If the current San Diego Opera crisis has taught us anything, San Diegans are now keenly aware that no arts organization can neglect innovation and remain viable. Last year, while San Diego’s Mainly Mozart Festival founding Artistic Director David Atherton was leading his farewell concerts, the festival introduced several new series to expand the parameters of this highly traditional classical music enterprise.
I was impressed with the festival’s Artistic Partner Stephen Prutsman and his Evolution at the Abbey series, a cabaret setting that featured current Mexican classical and popular music. Thursday (May 15) at the Abbey, a charming, historic Bankers Hill edifice, Prutsman opened this season’s Evolution series: Onda neuva 2.0—the New Wave of Mexican Art Music.
Indeed, “innovation” was the first word from Prutsman’s lips as he introduced his program, claiming that Mozart himself was all about innovation and implying that anything innovative would merit the festival’s namesake composer’s posthumous blessing and approval. Prutsman’s program divided neatly between the impressive young Mexican violin virtuosa Shari Mason, whom he accompanied on piano, and the sleek Mexico City pop ensemble Paté de Fuá.[php snippet=1]
Mason opened with two movements from José Pablo Moncayo’s 1934 Violin Sonata, a work that alternated slow, dreamy neo-Romantic cantilenas with spikey motor rhythms in the lively sections. What Francis Poulenc was writing in Paris between the wars, Moncayo was creating with equal aplomb in Mexico. Mason followed the Moncayo with Mario Ruiz Armengo’s short “A mes amis,” a sentimental salon melody, and Arturo Márquez’ flashy “Salu,” a ragtime pastiche that overflowed with sophisticated syncopations.
I was eager to hear more of Mason’s artistry, finding her rich, throaty timbre and immaculate phrasing an ideal combination and savoring Prutsman’s altert, stylish accompaniment at the piano. Why did they not play the entire Moncayo Violin Sonata? Did they not have time to rehearse all of it? Did they think it was too serious or too long for the attention span of their audience? I felt shortchanged.
After intermission, the seven man popular ensemble Paté de Fuá offered a generous sampler of their repertory of soulful romantic ballads and athletic dance pieces. If their idiom seemed a deft but generic fusion of North American jazz and Latin American dance rhythms, their calling card was the virtuoso caliber of their individual players. I would single out Alexis Ruiz on vibraphone, accordionist Victor Madariaga, and cornetist Guillermo Perata for their consistently suave yet intricate solos that raised their septet from the level of a smart nightclub band to an estimable chamber concert ensemble.