A lot of “underappreciated” composers deserve their obscurity. Silvestre Revueltas is not one of them. The Mexican composer whose music was featured and celebrated in several talks and a concert at the University of Maryland over the weekend was the right man at the right time, passionate about human and civil rights in an age (the 1930s) when Mexico was emerging from a revolution that pitted laborers against the rich landowners who exploited them. He came to musical composition late and died in his early 40s, but in his brief 10 years of musical creativity he spoke eloquently in the poetic language of the zocalo and the countryside.
The PostClassical Ensemble and conductor Angel Gil-Ordonez have played a lot of Revueltas’s music over the years, but on Saturday at the Clarice Smith Center, their performance of his score to the movie “Redes,” along with the screening of a recent print of this film, was the strongest possible argument for Revueltas as someone to be taken seriously in the concert hall. “Redes” (Nets), stunningly photographed by Paul Strand, zeroes in on the struggle between Mexican fishermen and their exploitive bosses. The music, episodic and laced with motifs for rowing and nets and captivity, rarely overlaps what little dialogue there is.
The score is dramatic but not melodramatic. A child has died and the opening funeral march is as flavored by folk culture as by grief. The music accompanying the fishermen as they row out to spread their nets moves to their rhythmic efforts and the arrhythmic buffeting of the waves. In the chaos during the fight between former comrades, the rebel fishermen and those who choose to give in, there are undertones of sadness.
Gil-Ordonez led all this without a click-track, reserving some freedom for himself but managing, particularly in the rowing scenes, to mesh with the action. The orchestra responded with edge-of-the-seat attacks and confident balances. Textures were bright and sharply delineated, and the winds, which did most of the heavy lifting, sounded fresh and agile.
The first half of the evening set the stage for all this with a set of Revueltas’s songs and some of the songs of the Mexican revolution he was weaned on. Eugenia Leon was the larger-than-life mezzo, singing and moving with a sultry warmth that exuded south-of-the-border flavor. The orchestra was Mexican-street-band-size and the songs were stylish, but a standout was a reading of Revueltas’s “Duelo” (in homage to slain poet Federico Garcia Lorca) that was as moving in its own way as the more imposing film that followed.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.