ALONDRA DE LA PARRA
by Blanca Méndez
In this slough of the Calderón years and the failed war on drugs, much of the news about Mexico that reaches us in the States involves violence, corruption, and fear. But last year, in the country’s bicentennial, the air was more jubilant and festive. In the fireworks and confetti we saw a nation’s deep love for their country, and it was inspiring. One of the most moving celebrations was Alondra de la Parra conducting the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas in a performance of some of the most treasured pieces in Mexico’s memory. They, accompanied by three of the country’s loveliest voices (Ely Guerra, Denise Guiterrez of Hello Seahorse!, and Natalia Lafourcade), paid stunning tribute to their beloved Mexico with Travieso Carmesí.
Alondra de la Parra is one of today’s most talented conductors, having founded the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas at the age of 23 and having conducted some of the most accomplished ensembles in the world in captivating and stirring performances of works that range from European standards to South American ballets. On this album, she directs her orchestra in performances of 10 classic Mexican songs that are at times bold and aggressive and at times light and delicate, but always respectful of the original compositions.
On the latest Hello Seahorse! album, Denise Gutierrez explores the operatic ranges of her voice and, while this move may not have been well-received by everyone, in this setting no one can deny the splendor of her voice. The vocals unfurl lovingly as Gutierrez embellishes the classics while still maintaining a marked reverence for the history of the songs. In “Estrellita,” a song composed by Manuel M. Ponce in 1912, Gutierrez relishes in the warmth of the lower notes, then soars into higher octaves effortlessly in a mesmerizing rendition of the timeless song.
The sweetness of Natalia Lafourcade’s voice is perfect for Agustin Lara’s “Farolito.” Even the song’s arrangement – the pleasant cadence of the brass, measured march of the snare, fluttering flute, dainty xylophone, and elegantly swelling strings – suit Lafourcade’s style. In “La Llorona,” Ely Guerra’s smoky voice with its signature seductive melancholy takes control of a song that’s intimidating in all aspects. Guerra manages to navigate the emotional complexities of the song and delivers a beautifully nuanced performance.
In the songs featuring all three singers (“Cielito Lindo” and “Solamente Una Vez”), their voices complement each other and allow each other to shine with an almost “you first, no you first” respect and admiration for one another. This isn’t a VH1 Divas-style sing-off. It’s not even really about the women singing. It’s about the country they are singing to and about capturing the attention of a younger generation so that they can come to appreciate and love the music of their grandparents and great-grandparents and perhaps, through that music, gain a better understanding of the history of the country that they call home.