State Symphony of Mexico

At the Arlington Theatre, Tuesday, March 11.

Alfonso Moreno first played the Arlington Theatre with the State Symphony of Mexico in 1980.
David Bazemore

For all of the ample charms that make the Community Arts Music Association (CAMA) series by far the hottest classical music ticket in town each season, CAMA orchestra concerts often follow a conservative approach to programming. By contrast, last week’s CAMA-sponsored appearance of the fine State Symphony of Mexico offered the most adventurous orchestral program of the season, with samplings of great Mexican composers offered amid Spanish fare. But it wasn’t as exotic in Santa Barbara as it would be elsewhere, thanks to former Santa Barbara Symphony maestra Gisle Ben-Dor’s regular programming of Latin American-including Mexican-works during her tenure.

In fact, the juiciest piece on last Tuesday’s program was the gutsy “Sensemaya, The Snake Killing Ritual” by iconoclastic Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, for whom Ben-Dor once put on an entire festival. Revueltas’s score, with an entrancing Mexican-folklore-meets-Stravinsky quality, stole this show.

More familiar Spanish music from the early 20th century included the lovely warhorse of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, wonderfully played by guitarist Alfonso Moreno (when the sound balance came into focus), and Manuel de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat, Suite No. 2. Fitting neatly within the Spanish Diaspora theme of the night, composer Joaqu-n Turina’s Danzas Fant¡sticas and Enrique Granados’s “Intermezzo” from Goyescas projected a similar blending of festive, post-Romantic musical airs and light spices of Modernism.

A Mexican piece once removed opened the concert. Famed Mexican composer Carlos Ch¡vez (sometimes called the Aaron Copland of Mexico, compared to Revueltas’s reputation as his country’s Charles Ives) created a broad-brush orchestral adaptation of the Chaconne in E Minor, an organ work by Baroque master Dietrich Buxtehude (Bach’s early hero). In this piece, which at times seemed overly thick, new met old on more than one level.

Dej vu and continuity were in the house for veteran CAMA fans as the orchestra performed here 28 years ago, almost to the day, with conductor Enrique B¡tiz and guitarist Moreno appearing in both performances. If there was a drawback to the otherwise splendid Arlington concert, it was only that our appetites were whetted to hear more Mexican music, rather than the Spanish classics.

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