jiménez dominating her section.
Were there actually just 10 percussionists at play?

Some in Weill responded that the Orchestral tumult was too much of a good thing, but that’s what the Minería delivered, and it was something different from the usual ensembles, even the Sistema group from Venezuela.

The conductor sans score controlled it all, as he did with the first half’s concluding work, the Tchaikovsky Concerto. Written along with the Grieg and the D Minor Concertos of Brahms and Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky’s famous work received a wonderful performance with Gabriela Montero pianism perfectly combined with the Orchestra. The great themes seemed fresh as great themes do, and Ms. Montero’s octave technique never failed, and the Orchestra never covered her sound. Her interpretation was thorough but a tad conventional, an occasional left-hand chord doubling and inner voice sticking out of the rich sonic fabric. The Allegro’s cadenza was played with lovely phrasing that had some ending diminuendos, clean scale passages played with half pedal, and surprisingly there was no audience applause at the triumphant ending, the movement taking about half of the Concerto’s 35 minutes.

Nostalgic clarinet and oboe solos highlighted the Andantino with Ms. Montero’s expressive trills, and the finale’s faux Ukrainian theme was performed briskly, the conductor driving the tempo up to the legendary 49-second buildup to the pianist’s forte virtuosic octave exhibition and forceful conclusion.

Golden age pianists often took themes from the audience to play variations, but Ms. Montero seems to be the only one on the current scene that does it, and audience members called out snippets to her. She chose Besame Mucho and fashioned four minutes of beguiling pianism that started Bachian and ended Gottschalkian. There was another standing ovation.

The conductor promised a delectable sonic experience in the second half with Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2, piece recently performed by the Sonoma County Philharmonic and here played superbly. It’s an old shoe for this Orchestra, the slow often tango-like music with pizzicato viola playing and a beautiful laconic clarinet line. It almost became movie music as the dances accelerated, Ms. Mason’s solos combining with Edith Ruiz’s piano part. There was much contrast in the performance, flute parts versus trumpets and trombones, and lots of percussion. At the end in the percussion section a large waving Mexican flag was on display.

Mr. Prieto again spoke to the audience, cheerfully promising more “desserts” after the Márquez, and asking in Spanish where members of the audience resided. Of course shouts of Costa Rica, Veracruz, Sinaloa, et. al., were heard and subsequently the Orchestra played with abandon a short, lovely and loud encore to the concert that began at 7:30 and ended well after 10.

Apart from the resident Santa Rosa Symphony, it was the most colorful and demonic orchestra playing heard in Weill since the Russian National Orchestra many years ago.