Orchestra to explore Mexico’s classical legacy at commemorative concert

by Chiho Iuchi

Staff Writer

The first Japanese to visit Mexico is said to have been samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga. En route to Europe on a diplomatic mission, he arrived in Acapulco in January 1614. The country was under Spanish rule at the time and didn’t achieve independence until 1821.

When the Mexican Music Festival: Orchestra Concert takes place this weekend, Mexican conductor José Areán says a lot of what audiences will hear harks back to a time before Spanish conquest.

“Mexican music in the first half of the 20th century was the product of a search for national identity,” says Areán, who will collaborate with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra at the concert. “After the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), the country’s artists were inspired by the indigenous cultures (mainly Aztec and Maya) and they sought to honor that preconquest past. The music of that time is distinguished by irregular rhythmical patterns, melodies based on pentatonic scales and very earthy, strong flavor and local color.”

Organized by the Tokyo Opera City Cultural Foundation, the event will feature four pieces by three major Mexican composers: Manuel Ponce (1882-1948), Carlos Chávez (1899-1978) and Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940). These composers’ works are rarely performed in Japan.

Areán says two pieces by Revueltas will be played and they are very different from each other. “Sensemayá,” adapted from a Cuban poem, features a “continuous rhythmic pattern that stacks more and more material on it, creating an amazing tower of sound,” while “La Noche de los Mayas (Night of the Mayas),” which was originally composed for a film, is “more like a mosaic of many different moods, some soft and dreamy, others powerful and rhythmic using percussion to create the climax.”

The Chávez piece is a piano concerto that will be performed by Mexican pianist Gonzalo Gutierrez.

“It is a real tour de force for a pianist, and it reflects the composer’s idea of never-ending material,” Areán says of the concerto. “Always different, always new, but beautifully wrought together.”

He adds that Ponce has a more European sound, and that his melodic line sometimes reaches back to the 19th century.

Ponce’s violin concerto will be performed by Mexican virtuoso Adrián Justus, a pupil of Japanese violinist Yuriko Kuronuma, who is based in Mexico City. She was instrumental in realizing the upcoming event.

“As Mexico’s history boasts a rich tapestry of assimilation that has resulted in a mixed-race, multicultural society, Mexican people enjoy their lives in an open fashion,” says Kuronuma. “I hope that audiences will not miss this opportunity.”

Mexican Music Festival: Orchestra Concert takes place March 30 at 2 p.m. at Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall. Ticket prices range from ¥3,000-¥5,000. Mexican Music Festival: Chamber Music Evening takes place March 28 at 7 p.m. at Tokyo Opera City Recital Hall. Tickets cost ¥4,000. For more information, call the Tokyo Opera City Ticket Center at 03-5353-9999 or visit www.operacity.jp.