I don’t know why we bothered to sit at all at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s concert last night. The programmed works were all relatively short and Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the soloists delivered such great performances of all of them that we just had to pop out of our seats for a standing ovation after each piece. Both in terms of programming and performance, it will probably end up being my favorite concert of the season.
Everything began with the world premier of Bel Canto: A Symphonic Canvas by Jimmy López. This was a suite from his opera, also entitled Bel Canto, which is based on a novel that, coincidentally, is also named Bel Canto. It’s based on the Japanese embassy hostage crises of the late ‘90’s in Peru and, frankly, I can’t imagine it being any more expressive with a sung libretto than this suite was. The music was mostly exciting and always intense, even in the softer parts. And, particularly impressive to me, was the fluidity with which the music moved through different scenes. I just found that there is a recording of the opera available for streaming on PBS’ Great Performances, so I’m definitely going to have to make time to watch that sometime soon.
The first of two concerti was next. Ricardo Lorenz’ Pataruco, Concerto for Venezuelan Maracas and Orchestra featured ASO clarinetist Alcides Rodriguez on maracas. The program notes included a quote from Lorenz in which he stated that there isn’t a set notation for Venezuelan maracas techniques, which are unique to Venezuela and Colombia. As such, he only wrote out the rhythms, requiring someone familiar with the technique to figure out how to interpret the work.
There were three main sounds that my untrained ear noticed in this technique: quick percussion (often very quick), a sliding of the beads (either quickly or slowly), and a sort of combination of the two where the percussion resolves into a slide. It was really quite amazing: at times during the cadenza, I would have thought that there were two or three people playing the maracas if I couldn’t see what Rodriguez was doing. To call this piece interesting would be an understatement. In fact, it may have been a little too expressive because I found that I was so focused on Rodriguez’ playing that the rest of the orchestra’s part often fell away from my attention. I guess that means that I’ll just have to hear it a few more times to take it all in.
After the intermission, Ksenija Sidorova played the piano accordion in Piazzolla’s Concerto for Bandoneon and Small Orchestra. I think that the tone color of the bandoneon works better than the piano accordion for this piece: the extra fullness of the sound didn’t fit as well. Despite that, it still sounded wonderful and Sidorova played very well. She also played a very moving encore that I didn’t recognize. I regret that I didn’t write this last night when the performance was still fresh in my mind because it was kind of familiar and I think that I might have been able to figure out what it was.
The program concluded with Ravel’s Boléro. Despite it’s name, the piece isn’t actually a bolero but, rather, a slow crescendo marching the audience towards madness. When performed well, I always see either Nijinska’s or Béjart’s choreography in my mind. Last night, it was Béjart’s. At one point, I had my eyes closed for a bit and then was momentarily unsure why the conductor wasn’t facing the audience because the image was so strong in my mind. Like the rest of the concert, Harth-Bedoya did a fantastic job as did all of the musicians of the ASO.