It seems like only a year or two ago that John Oliver was tapped on short notice to conduct the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, taking over for an ailing Kurt Masur (it was seven years ago last month). This week history (sort of) repeated itself.
We were due to sing with the great Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel in a concert of music by Venezuelan composers. Our piece was to be the Cantata Criolla of Antonio Estévez, a fantastical piece that combines Venezuelan folk music and stories, a singing duel with the Devil, high modernism and Gregorian chant into one spectacular cazuela gaucho.
And then, after a weekend in Boston conducting Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, among other works, Dudamel aggravated a wrist injury and was unable to conduct. Two of the works, never performed in Boston and little known, had to be removed from the program as there was no way to adequately prepare them in time. But James Burton, the TFC’s current conductor, had been working closely with us on Cantata Criolla for about six weeks, and was tapped to conduct the piece so that we would preserve at least some of the original plan for the concert run.
The first concert was last night and was incredible. James got incredible colors out of the orchestra and chorus. The attack of the cicadas was actually frightening. And I’ve never heard an orchestra produce a sound like steel drums before, but Estévez’s orchestration and the precision of James’s conducting brought out a distinctly festive flavor to parts of the singing duel between our complero protagonist Florentíno and El Diablo. It’s a fun work and I’m looking forward to a few more performances.