Cinco de Mayo was celebrated a couple of days early but in fine style Saturday at the Organization of American States, where Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez and his excellent New Orchestra of Washington held forth with a short program of contemporary Mexican music. In its third season, the orchestra seems to be living up to its stated goal of bringing “a diverse array of music performances” and music of a “broad appeal” to its audiences.
The elegant hall in the District was full. The audience, cosseted with pre-concert food and drink, and post-concert dessert and coffee, was appreciative. The music, offered as entertainment for friends, was refreshingly unfamiliar and accessible.
Hernandez-Valdez conducted with the incisive clarity of someone born to the idiom. For this concert, he fielded an ensemble of 25 players heavily weighted toward winds and percussion, and with this orchestral mix, the dance rhythms that infuse Latin American music’s DNA were irresistible.
The heavily accented beats of José Pablo Moncayo’s “Huapango,” punctuated occasionally by bass-drum eruptions, popped with energy. Wry harmonies and a reedy-sounding trumpet lent an eerie feeling to Silvestre Revueltas’s “Homenaje a Federico García Lorca.” With its bouncy first movement full of widely spaced sonorities (the flute accompanied by a tuba), a second movement that floated the trumpet over a misty fog of strings and a third that had shrill brass hovering over a cool piano ostinato, there was an air of spiritual remove to this piece, written to memorialize the slain poet. And although a suite of the music Revueltas wrote for the film “Redes” was pleasant enough as played here, it didn’t have nearly the dramatic effect as when the whole score was performed with the film a year ago at the University of Maryland.
Chabacano, Mexico City’s largest metro station, was the inspiration for Javier Álvarez’s “Metro Chabacano.” Like the locomotive of Arthur Honegger’s “Pacific 231,” it chugs along relentlessly as life flits by. Álvarez wrote two versions of this piece, one for full orchestra and the other for string quartet and, even when played as well as it was here, the quartet version just doesn’t have the oomph of the wind-loaded full orchestration. The concluding “Danzón No. 2” by Arturo Márquez oozed urgency and sensuality.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.