Monthly Archives: June 2013

Chanson française/ Chanson limousin: From Maurice Ravel’s Chants populaires


I had a conversation a couple of years ago with an older gentleman friend of  mine in Spain. He said that his country had lost its custom of singing out loud. He remembers a time when women sang while doing their chores at full voice in the neighborhoods where he grew up.  Here in the States the working song has definitely lost its ground.  I recently went to Santo Domingo for a singing engagement at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and I did notice that in this country, people very much still sing out loud. People sing while they are stamping your passport, at the bank, even loudly as they are walking down the street.   The spirit of this lovely lost custom of singing ditties out loud for sheer pleasure was to inspire a programming choice very soon…

For my upcoming concert on June 25th 2013 in New York city at the Gabarron Foundation, which is being sponsored by the Embassy and the Permanent Mission to the UN of the country of Malta, I decided to program a small set of folk songs set by the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), his Chants populaires.  Several of the songs are in lesser known European languages. Happily, the chanson espagnole is in Galician, the language spoken in the northernmost part of Spain known as Galicia, with which I have had some experience with. The Chanson française of this set is in  Limousin, a dialect that comes directly from the language Occitan, an “endangered” language, spoken mainly by persons over 50 in the southwest region of France (in Charante and the Dordogne).  Occitan is related to the language spoken in Catalunya (Spain) as well as certain regions in France and Italy.  So, I embarked on the adventure of finding someone to teach me how to say this text.  I called the Alliance Française in New York City, but alas, no teachers there spoke this language.  I found two interesting websites, one of them dedicated to the survival of this language, Occitanet, with a guide to pronunciation. The other website was an announcement of  NYC/Occitan musicians self named troubadour collective that perform here in NYC from time to time,  the NY’ OC, who actively promote music from this language and culture.  I emailed one of the troubadours, and one called Domenja kindly sent me the IPA of the text of Chanson Française set by Ravel.  Many of the recordings on youtube have the pronunciation in French.  Cecilia Bartoli does do the limousin in her commercial recording “Chants d’amour”, but I wanted one more version for comparison. I found a wonderful recording by Gabriel Bacquier and Dalton Baldwin, with beautiful images to accompany the little ditty, which is about a little pastoral romance:

Text in limousin:

Janeta ount anirem gardar,

Qu’ajam boun tems un’oura? Lan la!

Aval, aval, al prat barrat;

la de tan belas oumbras!

Lan la!

Lou pastour quita soun mantel,

Per far siere Janetan Lan la!

Janeta a talamen jougat,

Que se ies oublidada, Lan la!

 The IPA translation:

Ianeta unt anirem garda,

caiəm bun tems yn’urə ? Lan la !

Abal, abal, al prat baʀat ;

l a de tan bɛləs umbrəs !

Lan la !

Lu pastu kitə sun mantɛl,

per fa siere Ianetan Lan la !

Ianetə a talamen iugat,

ke s’i ɛs ublidadə, Lan la !


Jenny, where shall we go to tend the flock,
And enjoy ourselves for an hour? Hey ho!
Down yonder, down yonder, in the gated meadow,
There are so many lovely shadows there!
The shepherd takes off his cloak
And makes Jenny sit down. Hey ho!
Jenny had such a time of it,
That she quite forgot herself. Hey ho!

The IPA matches  the pronunciation of Mr. Bacquier, with these two references, one can piece it together and sing this text perfectly!

Here is the Hyperion Record link with excerpted program notes to the disc by Canadian baritone Gerard Finley; I heard this artist at the MET’s’ Pelléas et Mélisande a few years ago, I’m sure this disc will not disappoint:

Limousin is of course directly related to the language of the texts set by Joseph Canteloube his lovely Chants d’Auvergne, with which I have become enamoured of, via the touching and unaffected interpretations of the Ukranian soprano Netania Davrath:

The natural expression of Davrath, her at times almost naive vocalism (done to match the text), which then soars into lines of such beauty and purity are breathtaking. Its an honest expression, which seems like such a simple thing, yet is in my opinion the greatest of all achievements for any performing artist across the genres. Davrath’s recorded version (originally two LP’s) of the Chants d’Auvergne is available on iTunes and on Amazon. I am now a fan of this wonderful artist.


100 Years of Flamenco in New York Exhibit at The NY Public Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center


With this new project of La nuit espagnole: Flamenco and the vanguard on my hands for this July at Between the Seas Festival in New York City, I am doing research into the fascinating world of flamenco dance.  Lucky for me, the New York Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center currently has the exhibition 100 years of Flamenco in New York at the Vincent Astor Gallery, located in the lower floor of the library.  The exhibition opened on March 12 and runs through August of 2013.  Curated by American dancer and choreographer Carlota Santana, the exhibition tells the great yarn of the first Spanish dancers that performed in NYC, the evolution of this art form in American soil, and the emerging American artists that delved in Spanish dance that went on to have careers, found their own companies and train new generations in this art form.  Adding ingredients such as of  jazz and tap dance, flamenco in NYC continues to evolve and change; the American school of Spanish dance is a living genre, as dynamic as the New Yorkers of all walks of life that continue to perform it.  I  visited the exhibit last Wednesday afternoon, and save for a couple of people that came in for a short while, I had the place to myself.


