Built in the same ‘Brutalist’ architectural style (popular in the fifties through the seventies) as the Nezahualcóyotl Hall in Mexico City, Foro Boca was completed only a year ago, and is located at the estuary of the Jamapa River, beside the breakwater dividing the river and the sea. From a distance, the hall resembles a series of inter-connected monoliths that seem to jut out over the Caribbean. And once inside, one can see how the architects took the concept of a split tri-level home, expanded it and made it work elegantly for the hall’s lobby.
The interior of the concert space, Sala Mester (Mester Hall) is named after their founding, and current, Music Director: Jorge Mester (who interestingly, is a former conductor of mine from the late seventies in the Louisville Orchestra). Once seated inside, the hall that seats just under a thousand, feels at once intimate yet deceivingly massive, owing largely to its deep stage and high ceiling.
Acoustically, Foro Boca is a bit of a mixed bag to my ears. Brutalist style theaters commonly utilize a lot of exposed concrete, which is a proven sound conductor. But, the most successful of these halls also combine a lot of exposed wood in the mix which makes the sound richer and more resonant. So if anything, a balance of more wood with the concrete in Sala Mester would’ve warmed up it’s acoustics a bit. Still, it sounds a lot better than several WELL known theaters I can think of around the country.
The Boca del Río Philharmonic has as interesting a story as its new concert venue. Founded in 2014, and funded by the State Government of Veracruz (which also backed Foro Boca’s construction), its season combines twice monthly full orchestra programs, monthly chamber music performances and an after-school social development program at the new hall named “Orquestando Armonia”, in which the musicians mentor low-income children with both choral and instrumental instruction.
In chatting with Mester about the Filarmónica, I was surprised to learn that he was hired AFTER the musicians were contracted, which at the time sounded as odd to him as it did to me when we spoke. “I never had the chance to audition anyone as all of them were already in place,” he said. “And most of the string players were older musicians from the region’s various youth orchestras.”
Given Mester’s extensive background conducting in both the USA and Mexico, in addition to his success working with younger musicians – as former Conductor of Orchestras at Juilliard and the Aspen Music Festival – he must have been seen as a natural fit for coming onboard to train and develop this youthful ‘pre-selected’ group. In the four years hence, he’s also been able to further put his stamp on the Filarmónica by auditioning new players as openings have arisen, including several Principal positions. And though he admits there is still work to be done in bringing along his young ensemble, he literally beams with pride when describing how hard they play for him and how far they’ve come.
Upon hearing his orchestra perform that weekend in a concert of Mendelssohn, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff, we could hear for ourselves exactly what he described: a group with room still to grow, but with much ground already covered and with tremendous upside potential. Given the success and acclaim the Filarmónica has already achieved under Mester’s guidance, it’s no mystery why the concert venue was given his name. It is well earned, indeed!
By the way, the Filarmónica de Boca del Río has built quite an online presence with their own YouTube channel, so if you’re interested in experiencing this exciting group in this unique new hall, I urge you to check them out. You’ll see, hear and feel just what I’m saying.