Everyone's favorite music café is serving up hot, peppery rhythms, when Pacific Symphony's Café Ludwig spices up Sunday with music by the most significant composers south of the border. Among them is Brazil's Heitor Villa-Lobos, who has become the best-known South American composer of all time, and who throughout his career mined the rich, exotic sound world of his native country's folk music. Following suit was Argentina's Alberto Ginastera, who also inspired a young Astor Piazzolla, as he played the bandoneon (tango accordion) to follow his muse as the father of "new tango." Rare works from these three key South American composers come together for a program featuring Villa-Lobos' "Trio for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon W182"; Ginastera's "Danzas Argentinas for Solo Piano"; and Piazzolla's "Selected Tangos." Come early to enjoy tango dancing in the lobby!
"In our previous Café Ludwig explorations, we have often focused on a country or a region and compared and contrasted works from there-but we have never done so with South America," says Orli Shaham, the incomparable pianist and series host. "It felt like it was about time to do this!"
"Viva Villa-Lobos" features guest artist Hector Del Curto, bandoneon, and Symphony musicians: Benjamin Smolen, flute; Jessica Pearlman Fields, oboe; Joseph Morris, clarinet; Rose Corrigan, bassoon; Paul Manaster, violin; Timothy Landauer, cello; and Steven Edelman, bass. Enjoy coffee or tea and sample sweet treats in Café Ludwig's coffeehouse-style setting on Sunday, Feb. 26, at 3 p.m., in the Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Tickets are $65 and $79; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
"The Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos is the oldest of the composers on the program," says Shaham. "Born in the 1880s, he was one of the first South American composers to try to combine local music with European traditions. Like so many composers of the 20th century, he frequently changed his mind on which element to emphasize more."
One of the most praised and beloved Brazilian composers of all time, Villa-Lobos' music
not only epitomizes the multi-colored Brazilian backdrop but also represents it in all its abundance, creativity and vitality. An ingenious talent, his orchestral, chamber and instrumental pieces exhibit a rich mix of Western classical and Brazilian folk music. It is this diverse blend of genres that made his musical pieces stand out from that of his peers. With a musical career spanning 50 years, Villa-Lobos wrote more than 2,000 compositions and was particularly known for writing duets-but for this concert, the Symphony explores a work for three.
"The trio in our program is a relatively early work, written when Villa-Lobos was in his early 30s and before his first travels to Europe," explains Shaham. "This was a time when he immersed himself in native Brazilian sounds and music. He achieves in the trio a unique world sound, both through the combination of instruments (oboe, clarinet, bassoon) and through the harmonic universe he explores. The native influences are clearly audible. It's a rewarding work which sets up the South American sonic palate beautifully."
Villa-Lobos' music created a new path for musicians to follow. It was after him that classical music composers sought to expand their thinking and merged elements from different cultures. Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein were U.S. composers who were greatly influenced by him and regarded his work as a new perception of the musical language.
The second composer on the program, the brilliantly original Argentinian composer Ginastera, is one of the most important South American musical figures of the 20th century. Born in Buenos Aires in 1916, he began his music studies early, entering the Williams Conservatory at age 12. In 1934, while still a teenager, he received an award from El Unisono Association, confirming his promise as a composer. Many other honors followed, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1942; he postponed his trip to the U.S. until the end of World War II, when he formed close associations with American composers, including Copland.
Exhilarating rhythmic energy and appealing lyricism are characteristic of Ginastera's music, which fuses complex Argentinian folk rhythms and textures with modern classicism. He is considered one of the foremost representatives of musical nationalism of the 20th century, and his catalog is wide and diverse, including for opera, theater and film. He is especially recognized for his compositions for piano, which are a staple of the modern repertory. His music gained new attention in the U.S. after being featured in the 1980 Hollywood movie, "The Competition."
"Ginastera was born 100 years ago, and his centenary has prompted a great revival of his music," says Shaham. "The 'Danzas Argentinas' are very early pieces, written while he was still a student, and they incorporate tremendous rhythmic energy with incredible lyricism. In many ways, these became hallmarks of Latin American compositions. Part of the sense of Argentina invoked in these pieces is the idea of the 'gaucho' (Argentinian cowboy) as a symbol of the land. The opening strings of Ginastera's guitar can be found over and over in his works, almost as a hidden signature. The Danzas appear simple on their surface but are in fact both rhythmically and harmonically innovative and complex, which makes them hugely technically demanding. They are incredibly satisfying to both hear and perform!
"Both Piazzolla and Villa-Lobos were championed by the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein, and it was Ginastera who became Piazzolla's composition teacher. It is a small musical world!"
Shaham continues: "Astor Piazzolla was an Argentinean composer and a virtuoso bandoneon player, who revolutionized and reinvented the tango, making it ever motr appealing, relevant and popular among the classical, world, jazz and other genres. In 1954, he traveled to Paris to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger, who, after hearing him play on the bandoneon, urged him to pursue his own voice rather than imitate other great composers."
Piazzolla is the newest of the program's composers, and his tangos range from different parts of his life, as late as the 1980s. Piazzolla was introduced to jazz, tango and classical music at an early age and began his musical career as a child prodigy on the bandoneon. He studied composition with Ginastera in Buenos Aires, and later with Boulanger in France. After Boulanger counseled him to pursue the tango, Piazzolla developed what he called nuevo tango, a modern style infused with elements of jazz harmony and rhythm as well as techniques from classical composition.
"Piazzolla's nuevo tango ultimately became a genre of its own, creating deeply complex, innovative content that met with great popularity," says Shaham. "With these two transcriptions for string orchestra, the tango takes on a multitude of lives: full of color, sonority, but also sensuality and virtuosity. Their place in our program pays poignant tribute to Piazzolla's own training and fascination with Bach, which without a doubt made an imprint on his development as a composer."
Though he was Argentinian, Piazzolla spent much of his childhood in New York City, and his music is always reflective of a merger of styles. Blends of sounds from throughout the world come together to make his unique style.
"One highlight of playing these tangoes is that I get to include my good friend, the great Argentinian bandoneónista Hector Del Curto. The bandoneon is like the Argentinian equivalent of the accordion, but in many ways it is much more intricate and difficult to master. He is a musician of the highest caliber, with technique and intelligence to burn. Since his musical geography tends to be so different from mine, I feel I am constantly learning from him and his musical ideas. ¡Que disfrutan del concierto!" concludes Shaham.