The Orchestra of the Americas completed their five week tour of Poland, Ukraine and Germany with a concert full of life and fun in the Usher Hall. It’s a pan-American symphony orchestra of musicians aged 18-30 from over 25 countries. The evening’s conductor was born in Mexico City, the leader in Peru and the pianist in Caracas, Venezuela. Two of the three composers were American born.
A snappy single-movement symphony from Mexican composer Carlos Chávez featured four percussion players with authentic Indian instruments - an Aztec drum, a hollow wooden slit-drum as well as two intriguing rattles, the softer one containing butterfly cocoons, the other dried deer hooves. We were guided through these at the outset by conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, and this made it all the more interesting. Carlos Chávez, the composer, was responsible for the formation of the first permanent orchestra in Mexico in 1928.
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 is a familiar work which the Orchestra took in their stride. It was the pianist whole stole the day. Gabriela Montero had begun her career with the Simón Bolivar Orchestra when she was eight but her later training included the Royal Academy of Music. When it was time for an encore she explained her love of improvisation and asked for a tune she could use from the audience. After a few possibilities she started winding and weaving round the proffered tune and went on with great zeal. But that wasn’t enough, so for a second encore she brought three players from the Orchestra, all from Venezuela, with their instruments, two percussion and one the principal double bass. This time she was offered The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond and off they went. It was great fun.
Although Carlos Chávez and Aaron Copland were friends their styles were very different. There is a recurring theme in Copland’s Third Symphony which keeps it together. It took the large Orchestra with a conductor who clearly had every player under his spell to give us a memorable experience.
It was five minutes to ten when we thought we were going home. But no, Carlos Miguel Prieto the conductor was telling us that as this was the final concert of their tour it was tradition to celebrate - in their way. And so for twenty five minutes groups of players from most of the 25 countries represented gave a hint of their country’s music whilst, bit-by-bit, national flags were unfurling. Impromptu and yet organised, the conductor stood on the podium hoping he was in charge - and loving every moment.
Performance: Tuesday 7th August 2018 at 7.30pm.