Copland’s “El Salon Mexico” shines brightest in New World’s Latin-American excursion

By Lawrence Budmen

Teddy Abrams conducted the New World Symphony Sunday afternoon in Miami Beach. Photo: O’Neil Arnold

The iconic American composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein emerged the winners in “Latin Love and Lore,” a lightish, quasi-pop program by the New World Symphony presented on Sunday afternoon at New World Center. Copland’s El Salón México and Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story exhibited an enduring mastery that the other composers on the afternoon’s menu could not match.

Copland’s symphonic portrait of a Mexican dance hall received the concert’s best performance. Conducting fellow Chad Goodman’s crisp rhythmic impetus and the ensemble’s whipcrack articulation brought out the color and energy of this musical travelogue. Morgen Low’s solo trumpet had just the right dance band brashness and zeal. Whether writing Mexican or Cuban dances, ballets about the American West or Shaker country or even atonal scores, Copland always clearly conveys a distinctive sound and that was manifest in Goodman’s authoritative reading.

In her Concertino Cusqueño (Concertino in Cusco Style), Gabriela Lena Frank attempts to accomplish for the music of Peru what Copland did for Mexico and she almost succeeds. The melodies are appealing, the orchestration a dizzying display of individual timbres. The work loses focus by adding the opening theme of Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto. Frank’s concept is that she is giving a tour of Peru to Britten, one of her compositional heroes. It is more of a gimmick than enhancement and the piece could use some judicious editing. Teddy Abrams, music director of the Louisville Orchestra and a former New World conducting fellow, led a fluent performance.

Abrams’ traversal of Bernstein’s suite of highlights from his most enduring Broadway musical was an overwrought affair. The “Mambo” has rarely been played so fast while the “cha-cha” section moved just above a snail’s pace. There was a horn burble on “Somewhere” and balances were frequently off-kilter with the brass drowning out the remainder of the ensemble.

The concert’s second half was devoted to Tentacíon, a work for the eight-member pop band People of Earth and string orchestra by Dafnis Prieto, an award winning jazz drummer and University of Miami Frost School of Music faculty member. A co-commission by the New World and Abrams’ Louisville ensemble, the score is a 27- minute suite of Cuban songs and dances. 

As with many such creations, the orchestral writing is almost superfluous. One could hardly hear the strings over the amplified band. Headed by percussionist Gabriel Globus-Hoenrich, a classmate of Abrams.

People of Earth is a terrific band with Joana Obeta as the group’s personable, appealing vocalist. Globus-Hoenrich’s bongos and Raul Ríos’ hot trumpet added spark to the mix. Rumba, danzón, timba and even rap run through Prieto’s imaginative tour of pop styles which stood well on its own terms, sans the pasted-on strings.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the New World Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Joseph Boulogne’s Violin Concerto in G with soloist Gil Shaham. Chad Goodman conducts Beethoven’s Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus.  7:30 p.m. May 6 and 8 p.m. May 7 at the New World Center in Miami Beach.

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Mon Apr 11, 2022
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