incident light

SA Symphony with de la Parra, Gorra:

A conductor of rare insight, musicality

October 25, 2008

A revelatory account of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 capped an altogether extraordinary concert by the San Antonio Symphony under guest conductor Alondra de la Parra, Oct. 24 in the Majestic Theater.

The first half offered two contemporary works from Latin America -- the attractive, easily digested Danzon No. 2 by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez and the deep, compelling Three Songs for soprano and orchestra by Osvaldo Golijov of Argentina. Mexican soprano Olivia Gorra was the splendid soloist.
But this was de la Parra’s night, her first with this orchestra and surely, if there is any justice in the universe, not her last. On the basis of this debut, she has to be considered a leading contender for music director.

By all the usual benchmarks for evaluating conductors, she showed herself to be uncommonly gifted. I’ll deal with some of those in a moment, after noting that the benchmarks miss the real story. De la Parra is far more than the sum of her parts. There are two (at least)  aspects of her talent that can’t be quantified.

The first, most obvious in the seemingly familiar territory of Tchaikovsky's gloomy symphony, is insight.  Again and again, her tempo relations or balances or dynamics cast this overexposed piece in new light, elicited an Aha! So that’s how it’s supposed to go! It wasn’t that de la Parra was imposing some new vision on the piece, but that she was allowing it to reveal itself in unaccustomed clarity.

The second imponderable, evident throughout this program, was de la Parra’s musicality. Her blood and bone and breath are music. She is all music, from top to bottom and from inside out.

And she commands the toolkit to make the music real.

She used her whole body, along with a highly expressive stick, to convey a superb sense of rhythm and line. There was a remarkable seamlessness to her Tchaikovsky, as though all the phrases and episodes were cut in one uninterrupted motion from a single block of steel. Her balances and her ear for orchestral color were exemplary throughout. She got precise and very beautiful playing from the orchestra. The strings have seldom sounded so good.

De la Parra’s remarks before the Golijov showed her capable of engaging the audience verbally on a serious level -- an important trait for a potential music director.

Golijov’s Three Songs were new both to the audience (including this listener) and to de la Parra. She and Gorra made an airtight case for this dark but lustrous work. The texts are in three languages -- a Yiddish lullaby by Sally Potter, with klezmer-style commentary on clarinet and bass clarinet; a brooding poem in Spanish by Rosalia de Castro; and, in English, a poem of loss by Emily Dickinson, the music perfectly capturing the subtle tension in the text. Gorra’s rich, bright instrument was especially affecting in the middle song, set to de Castro’s “Lúa descolorida,” which allowed the soprano to unfurl her gleaming high register. Golijov’s score is full of amazing orchestral colors, especially from the low woodwinds, and de la Parra was closely attentive to the coloristic opportunities. She got top-notch solo playing from Stephanie Shapiro (English horn), Ilya Shterenberg (clarinet and basset horn),  Rodney Wollam (bass clarinet), Hye Sung Choe (flute) and concertmaster Ertan Torgul (violin).
Mike Greenberg