Caminos del Inka: A Musical Journey through the Inca Trail

By Philippa Kiraly

If, like me, you don’t really know where the Inca Train went, it was laid out for us at the start of this Seattle Symphony concert by guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya. It went north from Peru to Southern Colombia through Ecuador, and south from there through Bolivia and Chile to Northern Argentina.

Harth-Bedoya, a Peruvian who is now music director of the Fort Worth Symphony, explained that much of the music composed in those countries may have had a first hearing or been part of the folk tradition, but was never published there since there were no music publishing houses. Only that music which reached the European publishing houses has come to our attention, he said. From those works that have, like those of Piazzolla and Golijov, not to mention Villa-Lobos in Brazil, we know that music of very high quality was and is being created.

Harth-Bedoya has spent years collecting this music from homes and libraries, churches and museums through the Inca countries, and has put together this program which he is now conducting in this country, together with some projected visual images—old paintings, a tapestry, some photos, some abstract work—to illustrate it.

At the concert Friday night at Benaroya Hall, there were many faces in the audience which reflected Inca ancestry, and some people wore traditional dress to honor the presentation of music from their heritage.
Some popular music from 18th century Peru was written down by Bishop Baltasar Martinez y Companon together with a raft of watercolors he did to accompany them. Three dances from this codex were the earliest works played, with strong drum beat or cello providing a ground, and melody above on flute, harp or violin, some of it already influenced by the European presence. The third, “Lanchas para bailar,” had much more of a South American feel and vitality, with cross rhythms and syncopation, anchored by percussion.

The earliest know composer came from only a century ago, Peru’s Daniel Alomia Robles. His slow evocative “El condo pasa” has a repetitive, hypnotic effect, followed by a more vibrant jazzier section. All of the evening’s music was tonal, not hard to listen to, and in places compelling.

This same hypnotic feel and repetition could be heard in Ecuadorian Diego Luzuriaga’s “Responsorio,” a beautiful work marked by an unbroken drum beat.

Born in 1955, Luzuriaga was the oldest of the currently living composers on the program. We also heard works by Argentina’s Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960), Peruvian/ Chinese/Lithuanian/Jewish Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972) and Peru’s Jimmy Lopez (b. 1978) as well as by Chilean Alsonso Leng, a younger contemporary of Alomia Robles.

Frank’s tone poem, “Illapa: Tone Poem for Flute and Orchestra,” from the life of the flute-playing weather god Illapa, used Donna Shin as soloist for the florid, rippling music, while the orchestra mirrored the weather conjured up, and scenery of majestic mountain and storm-ravaged valley. Shin, currently professor of flute at UW’s School of Music, did an excellent job.

Golijov’s work, by contrast, is not about the Inca trail, but uses elements of Brazilian music to create a meditation, a commentary, everything that passes through the mind about someone who has just died, before the reality kicks in. This person was a young mother, a friend of his called Mariel, also the name of the work. Golijov incorporates a cello solo, here played by the gifted young David Requiro. The cello line floats with lovely serenity above much of the orchestral acompaniment, like a soul above the earth. While not an elegy, this music does remind the hearer of Barber’s “Adagio,” not because it’s like it at all, but because the flavor is there, the sense of memory. At the end, the audience gave it a long silence before applauding. This is a work to hear again and again.

Leng’s lively but gentle piece was the most conventionally European work, despite his never having been there, and the concert ended with Lopez’ “Fiesta,” described by him as four pop dances for orchestra. Bursting with energy, jazzy, it has some hints of Bernstein in it, and was generally great fun to hear, as was the encore, an arrangement of the familiar “Brazil” by Ary Barroso.

The orchestra played all this unfamiliar music as though to the manner born, and it’s to their credit as well as to Harth-Bedoya’s, that in the very short rehearsal time the orchestra has available, he could communicate and the orchestra create just what he wanted. Harth-Bedoya himself is a young conductor to watch, very musical, expressive, technically clear, with vitality in spades.

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