Eduardo Mata struck the right note as Dallas Symphony Orchestra director

The Mexico-born maestro brought vitality to the position, and gave the symphony its permanent home.

By Elisabeth Jimenez, Voces Oral History CenterOctober 3, 2023 11:45 am, , ,

This story is part of a Hispanic Heritage Month collaboration with Voces Oral History Center based at UT-Austin’s Moody School of Communication.

Eduardo Mata was born in 1942 in Mexico City but grew up in the southern city of Oaxaca and took guitar lessons as a young boy. Soon, his love of music led him to enroll in Mexico’s prestigious National Conservatory of Music when he was 11-years-old.

At the conservatory, he learned composition. But it was clear that his true passion was in front of the orchestra as director. Mario Lavista, one of his classmates, recalled that Mata formed chamber performances with the most experienced students so that he could direct them.

From 1965 to 1974, Mata directed symphonies in Mexico – first in Guadalajara and then in Mexico City. In 1974, he was hired to conduct the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. Three years later, he became director of the Dallas Symphony.

But Victor Marshall, who was the former Dallas Symphony Orchestra Artistic Administrator, says the orchestra’s musicians were skeptical at first.

“They were worried like, “what if we don’t like this guy? What if he doesn’t work out?,'” Marshall said. “Well, as it turns out, it ended up being wildly successful.”

Mata brought new energy and vitality. He recorded more than 30 pieces with the orchestra and he introduced the Dallas Symphony to audiences throughout the world through concert performances.

But perhaps his greatest achievements was giving the Dallas Orchestra a place of its own.

“We had no permanent home. We basically played in halls we rented,” Marshall said. “So every time we weren’t playing, we had to load all of our instruments – the double basses the bass drums everything – into the back of a semi tractor trailer rig, which stood outside.”

Mata heavily campaigned for a new concert hall and even helped plan its design. In 1989, after 89 years without a concert hall, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra had a home of its own.

And, on the first rehearsal day in the new hall, Mata spoke to KERA News.

“What we want to see now, not only me but the Association in general, is how ready the community at large keeps supporting the orchestra beyond the new hall,” Mata said.

But it wasn’t just a concert hall that left a mark.

One orchestra musician said Mata’s connection to the Mexican descent community made a difference. Wilfred Roberts was the principal bassoon of the orchestra during Mata’s tenure. Roberts was interviewed for a promotional video made by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

“There’s no doubt that he enjoyed Dallas – especially Dallas, because there was, even then, a huge Latino population,” Roberts said. “And Latinos [started] coming to the concert. And he identified very much with the Latino society here in Dallas, and they identified with him.

Mata left Dallas in 1993 to work in Mexico. Two years later, he was killed in a plane crash. One of the opera singers who worked with Mata, Margarita Pruneda, said he was a symbol for Hispanic musicians and that losing him was like becoming an orphan.

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