Archive for the “Mexico” Category

Skull courtesy of Casa Ramirez (photo by Chris Becker)

Skeletons! Witches! Vampires! No, I’m not talking about candidates in Houston’s midterm elections. I’m talking about Halloween and the two days that follow known as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Like many other places in the Southern U.S., Houston culture is a healthy mix of the supernatural and the spiritual. In the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Meurtos, food, beverages, and sweets are placed on homemade alters as gifts for the spiritual manifestations of those who have passed who will, over the course of the 48 hours that is All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day, visit the people they knew before the afterlife. Gift giving and the ephemeral nature of playing music – particularly improvised music – have all been on my mind lately.

In his recent book Tradition and Transgression about composer John Zorn, author John Brackett includes a chapter describing Zorn’s music from the perspective of “the gift and gift giving.” The composer receives a “gift” from an artist – maybe an artist from an earlier time – in the form of creative inspiration and techniques that can be applied to their respective medium and then passes the “gift” along in various forms of musical homage. There are so many examples of this practice in music. Many compositions by Charles Mingus are named for musicians he knew and loved and directly referenced in melody, harmony, and/or rhythm (A few examples are Reincarnation of a Lovebird, So Long Eric and Goodbye Porkpie Hat for Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy and Lester Young respectively). Certainly there are parallels between creating art and celebrating our ancestors. Maybe there’s actually no difference between the two actions?

Who are some of the composers, friends, and/or family members you yourself have paid homage to in musical form?

Alexandra Adshead and Chris Becker at Avant Garden (photo by Jonathan Jindra)

For the month of November, the tireless Dave Dove and his organization Nameless Sound continue their They Who Sound “First Time Duo” series at Houston’s Avant Garden, every Monday from 7pm to 9pm. Each week, two to four improvisers who have never played together share the stage to perform a set of entirely improvised music. This is a great concept, and I wonder if it could expand beyond its current network of free improvisers to include pairings with members of Houston’s classical, jazz, and rock communities. Maybe some students from Houston’s School for the Performing Arts could share the stage with people with a history in Houston’s free improv and/or so-called noise scenes and try to find some common ground?

Also at Avant Garden on the last Wednesday of every month, keyboardist Robert Pearson presents a program of experimental music (Robert was kind enough to invite me and Alex to play last Wednesday, and we had a ball). These Wednesday shows are also an opportunity to hear Robert who doesn’t play like anyone I’ve ever heard before. Imagine Matthew Shipp, former Birdsongs of the Mesozoic Roger Miller, and Erik Satie all at 200 bpm and you sort of get an aural impression of what Robert sounds like on the keys. The resulting music is almost Zen-like in spite (or maybe because of) the tempi. Go hear him for yourself!

On November 2, 2010, 7pm at Talento Bilingue de Houston, Cuban tenor Alejandro Salvia Cobas and belly dancer provocateur Ms. Y.E.T. perform at show of artist and longtime A.I.D.S. activist Lourdes Lopez Moreno’s show of hand built clay skeletons. Moreno’s work will be on display through November 7th. A short, spooky video featuring Cobas’ voice is up on YouTube.

On November 7, 7:30pm at Zilkha Hall, Houston’s composer led contemporary music organization Musiqa celebrates the work of Benjamin Patterson, a groundbreaking artist who was a founding member of the avant-garde group, Fluxus, and whose work explores the experimental and improvisational possibilities in music. The concert Born in a State of Flux(us) is free, and Patterson will be there for what should be a crazy evening.

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A lot of important ensembles have been coming out of places like Oberlin (Eighth Blackbird), Yale (So Percussion, Now Ensemble), and Eastman (Alarm Will Sound, JACK Quartet, Signal) over the past 10+ years.  Well, it looks like there is another one trying to break through from Eastman called Eastman BroadBand.

BroadBand is preparing for a tour of Mexico that will culminate in a performance at the Festival Internacional Cervantino in Mexico City, but before they leave they will stop in New York City on Monday to pick up their visas at the Mexican consulate and perform at Columbia’s Miller Theatre (8pm).

The program features music by Silvestre Revueltas, Juan Trigos, and Alejandro Viñao, as well as Eastman faculty and BroadBand artistic directors Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon.  Eastman BroadBand has this to say about the program:

“The music on the program explores the composers’ interaction with contemporary culture through a number of seemingly diverse perspectives: the musical folklore of Mexico, Spain, and Pakistan; the literature of Juan Rulfo and Juan Trigos Sr; the kinetic sculptures of Arthur Ganson, and the ‘music of architecture’ are all examined through the abstract lenses of these imaginative artists.”

The program also features two soloists who I’ve had on the podcast this year.  You can listen to what pianist Cristina Valdes and soprano Tony Arnold have to say about performing contemporary music and working with composers here and here.

Tickets: $25 general admission, $12 students and Eastman alumni.

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There’s a lot of shock and sadness in the Mexican classical community just now: last week one of the finest violists in Mexico and the world, Omar Hernández-Hidalgo, was found dead in his hometown of Tijuana, four days after apparently being kidnapped. A principal violist by the age of 21, Grammy-nominated twice, the first violist in his country to recieve a PhD. (at Indiana University), praised by Pierre Boulez, Hernández-Hidalgo was a champion of contemporary music, especially the new and vital in his own country. While his technique was commanding and virtuosic, his own personality was warm, modest and endlessly generous. He was in the midst of a demanding schedule of performances and festivals right up to his disappearance, and the sudden hole his senseless death leaves in the Mexican musical soul is keen and intense. Our hearts go out to his colleagues, family and friends, along with our hopes for sanity, peace and determination to stand for a world that will not stand for this kind of evil. RIP.



