Mexican Revelation

A Hundred Years After Their Birth, Mexican Composers Chávez And Revueltas Continue To Spice Up The Classical Palette With Their Symphonic Legacies.

By James Reel

THEY ARE MEXICO'S Mozart and Haydn, eternally twinned composers who dominated their time and society. In actualitrev3: evueltas had little in common except their nationality and birth year--1899. Yet place and period can create a strong bond between artists whose aesthetics are otherwise as different as, say, machaca and chorizo.

Chávez provided the machaca: music that is pure beef, spicy yet basically dry. Revueltas was the king of musical chorizo; his works are even more highly spiced, their ingredients taken from who knows where, ground together and packed tight enough to burst from their casing.

Review You might think it's the other way around after the April 15 Centennial Hall concert by the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México and conductor Enrique Arturo Diemecke. The program features Chávez' second symphony, the brief Sinfonía India, and Revueltas' last work, a suite from the unfinished ballet La Coronela.

The symphony leaps and shakes with strong, irregular rhythms and melodies borrowed from Mexico's Huichol, Yaqui and Seri cultures; the sounds of wooden beads, deer hooves and water gourds spill from the percussion section. The ballet suite may seem slightly tame by comparison, if only because it lacks such touches as the big conch solo that blasts through the end of Revueltas' La Noche de los Mayas--that raucous Mexican Rite of Spring that figured in Diemecke's first Tucson appearance with his orchestra, in 1992.

Sinfonía India is Chávez' greatest hit; Diemecke and company played it the last time they were here. La Coronela, on the other hand, is a rarity.

Revueltas received the commission for this ballet score in 1939 from Mexico's Fine Arts Ballet. The production was inspired by the macabre engravings of popular illustrator José Guadalupe Posada, and was set early in this century, around the time of the Mexican Revolution. It's all about class conflict, with the lady colonel of the title ultimately saving Mexico's poor from bourgeois oppression. Hand this scenario to some Soviet hack of the same period, and you'll get two hours of grinding bombast. I haven't heard La Coronela yet (the sole recording--Diemecke's--is available only in Mexico, but the conductor promises to bring some to sell in the Centennial lobby). From the way Diemecke describes it, the score should offer Revueltas' usual invigorating mix of snotty parody and hallucinatory primitivism.

According to Diemecke, the ballet's four sections were completed by Blas Galindo (composer of the pops favorite Sones de Mariachi) and Candelario Huízar shortly after Revueltas drank himself to death in 1940. But this version was lost, and the suite was re-completed in the 1970s by still other hands, with the final section lifted from Revueltas' score for a movie called Vámonos con Pancho Villa. Revueltas himself had gone off to join Villa during the revolution, which may have something to do with the sudden, dirty violence in much of his music.

Diemecke retouched that later version, fixing up the structure of the finale, changing a trumpet call from the arrangers' all-purpose Internationale to a melody found in the Pancho Villa film, and making the orchestration sound more like Revueltas, with prominent roles for odd instruments like tuba, e-flat clarinet and piccolo. Diemecke promises that various passages will remind Revueltas fans of Redes, Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca or La Noche de los Mayas. In others words, every ingredient in the Revueltas cookbook: grim musical landscape painting, raucous nose-thumbing ditties, riotous orchestral color.

Chávez lived until 1978, nearly twice as long as Revueltas, and went through several phases that make it difficult to generalize about his style. Diemecke believes Chávez to be the more cerebral composer; even in his most nationalistic scores, including the Sinfonía India, Chávez tended to fit his materials into strict classical forms. "Revueltas is more spontaneous," says Diemecke. "His music is more sentimental, it has more feelings, more description of the people. Probably that's mostly because he worked a lot for movies." His film scores were necessarily tied to action, character and mood, with sudden shifts of scene, and even his concert-hall works can sound like Expressionistic soundtracks.

Sixty years ago, Chávez and Revueltas based much of their music on Mexican history and folklore. But Mexican composers, like their compatriots elsewhere in the Americas, have since gone international. Last year, conductor and sometime composer Diemecke found inspiration for his newest work in the World Cup. The result, Die-Sir-E, also figures in his Tucson concert. As you might guess if you cross your eyes a little and let the title blur, the piece incorporates the familiar "Dies Irae" theme from the Gregorian Mass for the Dead.

"It was commissioned as part of the celebration of the World Cup in 1998," Diemecke explains. "The plan was to do a concert with the title 'Concert Match,' because it resembled a football match with two orchestras, two conductors and two different composers writing the music for a videotape of a game played between Brazil and France in 1986 in Mexico. René Koering composed the music for the French team, while I was commissioned to do the music for the Brazilian team. Brazil lost to France in a penalty shot, so that's why I based my music on the theme from the Mass for the Dead. But at least I put it in the form of sambas and bossa novas."

Enrique Arturo Diemecke and the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 15, at UA Centennial Hall, University Boulevard east of Park Avenue. Tickets cost $26, $32 and $38, with discounts for kids 18 and under, all students with ID, UA employees and UApresents subscribers. For reservations and information, call 621-3341.

Homero Cerón, principal percussionist of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, will host a free, pre-performance discussion of Mexican composers from 6:45 to 7:15 p.m. in the Center for English as a Second Language, Room 102, at 1100 E. North Campus Drive. TW

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