Photo: Natalia Sun / Natalia Sun
The exotic, hot-blooded nature of Spanish classical music stems from the gypsy culture, and the San Antonio Symphony on Saturday night combined music, dance and singing to make nomadic magic in its final “Symphony of Flavors” festival concert.
The concert’s centerpiece was Manuel de Falla’s ballet music titled “El amor brujo,” which joined the orchestra with Austin mezzo-soprano Veronica Williams and San Antonio’s Guadalupe Dance Company.
In three songs, Williams sang with an assertive urgency to help tell the ballet’s story of breaking a spell. Eight Guadalupe dancers performed dramatic, powerful choreography in three of the dozen sections, starting with the bewitching “Ritual Fire Dance” scene, all to the delight of the audience of about 1,000 people at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
The concert began with a vivid reading of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen Suite No. 1” that summarizes Bizet’s tragic-love opera set amid Spain’s gypsy community.
“Capriccio espagnol” by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov picked up on the Spanish themes. Although quite a bit of Russian fireworks can be heard, Rimsky-Korsakov’s brilliant orchestrations captures Spain’s landscapes. Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing managed the right balances to heighten the orchestral colors.
The Saturday night onstage food demonstration was presented by Tobin Center Executive Chef Paul Goll, who prepared landlovers paella, a mixture of Spanish chorizo with sweet peas and butternut squash. Goll prepared the plates while the orchestra played Leonard Bernstein’s lively Three Dance Variations from “Fancy Free.”
Other non-Spanish portions of the concert were Bernstein’s jazzy “Mambo” from “West Side Story” and U.S. composer Jennifer Higdon’s introspective Breeze Serenade from “Dance Card” for strings only.
The orchestral encore was the popular “Tico-Tico no fubá” by Brazilian Zequina de Abreu, a melody that became a hit during the 1940s.
The Spanish program wrapped up the San Antonio Symphony’s three-program “Symphony of Flavors” festival that toured Italy, France and Spain and combined the music with onstage food preparation demonstrations. The “flavor” festival was part of a broader European tour that started with a March 1 British program and will continue, without the food component, later this spring with Eastern Europe- and Russian-themed programs.
The three “flavors” concerts were a successful departure from music-only festivals of the past, mostly because they celebrated San Antonio’s ascending culinary status. They certainly gave symphony audiences new dining ideas. Lang-Lessing, who could have a side career as a food and restaurant critic, firmly believes food preparation is a performing art. The onstage food segments came off as a entertaining novelty but not anything that should be a standard concert practice.
The food segments worked best when the chefs made their demonstrations with the orchestra silent, such as when Cookhouse chef Pieter Sypesteyn prepared flamed mushroom-sausage crepes, the aroma lingering in the concert as the orchestra subsequently played a Berlioz piece on April 5. This allowed the chef to comment on the ingredients and process.
When Botika chef Geronimo Lopez made scallop crisp ver bruschetta on March 29, it distracted from the orchestra’s concurrent performance of Verdi’s Overture to “I vespri siciliani.” Maybe next time, the names of the chefs, restaurants and dishes can be printed in the concert program books.
Musically, the three “flavors” concerts were successful because of Lang-Lessing’s inventive and thoughtful programs and orchestral encores that presented audiences with nationalistic and cultural musical roots.