Music Review: HECTOR OLIVERA (Organ Recital at Walt Disney Concert Hall)

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by William C. on January 24, 2023

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


The full house at Walt Disney Concert Hall buzzed with excitement as fast-paced whispers reverberated through the crowd when Hector Olivera opened his solo organ recital by walking directly to the remote console on stage, placing his stuffed Kermit the Frog doll next to him, where the frog appeared to be waiting for the maestro to grace the instrument. With Manuel Rosales, the celebrated designer of the “French Fries” organ, in the audience, there was a sense that Mr. Olivera was out to impress.

He launched right into William Ralph Driffill‘s Suite No.1 in F Minor, Op. 14 with exuberance. The beast in the hall positively came alive. The fast tempo, with notes escaping through his fast-moving digits and feet, demonstrated his technical prowess. A dazzling array of sweeping phrases weaved in and out of the booming bass notes. Although it is astonishing, I don’t call it musical. It is very showman-centered, sacrificing tone clarity. But, the point has been made. Mr. Olivera is here to make a statement.

It is worth noting that aside from his superb performance skill, Mr. Olivera is also a great ambassador of the music that he is presenting. He carefully crafts images and narrations as a companion to his performance. It showed a genuine act of humility and love for his craft to spend the time to verbally convey his relationship with the organ, the music, and the audience. Back to the music.

After his impressive introduction, Mr. Olivera performed selections from his Vivaldi Four Seasons Concerto transcriptions, Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8 No. 1, La Primavera (“Spring”); he offered all three movements and it was delightful, as laughter erupted from the audience at the bird song organ pedal. His orchestration prowess is most evident in the careful choices of stops. One can hear the shepherd’s bagpipe in the 3rd movement — Allegro (pastorale) — beneath the joyous dance melody. The second movement, Largo, was particularly haunting with wispy tones. This is easily one of my favorite versions of this popular classic.

Continuing with the Four Seasons, the thunderous Presto e forte of Concert No.2 in G minor, No. 2, “Summer,” was roof-raising. The thunderous melody is ideally suited for the organ. Mr. Olivera’s flair for drama and dexterity was simply riveting. One can almost hear a thunderclap and feel the change in the barometer in the hall from the weather that has been summoned. However, much like the opening number, while the music is exciting, the phrases are often lost in a wall of dynamic sound.

Joseph Jongen‘s Prière Op. 37, No. 3 is a magical and quiet experience. Contrastingly, César Franck‘s Pièce héroïque from his Trois Pièces pour Grand Orgue, written for 66 stops, is magnificent, larger than life, and celebratory (Disney Hall’s has 128). Both pieces were played superbly and were arguably the most outstanding works of the evening.

After the interval, The Five Paraphrases on Piazzolla Tangos were rhythmic delights. Accompanied by a proper attire change from Mr. Olivera, the contrasting dance rhythms were performed with lightness and added much to the jovial atmosphere of the evening.

In closing, Mr. Olivera received two themes to improvise on. As the organ is the only instrument in the Classical music world to have an established improvisation methodology, this is my first time witnessing this skill in person. Almost cheekily, the two themes selected were both Disney. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio and “Heigh-Ho” from Snow White were chosen. Words would fail to capture what Mr. Olivera has weaved together, but I assure you it was magnificent and has gone musically beyond where I can even imagine what those themes can do. Of course, there was a fugue treatment of the “Heigh-Ho,” the more rhythmic of the two. But there was so much more to how he approached his improvisation as he drove these two musical ideas to the breaking point.

In the encore, Mr. Olivera improvised on Ode to Joy and received a tumultuous ovation. While my words hardly capture the magnitude of this fantastic recital, I hope that Mr. Olivera continues to enjoy the love and support of the fortunate folks who can listen to his magnificent performances. This man loves, and indulges in, playing the organ, and I hope he will return to Disney Hall in the near future.

played January 22, 2023

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