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18.6.04

National Gallery's 2500th Concert

On June 13, 2004, a special reception preceded the National Gallery Orchestra's concert that marked the 2,500th such effort in its Sixty-second season. It also coincided rather neatly with the quarter-century anniversary for the East Building, the magnificent I. M. Pei-concocted gallery for modern art with its dominant triangular shapes. (With similarities to the addition to the Louvre, also a Pei creation.)

Jorge Mester led the National Gallery Orchestra (formerly the National Gallery Sinfonietta) as its guest conductor in a program that included Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite (1922/1949), Silvestre Revueltas's Homenaje a Federico García Lorca (1935), Maurice Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899), and Alberto Ginastera's Variaciones concertantes (1953). Jorge Mester, his impressive career in his native Mexico, and Revueltas, as well as Ginastera, hinted at the fact that this program, too, was presented in honor of the exhibitions Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya and The Cubist Paintings of Diego Rivera: Memory, Politics, Place (see Ionarts reviews of these exhibits).

The performance in the Gallery's atrium (on the second level) was extremely well attended, and despite several dozen additional chairs put up at the back of the first level of the atrium, many hopeful music lovers had to be turned away on this hot and gorgeous Sunday. The acoustics, at least at ground level, were rather dismal, making a mush out of the delightful neo-baroque Pulcinella Suite, based on melodies by Pergolesi. Between the bad sound and the great music, the mediocre performance of the National Gallery Orchestra did not really weigh in much at all. Mistakes were quickly swallowed, and there was no brilliance to get lost in the first place. It didn't hurt Stravinsky much, and his sunny piece got a deservingly warm reception.

Revueltas's Homage had its own share of musicality to offer, again finely, if never outstandingly, performed by the band upstairs: it wanders between reflecting the upheavals of the time and circumstance in which it was written as well as the somber mood of reflecting upon the untimely death of Federico García Lorca.

Ravel and Ginastera, promising as they were, could not keep me... and given the acoustical back seat, I took my leave—only the fourth time in my life to have left a concert—not because the offerings were bad, but because they were not outstanding enough to merit a tired set of ears trying to cut through the sounds of the echo-chamber.

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