|Maestro Peter Bay|
Chavez: Chapultepec (Three
Famous Mexican Pieces)
(complete with film)
Joseph Horowitz, scriptwriter
Austin Symphony/Peter Bay
Long Center for the Performing Arts
Silvestre Revueltas (a student at St. Edward’s College in Austin [1917-18]) and
American composer Aaron Copland were born within months of each other - in
December (1899) and November (1900), respectively. Both enjoyed considerable
success in the 1930s, but while Copland went on to become one of the iconic
figures in American music, Revueltas died of pneumonia, alcoholism, poverty and
heartbreak, at the early age of 40; had he lived, Revueltas may well have
become the Mexican Copland.
|Composer Aaron Copland|
The point of
departure for “Copland and Mexico” was Aaron Copland’s visit to Mexico in 1932.
According to Horowitz, Copland “had an epiphany” on this sojourn. Mexico, in the
throes of the same depression that had brought the United States to its knees, was
bubbling with revolutionary fervor, at the forefront of which were renowned artists
and composers, including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Jose Orozco, David Siqueiros,
Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas. These artists seized on the Marxist
analysis of the plight of their country and worked to give the oppressed masses
their fair share of power and wealth. Capitalist owners and managers, they
argued through their art, had made a mess of things and it was time to give the
working people a chance.
One example of what
Mexican artists were doing can be seen in the 1936 film Redes. It tells the story of exploited
fishermen in Veracruz and how they began to organize to fight back. Directed by
Emilio Gomez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann with cinematography by Paul Strand and
music by Revueltas, Redes, on the one
hand, could be rejected as purely leftist propaganda; on the other, it might be
seen as a worthy historical reminder that the Great Depression was real and it
was devastating for many around the world. The work of Revueltas, Rivera and
the others in Mexico, for example, was paralleled by some in the United States
as F.D.R. attempted to lift the country out of despair. Largely through the WPA (Works Progress Administration),
artists composers and film-makers were given the means to create works which
expressed the mood of the times and hope for the future. Films such as The Plow
That Broke the Plains, The River, The
City (score by Copland), and Grapes
of Wrath mirrored the mission of Redes
Artists as Documentarists of the Human Condition
himself never joined the Communist Party, he was an ardent progressive. He had
initially been attracted to a group of like-minded artists, led by Alfred Stieglitz,
whose members embraced the idea that artists needed to find a way to speak to
the common man rather than merely to fellow artists and elites. American photographer
Paul Strand was a member of this group. Invited by composer Carlos Chavez to
form a team to make the film, he helped initiate the Redes project in Mexico.
|Composer Silvestre Revueltas|
Revueltas’ score for Redes is by no means simple folkloric
material. From the opening bars it is uncompromising in its dissonance – a
style well-suited to the material. While the performances in the film - by real
fishermen rather than actors - are somewhat wooden, the honesty of the scenes
portrayed, the starkness of the cinematography and the power of the music all
combine to create a riveting experience.
The difficulty of
synching live music performance to film footage cannot be underestimated - at
one point the orchestra jumped in too early and completely drowned out a key
line of dialogue – but Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony gave Revueltas’ music
a fine performance. This live performance of the movie score added enormous
depth and breadth to the film.
again, patrons in the balcony had trouble seeing the images and the subtitles
on the screen. I have passed on this complaint after similar ASO concerts in
the past but management doesn’t seem to care.
aside, Redes was definitely worth
An American Classic: "El Salón México"
The highlight of the
first half of the concert was the Austin Symphony performance of Copland’s El Salón México (a memento of his visit
there in 1932), which draws on three Mexican popular songs. Copland retains the
popular character of the songs but complicates them rhythmically and alters and
combines them with great ingenuity. While principal Robert Cannon played his trumpet
solos with panache, albeit with a somewhat heavy-handed vibrato, and the e-flat
clarinet solos were far too timid for the spirit of the piece, this performance
of El Salón México, nevertheless, confirmed
its reputation as an American classic.
|Composer Carlos Chavez|
I wish I could be as
enthusiastic about the rest of the concert. Neither of the other works by
Copland and Chavez on the program were from either composer’s top drawer;
Chavez’ Sinfonia India would have
been far more representative and made a stronger impression. Revueltas’ Sensemayá would also have been a better
choice. A piece by a living Mexican composer, or by an American composer of
Mexican heritage might have been better yet.
The first half of the
concert also included some scripted material presented by Peter Bay and Robert
Rowley, in conjunction with a screen backdrop of some washed-out, mostly black
and white, historic photographs. This part of the program was all very
superficial and in no significant way illuminated the theme - “Copland and
"Redes" and Revueltas Horowitz Highlight
One might conclude
that this was yet another Joseph Horowitz project that proved less interesting
in practice than in theory, were it not for Redes.
Bay and the ASO deserve a good deal of credit for having the courage to
present this neglected piece of history, which not only teaches us about our
own history and the history of our closest neighbor, but also about what
it means to be poor and robbed of basic human dignity.
Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. For friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, “Classical Airs.”
Labels: "Copland and Mexico", Austin Symphony, Concert_Review, klassinen musiikki, klassische Musik, musica classica, musique classique, Peter Bay, 고전 음악, クラシック音楽, 古典音乐, 古典音樂