Home     Content     Articles      La Scena Musicale     Search   

La Scena Musicale - Vol. 2, No. 10

A Letter from Mexico

by Martin Kamela / July 1, 1997

Version française...

About one-half hour before the 8:30 pm concert of the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico (O.S.N.) the semi-formally dressed audience began arriving at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in the historic heart of Mexico city. The most impressive feature of the building is the triple domed foyer and the art-deco light fixtures, metal doors and stone work. A pink and burgundy marble staircase leads to upper floors decorated with large modernist Mexican paintings. The main performance space of the Palacio is a 2004 seat multipurpose theatre which is home of the O.S.N., Opera de Bellas Artes and the National Dance Company. Mexico’s native history is depicted in a colourful mural above the stage. The stage curtain depicting Mexico City’s volcanos is made of thousands of pieces of Tiffany glass. The funnel-shaped auditorium slopes without steps, so that sitting off centre one inevitably leans inward.

The O.S.N. projects brief program notes on the screen above the stage during most concerts. According to O.S.N. spokesperson Ms. Patricia Arriela projections replaced printed notes in 1997 in order to popularize and demystify classical music (the reduced programs now available contain little more than musicians’ biographies). Orchestral works are described overhead as they are played. The Spanish translation of vocal performances is also projected. I certainly didn’t miss the noisy turning of pages which disturbs many North American concerts, but I missed having a program to refer to for information.

The O.S.N. offers concert series for children and teenagers. Students and teachers enjoy a 50% discount for most performances. Rehearsals are free for school children, the elderly and the disabled. This makes music accessible to the many who could not afford tickets at 40-60 pesos ($8 -16).

On June 12 the O.S.N. played the 10th and final concert of its main spring series: "Conciertos de Primavera 1997". On the program were two choral works: Dixit Dominus by Handel and Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, both conducted by O.S.N. Artistic Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke. For the Handel piece, the reduced orchestra and chorus were deployed in front of the glass curtain. Sound carried well to the parterre but was quickly absorbed; audience in the cheaper upper balcony seats enjoyed a better acoustic. Regrettably, the hall grew very hot due to lack of air-conditioning.

Orff’s Carmina Burana concluded the program. The full orchestra and the Coro del Teatro de Bellas Artes took up the whole stage. The best part of Carmina Burana was the solos by Mexican bass-baritone Jesus Suaste. In "Estuans interius ira vehementi" he switched seamlessly between high and low registers while maintaining a wonderfully round, intense tone.

Since Diemecke took over the O.S.N. in 1990 it has been undergoing a process of musical maturation (they’ve recorded five discs for Sony Masterworks in collaboration with the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, including a best selling CD of music by 20th century Mexican composers Revueltas and former O.S.N. directors Chavez and Moncanyo). Diemecke’s extrovert conducting style ranged from mock-stumbling during the drinking song "In taberna quando sumus" to wild gesticulations in the exciting final reprise of "O Fortuna". Diemecke emphasized the playfulness and humour in Orff’s music, for example during "Tempus est iocundum" he allowed his musicians to join the chorus in urging the soprano to yield to "forbidden pleasures". He encored the last four section of Carmina Burana - with a twist. This time the Latin text appeared on screen and the audience was invited to sing along. The result didn’t exactly sound like choir of angels but a good time was had by all.

Version française...

(c) La Scena Musicale