The Central Ohio Symphony opened its 44th season on Saturday, Oct. 1, with a concert dedicated to two Latin American composers and Peter I. Tchaikovsky’s majestic Symphony No. 5. In his introductory remarks, Board of Trustees President Don Gliebe welcomed the audience. He also used the opportunity to thank PNC Arts Alive, the Ohio Arts Council, the City of Delaware, and Ohio Wesleyan University for their unwavering support.
He also reminded the concertgoers that this is the 20th season for Music Director and Conductor Jaime Morales-Matos, who was appointed in 2002. His Puerto Rican father, now deceased, was an amateur guitarist and composer who instilled a deep love of music in his six children – five boys and one girl. All of them became distinguished musicians, soloists, composers, and/or educators with national and international careers. What they seem to have in common is the fact that they are at home in a wide variety of musical traditions. In their compositions and performances, they regularly fuse classical, Jazz, Latin, and tropical music. And they proudly embrace their Puerto Rican heritage.
After a rousing rendition of America’s national anthem, the concert started with “Recuerdos” (“Memories”) for violin, cello, and orchestra by the sister of Jaime Morales-Matos, Sonia Ivette Morales-Matos (b. 1961). She was present at the concert and provided a brief introduction. The orchestral work is intended to evoke the landscapes and people of Puerto Rico and Venezuela. It uses ancestral folk instruments such as the maraca (rattle) and cajón (box drum), syncopated rhythms such as the joropo (national dance) from Venezuela, and voices such as the coquí, Puerto Rico’s native frog and cultural symbol. While the middle section of “Recuerdos” reflects the many struggles of the people of Venezuela, the work as a whole is upbeat and celebratory in nature. Sections of it even reminded this reviewer of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” which also shows a primordial focus on rhythmic propulsion. The two instrumental soloists – Kia-Hui Tan (violin) and Mark Rudoff (cello) – did an exhilarating job navigating this challenging work. Tan’s mindful discipline, astonishing virtuosity, and broad repertoire were particularly impressive.
Another brother of Jaime Morales-Matos is composer, violinist, and pianist Dr. José Mariano Morales-Matos (b. 1960), the oldest of the six siblings. His oeuvre, too, encompasses a wide spectrum of genres and styles – from classical music to Latin Jazz. Unfortunately, he was not able to come to Delaware for the performance of his Flute Concerto. Hurricane Ian devastated much of Florida’s littoral areas and made travel impossible for many. However, Sonia Ivette Morales-Matos conveyed some of the composer’s thoughts to the audience. The concerto, she stated, was inspired by Hurricane Maria in 2017 – a disaster from which Puerto Rico has yet to fully recover. Sections of the concerto reflect misery, grief, and mourning, but others depict the irrepressible hope and happiness of the islanders despite their dismal loss of life and property. The concerto uses Puerto Rico’s bomba rhythm, which has roots in Africa. The work puts incredible demands on the soloist, but flutist Lisa Jelle displayed an astounding level of mastery. I don’t think I have ever heard such effortless glissando glides on a flute before. Both works by the Morales-Matos siblings, along with the three soloists, received richly deserved standing ovations.
After the intermission, the Symphony No. 5 by Peter I. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was on the program. Today Tchaikovsky’s place in the pantheon of great composers is secured, but it was not always so. His life was punctuated by hostility and rejection, pain and loneliness, despair and depression. It did not help that he was a homosexual in a time and place that condemned same-sex relations as unnatural and immoral. For his entire life, the musician was forced to conceal his true identity. When he died at the age of 53, there was much speculation that his death may in fact have been a suicide. Anyone interested in Tchaikovsky’s life and fate should listen to his tragic “Romeo and Juliet” overture. There, the timeless and undying feelings of the two lovebirds are juxtaposed with the petty ignorance, anger, and hate by those who condemn the forbidden liaison. “Never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo,” William Shakespeare wrote. Tchaikovsky readily identified with the sorrowful tale because he recognized his own fate in it.
His last three symphonies are similarly full of romantic ardor and fervent longing in a heartless and inhospitable world where fate frequently crushes the dreams of individuals and ends their pursuit of happiness. The Symphony No. 5 begins with a slow and dark theme in E minor that has a funereal character. The theme is repeated in all four movements and serves as a reminder that tragedy and death are never far away. There is much storm and stress, turmoil and torment, only occasionally interrupted by a short waltz or scherzo. Hope and happiness are fleeting indeed. However, in the end the funeral march turns in an optimistic victory march. The symphony concludes triumphantly in E major. It may be that in real life the actors are doomed by immutable “fate,” as was the case with “Romeo and Juliet,” but their immortal hopes and dreams cannot be extinguished by the dark side and will live on forever.
The Tchaikovsky work and the two Latinx works by the Morales-Matos siblings were written in very different centuries and in very different styles, but what they may have in common is that, when faced with disaster, they show inextinguishable hope and resilience. The orchestra under the exacting baton of its music director and conductor Jaime Morales-Matos once again did a tremendous job, and the audience thanked them with yet another standing ovation. The entire two-hour concert is now available on YouTube, thanks to OWU’s videographer Elaine Chun. You can find the link on the Symphony’s website.
This reviewer would also like to applaud the organization for a new initiative it launched this year. Any youth 17 and under is now able to get free admission when they present their library card from the Delaware County District, Sunbury Community, and Ashley Wornstaff libraries. Accompanying adults pay only half price for their tickets. This removes barriers and creates a pipeline for future patrons of the Symphony. There were noticeably more children in the audience this time around.
The next Symphony concert is not that far away. On Saturday, Nov. 19 (7:30 p.m.), Maestro Jaime Morales-Matos will conduct “Pulse” by the prolific African-American composer Brian Raphael Nabors, the lush Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky (with Aisha Syed Castro as soloist), and the last symphony (no. 4) by Johannes Brahms. It promises to be another unforgettable evening. For more information and tickets, visit the Symphony’s website (www.centralohiosymphony.org) and/or stop by the Symphony’s office at 24 E. Winter Street, next to the Strand Theatre.