May 6, 2021

Nestor Torres and friends close Saint Martha series with lively Latin program

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NestorTorres50By Lawrence Budmen

Nestor Torres and friends performed earlier this year at St. Martha’s Church in Miami Shores.

While “A Caribbean Celebration” was the theme of the Saint Martha-Yamaha Concert Series’ final performance of the season, the concert really was a showcase for Nestor Torres and friends. The Puerto Rico-born flutist has become a Miami institution. A Grammy Award winner for his jazz recordings, Torres has toured internationally both with his combo and as soloist with major orchestras.

While his mastery of the jazz idiom is a given, Torres has not always been as successful in his forays into the classical repertoire. On Saturday night, however, before a packed house at Saint Martha Church in Miami Shores, Torres proved equally adept at Baroque and contemporary classical scores and his trademark fusion of Latin pop and jazz influences.

Bach’s Flute Sonata No. 4 in C Major was a sprightly opener. Torres’ silvery tone sustained the long-breathed line of the Andante and he brought jaunty vigor to the fast movements, the trills nimbly articulated. He was ably seconded by the series’ artistic director Paul Posnak who provided discreet, rhythmically alert keyboard support.

No less than three works received premieres and a fourth was played publicly for the first time. The most compelling and original of the new scores was Tania Leon’s del Caribe, soy. A well-traveled symphonic conductor, teacher and founding music director of the Dance Theater of Harlem, Leon has fashioned a riveting vignette that mixes bird calls and whistles, fragments of Latin melodies, atonal piano effects and high, off-balance flute writing of the 1960s avant garde variety. Leon’s misty portrait of the Caribbean sky, breeze and ocean is a terrific addition to the flute repertoire. Torres coped manfully with the score’s extended technical requirements and Leon was a commanding presence at the piano.

Torres’ own Marta y Maria for flute, cello, piano bass and percussion was commissioned by the Saint Martha series and is based on a Biblical passage from Luke about two sisters who welcome Jesus into their home. While Martha serves him and his disciples, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him speak.

Torres has conceived an appealing score with a sense of Middle Eastern color and spirituality. Underpinned by a spare piano line, the flute spins Mary’s klezmer-inflected melody while the cello weaves a more aggressive, nervous figure for Martha. With Mia Vassiliev and Jorge Luis Sosa taking turns at the piano, Torres was backed by high-energy percussion. Only Konstantin Litvinenko seemed to be struggling with the crucial cello part.

Miguel del Aguila’s Miami Suite was less successful. Much of the California-based composer’s work seemed like background music to a television drama, the melodic material mediocre and the keyboard part sounding like a lounge piano. Torres reveled in the wild sprint of the Milonga finale but the piano line needed more effective advocacy than the composer’s rudimentary effort.

While Torres had previously recorded Provita’s Romance, a tribute to his mother, he played it publicly for the first time at this concert. Opening and closing with Sosa striking and strumming the keyboard’s strings, the piece is catchy Latin pop.

With Sosa, bassist Ricardo Rico Suarez and percussionists Edwin Bonilla and Reinier Guerra offering brilliant improvisations along the way, Torres led a swinging version of Leon’s La Conga de Maggie Magalita, an irresistible tune that pays tribute to her Cuban roots.

Music of Puerto Rican composer and band leader Rafael Hernandez completed the generous program. Two lovely romantic melodies from his operetta Confresi (with Posnak’s idiomatic keyboard participation) and a sizzling version of La Cumbarchero found Torres and his combo in high gear.

The 2014-15 season of the Saint Martha-Yamaha Concert Series will feature the Emmet Cohen Jazz Quartet, Rumbarroco, Axiom Brass Quintet, Basham-Harbaugh-Posnak Trio and soprano Elizabeth Caballero.

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