As the Symphony season begins for the fifth year, we wrote to our friend Elizabeth Arnott, a violinist in the orchetra, to ask how things were going, and why it appeared that there were four guest conductors this season. Elizabeth was loathe to be quoted off the record, but instead sent us this officially approved missive which outlines what is going on with the Symphony this year. From what we can tell, the Symphony, like every other department and organization in the state government, has gone through some turbulent and political times since the new governor was sworn in over a year ago. They now seem to be interviewing conductors from across Mexico to find one who will take them to the next level.
Here is Elizabeth’s explanation of the current state of Yucatan’s Symphony Orchestra:
Five years ago, the local government went against the general trend in other parts of the world, where most orchestras were downsizing, and decided to form the Orquesta Sinfónica de Yucatán. The OSY is based in the beautiful opera house Teatro Peon Contreras, Mérida, Yucatán, where it plays a variety of programmes, from Bach to pop, through classical western, mexican and latin american repertoire.
From extremely small beginnings, a tiny string section, one oboe, one flute, two french horns, one bassoon, it has now grown in size and stature to a full sized symphony orchestra of around 60 musicians coming from some 14 different countries, East and West Europe, Japan, North and South America, even Australia and New Zealand, to join the original core of Yucatecan string players.
It is not an easy task to create a symphony orchestra. Over four years, a young musical director from Colombia – Juan Felipe Molano – worked with the musicians, who were gradually overcoming their birth pangs and growing pains. Now it is no longer a training orchestra, but in the exciting position of being ready to be taken to higher levels – national or even international – by a new music director. This season, September – December 2008, we welcome four guest conductors who are highly qualified and have the experience to take the project to its next inevitable stage. Enrique Barrios, Juan Carlos Lomónaco, Pablo Varela, and David Hernández Bretón. These four Mexican conductors are each to prepare two contrasting programmes, with one week of rehearsal time per programme. By the end of December, the musicians and the orchestral administration, including the Instituto de Cultura de Yucatán and the Patronato (Merida´s elite society of music patrons) will have had time to decide which one they feel would be best suited for our orchestra at this stage in its development, to take us forward – onward and upward. Also, these guest conductors will have had time to decide whether they want the challenge!
The general feeling among the musicians is that we have worked hard to reach this stage, and are very excited at the prospect of being able to perform with a new General Music Director who has the experience and expertise to take us to the level which we deserve. During these past two weeks with the first guest conductor Henrique Barrios, many felt that the orchestra played like it has never sounded before. The first concert was a programme of Mexican and Yucatecan music, and in the second the programme included a Beethoven and Stravinsky´s The Firebird Suite. The concerts were so exciting, both audience and musicians thrilled to the explosion of energy, tight ensemble and well balanced sonorities which Enrique Barrios elicited from the musicians. We are waiting with eager anticipation to see what will happen with the next guest conductors.
Sounds like it is going to be an exciting season to us! Lots of talent and input from different people is sure to make for an interesting series of musical events. And remember, if you can’t drag yourself down to the Centro on a Friday night or midday on Sunday, you can always tune into 103.5 FM (Radio Universidad) at those times and listen to the Symphony play LIVE on the radio. We are so fortunate to have a symphony orchestra here in Merida… let’s be sure to support them!