Concert Review: Inti Illimani

Inti Illimani at the Shalin Liu Peformance Center, Rockport, Massachusetts

Inti Illimani at the Shalin Liu Peformance Center, Rockport, Massachusetts

For a couple of years now we have wanted to go to a concert at Rockport’s beautiful new Shalin Liu Performance Center. Finally we made it earlier this month to see the famous Chilean music group Inti Illimani perform there on October 14.

My wife first saw Inti Illimani perform back in the 1970s in Italy, where the band spent much of their time while in  exile from Chile during the time Pinochet was in power, and she took me to see them back in the 1980s in Somerville, Massachusetts. I remember at the time that the music I listened to was absolutely captivating, so I was very much looking forward to seeing them in Rockport after so many years.

We met our son Matthew a couple of hours before the show and had a (very) early dinner at Roy Moore’s Lobster Shack. Great prices, very good food, attentive but unobtrusive wait staff, and just the perfect amount of tacky kitsch on the walls. My favorite was a sign that said “Warning, unattended children will be fed espresso and given a free kitten.” If only it were so. After the meal we strolled through the touristy shops that are a staple of almost any small seaside town anywhere in the world, and then we headed over to the venue to claim our tickets and go inside.

View From Reception Hall, Shalin Liu Peformance Center

View From Reception Hall, Shalin Liu Peformance Center

The concert hall is as beautiful as it appears in the photographs on their website. I think that the orchestra seating is a mere 15 rows or so, with seating along the side and also balcony seating on the second level, both along the sides and behind (and above) the main seating area. We took the elevator to the top floor where there is a reception area, and enjoyed the view of the Rockport Harbor.

Inti Illimani played two sets, about fifty minutes each, separated by an intermission. As expected, the music did not disappoint. Unfortunately, I do not speak Spanish and do not recognize most of the group’s repertoire when performed, but frankly, none of that mattered. The singing, often strong harmony vocals, and the amazing music these eight musicians create are awe-inspiring. Their website says that they play over 30 different instruments, and to that I would just add that one of the things that amazes me is that virtually everybody in the band plays stringed instruments, percussion, and a variety of wind instruments, and yet the quality of the playing is incredibly high. I believe that there were more orchestral (for want of a better term) instruments played than when I saw them twenty-five years ago. There was flute, bass flute, saxophone, perhaps a soprano saxophone, in addition to the variety of more indigenous wind instruments such as pan pipes and wooden flutes.

During the intermission I spoke briefly with the person who is in charge of sound at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, and he described to me the difficulties in bringing amplified music to a hall that was specifically designed for chamber music. The phenomenal sound system is built in and very unobtrusive despite being almost an afterthought during the design and construction process. Atypically for most groups who performed there, Inti Illimani had their own engineer with them to man the sound board, and he did a great job. For their encore they brought out one of their road crew to perform with them, and even he blew me away. What a wonderful evening!

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