It was back in the 1980’s of another century that I had the good fortune to spend two pleasant summers visiting the cliff side home of a good friend on the southern coast of Spain, surrounded there by magnificent views of the Mediterranean on the one hand and the scenic rising mountains on the other. Fine native rioja wines and beautiful Spanish music were among the many elements that made those trips memorable, but I am happy to report that now, these many years later, I was again able to enjoy some of the same delights much closer to home thanks to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, the Houston Symphony, and the generosity of local merchant, Hubbell & Hudson. The pavilion provided the venue, the symphony provided the elegant program of “Música Clásica Latina,” and Hubbell & Hudson supplied complimentary wine tasting for the audience (riojas included), both prior to the performance, and again during the Intermission. Even before the concert began (with free admission to mezzanine and lawn seating provided by assorted Pavilion sponsors) there was fun aplenty out on the pavilion plaza with activities including an Instrument Petting Zoo for the youngsters, Salsa dancing provided by Strictly Street Salsa, and terrific performances from The Woodlands High School Chamber Orchestra.
When it was time for the main event, guest conductor, Marcelo Lehninger, arrived on stage in a cool and crisp white suit just perfect for a pleasant summer evening. The suit may have been cool, but the wonderful music would be oh-so-hot as maestro lifted his baton and led the orchestra in Gershwin’s thrilling “Cuban Overture.” The work exploded with first pulsing rhythmic energy, and then sweeping enchantment from the strings.
Next came a highlight of the evening with Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.” The finger-snapping opening draws the audience into the approaching excitement. From there we drift away into the sublimely haunting beauty of “Somewhere.” The lilting delicacy and merriment of the “Scherzo,” leads us to the explosive and savage “Mambo,” with its unrelenting rhythmic power. Relief comes with the gentle “Cha-Cha,” and the “Meeting Scene” with its hints of the “Maria” melody. There was a hip rendition of “Cool,” and then the lashing violence of “Rumble” would be displaced by the gentle softness of the dreamlike “Finale.”
Following Intermission the gifted conductor returned to the stage accompanied by the evening’s brilliant soloist, talented Gabriela Martinez on piano for the performance of Manuel de Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain.” In a gorgeous and strapless floor-length gown of ruby-colored satin, the beautiful Miss Martinez was stunning before she ever touched the keys.
But her performance would be stunning as well as she embraced the rich romanticism of the piece with thunderous attack one minute, crisp delicacy of touch the next, and gentle motion of her golden ponytail echoing her graceful movements. Not withstanding the great complexity of the piece, conductor, Lehninger had laser-like focus as he seemed in constant contact with both the gifted pianist and the splendid orchestra. The audience roared its approval.
Two works by Piazzolla/ F. Mechetti would follow. The first was “Oblivion,” a smooth tapestry for strings. The second was the majestic and galloping, “Primavera Porteña.” Then came the four movements of the evening’s final work, Ginastera’s Danzas del Ballet “Estancia.” It opens with the fierce and thrilling power of “The Land Workers,” followed by the sweet strains of the “Wheat Dance.” The movement titled “The Cattlemen” brilliantly conveyed the presence of a stampeding herd. The final movement’s “Malambo” was nothing less than an Olympic event of challenging athleticism for the fabulous musicians of our Houston Symphony Orchestra. The standing ovation that followed was very much deserved.
The Houston Symphony returns to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on Friday October 11th at 7:30 p.m. for the annual Hocus Pocus Pops concert. For tickets and information call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000 or visit the website at www.ticketmaster.com.