Standing ovation caps off crescendo in Vail
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –When I arrived at my hotel in Vail, Colorado on Friday there was a couple speaking in Castilian Spanish. A family enjoying the beautiful Betty Ford Alpine Gardens were conversing in yet another variety of Spanish with a hint of Portuguese and later 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. Harth-Bedoya gently plucked this simple motif from the various elements of the orchestra with such skill to create a dreamlike 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, it ended with a beautiful oboe solo softly fading, no fluttering away like “duende” (forest spirits) might.
Harth-Bedoya danced his way through the third movement, “Habanera,” 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’s “Sinfonia Junin y Ayacucho,” written in 1974. In a brief talk before the performance, Harth-Bedoya said 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 28. It depicts in a classical symphonic style – the battle, the mourning, brotherhood and 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 were exposed to a variety of dances. Harth-Bedoya danced across the podium as the music flitted rhythmically across the orchestra. The Philadelphia Orchestra handled the intricate rhythms and constant shifts in meter expertly.
The final movement started quietly and eventually returned 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 Fantasticas,” and we really got a chance to see 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 Fantasticas” 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.