Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Although Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) has led bands for more than 50 years, conducting Jarabe Tapatío during the San Antonio Symphony’s Fiesta Pops concert this weekend will be something of a personal triumph for him.
“This is a highlight in my life, to conduct the San Antonio Symphony in the Tobin Center,” Elizondo told the Rivard Report. “It will bring together my work as a musician all these years and my work as a public servant. I’m very excited.”
As a commissioner who wields sizable influence in County funding, Elizondo heeded the call to join the City of San Antonio and the Tobin Endowment in financing reconstruction of the old Municipal Auditorium to transform it into a state-of-the-art performing arts center.
In addition to public service, music is Elizondo's other passion. He conducted the jazzy Paul Elizondo Orchestra, a mainstay at citywide celebrations since the 1960s, and was a band director and music teacher in the Edgewood and San Antonio Independent School Districts for 18 years before serving in the State Legislature.
Now 82, Elizondo said he hasn’t “waved the baton in many years.”
Conducting at a location like the Tobin “is like being asked to throw the opening pitch in the World Series,” he said with a laugh.
He knows the San Antonio Symphony well, having played saxophone, flute, and clarinet with the orchestra when those instruments were needed in Ravel’s Bolero and Bernstein’s Mass. He even conducted the orchestra as it played The Star-Spangled Banner when the Symphony visited Memorial High School, where he once taught.
“Standing in front of them and raising the baton is just a hoot,” he said.
The annual concert celebrating Fiesta and the city’s Latino heritage also will feature well-known mariachi and Tejano music performed by Mariachi Campanas de America, as well as traditional dances from various regions of Mexico performed by the Guadalupe Dance Company, both accompanied by the Symphony.
Mexican baritone Octavio Moreno, who has performed in a classics concert with the Symphony, will perform two songs from Cross the Face of the Moon/Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, a mariachi opera commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera that premiered in 2010 with Moreno in a prominent role.
Harpist Juan Cabrera, who Symphony Associate Conductor Akiko Fujimoto said is a fan favorite, will join Mariachi Campanas de America in playing Popurrí Fiesta Mexicana. Works by Revueltas, Falla, and other composers will bring a classical dimension to the concert.
Fujimoto, who conducts the Symphony’s Pops and other special concerts, said the orchestra’s decades of playing Latin-style music has allowed it to excel at the genre, despite the music being “complicated rhythmically and difficult to pull off in an authentic manner.
“This music and also the artists who come from Latin America have really become trendy and hot in the classical music world in the past decade or two,” she said. “It’s because of the passion and energy they bring, and it’s so unique. And we happen to be right in the middle of that with our demographics.”
As a fun, official Fiesta event, Fiesta Pops may be the only concert many people attend all year, Fujimoto said. With that in mind, she also designed the program as a way to introduce the Symphony to new or infrequent listeners, many of whom may be coming to see Elizondo. She considers his conducting Jarabe Tapatío, also known as the Mexican hat dance, in all three concerts a “gracious” gift.
“He’s done everything in his life – he doesn’t need this on his resume,” she said.
While Elizondo’s musicianship merited an invitation to conduct, it was civic leader and Symphony board member Kathleen Vale who put it into motion.
“She’s a warrior,” Elizondo said of his longtime friend in civic activism.