A Letter from
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
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
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.