Miami Symphony offers a colorful trip to Brazil

By Dorothy Hindman

"Rio São Francisco" by Militão dos Santos (2008).

On Saturday evening, the warm golden interior of the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall was suffused with a spectrum of orchestral colors, as the Brasil Classical Series presented “Journey to Brasil,” featuring the Miami Symphony Orchestra with guest musicians from the Youth Orchestra of Bahia.

The Brasil Classical Series promotes Brazilian symphonic music and performers, and Saturday’s program featured an array of premieres and debuts showcasing the breadth and vitality of Brazil’s classical music scene.

The U.S. premiere of André Mehmari’s Real and Imaginary Dances kicked things off.  Written as the required piece for the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra’s 2006 international conducting competition, the nine-movement suite put both the orchestra and conductor Eduardo Marturet through their paces.  Mehmari’s masterful orchestration was best in “Maracstrava,” combining a Brazilian maracatú with Stravinskian syncopation, and “Catala,” with Bernstein-inspired propulsive lines, jaunty rhythms and joyful tunes.  An extended “Pavana” featured rich dark lines from MISO’s violas and a sweet solo from concertmaster Daniel Andai.  Marturet shaped the gorgeous lines with a masterful touch.

Marturet also shone in Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachiana Brasileiras No. 2, a darkly moving journey through the Brazilian countryside. The work contrasts full-on Romantic melodies and scoring with the sly humor of jazz and choro, a Brazilian popular style.  Saxophonist Tom McCormick was featured prominently, taking freedom with his melodies to fine effect.

Also terrific was Karla Rojas’ spirited and rich-toned trombone solo that formed the backbone for the third movement, “Dança.”  The best came last in the Toccata, a programmatic work depicting a train journey.  From the percussion-driven opening to the colorful squeals of wheels and exhales of brakes at the end,the orchestra proved itself strong in every section, responding to the coloristic demands of the score with a tight, playful reading. Marturet’s enthusiastic conducting style was thrilling to watch, even if it did leave the musicians occasionally wondering about the beat.

Not one but two piano concertos followed, with Brasil Classical co-founder and artistic director Simone Leitão’s offering of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 10, and Mehmari performing the second movement of his Concerto Chorado. Leitão struggled with the muscular demands of the Allegro brioso, but came alive in the Andante assai, playing with passion and providing some ravishingly beautiful melodies within the challenging texture.  Carrying that fiery commitment into the third movement, she fused with the orchestra to provide a satisfying conclusion to the work.Mehmari’s lighter concerto in the choro style featured a unifying melody tinged with only the mildest dissonances.  From an extended piano solo, he sparingly introduced solo winds to great advantage as he built the music into a fiery central section.The 21-year-old Brazilian percussionist Yuri Azevedo was a standout. His poised handling of Lorenzo Fernandez’s Batuque had the orchestra responding with energy and enthusiasm through a blistering accelerando that brought the audience to its feet.  A surprise rendition of choro favorite Tico Tico no Fubá followed, featuring Azevedo in the percussion section.  This young talent is one to watch.

The program will be repeated 7 p.m. Sunday at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.

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Sun Dec 11, 2011
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