The debut concert of Season 37 of the Central Ohio Symphony took place Saturday night in Gray Chapel on the Ohio Wesleyan University campus, to a not-quite sold-out, but enthusiastic crowd. The program began with Brahms’ last orchestral work, a majestic double concerto for orchestra, violin and violoncello, featuring guest artists Simón Gallo on violin and Jesús Morales on cello, two members of the international Dali Quartet.
The second half of the concert showcased music by 20th-century Latin composers, as a part of the community engagement efforts by the symphony to celebrate the just-past Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15). This enabled the audience to hear not only the music of Hispanic composers, but also of Hispanic performers, in that the two soloists are natives of Venezuela and Puerto Rico respectively. The concert also included the world premiere of a commissioned piece by Sonia Morales-Matos, sister of conductor Jaime Morales-Matos, both of whom are from Puerto Rico.
The opening work on the program was the Double Concerto in A minor, Op. 102, by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), a concerto for violin, cello and orchestra. It was to be Brahms’ final orchestral work, composed in the summer of 1887. He wrote it for the cellist Robert Hausmann, a frequent chamber music collaborator, and his longtime but estranged friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. The concerto was, in part, a gesture of reconciliation towards Joachim; their friendship had soured after Joachim’s divorce from his wife, Amalie (Brahms had taken Amalie’s side in the quarrel).
Joachim and Hausmann repeated the concerto, with Brahms conducting, several times in its initial 1887-88 season, and Brahms gave the manuscript to Joachim, with the inscription “To him for whom it was written.” Clara Schumann, a pianist and close friend of Brahms, reacted unfavorably to the work, saying it was “not brilliant for the instruments.”
The composition consists of three movements in the fast-slow-fast pattern typical of classical instrumental concertos: Allegro, Andante and Vivace non troppo. It requires two equally brilliant soloists. Passages of arpeggio-like dialogue between violin and cello were smooth and blended. In some solo passages, however, the violin was not prominent enough. Passages of double stops by both soloists together provided an exquisite texture. The rich warm tones of the orchestra and the brass and woodwind passages were satisfying, a sound heard frequently in Brahms’ orchestrations.
Occasionally all forces on stage were not together, a frequent occupational hazard on the Gray Chapel stage. The entire back bank of stage left ceiling lights were unlit, dimming that side of the stage.
The three Hispanic composers represented in the second half of the program brought foot-tapping enthusiasm to the orchestra and audience alike. In José Pablo Mancayo’s Huapango, we heard “one of the most frequently performed pieces by any 20th-century Mexican composer” (program notes) . The huapango is a Mexican folk dance of a complex rhythmic structure which mixes duple and triple meters. The time signature remains the same but changing accents are heard. It was easy to picture, in one’s imagination, a town square, a fiesta, dancers in native costume. A quieter middle section featured the harp, which had been moved forward in the orchestra for better presence, trumpets and violins. Raucous sounds of the trumpets and trombones led to the end of the piece. Some have said that Huapango has become Mexico’s second national anthem.
Recuerdos (Remembrances) was commissioned by the Central Ohio Symphony Orchestra for this concert. The composer is Sonia Morales-Matos, sister of the conductor, Jaime Morales-Matos. The two soloists from the first half of the program reappeared but this time were more a part of the orchestra rather than assuming a prominent role. Traditional instruments such as the maracas, cajon, and harp were utilized for various symbolic purposes. Triple and duple meters were again employed as in the Huapango; the horn ensemble was especially effective. The rhythm was infectious, employing a large force of percussion players. The audience was delighted that the composer was present to take a bow.
After visiting Veracruz, Arturo Márquez (b. 1950) composed Danzon No. 2 (along with 7 others). The danzon was originally a Cuban dance. The program notes encouraged us to be transported to the “smoky, hazy dance halls of Veracruz.” The piano played a prominent part, and there was a particularly effective clarinet solo, as well as a short passage involving the unlikely combination of piano and piccolo. The composition is considered a classic of the contemporary orchestra repertoire.
This was a fitting piece to send the audience home in an exuberant mood.
The orchestra’s management and players are to be commended for their efforts over the past few years at increasing their involvement in the community, and their willingness to schedule adventurous programming. Recent concerts have been interesting and educational.