Episode 398 – Classical Music in Mérida’s Palacio, Casas, and Churches.

We’ve been so fortunate to spend the winter living with violin virtuoso Christopher Collins Lee, which has given us a real personal connection to the Orquesta Sinfonía de Yucatán and the Cuartetto Yucatán string quartet. Our 5 month stay in Mérida has been absolutely filled with wonderful music of every genre (I’ve become a huge fan of Yucatecan trova), but the symphony and string quartet concerts have definitely been highlights.

Who would have thought that wintering in Mexico would give us these kinds of experiences?

Our first concert was in December, just before the orchestra took its Christmas break. The program was Beethoven’s 12 German Dances, followed by Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 3, all very spirited pieces which made it a lot of fun to watch the conductor.

That’s our landlord Chris in the first violin position. The concert venue is the Palacio de la Música, the National Centre for Mexican Music.

A favoirite of the season (for us) was the concert featuring Chris as soloist. His many, many accomplishments have wowed us, as has the fact that he brags about NONE of them. http://www.christophercollinslee.com/biography/biography.html. The icing on the cake was Tchaikovsky’s “Little Russia” symphony, performed better than I’ve ever heard before, with Maestro Lomónaco conducting brilliantly, and entirely without sheet music!

In the program (centre), you can get an idea of how many corporate sponsors supplement the private donors, government funds, and ticket sales to allow this world-class orchestra to make its home in Mérida.

Sadly, state politics kicked in this spring, making the future of the 19 year old orchestra somewhat uncertain. Since the OSY is a “state” orchestra, there is a political push to have it perform outside the capital city. The problem (as I see it) is that in a state with a population of 2.3 million people, almost 1 million live in the capital. The next largest city is just 140 thousand, and the 5 after that are each between 35 and 56 thousand. None of them have indoor concert halls to hold a 65 piece orchestra, and classical instruments don’t lend themselves to outdoor concerts in a hot and humid climate.

The other sticking point is repertoire, with the Ministry of Culture wanting to see more (or, in the case of one minister, exclusively) Mexicanand Yucatecan composers’ works performed… and there are a number of Mexican classical composers, especially dating to the historical period in the 1800ks known in Mexico as the Porfiriato. During discussions in March, the Conductor of 14 years’ tenure, Juan Carlos Lomónaco, was terminated due to irreconcilable differences with the Ministry of Culture’s vision for the OSY.

March 12th and 19th’s concerts were cancelled/postponed. Tickets were refunded, and then a “new” concert slated for March 19th with a young Yucatecan guest conductor was announced. Throughout all of this, the orchestra rehearses and (mostly) smiles.

Casual dress during weekday rehearsals.

Beyond the full orchestra, there are more intimate performances. Cuartetto Yucatán performs in wonderful, interesting spaces – often old churches with great acoustics and beautiful architectural details, but sometimes also in stately Mérida homes or galleries (not to mention the joy of listening to rehearsals right in the music room of “our” house!)

Ted didn’t take pictures the first time we heard the quartet in the Iglesia de Monjas (Church of the Nuns), but we got a second chance at the end of March.
The Iglesia de la Candelaria is the smallest church in Mérida, and the only one that still has its original altar (dating to 1706) intact. The altar, prominently featuring 3 females (the Virgin of the Candle, Saint Theresa of Avila, and Saint Rita) was the only one in the city not vandalized or destroyed during the 1915-1917 revolution. The concert was comprised of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s String Quartet No. 1, Alexander Borodin’s “Kismet” Quartet, and the Five Novelettes Opus 48 by Alexander Glazounov.

On March 24th, the quartet went “pops” in a concert held at the Casa de las Torres, a boutique hotel/wedding venue in Centro. The space itself was gorgeous, and so was the music: selections by Gershwin, Cole Porter, Leroy Anderson (who arranged much of Rogers and Hammerstein’s music), Dave Brubeck, and The Beatles. They also performed some movie music themes, which generated my favourite piece of the evening: the tango from the movie Scent of a Woman.

Left: the staircase to the Casa’s guest rooms. Right top to bottom: the bar, one of the open air dining/reception rooms, and the main hall with stage, open to the stars.

Our last classical concert of March, just before the 2 week spring/Easter break here, was back at the Iglesia de Monjas, where Cuartetto Yucatán performed Joseph Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross (German: Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze).

Iglesia de Monjas decorated in mourning purple for lent was the perfect backdrop for Haydn’s Good Friday music.

Details of the unique painted crucifixion behind the altar. Neither Ted nor I could remember ever having seen a cross with depictions of Mary and Joseph flanking Jesus, or with the Last Supper illustrated at the base of the cross.

Haydn’s music was commissioned in 1786 for the Good Friday service at Oratorio de la Santa Cueva (Holy Cave Oratory) in Cádiz, Spain. The original composition was for full orchestra, but according to Wikipedia “At the request of his publisher, Artaria, the composer in 1787 produced a reduced version for string quartet: Haydn’s Opus 51.” That is the version we heard.

Cuartetto Yucatan performing by candlelight.

There are actually 9 separate sonatas in the piece. The central 7 were prefaced by a reading of their “words”, in Spanish and English. The original Latin is shown below.

  • Introduction
  • Pater, dimitte illis, quia nesciunt quid faciunt (Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do)
  • Hodie mecum eris in paradiso (Today you will be with me in paradise)
  • Mulier, ecce filius tuus (Woman, behold your son)
  • Deus meus, Deus meus, utquid dereliquisti me (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me)
  • Sitio (I thirst)
  • Consummatum est (It is done)
  • In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum (Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit)
  • Il terremoto (earthquake)

It’s been said that music makes the world go round. That may be an exaggeration, but it’s certainly true that music – all around the world – continues to make our travels extra enjoyable.


    • Thank you Katherine! I’m thrilled to see that Collingwood finally found an acceptable proposal for keeping the silos (and I will send you an email to refresh mine for you). Hugs!


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