An ambitious program of Latin American music


May 02, 2008|By Sarah Hoover | Sarah Hoover,Special to the Sun

As days lengthen and leaves unfurl on the trees, songs of spring are in the air everywhere. Tomorrow, the invigorating music of the new season will be sung in Spanish, as Columbia Pro Cantare presents an unusual and ambitious program Latin American Spring at 8 p.m. in Jim Rouse Theatre.

Tomorrow's concert will feature the choral ensemble assisted by soprano April-Joy Gutierrez, mezzo soprano Cyndie Eberhardt, pianist Alison Matuskey, and an ensemble of players of indigenous and classical instruments. Together they perform music gathered from many corners of the Americas -- Peru, Brazil, Cuba, Argentina and Mexico.

While the program's dessert course of Latin American popular songs will no doubt be familiar (who hasn't heard "La Bamba"?), the real treat will be the opportunity to hear rarely performed works by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Paquito D'Rivera, Ariel Ramirez and Astor Piazzolla.

The program opens with an anonymous 17th-century motet from Peru, "Hanacpachap cussicuinin," in the indigenous Quechua language, which has the historical significance of being the first example of four-part choral music printed in the New World. It was originally written as music for liturgical procession.

Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas brasileiras" was the 20th-century Brazilian composer's homage, in his own words, to "the great genius of Johann Sebastian Bach," whom he considered "a kind of universal folkloric source, rich and profound, linking all peoples."

Villa-Lobos' musical style, a melding of local folk traditions and Bach's elaborate counterpoint, is evident in the ravishing and haunting "Bachianas brasileiras No. 5."

Much less well-known, however, are his motets for chorus. Their complex harmonies, according to Pro Cantare's director Frances Motyca Dawson, are "extraordinarily hard to sing," but the effect of the chromatic modernism combined with "just a little flavor of Latin in the restrained rhythms" is "stunning, unbelievable."

Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez's "Misa Criolla" of 1964 is purported to be the first Roman Catholic Mass set in a language other than Latin. Scored for soloists, chorus and indigenous instruments, including the charanga (a guitar made from the shell of an armadillo), percussion and pan flutes, the five movements of the Mass are each based on a traditional Argentine dance form.

Ramirez was part of a musical movement in Argentina in the 1960s and 1970s called the "boom del folklore," in which national composers turned to the rural Creole musical traditions as inspiration for their classical compositions.

The program's second half has a variety of works, including Paquito D'Rivera's 2001 "Song for Peace" for soprano, piano, clarinet, and cello. Commissioned by the New York Festival of Song, the text was written by fellow Cuban-American Annie Colina; the words and music are an overt commentary on the repressive political conditions in the composer's homeland.

Three piano transcriptions by tango phenomenon Astor Piazzolla show the quirky genius responsible for recent innovations in Argentina's beloved musical tradition. The three "Angel" tangos, ranging from manic to melancholy, will give those unfamiliar with his music a tantalizing taste of his iconoclastic style.

Renditions of traditional Brazilian folksongs, Ernesto Lecuona's effusively passionate "Malague?a," and popular songs from Cuba and Mexico will close the program, giving listeners a chance to hear familiar music.

Chances are that toes will be tapping well before this point in the program, however.

Don't pass up the chance to bask in the warmth of a "Latin American Spring." Through programs like this one, Dawson hopes to forge new relationships in the community and to encourage new audiences to come to hear Columbia Pro Cantare. The group will sell handcrafted Latin American crafts and food at the concert; proceeds will benefit FIRN, a Howard County organization providing resources to those new to this country.

Advance tickets for tomorrow's concert are $23 and $20 for students and seniors, or $25 and $22 at the door. Information: 301-854-0107 or 410-799-9321; or www.

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