Main wall of the exhibition with large screen, which had different images that flashed, of past and current Flamenco dancers of New York City.

The exhibit starts its narration with the mid to late 19th century, detailing the first Spanish dancers to perform in New York City in the 1830’s and 1840’s. There is a an ongoing film of the first woman ever to be caught on film by Edison’s Vitascope in 1894, Carmencita the pearl of Seville, as well as engravings of  Fanny Elssler,  who danced for President Van Buren, and whose dance “La cachucha” stopped business at US Congress.  Interspersed with programs, photographs and drawings, the story tells the story of these early performances that took place in theaters, beer halls.  It became the craze in New York in the 1850’s.

IMG_0638Interspersed with the photographs, there were programs and beautiful drawings and etchings of these early Spanish dancers. One of them was intriguingly enough Japanese.  There were also pixs of these early performances, among them of a veritable battalion of Spanish dancers  in toreador costumes.  Many of these early performances took place in the old theater district of Herald Square, places like Niblo’s Pleasure Garden and the Eden Museum.

IMG_0634The waves of Spanish immigrants into New York City at this time, and with the founding of Spanish Benevolent Society on W. 14th, also provided a place for these recent New Yorkers to have a place for dance instruction for their children and the community.  The Spanish Benevolent Society is still in existence and carries on the tradition for Flamenco dance, known here in NYC as “La Nacional”.

Moving into the years following the Spanish American War, we encounter Antonia Mercé “La Argentina”, Encarnación López “La Argentinita” and Vicente Escudero, all personalities that are part of the early Spanish avant-garde that I’m highlighting.  The famous Man Ray photograph of Escudero was on the wall, as well as well known and more rare pixs of “La Argentina” and “La Argentinita” .  There was a photograph of a special dinner hosted by Spanish intellectuals at Columbia University to honor “La Argentina”; among that group was a young Federico García Lorca, who was soon to write his famous “Poeta en Nueva York”, who took part in the festivities that evening, taking the opportunity to recite poems from his Romancero Gitano.

La Argentina promo shot with Victrola

La Argentina promo photograph with victrola

Encarnación López “La Argentinita” and her sister Pilar where also headliners in those years in New York City. There were fun shots of their show, some showing them simulating a “cat fight”. Both of these acts played in the cities most prestigious stages.


Pilar López and her sister “La Argentinita” in a promo shot for their New York Tour in the 30’s.

With the Spanish Civil War came the exile of a true blooded gypsy performer that took New York by storm, Carmen Amaya.  Donning pants a la Marlene Dietrich, Amaya was a virtuoso, with furious foot work that dazzled. She was billed by her manager Sol Hurok as “The Human Vesuvios”.  After Amaya, Spanish dance in America came to be seen exclusively as gypsy style Flamenco, sweeping Spanish classical dance styles to the sidelines. The Wild and unschooled Amaya was a contrast to the generation before her.  She appeared in numerous movies in Hollywood.


Carmen Amaya poster on display at the exhibit

The most interesting part of the exhibit begins shortly after this segment, detailing who were the first pioneer Americans in the 1940’s that took up this art, many of them immersing themselves and traveling to Spain. Vicente Escudero and “La Argentinita” did their part in discovering native talents in New York City, such Italian born José Greco, who went on to have his own company, touring for 40 years and training several generations of American dancers.  One of his costume jackets is on display as well as various photographs. At one of the two ongoing film stations, Mr. Greco is interviewed,  speaking of his immigrant background and  of  the multicultural environment of his childhood years in Brooklyn.


Brooklyn born Spanish dancer, José Greco

Other American stories emerged: a young Irish American dancer called Joan Fitzmaurice becomes the electrifying Maria Alba; Texas raised cowgirl, Russell Meriwether Hughes became a legendary Spanish and Indian dancer, author of books as well as a founder of her own academy in NYC, known as “La Meri”.  I saw inspiring photographs of Nuyorican female dancers that also where part of the Flamenco scene in the 1960’s in the city.  I was happy to see photographs of a young Jerane Michel, who was the choreographer of the Caprichos Boleros show I was involved with a few years ago, both in film as a castanet artist, and with her partners Mariano Parra, a half Andalusian, half Russian respected choreographer and teacher.  True to New York’s heritage, the American wave of Spanish dancers became experts in the field, some of them writing books, forming their own companies and foundations, such as the Foundation for Ethnic Dance by the legendary Matteo and his partner Carola Goya,


Mariano Parra and Jerane Michel in the 1960’s.

