Saturday, October 25, 2008

Noche de los Mayas

I'm posting from a hotel lobby, a couple of hours before tonight's presentation. We will be starting the concert  with Noche de los Mayas, by Silvestre Revueltas. The other half of the concert is standard Mexican orchestral repertoire, including the ever-present Huapango by Moncayo (covered in my previous post, Viva Mexico!).

I had never played Noche de los Mayas before. It is a lot of fun to play, the piano only plays in the very last movement, a series of variations with lots of percussion. Silvestre Revueltas is considered a sort of Latin American Stravinsky. In my opinion, that is only on the surface due to his similar use of the orchestra. His is more like Bartok in his use of elements from Mexican folk music. He is also capable of music that is stunning in its originality and ahead of its time in many respects.

What I love most about Revuelta's music is how it is Mexican to the core. There is an element in his music that embodies perfectly the soul of this country, completely beyond the hemiolas or ending melodies in a descending major third (although he does both constantly). When listening to Noche de los Mayas, I hear the cadences of the Mexican spoken language (especially the rough falling-down-drunk way of talking that Revueltas was known for himself), the characteristic sing-song quality (although not in a pretty way) of the speech of people from Mexico City, and, most of all, a sense of magic and majesty. His music evokes a pre-hispanic Mexico, a culture of transcendental ideas that went beyond every day life. A culture with a rough and brutal side (like Revueltas) but with the dignity and majesty of a civilization convinced of being the center and focus of the universe and the gods.

Here is a video I found on YouTube, the background music is a fragment of the last movement of Noche de los Mayas. It has a huge percussion section, and the last movement is noisy, wild music. When played in Mexico, following the example from Revueltas' premiere of the work, it is traditional to let the percussionists take turns improvising solos in the ad libitum at the end of the first variation of the last movement; I haven't seen it done elsewhere.

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