All of the people who attended the Candlelight Concert Society’s presentation of the string quartet, Cuarteto Latinoamericano were privileged to hear this special treat. The quartet consists of Saúl Bitrán and Arón Bitrán on the violin, Javier Monteil on viola and Álvaro Bitrán on cello. These four men have unbelievable harmony which comes with 40 years of performing together. (You can read Susan Brall’s interview with the group here.) The quartet also had on stage Benjamin Juarez who lectured that night about Mexican history and culture.
Interspersed with the lectures were several Mexican classical pieces from the 18th century to the present and reflected a particular time in Mexican history. This was a very different music than the type we might think of—no Mariachi, Tejano or Banda. This was music comparable to 18th century classical European music and 20th century music from the United States.
Cuarteto Latinoamericano opened up a whole new window to music from Mexico. It was a wonderful change of pace.
The first piece was by an 18th century composer, Ignacio Jerusalén y Stella, a section of his “Obertura.” This definitely had Western European influences and was light and upbeat. The next selection was by Gustavo Campa who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Campa had forgone the Italian operatic influence of his time in favor of French and German styles. The Campa selection, “Trois Miniatures,” was very romantic, influenced by French dances and reminiscent of music played behind early, silent film melodramas.
Manuel M. Ponce wrote the love ballad, “Estrellita,” the only selection that did have a Mexican influence. His sound was more from the rural areas of Mexico and was popular with many different groups, not just the elite. The other piece, “Govata,” was in reality a French dance.
Starting in the 20th century, Mexican composers began to reflect their other arts, with strong influences from Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The music of Carlos Chávez left a solid imprint on Mexican classical music. Chávez would even become a teacher to many of the composers who followed. It was a calmer time, both socially and politically. There were also strong influences in those days from its neighbor to the north, such as the work of Aaron Copeland. Cuarteto Latinoamericano chose a piece that Chávez actually wrote for a string quartet, “String Quartet No. 3” (1st movement). Because the piece was written for strings, the sounds blended perfectly and highlighted the mastery of the musicians on stage. It was a special part of the evening performance.
Silvestre Revueltas did not live long, dying before his 41st birthday. His music lives on and “Música de Feria” is a passionate piece reflecting the struggles in Mexico and the world at the time. I could hear a strong Gershwin influence (think “Rhapsody in Blue”) in this selection.
As modernism grew to the north, it also influenced Mexican art. The last piece was by the renowned artist (and one still living and creating), Gabriela Ortiz. She brings a social awareness to her music and the piece selected, “La Calaca,” had a more urban sound. You could imagine traffic and industry as the notes filled your senses.
As we have come to expect the Candlelight Concert Society finds new and exciting music to share with its audiences. Cuarteto Latinoamericano opened up a whole new window to music from Mexico. It was a wonderful change of pace and the lecture by Juarez was most informative.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes with no Intermission.
Cuarteto Latinoamericano performed on April 23, 2022, presented by the Candlelight Concert Society, at Smith Theater, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD 21044.
Don’t miss Candlelight Concert Society’s next show, “American String Quartet with Octavio Vazquez,” on Sunday, May 22, 2022 at 3:00 pm (one of Ortiz’s compositions will be played that night.) CCS will also announce its next season, in honor of its 50th Anniversary. The concert with Dénes Várjon has been rescheduled for June 1, 2022 at 7:30 pm.