101 multi-ethnic musicians, ranging in age from 12 through 28, comprise the Bahia Orchestra Project and, led by conductor Ricardo Castro, gave a sensational performance at their Thursday concert at the Palladium in Carmel, a stop on their debut North American tour.
Castro, who founded the project in 2007, modeled the orchestra on the Venezuelan “Ill Sistema,” a transformative music program targeting vulnerable young people who are taught to play symphonic musical instruments and then, in turn, teach others. The government of Bahia, which is one Brazil’s 26 states located in the eastern part of the country’s Atlantic coast, supports the group, which is part of the long-term educational program NEOJIBA (Nucleos Estaduais de Orchestras Juvenis e infanti da Bahi).
As the youthful musicians took the stage, they appeared to be all business while they waited for the concertmaster to appear and lead them in tuning their instruments prior to conductor Castro’s entrance. From the moment they began playing Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture,” it was obvious that not only were they high level musicians, but the orchestra itself, led by the dynamic Castro, was of exceptional professional quality. Their performance of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem based on Shakespeare’s tragic story of doomed lovers was outstanding in its capture of the passion, yearning, anxiety and conflict inherent in the R & J plot.
Renowned French piano soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet accompanied the orchestra in a stunning rendition of Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G Major.” Known for his exceptional musicality and technical virtuosity, Thibaudet played Ravel’s jazz-infused piece spectacularly, with the orchestra more than holding its own. It was an enthralling performance by Thibaudet, who once studied at the Paris Conservatory with Lucette Descaves, a friend and collaborator of Ravel’s.
Following intermission, Castro did double duty as conductor and pianist when the uber-energetic orchestra performed George Gershwin’s iconic jazz concerto “Rhapsody in Blue.” Demonstrating his own tremendous talent on the piano, Castro led the orchestra in an interpretation that was vigorous and forceful.
The remainder of the program brought the orchestra closer to its Latin American roots with its performance of the last two movements of “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2,” by Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos, Latin America’s most significant composer to date.
Portending things to come from an orchestra that had up to that point remained serious and staid in its demeanor, was its performance of Mexican composer Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon No. 2” at the end of the concert. Marquez’s piece was inspired by danzon, a tango-tinged Cuban dance that became popular in Mexico in the first half of the 20th Century. At one point during the piece, which builds and builds, a surprising turn of events occurred when the members of the string section began to sway in their seats in unison as they played their instruments. Musically and visually, it was a thrilling spectacle.
Returning to the stage after sustained applause from an obviously infatuated audience, Castro remarked that in addition to the training of young musicians who then pay it forward by training others, his organization also trains those who wish to conduct. Then he introduced promising 21-year old maestro Yuri Azevedo, who proceeded to lead the orchestra in three encore pieces. Utilizing percussion as only the Brazilians can, the orchestra, whipped into a frenzy by Azevedo, replicated the celebratory carnival sounds of Salvador and Rio when they played and danced in place to “Dance at Gym (Mambo)” from “West Side Story” and “Aquarela do Brasil (Brazil).” During “Tico-Tico no Fubár” two musicians proudly held a Brazilian flag aloft as they crossed the stage while a viola-player broke into a Samba dance.
The entire encore segment was an electrifying, joyful conclusion to a one-of-a-kind experience that will long be remembered for the infectious spirit of the talented young musicians who made it special as well as the hope they engendered through their positive image, vitality and commitment to teaching and sharing music to better others’ lives.
For tickets and information about upcoming performances at the Center for the Performing Arts call (317) 843-3800 or visit www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.
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