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View Full Version : A symphonic concert in Belo Horizonte, Brazil - Strauss' Don Quixote



Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 21st, 2016, 12:51 PM
Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais, conducted by Fabio Mechetti
Cello soloist for Don Quixote: Asier Polo
Sala Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on March 17, 2016 (also on March 18)

Program

Ferrucio Busoni - Eine Lustspiel-Overtüre, op. 38 (1897) - 7 minutes
Robert Schumann - Symphony 4 in D minor, op. 120 (1841, revised in 1851) - 28 minutes
Intermission
Richard Strauss - Don Quixote, op. 35 (1897) - 43

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The up-and-coming Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra under Juilliard-trained maestro Fabio Mechetti has been active in its home-base in Belo Horizonte, the third largest Brazilian city (about 5 million inhabitants), and in tours in Uruguay and Argentina, as well as recordings with the Naxos label.

Maestro Mechetti was recently the Principal Conductor at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, and directed for 14 years the Symphonic Orchestra of Jacksonville, FL. He has conducted the National Symphonic Orchestra in Washington DC at the Kennedy Center, and the New Jersey Symphony at Carnegie Hall, in addition to numerous American orchestras, and others in Tokyo, Madrid, Auckland NZ, Québec, Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Italy, and Scotland.

He conducted opera extensively in Washington DC (Tosca, Turandot, Carmen, Don Giovanni, Così fan Tutte, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Traviata, and Otello).

Cello soloist Asier Polo, born in Bilbao, Spain, has played with orchestras such as the BBC Philharmonic, RAI, Orchestre de Paris, the National Danish Symphony among many others, and has given concerts at the Maggio Fiorentino, Covent Garden, Tonhalle in Zurich and the Musikverein in Vienna. He has recorded the concerts of Usandizaga, Villarojo, Escudero, and Rodrigo, for labels such as Claves, RTVE, Marco Polo, and Naxos. Currently he is a professor at the Universidade Alfonso X in Madrid, and the artistic director of the Musikael Forum. He plays with a Francesco Rugieri cello (Cremona, 1680), purchased on his behalf by the Santander Bank Foundation.

The brand new Sala Minas Gerais is a thing of beauty, with comfortable seating and exquisite acoustics, in an architecturally striking building.

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Busoni's overture was included to celebrate the composer's 150th anniversary of birth (Italy, 1866 - he died in Germany in 1924). A child prodigy, He was considered, after Liszt's death, as the best pianist in the world. At age 9 Busoni moved to Vienna to further his musical education, in a time when Wagner was conducting his Lohengrin at the Hofoper, and Bruckner taught at the local university. Johan Strauss, the son, conducted his two orchestras in ballrooms; Liszt gave recitals; and Brahms was one of the city residents.

Busoni lived between Italy and Austria, back and forth, studying piano and composition until his late teen years and young adulthood, then moved to Berlin in 1894. He is best know from the Opera Lively community for his exquisite opera Doktor Faust.

The Eine Lustspiel-Overtüre, op. 38, is a mix of Mozartian feel with German drama, with some typically Italianate melodies making an appearance. It was composed in a single night. It starts with a lively theme for the strings and woods, followed by a sweet clarinet figure. Then, there is a brief section that recovers both themes, and the piece ends in an effusive coda.

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Schumann symphonic works although extensive, were only composed in his mature years (b. 1810 - d. 1856), after much pondering about various musical influences - he appreciated Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, but disliked Berlioz and rejected the formalism of Mendelssohn. His symphonies are free and daring, escaping the rigidity of the sonata form.

He started writing his 4th symphony right after he was done with his 1st one, but only concluded it after the 2nd and 3rd had premiered. Unity is one of its main traits, since the themes merge into each other uninterrupted, and various themes recur over and over, in what was called a cyclic symphony.

It starts slowly with a melancholic theme (which recurs in the middle movements) and accelerates into an Allegro. The opening theme comes back three times: one, in the Romance - after the beautiful melody for violins and cello, it shows up in D major with an ornamented violin solo; two, it is heard again in the subsequent movement, in a rustic Scherzo rich in percussion; three, it recurs very transformed, in a dreamy, lyrical trio in which it is merged with two new themes in a Vivace that recovers the initial Allegro with its sinuous ornamentation. After this ample development, Schumann omits the usual re-exposition, and ends his symphony with a new and unexpected theme in Stretto, which is joyful and luminous.