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Enrico Chapela. Photo credit: Bernd Uhlig

New New Paths in Music presents

An Hispanic Festival

Elebash Recital Hall

Graduate Center – CUNY

New York

On Friday June 5th, New Paths in Music presented a concert of composers from Mexico, Argentina, and Spain: two of each. While the program centered around national identities, it contained music in disparate styles and for varying forces. DAVID ALAN MILLER, conductor of the Albany Symphony, led the New Paths Ensemble, a chamber orchestra of crackerjack contemporary players from the New York area.

ENRICO CHAPELA’S “Irrational Music” was a perfect curtain-raiser. The piece is based on Chapela’s explorations of irrational numbers; but this was in no way indicative of a dry or cerebral surface. On the contrary, “Irrational Music” pulsates with vibrant energy. Its frequent time changes and energetic tutti pileups were deftly negotiated by New Paths. What’s more, Chapela’s music set the stage for the rest of the concert; serving as a foreshadowing of elements grappled with throughout the concert. The evening was often about music of deft negotiations – balancing massed orchestration versus delicate linear writing and intricate metric shifts with visceral “dancing” rhythms.

Colliding Moments” by ALEJANDRO VIÑAO, was for a smaller subunit of the ensemble. Composed for a 2005 concert in Paris, its chamber textures exhibited a Francophilic ambience. Some of the flourishes played by Christopher Oldfather were reminiscent of Messiaen, while violinist Sunghae Anna Lin, flutist Valerie Coleman, and clarinetist Alan Kay were given Impressionist solo turns. Viñao’s work also demonstrates a supple, varied metric layout; but it is a piece one’s likely to remember for delicate pirouettes rather than colliding timescales.

Spanish composer DAVID DEL PUERTO is also a guitarist; his knowledge of the intricacies of the instrument’s capabilities were well-displayed in Zephyr.” A guitar concerto cast in a single movement, with fast-slow-fast subsections, it was a delightful showcase for the excellent soloist OREN FADER. Del Puerto excelled at making space in the orchestration for Fader’s solos, supplying fleet scalar passages as well as a central section of considerably supple lyricism. That said, there was plenty for the ensemble in the piece as well; transparent accompaniments were contrasted with powerful verticals. Once again, there was a marked emphasis on frequent, fluidly rendered time changes. “Zephyr” is a persuasive, attractive work; one hopes Fader keeps it in his repertoire.

GABRIEL ERKOREKA’S “Trance” draws upon American trance films as a touchstone, likening their post-surrealistic tone and simulated dream states to the piece’s musical explorations. The result was a tempestuous, expressionist, and volatile tone poem, more illustrative of disordered sleep than the meditative or transported states one often associates with trance in popular culture.

More appealing was GABRIELA ORTIZ’S “Amber Stained Glass Windows.” The piece charts the trajectory of a Monarch butterfly, migrating from the composer’s native Mexico to Montreal. Ortiz is a skillful orchestrator, creating limpid, shimmering textures that made particularly fine use of New Path percussionist John Ferrari’s formidable virtuosity. Miller deserves mega-kudos for preserving abundant clarity in this challenging piece.

Argentinean composer ESTEBAN BENZECRY was fortunate to have violinist ROLF SCHULTE performing the solo part in his “Evocations of a Lost World.” Schulte’s nimble execution of dizzying passage work and his ever present flair for the dramatic helped to distract from Benzecry’s frequently mawkish orchestration. Tribal “drums of death” and overblown winds, designed to be evocative of folk materials, instead gave the concert’s closer a bombastic, hackneyed flavor.

Still, the New Paths Hispanic Festival had a lot going for it; dedicated performances, stylistic diversity, and a program featuring several composers who deserve to be better known stateside.

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Morelia (in the State of Michoacan, Mexico) will be hosting its Fifth Contemporary Music Festival from June 1-6. Although relatively young, the festival has gathered prestige and generated enthusiasm in the course of a few years, thanks in part to a list of distinguished composers and performers. Just a few names: Helmut Lachenmann, International Contemporary Ensemble, Robert Platz, Nicholas Isherwood, Carlos Sánchez Gutierrez, Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Manuel Rocha, Dynamis Ensemble.

This year Morelia will be listening to some world-renowned composers and performers such as Philippe Manoury (France), Jack Body (New Zealand), S21-well-known Wilfrido Terrazas (Mexico), Orlando Jacinto García (Cuba), Eddie Mora (Costa Rica), Ekaterina Shatskaya (Russia), Iracema de Andrade (Brazil), and Christophe Desjardins (France). Concerts, lectures, and workshops will be given in the course of the week.

If the musical guests intrigue you, it should be mentioned that Morelia is known to be one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. Its colonial architecture and rich cultural life make it an attractive destination. But now I’m beginning to sound like a promoter of tourism for the State of Michoacán.

The festival is organized by the Government of the State of Michoacán, the Mexican Center for Music and Sound Art (CMMAS, after its spanish abbreviation and whom I thank for the information) and the Conservatorio de las Rosas. It promises to be another interesting edition.

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