Longtime Santa Barbara Symphony goers and observers may have sensed déjà vu at the Granada Theater last week. Fandango Picante’s primary focus was on new music by famed Mexican composer Arturo Márquez, the Fandango for Violin and Orchestra, with the magnificent violinist Anne Akiko Meyers as soloist. The evening closed with Márquez’s savory greatest hit, Danzon No. 2.
The Latin American theme inevitably reminded us of conductor Gisele Ben-Dor’s innovative tenure (1994-2006) with the Symphony, which paid conspicuous and critically acclaimed attention to underexposed art music from south of the border, including Mexico. Her festivals dedicated to Silvestre Revueltas and Tango-Malambo were memorable highlights of Santa Barbara’s orchestral history.
Maestro Nir Kabaretti opened with Bizet’s Carmen Suite and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, opus 24, Spanish-steeped scores by a Frenchman and a Russian, respectively.
Meyers, who is always a joy to hear when on a local stage, acquitted herself with expected mastery. She summoned up an infectious yet relaxed engagement on the three-movement Fandango, which she premiered at the Hollywood Bowl with Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic last summer. It is a feisty charmer with deep cultural roots in Mexico and Spain.
Márquez’s music goes down easily, with few contemporary strategies diverting from his innate neo-romantic instincts, emphasizing melodic gleam and momentum. The opening “Folia Tropical” suggests shades of nuevo tango king Astor Piazzolla’s style. The second movement, “Plegaria (Chacona),” eases into place gently before finding its rhythmic verve, kicked into high gear on the finale, “Fandanguito.” Against and alongside the Symphony’s tight orchestral foundation, Meyers offered a touch both sonorous and ruggedly energized.
Ben-Dor would no doubt approve.