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Cuarteto Latinoamericano + Quintet of the Americas, March 10 at Americas Society

Ernest Barteldes By

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Cuarteto Latinoamericano + Quintet of the Americas
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Americas Society
New York, NY

Compositions by new Mexican composers were presented at this joint appearance from the two classical/folk groups, at their first live collaboration in four years. The Cuarteto Latinoamericano (Saul Bitran, Aton Bitran and Aron Bitran: violins; Javier Montiel: viola; Alvaro Bitran: cello) opened the proceedings with Javier Alvarez's "Metro Chabacano," a lively number inspired by the cadence of the trains of the Mexico City subway. Though classical in essence, the music had clear influence from traditional music and even some touches of the more erudite work of Antonio Carlos Jobim. They followed that with Gabriela Ortiz's "La Calaca," which had almost a movie soundtrack feel, filled with climatic phrases, lots of finger-plucking and illustrative up and down notes. The tune is part of the composer's "Altar de Muertos," a musical chronicle of her country's festival of the dead.

The Quintet of the Americas (Sato Moughalian: flute; Matt Sullivan: oboe; Nicholas Gallas: clarinet; Barbara Oldham: horn; Maureen Strenge: bassoon) then took the stage to perform Mario Lavista's "Marsias" for oboe and crystal glasses. It was one of the most intriguing pieces of the evening, as the musicians played on tuned glasses while Sullivan played a cacophony of notes. The tune had a tragic feel to it as the notes became higher and higher—an allusion to the violent death of the mythological character who dared to challenge Apollo, the god of music.

Next they resumed their usual instruments for Arturo Marquez' Danza del Melodia, a more classically-oriented piece with touches of tango and elements of traditional music.

After a brief intermission, the Quintet returned for Federico Ibarra's three-movement "Juegos Noturnos," which alternated between up-tempo and slower moments, with dramatic ups and downs. They were then joined by the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, and augmented as a nine-piece group they performed the world premiere of Mario Lavista's seven-movement "Suite de Gargantua," a composition specially commissioned for this encounter.

It was interesting to notice how great the two ensembles sounded together, and the chemistry they have developed during the few times they have joined forces. Throughout the piece, Bitran's cello served a more percussive function, whilst the violins were prominent in the arrangement. Each movement was very short, with picturesque, fragmented sounds that—according to the author's notes, were inspired by the 16th century French novel La Vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais.

It was an extremely enjoyable evening that introduced the audience to music they might not have discovered otherwise, since these composers are not exactly household names. At the end of the recital, one would hope for another joint appearance by the two groups, who complement each other wonderfully.


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