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Miami Symphony opens season with festive program and two concerto premieres

Mon Oct 16, 2017 at 10:31 am

By David Fleshler

Eduardo Marturet conducted the season-opening concert of the Miami Symphony Orchestra Sunday night at the Arsht Center. Photo: Rafael Montilla

Eduardo Marturet conducted the season-opening concert of the Miami Symphony Orchestra Sunday night at the Arsht Center. Photo: Rafael Montilla

The Miami Symphony Orchestra opened its season Sunday with a characteristically fearless program: two world premieres and not a note of music from Europe.

Creative programming and support for new music have long been strengths of the orchestra and its music director, Eduardo Marturet. Yet the concert at the Arsht Center in Miami didn’t feel particularly demanding on the listener. Both new pieces turned out to be accessible on first hearing, the remaining works were by Gershwin and Bernstein, and the evening ended on Broadway, with songs made famous by Gloria Estefan and Barbara Streisand.

The concert opened with Gershwin’s Lullaby, a brief work taken at a lugubrious pace but with rich, velvety textures in the strings. The Lullaby‘s effect was lost on one toddler near the stage, who became increasingly vocal until he or she was carried out to the lobby.

The first world premiere of the evening came from Tulio Cremisini, one of the Miami Symphony’s 10–that’s right, 10–composers in residence.

The word “multitalented” can be abused, but it surely applies to a man who has composed award-winning music for film and television, serves as the Miami Symphony’s principal timpanist and appeared on stage Sunday as the guitar soloist in his own Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra.

Cremisini’s background in film and television was evident in the stirring, melancholy theme that opened the first movement, an instantly memorable melody that seemed designed to be performed as the credits rolled down the screen. The movement had its tense movements and brisk passages for guitar, but it was dominated by the opening theme, which returned effectively after the cadenza. The cadenza itself was a long, demanding interlude, with Latin-inflected riffs and discursive, meditative passages, all dispatched with skill.

The following two movements lack the compelling melodic material of the first, and were less effective on first hearing. Still, the last moments of the final movement produced a sudden and unexpected climax that brought the work to a powerful close.

The second world premiere was Marturet’s own Music for Sixty and Sax, a revision of a previous work for chamber-sized forces. Soloist Ed Calle, a Latin Grammy winner, came on stage with three saxophones that appeared to be in the soprano, alto and tenor range.

The opening movement, entitled “Salsa Inglesa,” used repeated figures that built in complexity and volume, as Calle played an insistent motif on the smallest saxophone. The most compelling movement was the second, named “Om Soham,” a Hindu mantra, which allowed Calle to revel in the rich, mellow tones of the lower-range saxophone. The soloist played jazzy, improvisatory passages with technical mastery and flair, in passages that alternated with solemn, richly harmonized processions of chords in winds and brass.

The last work on the program was Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, with the singer and actress Ana Villafañe providing brief introductions to each scene.

From the propulsive, menacing Prologue, this was a performance that emphasized the street-smart rhythms of the music and its lurking violence. The orchestra didn’t short the passages of delicate emotion, with violins and solo horn proving particularly evocative in “Somewhere.” But it was the physical menace and urban American tone of the work that came through strongest.

In the “Mambo,” the percussion performed so brutally that the melody in the strings was practically obliterated, either a miscalculation by the conductor or a decision to allow the passage to be dominated by the rhythm’s incipient violence. The “Cool” section was paced and performed with a natural rhythmic feel that’s beyond the powers of some orchestras and conductors who are more comfortable with Brahms and Tchaikovsky.

Having served as narrator for the Bernstein work, Miami native Villafañe took center stage to give committed performances of two encores.   Villafañe created the role of Gloria Estefan in the hit musical On Your Feet, so it was appropriate that the first song was Estefan’s own “Con los Años que me Quedan.” Villafañe followed that with “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” which Barbra Streisand sang in Funny Girl. Judging from the ecstatic applause, for many in the audiences these were the most effective pieces of the night.



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