Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 13, 2024

Review: Springfield Symphony Orchestra “Havana Nights”

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
February 10, 2024
by Lisa Covi

Springfield Symphony Orchestra's presentation of “Havana Nights” was a fantastic performance that injected the Latino rhythms into the mild February night. Conductor Nick Palmer kicked off the program with lively dances and Spanish songs interpreted by featured soloist Camille Zamora. It seemed as though the castanets and cymbals amplified the enthusiasm of the crowd for the bright tones and snappy tempo. The hall was as full as I've seen it, and the audience's enthusiasm overflowed.

Even the orchestra members appeared relaxed and primed for something special; some wore bright tops and most men left their neckties at home. One exception was the resplendent Zamora who was dressed to the nines in formal gowns appropriate to her operatic soprano. She conversed with the audience in both Spanish and English with aplomb. She described Gimenez's “Zapateada” as Verdi takes “La Traviata” to his favorite salsa bar. 

Zamora’s soaring lyricism blended so well with the orchestra that it sounded like she was singing duets with the violins or wind section. Performing in front of a standing microphone did seem odd for concert rendition, but the music blended well. In some of the orchestral pieces, the sound was so striking, I searched the stage for a pianist or accordionist (perhaps because I was trained on the keyboard).

Composer Jeff Tyzik's “Tango” featured a solo oboist whose melodious part contrasted sharply with a staccato violin introduction where the strings seemed to scream and cheer the reed's dancing line. Ernesto Lecuona's “Andalucia” evoked the contours of a Spanish countryside with a bold arrangement. Tyzik's “Three Latin Dances” closed the first half with a modern Cuban feel that revealed the influence of his work with Chuck Mangione in unique chord changes and swinging transitions.

The Mambo Kings
The concert's second half was even more dynamic. On stage were The Mambo Kings’ energetic and improvisational style, whether blending into orchestral arrangements or performing as a quintet. I could feel composer Dave Brubeck's infectious smile in pianist (and Peruvian) Richard Delaney's arrangement of “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Percussionist Tony Padilla's congo beats alternated with the traditional jazz refrain creating an exciting showcase for each musician's solo. John Vivattini held court on flute and saxophone.

Camille Zamorra returned to perform “Besame Mucho,” “Como Fue,” and the encore piece “Sabor A Mi” matching style and pitch with the ensemble. The showstopper was composer Tito Puente's “Oye, Como Va” featuring an extended solos by bassist Hector Diaz and percussionist Wilfredo Colon. The latter substituted a new drumstick after dropping one without missing a beat. 

Although only one couple took up the conductor's invitation to dance in the aisle, many heads were bobbing and the appearance of phones taking video gave the concert a rock-concert vibe. The standing ovation felt sincere and well-deserved for both guests and orchestra musicians. Bravo and Ole for this season's most memorable and enjoyable concert yet.