State Symphony of Mexico truly a national institution

The State Symphony of Mexico, which will play on Friday at Proctors, is that rare organization that
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SCHENECTADY — The State Symphony of Mexico, which will play on Friday at Proctors, is that rare organization that can claim that its conductor and its country brought it into being.

“Even the greatest poets say that music is the most enchanting of all the arts,” said the orchestra’s music director, Enrique Batiz, over a cellphone last month during a drive from Florida to Atlanta. “They say there is a necessity to listen to classical music, especially for very young people and teens.”

Batiz was born in Mexico City in 1942 and had spent his twenties getting a degree in piano and conducting at the Juilliard School. He studied abroad, competed in a few international piano competitions and made some U.S. tours as a recitalist. But in 1969, he returned home to perform and debuted as a conductor with the Xalapa Orchestra.

Two years later, Batiz got a call from the government’s cultural minister, who suggested that a state-supported symphony orchestra that toured and performed throughout the country might be a way to create an identity among Mexico’s citizens. Would Batiz undertake the task to find the musicians and get the whole thing going?

GETTING STARTED

“I raided all the conservatories and took any musician from 15 to 30 to play,” Batiz said.

They started rehearsals and concerts in Toluca but soon were performing at halls in Mexico City and became the first orchestra to visit all the provinces in the country.

“We did a lot of everything at first. We were not as good as today,” he said laughing.

One of the orchestra’s missions was to perform a work by a Mexican or at least a Spanish composer on each concert and use Mexican soloists when possible. That is still a constant. On Friday, the orchestra will play Silvestre Revueltas’ “Sensemaya,” which is a dance about a snake, and Carlos Chavez’s arrangement of Buxtehude’s Chaconne. The program will also feature Cuban pianist Leonel Morales in Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto, as well as Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5.

Within three years of its founding, Batiz felt the orchestra was good enough to tour the United States, which it repeated in 1979. The current U.S. tour of 48 concerts in 19 states is, however, the first national tour the orchestra has done since that date. In between, the orchestra toured Europe and China and made up to 58 recordings, including complete cycles of Beethoven, Villa-Lobos, Bizet, Joaquin Rodrigo, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Schumann and numerous Mexican composers.

For a while in the 1980s, Batiz left the orchestra to conduct the Mexico City Philharmonic and began a series of international guest conductorships. To date, Batiz has led more than 500 orchestras worldwide, he said. But he returned to the State Symphony of Mexico in 1990 and has been its music director ever since.

Since his return, he has received many awards, including in 1994 and 1995 the Estado de Mexico Prize and the Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Award for his contributions to the musical culture of Mexico.

What he enjoys the most are the Mexican audiences.

“They are always ready to hear something new,” he said. “If your goal is excellence, audiences show up and become steady.”

There are about 88 musicians in the orchestra, including many Americans who have been with the group for more than 15 years. The orchestra still has its original concertmaster. It does 10 concerts over three seasons and takes a 50-day vacation before it tours, drawing from the repertoire it played during the year.

The orchestra prepared seven different programs for the current tour and did most of its rehearsals before it left Mexico on Jan. 15. Because most of the U.S. halls are new to the group, it rehearses for an hour prior to each concert to get a handle on the acoustics, he said. Four soloists were also brought along. The tour ends March 21.

Batiz used to perform as a piano soloist with the orchestra but doesn’t anymore because he has no time to practice.

TRAVELING NORTH

As the conductor, he gets to travel by car with the tour’s publicist. The musicians travel by bus. The tour started in Florida, where the orchestra had five successful concerts, he said, but stints up to the northern states shocked everyone’s systems with the cold temperatures.

“We don’t go out. We stay in the hotel,” he said.

It’s also been a while since he had American cooking.

“The food is different. It’s not tasty enough. Mexican food has more flavor. You need Tabasco sauce,” he said.

One thing remains constant: the nitty-gritty of travel.

“We do a lot of packing and unpacking and checking the clock,” Batiz said. “Still, it’s an adventure. The audiences have been very exciting.”

STATE SYMPHONY OF MEXICO

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

HOW MUCH: $45 to $20. Ages 18 and under and students with a college ID, free.

MORE INFO: 346-6204 or visit www.proctors.org

Categories: Life and Arts

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