ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Brazilian-born violinist Cármelo de los Santos has played Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Opus 14 twice in his native country. Next weekend he is the featured guest artist in Santa Fe Pro Musica’s presentation of the 1939 concerto during its Classical Weekend concert.
“It’s interesting that Barber started writing this work in Europe when World War II was heating up because it’s a beautiful, optimistic, playful piece written during a dark period of history,” said De los Santos, who teaches violin at the University of New Mexico. “This is a hard work for the orchestra. Some of the moments in it, particularly in the third movement, are hard for the orchestra and violin soloist to put together.”
The Barber Violin Concerto was commissioned in 1939 by Philadelphia industrialist Samuel Simeon Fels. Barber began working on the first two movements in Switzerland and wanted to finish the concerto there in the early fall, but due to the impending war he was warned to leave Europe along with other Americans.
The concerto was completed in the United States and officially premiered with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1941 with violinist Albert Spalding as soloist. The Barber Violin Concerto has become one of the most frequently performed 20th-century concertos.
“It’s a modern piece but not tonally harsh,” said De los Santos. “The reason it’s played so often is it’s quite accessible to audiences. The last movement has some wonderfully virtuosic writing.”
January has been a busy month for De los Santos, who recently returned from participating in a two-week music festival in Brazil. “I got off the plane in Brazil on Sunday morning and played a concerto with the orchestra on Sunday night,” he said. After playing and teaching for 14 days in Brazil, he gets a chance to briefly rest at his home in Albuquerque before heading to Santa Fe for rehearsals.
De los Santos, who achieved national status in Brazil after winning the country’s prestigious Eldorado Prize when he was 16 years old, is constantly on the go performing with orchestras and in festivals worldwide. He has played with more than 40 orchestras including the New World Symphony, the Montevideo Philharmonic and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra. An advocate for Brazilian classical music, he has recorded works by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Camargo Guarnieri and Cláudio Santoro.
Santa Fe Pro Musica’s Classical Weekend also features performances of Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams and Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven with music director Thomas O’Connor on the podium. A post-concert meet the musicians session is scheduled to take place in the Lensic’s lobby shortly after the conclusion of the performance.