In the late 1970’s the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (or UNAM – México’s National University) embarked upon a highly ambitious construction project which resulted in one of the most extensive arts complexes to be found anywhere in the world. Today the Centro Cultural Universitario (University Cultural Center) encompasses nine concert halls, theaters and art-cinemas, an enormous contemporary art museum (added in 2008), two libraries – one specifically for newspapers and periodicals – a restaurant, bookstore, fountain/pool and a contemporary sculpture garden, part of which resembles (to these eyes, anyway) a larger, contemporary take on Stonehenge encircling a vast bed of lava rock. One cool feature of THIS sculpture is: you can climb around on it.
But the crown jewel of this massive arts center is my old concert hall, the Sala Nezahualcóyotl (Netz•a•wall•COY•o•tul), and before going on, I’d be remiss without a word or two about the man for whom the venue is named.
Nezahualcóyotl, meaning “Coyote who fasts,” was a fifteenth century philosopher, warrior, architect, poet and visionary ruler of the city-state of Texcoco (about 17 miles outside today’s Capital) in pre-Hispanic México. He is credited with cultivating what came to be known as Texcoco’s Golden Age, which brought the rule of law, scholarship and artistry to the city, and set high standards that influenced surrounding tribes. Under Nezahualcóyotl’s rule, Texcoco flourished as an intellectual and artistic center owing, in part, to his founding of an academy of music and an extensive library that tragically, did not survive the Spanish conquest.
Knowing all this, there’s little mystery as to why they named a concert hall after the guy. And what a hall it is!! While many of México’s old classic concert venues resemble Milan’s La Scala Opera House to one degree or another…
…the Nezahualcóyotl (La Neza for short), like the other halls of the Centro Cultural, is built with the clean, contemporary look common to many theaters built since the 1960s. Construction on the hall began in 1975 and was completed a year later. With a seating capacity of 2229 and designed by renowned American acoustician, Christopher Jaffe, it is the first “surround” (theater in the round) concert hall built in the Western Hemisphere. It can also rightfully boast some of the most glorious acoustics of any concert venue in the hemisphere, and between this and its sheer visual impressiveness, to say that working here was a pleasure would be a huge understatement!
La Neza is the home of two professional symphonies during the year. The first is funded and named after the University: the Orquesta Filarmónica de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (or OFUNAM for short). It also houses a second orchestra that performs mostly – yet not exclusively – in the Summers: the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería (often called the OSM, or simply La Minería).
Founded in 1978 by its first Music Director, Jorge Velazco, the Sinfónica de Minería just celebrated its 40th anniversary, and in a big way. They wrapped it up last Sunday with a exciting performance of Beethoven’s eighth and ninth Symphonies for their final concert; and to celebrate their entire anniversary season, they performed the all nine Beethoven Symphonies over the course of the Summer.
In Part Two of this article coming tomorrow, I discuss more about La Minería and share about our experience last week at their season finale concert.