In the midst of Winter, when everyone is seeking a touch of warmer climes, it’s not always possible to get away–unless you have a ticket for a concert like New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s (NJSO) Hot Latin Nights with the Mambo Kings! The doldrums of Winter are banished when Latin Rhythms fill the air and, with NJSO and the Mambo Kings, you’ve got an unbeatable cure for the Winter blues!
Concerts were held around the state during the weekend following Valentine’s Day and, whether you went with a paramour or a bestie, the music was sublime! The February 18 concert was held at State Theatre in New Brunswick and the pre-concert Accent Event was a taste of what was to come, featuring recording artists Victor Quezada Latin Jazz Group and Cuban dance teacher Carlos Mateu, whose combined efforts put pep in the step of people ranging from seven to 70! It was great to see people of all levels of experience giving the dance steps a whirl. Later, that lesson would come in handy! When guest conductor Thomas Wilkins had given us our intro to what we could expect for the day, he told us that whenever we felt so moved, we could start using our new-found Latin-dancing skills in the aisles of the State Theatre and right he was!
NJSO lead off both acts, featuring the first act classical selection Mikhail Glinka’s “Capriccio brillante on the Jota Aragonesa for Orchestra,” inspired by the folk songs Glinka heard in his travels. Under the baton of expert conductor, and raconteur, Wilkins, whose usual sort of venue is the Hollywood Bowl, whetted our appetite for the Latin feast to come. Richard Delaney is the leader of the Mambo Kings and hails originally from Peru. The first NJSO and Mambo Kings partnership here was on “Melodia: Son Guarjir”a then segued into “Nostalgia,” a Mambo Kings solo original. Maestro Wilkins’ invitation to dance seemed unheeded, as people seemed to be saving themselves. The highlight for me in the first act was Delaney’s arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s classic, “Blue Mambo à la Turk,” where NJSO and the Mambo Kings were a truly dynamic duo.
The Mambo Kings are Delaney on piano and direction, John Viavattine on soprano and tenor sax, and clarinet, Hector Diaz on six-string bass—yup, a bass is usually four, sometimes 5 strings, Tony Padilla on congas, and Freddy Colon on drums, timbales, and bongos, though he sometimes played the sides of the drums too! These musicians wrung every note out of their instruments, and our heartstrings as well.
The second act again featured NJSO playing Georges Bizet, with selections from the “Carmen” Suite, to get us in the right lilt. Then the Mambo Kings took off with the Beatles’ “Day Tripper,” with an extended solo for Delaney as well as one for Viavattine, who in his return, after Delaney’s solo, gave us a quote from Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.” I adored the Astor Piazzolla piece “Milonga Del Angel, arranged by Delaney, and when Camilo’s “Caribe,” featured both Colon and Padilla, you could really contrast styles–Colon on timbales, drums, bongos and more looked like he was dancing on his throne—the stool a drummer uses—while Padilla was like a stone god whose only motion was his arms, a blur of hand-made acoustic percussion.
We were all rapt by the interplay of our favorite Symphony Orchestra, flexing its Latin chops, with the Mambo Kings, so much so that it was not until the encore, Carlos Santana’s arrangement of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va,” that people could control themselves no longer. Newly minted Latin dancers of all ages were showing off their moves in the aisles of the State Theatre and that is license to dance.
This was an amazing afternoon, but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! There’s lots more to the 2017-2018 season and the 2018-2019 season has just been announced. Visit www.njsymphony.org
to get the best selection now!