Queensland Symphony Orchestra brought the music of Mexican and Brazilian composers to Brisbane audiences at their recent Latin American Gala, joined by virtuoso guitarist Yamandu Costa and his Brazilian seven-stringed classical guitar for a spectacular evening concert celebrating the power and passion of Latin American music.
The first piece of the evening was Carlos Chávez’s Sinfonia india (Symphony No.2), a single-movement work which quotes directly from indigenous themes – specifically, the music of the Seri and Yaqui people of Sonora, and the Huicholes of Nayarit. Unique percussive elements, including an instrument originally made from deer hooves, combined with intricate rhythms and melodies, beautiful woodwinds, and harp, made for a thrilling listening experience. The piece was energetic, joyful, and uplifting, and the large strings section moving in unison made it seem even grander and more epic.
QSO Music Director Alondra de la Parra literally shone onstage as she conducted the concert, dressed in sequins, and her graceful, fluid conducting remained crisp and restrained even as she exuded passionate energy.
In Brisbane for the first time, guitarist and composer Yamandu Costa joined the Queensland Symphony Orchestra to perform his own Concerto Fronteira, inspired by the land borders of Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay where Costa travelled as a child, touring with his father Algacir Costa.
The piece used the bodies of the double basses as part of its percussion, and Costa’s playing was mesmerising. The first movement of the concerto was warm and atmospheric, appropriately titled Fiesta (Party) and incorporating traditional and popular music from northern Argentina, Paraguay, and southern and central Brazil. The second movement, Coração de Camalote (Camalote’s heart), was much more melancholic, languid and lovely as it evoked the image of aquatic plants adrift between countries, while the third, Contrabando (Contraband), was full of darkness and light as well as sudden, exciting changes of pace, inspired by the illegal commercial activities that take place on the Brazilian border. The orchestra stamping in perfect unison, coupled with the intensity of the music, sent shivers down my spine.
Costa played with great personality and vigour, his fingers rippling over the strings with speed and precision, his cheek almost pressed to the body of the guitar. Following rapturous applause for his concerto, he returned to the stage to play an encore piece, his El Negro Del Blanco. Costa whistled and sang, almost dancing, as he played with incredible speed and skill. I don’t know much about musical technique or theory, but I know that when the other exceptional musicians onstage are watching with the same rapt attention as the audience, there is magic happening.
The third work of the evening was a series of three pieces by Camaro Guarnieri. Dança Brasileira was bright and brassy with upbeat percussion, incorporating the traditional samba rhythm of rural Brazil; Dança Selvagem was low and slow with a simple, memorable melody and lilting woodwinds, based on a rhythm recorded by Brazilian ethnologist Edgar Roquette-Pinto; and Dança Negra was busy with percussion and bursting with brass, inspired by a candomblé ceremony witnessed by the composer during a visit to the Bahia region in 1937.
Unfortunately, the anticipated fourth piece of the night, Enrico Chapela’s Ínguesu, inspired by Mexico’s victory over Brazil in the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup, was not able to be performed.
The fifth piece was Bachianas Brasileiras No.7, by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Alondra de la Parra described Villa-Lobos as “the father of Brazilian music” and spoke briefly about the influence of European traditions and teachers on his music, which I felt I could hear in the second movement – a light-hearted, darting jig underpinned by a lively rhythm and piping brass. The entire piece made distinctive use of the brass and percussion sections, culminating in a grand conclusion.
Joining the orchestra for the final work of the evening, José Pablo Moncayo’s stirring piece Huapango, were several musicians from Brisbane Girls Grammar School who certainly seemed to hold their own amongst the professional musicians. The piece was playful, and moved seamlessly from small and soft to sweeping and grand. Following delighted applause the orchestra, including the BGG musicians, played an encore piece – Danzon No. 2 by Arturo Márquez, upbeat and complex, full of powerful energy, and the perfect note to end on for such a spectacular night of music.