GISÈLE BEN-DOR , conductor



Silverstre Revueltas Music Festival in Santa Barbara
By Dietrich Burghofer
Translated by Corinna Assman

A Festival of Discoveries.

Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas was born on the last day of the 19th Century, December 31st 1899. He died at the age of 40, on October 7th 1940. Neglected at first, his work has, experienced a renaissance on the occasion of his 100th birthday (see "KLASSIK heute" 1/2000 page 49), thanks to the busy Uruguayan born, American-Israeli conductor Gisèle Ben-Dor, who organized a Revueltas Festival in Santa Barbara to celebrate the anniversary. Gisèle Ben-Dor has led the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra since 1994. She has already recorded Revueltas' music for the ballet La Coronela with the orchestra for KOCH International two years ago. Santa Barbara, on the sunny coast of California, originally a missionary station led by Franciscan friars, it is a popular touristic attraction today. It was at the Mission where the first chamber music concert took place, with works by Javier Alvarez, Mario Lavista, Leonardo Velasques, Heitor Villa-Lobos and, of course, Silvestre Revueltas. The first work, Javier Alvarez' string quartet called Metro Chbacano was an ideal appetizer for a two-hour concert of Latin-American music. Eight pieces by Revueltas followed, ranging from his first compositions for piano (1924) to his mature quintet called Two Little Serious Pieces , composed in 1940. These performances allowed a fine appreciation of the development in Revueltas' compositions. The advanced Three Little Pieces for violin and piano (1932), suggested that the composer could be thought of as the Bela Bartok of Mexican music. The three short movements develop from the rhythmic energy found in traditional Mexcian music. Later chamber msuci works, such as Ocho Por Radio , written in 1933, already present the kind of ensemble capable of generating the typical "Revueltas sound": trumpet, two woodwinds (clarinet and bassoon), drums and four solo strings. After only a few beats, one feels transported to a Mexican market place. Revueltas' easy going, joyful music seems, at first, to be a Divertimento, yet it can take a sudden turn, indicating states of deep melancholy, as in the elegiac bassoon solo from Ocho Por Radio .

A special angle: Film music

One of Gisèle Ben-Dor's chief goals was to present Revueltas' music films. La Noche de Los Mayas was shown in its original version, with English subtitles, with the orchestral background of the concert work by the same name clearly becoming a Mexican version of the Romeo and Juliet theme. A highlight of the Festival was a three-hour marathon concert with the American premiere of Heitor Villa-Lobos' Tenth Symphony, Amerindia , and the original music to the film Redes (Netze) composed by Revueltas, played the orchestra live with simultaneous showing of the film. The Tenth Symphony of Villa-Lobos, commissioned to celebrate the 400 anniversary of the founding of the city of Sao Paulo, was composed in 1952. This monumental one hour long work - actually an Oratorio for Soli, Choir and Orchestra, fell into oblivion soon after its premiere. It will be available on CD soon, having been recorded by Gisèle Ben-Dor and the Santa Barbara Symphony for Koch International. The film music of Redes , a Mexican film about impoverished fishermen, successfully unionizing against the exploitation by urban businessmen, turned out to the best of Revueltas' scores. Becoming acquainted with the film and the music allows a deeper view of the composer's talent and originality: He always succeeds in producing suggestive sounds which directly affect the listener after a few beats. However, in the long run, the music is so strong, that it makes the film almost unnecessary. A ballet performance would be ideal. On the last day of the Festival, Gisèle Ben-Dor conducted two concert including some of the most important ensemble pieces of Revueltas ( Planos, Sensemaya, Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca ). One of the concerts was for children. Little known are the works for the stage, such as Erase un Rey by Luis Cordoba (1940) and the pantomime music to the fairy tale El Renacuajo Paseador by the Colombian poet Rafael Pombo.

One must congratulate Gisèle Ben-Dor for her initiative. She completed an enormous work load, and her courage and energy are to be admired. Even with scarce rehearsal time available, one must remember that the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra is financed almost exclusively by private donations, 21 pieces by Silvestre Revueltas were performed in four days. That's about half of the complete output of a composer, of whom, according to unanimous opinions of the many journalists traveling from all over the world, more will be said in the future.

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© 2011 Gisele Ben-Dor. All rights reserved.