I had already decided to go to Guadalajara to hear the Jalisco Philharmonic Orchestra after hearing a live concert a few Sundays ago on Puerto Vallarta´s local cultural channel 13. I missed going to classical concerts, and I had not been to Guadalajara recently. However, events intervened, and about the same time that I realized the Guadalajara trip would be a little ambitious, I heard about the Puerto Vallarta Chamber Orchestra (PVCO) performance at the Puerto Vallarta Hotel Krystal conference center. It was clear from some on line research that the level of musicianship might be a little bit less sophisticated than what I had hoped to hear in Guadalajara, but it was close, cheap and I could support local classical music. A perfect alternative!
The performance I attended on Monday, March 23, 2015, included a program of old favorites and they were played with pure gusto, if not always perfection. The program began just 5 or 10 minutes after the scheduled time of 8 p.m., (this is Mexico) with the orchestral version of the “Carmen Suite” by Georges Bizet. Despite children running with heads ducked below the stage and attendees arriving fashionably late and seating themselves, the orchestra was clearly enjoying itself, as was the crowd. (For a Monday night in Mexico, attendance was surprisingly robust.) The Toreador elements of “Carmen”, always invite toe-tapping, but this crowd was quite respectfully still. Nonetheless, either it is the custom in Mexico to applaud between every movement, or this audience made up for its quiet reverence when the orchestra played with abundant applause after each halt in music. This made for a little bit of initial discomfort for me due to my snobby E.U. approach to concert going, but I got used to it, and it was fun to quit worrying about who knew the music and who didn´t.
An aside as to the venue: the convention hall of the Krystal has a vaulting wooden ceiling with lovely older Mexican touches, and the view and the acoustics were wonderful from almost every seat. That being said, the location is relatively small for the production of full orchestral pieces, and these musicians, already somewhat challenged in the pianissimo department, had a hard time keeping the sound down where it need to be at particularly soft musical moments. All in all, thank you Krystal, as it appears from the program that the venue was either donated or provided at a cut price.
What was announced as a world premier came next. Entitled “Orpheus” and written by local composer John Robertson (also a clarinetist in the orchestra,) it was made up of two movements, an Overture and a Waltz. Although the performance was a bit muddy, the piece was gorgeous, and I suspect only needs a little cleaning up either by the orchestra or by the composer. I want to hear this piece again! Please, Mr. Robertson, make your presence known to all of us music lovers!
The Peer Gynt Suite no. 1, Op. 46 by Edvard Grieg was the last piece prior to the intermission. Another highly recognizable piece in much of the concert going world, it was again unclear if the audience was familiar with it or not. I found it challenging to listen to, in that it can be overdone in terms of volume and underdone in terms of precision, and that was the case here as well. This orchestra should take heart in the fact that many, many orchestras do the same thing with the piece. But it is musically accessible to the most untrained ear, and a good piece to keep working on.
The concert goers were given what I consider a very brief and educational history of the orchestra. The most important item I took away from that information was that the PVCO has joined forces with the Orquesta Escuela De Puerto Vallarta (OEPV, or the Puerto Vallarta Orchestra School.) Many of the players were either teachers or students at the school, and this merger will clearly benefit orchestral music in Puerto Vallarta for years to come. But, of course, like almost every other cultural organization everywhere, they need money. Standard items such as musical stands are in short supply. (For those of you with any instrumental background – try practicing without a music stand!) The conductor and president of PVCO also requested larger sums going towards a set of tympani. I suspect that tympani, which I have always found fascinating and stirring, impact both students and audiences the same way, and the organization hopes to drum up (pun intended) musical interest on both sides of the equation with that goal. And they are not, I repeat, NOT, cheap, even in Mexico.
Franz Shubert´s Symphony No. 8 in B minor D. 759 rounded out the concert. At one point, a baby started crying. What was amazing was that baby cried in key! I was almost sad that the mother and child repaired to the lobby.
The applause at the end of the production was long and full. Never have I seen such relaxed enthusiasm by classical concert goers. I encourage you to become one of them, and give what you can, if you can. The joy of orchestral music is an experience to which more people of all cultures should have access.