SASO performs the Mexican Joya, Sinfonia India


Punch Howarth

The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra will perform Carlos Chavez short-nationalistic-Amerindian Symphony at their first three concerts. Chavez is the dean of Mexican composers who lived from 1899 to 1978. He traveled widely and had close musical connections in the United States. As with a contemporary, Igor Stravinsky, he evolved through different periods of compositional development; romanticism, abstract expressionism, nationalism, lastly traditional forms including symphonies, concertos and quartets. His Sinfonia India-1935-36 falls in period III.

This jewel, Sinfonia, is a single work with three internal sections and is scored for a standard orchestra except for the percussion. The themes incorporated are from three northern Mexico cultures; Huicholes of Nayarit, Yaqui of Sonora and Seris from Baja, California. There are also short injections from other cultures. Chavez requests when possible to use original native percussion instruments. Four percussionists plus timpani cover the written parts with a recommended substitute following each instrument. Percussion I Yaqui/Indian drum, clay rattle/maraca; Percussion II water gourd/tenor drum, butterfly cocoon string/soft rattle two teponaxtles/xylophones; Percussion III deer hoofs/rattling string; Percussion IV tlapanhuehuetl/bass drum, raspador/rasping stick.

A 41 measure-very excited-very fast introduction of changing meters of 5/8,4/8,7/8 time leads to theme one in 3/2(6/4) time which features oboe and violins. Meter variations will occur throughout the work. Theme two will be on a much slower two time and features woodwinds. An even slower third theme blends harp and percussion. The wild music from the beginning returns leading to a very fast coda conclusion in 6/8. Listen for the rips in trombones and trumpets. The best way to follow all the time changes is to do what the musicians do, watch the conductor. This music is difficult and success depends on the conductor and rehearsals. Director Linus Lerner has had the orchestra in past seasons perform a variety of works similar to this so they should be ready.

This work is labeled a three-movement symphony in one continuous work. This writer feels it might just as well be labeled a tone or symphonic poem as it is so descriptive and short. The 12-minute work is exciting-perplexing and fun.

Saturday, September 15 at the Fox Tucson Theater downtown will be the first performance of the Chavez in a free concert. Also on the program will be arias from great operas and various Latin American selections. Sinfonia India will also be performed at SaddleBrooke at DesertView Performing Arts Auditorium on Saturday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m. and in Oro Valley at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church on Sunday, October 21 at 3:00 p.m. Also on this first regular season concert by SASO includes Sandra Shen soloist in Piano Concerto No. 2 by Saint-Saens, Debussy’s Petite Suite and Conga del Fuego Nuevo by Marquez. For ticket and orchestra information go to