South American Sounds
George Gershwin: Cuban Overture
Alberto Ginastera: Harp Concerto, Op. 25
Astor Piazzolla: Tangazo
Jimmy López: Perú Negro
Elizabeth Hainen (harpist)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya (conductor)
M. Harth-Bedoya (© Bell Soto)
Peruvian Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, musical director of the Fort Worth Symphony and celebrated alum of the Curtis Institute of Music, was back on the Philadelphia Orchestra podium this month to conduct a vibrant concert series of rare repertory works by Alberto Ginastera and Astor Piazzolla, as well as an electrifying 2012 orchestral by Peruvian Composer Jimmy López.
But the concert opener was the symphonic stylings of George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, a perennial favorite with that never loses its luster even when orchestras vamp it as a flashy showpiece. Harth-Bedoya definitively goes below the surface by ramping up its vintage Cubana big-band swing and articulation of Gershwin’s simmering rhumba cross-streams.
The dance themes were also central motifs in Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto. The work was a commission by harpist Edna Phillips, the first woman to be a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra (1930-46). The concerto had its premiere in 1965 with Eugene Ormandy conducting and Nicanor Zabaleta, the soloist. Contemporary classical harp concertos were a rarity then and still are. Ginastera’s is defining in it is still innovative, exploratory musicality. Thrilling from start to finish in a breathtaking performance by Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal harpist Elizabeth Hainen.
The harp’s ethereal mystique subverted by Ginastera igniting its percussive capabilities, for one, Hainen beating out rhythms on the sound board at key moments. Ginastera’s arpeggio harp lines are jazzy cadenzas that propel the symphonics in unexpected directions. It is virtuosic composing and Hainen’s interpretive artistry is actually, equally spellbinding. A second harp was positioned on the other side of the conductor stand and Hainen moves from her principal harp to a smaller one, amped for the finale movement’s dance, the Liberamente capriccioso.
Before the always much anticipated work by Astor Piazzolla, Harth-Bedoya explained to the audience that Piazzolla’s Tangazo deliberately excludes the bandoneon, which is typically the central instrument in tango music. But Piazzolla experimented with many variations of tango musicality, from opera Maria de Buenos Aires to his tango imbued adaptation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The first half of Tangazo is a lush cinematic orchestral, with tango salon atmospherics. Then mid-way through, those shrill violin notes slice through the air and it indeed becomes aggressive orchestral dance. And the signature themes characterized by the woodwinds, and among the outstanding soloists on this night, associate principal oboist Peter Smith.
The concert closer was Jimmy López’s Perú Negro, commissioned by Harth-Bedoya who conducted its premiere by Fort Worth Symphony in 2013. It builds on what López describes as folkloric motifs, Pregón sounds of the street sellers, Toro Mata a traditional slow melody and Son de los Diablos the contemporary expression of Afro-Peruvian rhythmic fireworks. López is without doubt one of the most innovative and symphonically dynamic composers in the world today. He was in Verizon Hall for this performance and bounded to embrace the maestro as he received the lusty standing ovation.
Harth-Bedoya detailing and palpable connection with the Philadelphia Orchestra also made this one of the most electric classical concert evenings of the year. Disappointing that there were several empty seats in Verizon Hall, and Philadelphia Orchestra concertgoers were missing this great performance.