Sunday’s concert was both special and different. From the very moment I walked into Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center, I knew something looked different. It hit me, the curtains were down, and I could not see the musicians as they rehearsed as I am used to at orchestral concerts. This, however, was only the first indication of what was to come as the production itself would feature dancers, a painted backdrop, and a full multimedia presentation. Maestro Zona even donned a stylish fedora and suspenders to go along with the tango theme.
None of this would have mattered much though if the music itself had not been engaging. And, engaging it was! In front of the familiar string players, there sat Anna Maria Mendieta on harp surrounded by her travelling teammates – violinist Thomas Yee, cellist Joseph Hébert, and percussionist Antonio Gomez. With splendid orchestral backing, this foursome of soloists – a veritable chamber group – played brilliant music full of tango rhythms and other colorful Spanish and Latin American elements.
Sunday’s concert held many highlights for me. In Act I, the orchestral arrangement of Leyenda de Asturias by Isaac Albéniz was as pulsing and as powerful as the more familiar version for guitar, but here its excitement was amplified by the colorful interchanges between the various instruments. Later, the familiar Bordel 1900 from Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango – originally for flute and guitar – shone with similar brilliance in its orchestral arrangement. In the Second Act, percussionist Gomez and cellist Hébert played solos of their own invention which were full of intensity too. And, everything ended on an exciting note with the famous Malagueña in an arrangement by Mendieta herself.
I was also overjoyed to learn that the Rapides Symphony Orchestra provided two opportunities for educational outreach while the Tango del Cielo troupe was in town. Saturday, Anna Maria Mendieta led a masterclass with local dance studios all about the tango and flamenco dance idioms. And, on Monday, the Tango troupe and orchestra staged an additional performance of the concert for local public schools. I think music should be a vital part of every child’s education, and that it is essential to introduce classical music to children – an age when people’s minds are still so open to new things. The music lectures I myself have given, I know, have been rewarding as I have watched students’ eyes light-up when they hear music that is unexpectedly familiar. I am thrilled to see the Rapides Symphony Orchestra devoting their time to these educational efforts!
In the coming weeks, music lovers will have more chances to experience music locally. February 5 is our next Abendmusik Alexandria, and will feature Trio de Llano, a wind trio made-up of flutist Dennette McDermott, clarinetist Malena McLaren, and bassoonist Douglas Bakenhus. Among the pieces Trio de Llano will be playing is a world premiere by Shreveport-based composer Todd Gabriel. Program notes are now available online, if you wish to read ahead. Sunday, February 8 is the Dan Hill memorial concert – Dancing on the Keys – with pianist Charles Jones. Then, on February 26, the Shreveport Opera returns to Alexandria for A Little Night Music, a concert of opera arias and Broadway show tunes. More on these soon!
Until next time, hope you listen to some great music!
About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a music historian and composer. He is a graduate of the Louisiana Scholars’ College – Louisiana’s designated honors college – where he completed an undergraduate thesis entitled “Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers.” He has followed classical music around the world, attending the BachFest Leipzig in Germany, Colorado’s Aspen Music Festival, and many concerts across Louisiana and Texas. Resident in Alexandria, Jackson works with the Arts Council of Central Louisiana as Series Director of the Abendmusik Alexandria chamber music series. He also writes the program notes for the Rapides Symphony Orchestra. As his day job, Jackson serves as Operations Manager of TicketCentral.