Sunday, January 21, 2007

MUSIC: Claudia Calderón at the Museum of Latin American Art

Yesterday afternoon we met our friends Bill and Leo down in Long Beach for a concert by Venezuelan pianist Claudia Calderón. We knew nothing about her, but the concert was being put on by the Da Camera Society, who arrange chamber music concerts in interesting sites (churches, architecturally significant buildings and private homes), and whose taste is impeccable. This concert was at the Museum of Latin American Art, a museum I'd always been interested to check out, but never had. We got there early to check out the museum before the concert. There was a special exhibit called "UnbrokenTies: Dialogues in Cuban Art", featuring paintings and photographs. Some of them pointed out contrasts (a pair of photos showing a government official's house and a similarly styled citizen's house, the first immaculately maintained and the second one falling apart -- at first glance it looked almost like "before and after" pictures of a renovation), while others pointed out similarities (a pair of photos showing a group of old men playing dominos in Havana, and a group of old men playing dominos in Miami). And of course many had poignant symbols of the "bolseros". One painting titled "Saltida de Temporada Alta" (something like "high season for leaving") showed two figures carrying a flotation life-ring, decorated with compass points, some pointing to success and some pointing to death. The permanent collection had many interesting paintings, photographs, sculptures and other media, but two paintings in particular stayed with me. "Exodo" (exodus) by Mexican-trained painter Arnold Belkin, portrayed a man and woman in the foreground of a crowd of people, the man looking forward with grim determination etched on his face, and the woman holding his arm while looking back with a face full of sorrow and loss. The emotions were vivid, and the style made me think of Van Gogh or Munch as much as the Mexican muralists who Belkin had studied under. "Vendedora de Ayote" (woman selling squash) by Nicaraguan painter Sergio Velasquez had a voluptuous woman (think Gaston Lachaise proportions) with some large gourds, and the most amazing light in it. The woman literally had a glow coming from within her that was so powerful that I looked around to see if it were being aided by an external light source.

The museum was a nice prelude to the concert, which was phenomenal. Claudia Calderón is a pianist and a musicologist who has studied extensively the musical styles of Latin America, particularly the plains of Venezuela and Colombia, a style called joropo. (In introducing her, the director of Da Camera called her the Bela Bartok of Venezuela.) She has taken this music and arranged it for piano, accompanied by a trio of traditional and modern instruments: the cuatro, the maracas, and a double-bass. The joropo music typically has a fast lively beat, that Calderón compared to galloping on a horse. It was true: as they performed, I felt transported to the Orinoco plains, galloping across the free open spaces, wind and sunshine on my face. It is ambiguous whether the piano is a string instrument (it has strings) or a percussion instrument (the keys cause hammers to hit the strings), but under Calderón's hands, it was clearly a percussion instrument. Her hands flew vigorously over the keys, striking percussive beats while bright melodic notes flew. I wondered how so much sound could come from only two hands. Her band were all incredibly talented, and they played with the feel of a longtime jazz combo. You could see the communication among them, as they watched one another, exchanging looks, and feeding off one another's musical energy. And like a jazz combo, the focus would shift from one to another as they took featured riffs and solos. Like Calderón's piano, the cuatro (a small Venezuelan guitar) played by Henry Linarez was as much a percussion instrument as a string one. This small instrument produced a prodigious amount of sound, as he strummed and picked the strings, while tapping the resonant body. José Alberto Pérez was masterful on the maracas, producing a surprising variety of rhythmic patterns, a rattlesnake one second and instantly silent the next, then clearly articulated triplets the next. Roberto Koch played his double-bass like a lover, sometimes tenderly and sometimes pumping hard. The rhythms were thrilling, with much syncopation, and even one merengue piece in 5/8 time, with alternating twos and threes energetically driving the music. This ensemble produced such music that the audience was rapt, and leapt to our feet at the end. And then stood in line to buy a CD.

1 comment:

Johnny said...

That is a nice museum. Thanks for this post.