By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Orchestra. Sonia Marie de Len de Vega, conductor
Friday, May 22, 2011 Thorne Hall (Occidental College)
With thousands of musicians working in the entertainment
industry throughout Southern California, this region hosts an unusually large
number of quality orchestras, some of which have thriving niche markets. One of
those is the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, which for 18 years has used concerts and
educational programs to bring classical music to the Hispanic community (which
is no longer small enough to be called “niche”).
For the final concert of its 2010-2011 season yesterday at
Occidental Colllege’s Thorne Hall, Music Director Sonia Marie de Len de Vega
had planned to honor composer Daniel Catn, who was born in Mexico but lived in
South Pasadena for many years. Catn attended the orchestra’s concerts regularly;
his wife is the orchestra’s harpist, although she didn’t perform yesterday for
Catn died unexpectedly on April 8 at the age of 62 while
teaching and composing an opera in Austin, Tex. Thus, this concert became a
memorial celebration but there was no sadness to it. Although de Len de Vega
wrote a touching remembrance in the program, there were no speeches or pictures
about Catn … nothing, in fact, but three short pieces (they totaled less than
30 minutes) that touched on elements of Catn’s compositional life.
For many in audience, the piece with which Catn is
indelibly linked is his final opera, Il
Postino (The Postman), which received its world premiere at Los Angeles
Opera last September to ecstatic audience reaction and critical reviews. It
later debuted in Vienna and will open at Le Thtre du Chtelet in Paris next
The middle of the three pieces yesterday, an Intermezzo for Oboe d’amore from Il Postino, featured a limpid, plaintive
solo from the orchestra’s principal oboe, Sarah Beck, accompanied by well-known
guest harpist Paul Baker. De Len de Vega emphasized the lush orchestral music
that Catn wrote in this Puccini-esque opera as she and the orchestra discretely
accompanied the soloists.
The opening piece was a three-minute Overture that Catn
wrote for the Mexican “telenovela” (a.k.a. soap opera) El Vuelo del guila (The Flight of the Eagles) in the 1990s. Beginning
with Rachel Berry’s winsome French horn solo, de Len de Vega conducted the
waltz melodies in a straightforward fashion.
The first half concluded with Caribbean Airs, Catn’s 20-minute, three-movement homage to the
sort of Cuban music that he said in a program note were among his earliest
musical memories. Percussionists Jason Goodman, Brad Dutz and Bruce Carver were
the frolicking soloists, joined by several of the orchestra’s percussionists in
the jazzy two outer movements, which bracketed a meditative inner movement that
spotlighted the orchestra’s lush string sections.
After intermission, de Len de Vega and her ensemble,
augmented by 14 percussionists, gave a highly credible account of Silvestre
Revueltas’ La noche de los Mayas. Revueltas
(who was born literally on the cusp of the 20th century — Dec. 31,
1899) originally wrote this piece as film music in 1939, a year before he died,
but today most of us know it through a four-movement concert suite created in
1960 by Jos Limantour.
Apart from some smudgy horn work, the opening emphasized
mystery. The second movement danced with pulsating joy, the third movement
again spotlighted the ensemble’s lush string sections and the fourth movement –
with its percussion-section cadenza — finished in a blaze of colorful glory. As
is always the case, the audience went bonkers at the conclusion.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.