Conductor Jorge Mester was wise to hold the Saturday night concert of the Inter-American Music Festival short, to about an hour and a half. That's because all three works at once added up to an overdose of rich sonorities. Imagine three tone poems by Richard Strauss on the same program and you get the idea.
The boldest was receiving a world premiere; it was called "Brachot Para Golda Meir" and was by a Colombian composer, Blas Emilio Atehortua. The work, dedicated to the former Israeli prime minister, was commissioned by the Inter-American Music Council of the Organization of American States.
In a foreword the composer quotes from the Bible: "Deliver me from mourning and fill me with joy, and I will sing your praises without ceasing."
The first of the three movements was stark indeed, with an aggressive beginning and lots of percussion. There was an atonal theme that was subjected to a series of rigorous variations. Then came an elegy, expansive in nature, rich in texture and still prickly in harmony. That was followed by a moto perpetuo finale of the sort that ends the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, though not as extended.
Mester, by the way, elicited a splendid performance from the Festival Symphony Orchestra. He has an acute sense of rhythm and communicates it with exceptional clarity to the players.
Before the Atehortua came a "Te Deum" for chorus and orchestra by the Argentinian composer Roberto Caaman o. This was a more romantic work, one that luxuriated in a whole range of vocal and orchestra sounds, from the lowest bassoons to the highest sopranos; typically, one phrase would be stated and then it would be repeated a little higher, and so on as it ascended the scale. Much of this was arranged in Orff-like octaves.
The singers were the Paul Hill Chorale and they were in splendid form.
Finally, there was Aaron Copland's Symphony for Organ and Orchestra. This is one of Copland's earliest works and there is not in it much of the leanness and asperity that characterize his finest work. The combination of the large orchestra and the Kennedy Center Concert Hall's Filene Organ let go with a real blast of sound. With J. Reilly Lewis at the keyboard, the organ was creating such sonorities that sometimes only the brass could be discerned above it. Once again, considering the difficulties, Mester exercised exceptional control.