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Dallas Symphony Conductor Eduardo Mata Remembered 20 Years After His Death

Bill Zeeble
From left: Doug Howard, Mary Reynolds and Clifford Spohr all played under Eduardo Mata and shared some of their memories of the maestro.

Twenty years ago this week, the conductor who helped build the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Eduardo Mata, died in a plane crash. Starting Thursday night, and through the weekend, the orchestra honors his memory with a piece Mata conducted at his first Dallas concert. Some orchestra members share their own memories of the maestro.

In the world of classical music, Mexico City native Eduardo Mata was a youngster when he began his 16-year Dallas run. Mary Reynolds, a first section violinist for nearly four decades, was hired by Mata. She says the then 35-year-old conductor was already a rising star, with an RCA record contract to boot.

“It was important for the DSO, because it was an ongoing contract, on a yearly basis, probably two to three recordings a year," Reynolds said. "I think it put the DSO on the map in a very viable way.”

Mata brought the orchestra into the new Meyerson Symphony Center in 1989. Reynolds also loved the way Mata interpreted Mexican composers and music with Mexican themes. His Dallas recording of El Salon Mexico is her favorite.  

“For us it was really kind of revolutionary to play those works of Moncayo and of course the Chavez we’re playing this week, the Sinfonia India,” Reynolds says. “But also the Copland 'El Salon Mexico' because with Eduardo the tempi are absolutely perfect.”

Bass player Clifford Spohr, with the orchestra more than half a century, says Mata also brought a goal of musical perfection.

“His legacy is precision,” Spohr says. “He had us playing so precisely it just set the standard for our playing. We try to live up to that still.”

Equally impressive was Mata’s calm under pressure. Principal percussionist Doug Howard remembers Mata conducting the orchestra about when he started in 1977. The lead violinist made a mistake, starting a solo early. It could have been a disaster.

“And without skipping a beat, Eduardo started cueing people to come in one at a time and it was as if nothing ever happened," Howard recalled. "I mean, the audience couldn’t have known. He didn’t allow it to get out of control. He just fixed it. On the spot. I went home and said this man’s a genius.”

Mata’s tenure with Dallas ended in 1993. He was about to start a new position leading the New Zealand Symphony when he died.

The DSO held a memorial concert for him then. Some remember it as one of the most moving events they’ve ever seen at the Meyerson. This weekend’s performances show that two decades later, memories of Mata’s passion for music run as deep as the musicians’ love and appreciation of the maestro. 

About the performances

From the DSO: "Former DSO Music Director Eduardo Mata is remembered on the 20th anniversary of his death in a performance of Carlos Chávez's Sinfonia India, a work loved by Mata and performed on the first concert at the Meyerson."

Jan. 8-11 -- learn more here.

Honoring Mata

A free week-long photo exhibit of Mata’s life will be on display in the Meyerson starting Sunday.

Video: Remembering DSO's Eduardo Mata Memorial Concert

Video: Remembering Eduardo Mata