Last year (2012) was a Mexico-wide -- and even international -- year of reflection upon the life and career of the Mexican composer and conductor Eduardo Mata. He would have been 70 years old, if not for his tragic death, much too young, in 1995.
On a chilly January morning (January 4, 1995), Mata took off from the airport in Cuernavaca, Mexico, en route to Dallas. He was piloting his own private plane when something went terribly wrong with the aircraft. The plane crashed before he could return to the airport and land safely.
I was entertaining musicians from Mexico City at my home when we heard the news bulletin on NPR. We immediately looked at each other in disbelief. Many others in Mexico and elsewhere were also devastated by the news. So much promise, unfulfilled.
Most had expected his career to continue its trajectory into the upper ranks of international conductors. Indeed, many in Mexico had highest hopes that he would return to Mexico to take over as music director of one of the top orchestras, or to form an entirely new ensemble.
In fact, in 1982 he had come back to Mexico to form a chamber ensemble which came to be known as Solistas de Mexico. Several years later, I was invited to join Solistas, this after I had played under his guest directorship with the Mexico City Philharmonic. I knew I was extremely fortunate to have such an opportunity and even today I cherish those experiences.
Together Solistas and Mata toured Mexico, and in 1992, Germany, Italy and Spain. Like so many others, I was willing to join Mata at the drop of a hat, in any orchestra he might form. Sadly, this was never to be.
This documentary, Documental Eduardo Mata, was released last year as part of the 70th anniversary of his birth in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is almost entirely in Spanish, but is filled with fascinating commentary, rare photographs and several videos of Mata at work with various orchestras, including Solistas de Mexico.
I watch this and miss him even more. When I share my own high estimation of Mata with other musicians who knew him or worked with him, the conclusions are near unanimous that were he alive today, he would be in the elite handful of top conductors. Certainly, the musical landscape of Mexico would be considerably different than the one we see today.