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Now, the meatier part - the phenomenal tone poem Don Quixote by Richard Strauss, one of my favorite composers. He doesn't need introduction in an opera website, with his beloved Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Capriccio, and many others. Strauss climbed to fame initially through his tone poems. The current one belongs to the same batch of Macbeth, Don Juan, and Till Eulenspiegel. Strauss gave to this piece the form of ten variations over the same theme, followed by a finale. The unifying thread is the cello, which figures as the musical representation of the character Don Quixote. This is thrilling and exciting music that starts with pre-modernist dissonances, and evolves with extremely melodious, sublime cello solos that are among some of the most pleasurable music one can encounter. It uses a large orchestra, and is instrumented for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets together with a large brass section, percussion, harp, and a full complement of strings.

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The performance

According to knowledgeable patrons, in the midst of the Brazilian economic crisis the Minas Gerais Philharmonic is going through enormous budget cuts, and has had difficulty with finding enough rehearsal time. This was evident in the first piece of the night and the first half of the second piece, when the musicians had a hard time synchronizing the play within the sections (including in the plucked string passages), seemed unbalanced in volume with the violins struggling to get heard, and produced some rough transitions. The brass section was particularly weak. However as the concert went on, the musicians seemed to warm-up and relax, and the second half of Schumann's symphony was played with good standards, with the maestro getting a better grip on his forces. The issues displayed by the orchestra were the typical ones we see when there is insufficient rehearsal.

Given the relatively shaky performance before intermission, I was apprehensive for Don Quixote, a vastly more difficult and complex piece. To my surprise, the orchestra stepped up to the plate and delivered a phenomenal rendition of this work, with errors kept to a barely noticeable minimum in a couple of moments. Maestro Mechetti ditched the printed score and conducted the piece by memory, which enabled him to direct the sections much better than in the first half of the night. Cello soloist Asier Polo was simply spectacular, and he seems to have inspired the orchestra to join him in his virtuoso playing.

The knowledgeable audience (according to my companion who is used to the local musical scene, many members of the public were musicians themselves and professors at the local conservatory) erupted in standing applause at the end of Don Quixote, unlike the more tepid reception to the first two pieces.

Minus the initial hiccups, this was a very satisfactory evening of exquisite music, in a very beautiful venue.

Following this post, I'll be adding some pictures.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 21st, 2016, 02:12 PM
The façade of the building

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A panel on the wall, featuring maestro Mechetti

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A maquette of the building

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Several views of the interior foyer

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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 21st, 2016, 02:21 PM
The bar

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The entrance to the Sala Minas Gerais

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The hall, before it filled up

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During the performance, featuring Asier Polo

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Mr. Polo taking bows (or almost...)

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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 21st, 2016, 02:24 PM
The orchestra takes bows

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Standing ovation - observe that Brazilians dress very casually to attend the symphony - they seem to be there to enjoy the music, not as a fashion event.

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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 21st, 2016, 02:31 PM
Now, a bit of local color. These two pictures were taken earlier that day, showing one of the manifestations of the Brazilian people against the current administration. Most of these youngsters were wearing black, to signal their dislike of the president and her nomination of the ex-president to a cabinet position, which is widely seen as an attempt to shield him from prosecution by a judge who is investigating him for money laundering and corruption. In the second photo we see, on the other side of the street, two police cars observing the manifestation, without interfering.

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I ate these delicious fried empanadas earlier that day; they are called in Portuguese, "pasteizinhos"

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After the performance, I went with my daughter and my sister to a local restaurant, Trindade - they specialize in sophisticated Brazilian and "Mineira" cuisines (that is, from the state of Minas Gerais). Here is a picture of the restaurant's open kitchen. I highly recommend this place and will be showing the delicious dishes we had.

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This writer and his daughter Luciana at the restaurant

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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 21st, 2016, 02:39 PM
Now, food, food, food.

The amuse-gueule, a variation of Caprese salad with a local cheese

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Appetizer, fried heart of palm of the "pupunha" variety

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Appetizer, angus beef with spicy butter sauce, fried manioc, and "farofa" (corn flower)

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My daughter's entry, octopus risotto

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My entry, a seafood stew with rice

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Dessert

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A local craft beer - it looks German but it is local... and very delicious - my sister is seen to the right
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