Concert Review: CANTO EN RESISTENCIA (Dudamel & the LA Phil & Silvana Estrada)

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by Tony Frankel on November 16, 2023

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


My mind was thinking about the strange beast that programming is as Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil continued their contribution to a celebration of new music, the California Festival, with a program entitled Canto en resistencia. While the two-week CalFest mission states that it is showcasing Yet the same title Canto en resistencia was used for a concert last year as part of the Power to the People! Festival, a look at the role artists play in advancing social change and civil rights, co-curated by Herbie Hancock and Dudamel. It seems odd that both series contain new and past music along with

And with the theme of bodies in motion for Canto en resistencia, two short pieces — Sierra‘s Alegría and Arturo Márquez‘s Danzón No. 2 from 1994 fit the bill. But not the newer works — Tania León‘s Stride and Ortiz’s world premiere Seis piezas a Violeta — or a showcase of three songs from the amazing composer/instrumentalist/singer Silvana Estrada. Marquez, Ortiz and Estrada were clearly offering takes on Latin American folk, while León’s piece can’t be categorized.

Strange, right? OK, enough about programming!

Dudamel, who rarely does curtain speeches, explained the program, beginning with “Welcome to the Hollywood Bowl” and “Ugh, where is my brain?” It was a great crowd-breaker. His speech, we can heal the world through music, is commendable, but León’s Stride, commissioned by the NY Phil in 2019 to celebrate the 19th Amendment, will not assist in that goal. And as for “bodies in motion,” the only movement inspired by her 15-minute work was my feet itching to get out of Disney Hall. Even with Dudamel’s strict tempo, the piece goes all over the map. León, whose inspiration was Susan B. Anthony herself, installed American musical influences, such as a wah-wah trumpet, some fascinating clarinet and bassoon chirping throughout, trumpets bursting short blasts and echo calls, and a timpani workout, but I couldn’t figure out the trajectory. It was slow with little development. I kept trying to connect Anthony’s pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement with the orchestral tinkering, but the only thing I was left with was bored bemusement.

The curtain-raiser, Alegría, lived up to its title; it was indeed happiness. Unabashedly romantic, it was riveting, thrilling and blood-pounding. With percussionists doing triple-duty, magical bursts of joy, and rhythms reminiscent of Moncayo and Copland, the fusion of classical and danzón was wonderful. You should check out Sierra’s other works. Márquez’s Danzón No. 2 from 1994, which Dudamel has performed before with the LA Phil — in fact, he didn’t need the score — starts with that lovely tango feel with an exotic melody for the clarinet (Boris Allakhverdyan), echoed by the clarinet (principal Marc Lachat, who has done wondrous work for our orchestra). Different Latin rhythms appear but my favorite was the habanera, which sent me into dotted- and triplet notes heaven. Flavorful and appealing, the arc goes from neighborhood celebration to city square to festival. Marquez, who was in the house along with Sierra, also revisits themes, which keeps us on board for an energy-shifting 12 minutes.

After the interval was the world premiere from Gabriela Ortiz. It’s from an old source: a piano quintet from her album Altar de Muertos. While her work can be steeped in musical tradition, this highlights her avant-garde Bartókian side. Seis piezas a Violeta is a reflection on Chilean folk singer and social activist — one of the instigators to the Nueva Canción Chilena movement — Violeta Parra — told in six pieces, here arranged for string orchestra and piano. Essentially an enlargement of a previous work, it sounds much different than the quintet, although an outsider to the music would have no idea what Ortiz is referencing, but it is many moods. The most exciting was the fifth movement, “Danza Estrújula,” largely because a lot rested on Principal Keyboardist Joanne Pearce Martin, who handily conquered the tricky rhythms. With the lid removed, we heard her nail the delightfully attractive pulse that radiated through the movement. I’d say the thrilling parts represented Violeta’s contribution to Chilean music. For the most part, however, the air was mysterious or dolorous or reflective. That’s understandable given the fact that, in 1967, Parra died by suicide via gunshot. Ultimately, with a sudden-stop ending, this would have fit right in an evening of the Green Umbrella series.

Then Mexican musician Silvana Estrada, who I was unfamiliar with, offered three songs that knocked me out. With Arturo Rodriguez’s spectacular arrangements for a gigantic orchestra, the feel was like a Disney movie (and I say that as a good thing) about a Latina heroine.  Two songs written by Estrada, “Si me matan” (If they kill me) and “Se me ocurre” (It occurs to me), were — we were told — explored the often-unspoken truths about gender and violence, but without supertitled translations, we were in the dark. She did tell us that the latter was dedicated to “Jorge and his brother.” Turns out her friends the Tirado brothers were brutally murdered in their home in Mexico. I wish I knew that when she said, “This song is about imagining a better world. First, we have to do that.” Before the third song,  Argentine singer-songwriter León Gieco’s “Sólo le pido a Dios” (I only ask God), she said, “I wish I could be you hearing this song for the first time.” Well, it was gorgeous, regardless of the lack of translation (the audience had no song list). In a designer off-white cotton peasant dress, she looked stunning. Better still, her voice is magical, a blend of Latin folk and an emotional soulful vibrato, both forlorn and dynamic — and she knows how to live in a song. She will be appearing with my favorite artist Cécile McLorin Salvant at Disney Hall on May 31, 2024. She received the greatest applause on the program, right after the Danzón No. 2.

But for my introduction to Estrada, Saturday matinee November 11 was kind of a skippable program.

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