The end of the exhibit show cased photographs of the flamenco dancers and companies that are performing currently in New York City, included is New York born Nelida Tirado, with whom I had done a song and dance performance for the Latin American Cultural Center in Queens, and is said to be one of the best flamenco performers in the city.  Also featured is friend Rebeca Tomas and her company “A palo seco”, which has garnished rave reviews from The New York Times, and is part of La nuit espagnoles: Flamenco and the Spanish Vanguard:

Link to promo video of A palo seco, dancer and choreographer Rebeca Tomas

All in all a fascinating exhibition that I highly recommend for lovers of Spanish culture, dance and those interested in cultural history of New York City. The exhibit is free and a great way to spend the afternoon; for more information,

La nuit espagnole: Flamenco and the Spanish Vanguard at Between the Seas Festival in NYC this July

"Manicomio Flamenco", Spanish dancer, painter and writer Vicente Escudero, from   the book "Pintura que baila"

“Manicomio Flamenco”, by Spanish dancer, painter and writer Vicente Escudero, from
the collection “Pintura que baila”

I  had dabbled in the past with learning to dance flamenco in New York City in the past 10 years, when the opera Carmen and Manuel de Falla’s Amor brujo had come up for me.  I also encountered dancers at the various types of Spanish music concerts I sang  in the NYC area throughout the years groups like Caprichos Boleros,  Amigos de la Zarzuela, always enjoying their company.  Spanish dancers are breed of their own, emanating a special intensity…the past couple of years I have been involved in several multi-disciplinary projects involving dancers, recently with “Life and Dance in the Times of the Duchess of Alba” at Hispanic Society of America and “KLIMT: Artist of the Soul”. Dance seems to be in my heart and body in terms of my creative projects these days. If music creates a particular atmosphere,  the adding of dance to the mix elevates the energy of theatrical space in a special and palpable way.

This past February I threw my hat in the ring with a new showcase festival in New York City that takes place in July 23-26 of this year, Between the Seas Festival, led by Greek producer, director and actress Aktina Stathaki.  Now in its third year, the festival  is dedicated to emerging projects by artists from and/or themes from Mediterranean culture.  I proposed to Aktina a spectacle that had been stewing in my brain for the past couple of years, a collaboration with New York based flamenco dancer Rebeca Tomás called La nuit espagnole: Flamenco and the Spanish Vanguard; the show brings dance, music and poetry together to highlight how flamenco culture and performers influenced and inspired the European Vanguard before the Spanish Civil War. Picasso, Lorca, Dalí and Picabia hung out and interacted with La Argentina Antonia Mercé, La Argentinita Encarnación López and Vicente Escudero both informally and artistically, and even corresponded with each other:


“For the prodigious Antonia Mercé, with the affection and ardent admiration
of Federico García Lorca, New York, 1929″

These particular dancers where multifaceted (a time also when there was no clear line between Spanish classical and flamenco) were in turn inspired by Cubism, Surrealism, as well as absorbing the intellectual concerns of the times regarding Spanish identity, as they searched for roots in the rhythms of Spanish folklore.  Spectacles and costume designs were done by the Avant-garde designers, and there was a communing of the genres of the arts: painting, dance, poetry and theater.  This time period is Spain’s so called “Silver Age” (1898-1936). The personalities in this era include composers Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Joaquín Nin; painters Joaquín Sorolla, Ignacio Zuloaga and Salvador Dalí; poets Juan Ramón Jiménez, Federico García Lorca and Rafael Alberti. On the international front just to name a few are photographer Man Ray and painter Frances Picabia.  Flamenco, for these artists of the first wave of Modernism in Spain was a fodder, sort of wine that is consumed to perceive a mood and inspiration for artistic works that where on the vanguard of expression in the early part of the century up until the 1936 and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.


Costume design by Néstor for “La Argentina” Antonia Mercé for the ballet El Fandango del Candil (1927)

This movement elevated what was before “rural”  to a market of  international art consumption of the highest levels both in Europe and the Americas.  Its the beginning of the Spanish chic, already started with the 19th century Romantic travelers such as Théophile Gautier (with his book “A Romantic in Spain) and the propagation of the mythic “Exotic” country, with its perceived Oriental and African overtones prevalent in those times.

Calling upon dancer friend Anna de la Paz, who specializes en classical and folkloric Spanish dance, Spanish pianist María de los Ángeles Rubio, a native of Jeréz de la Frontera in Andalucía and the aformentioned flamenco dancer Rebeca Tomás,  we will be cooking up a show that unites Flamenco, Classical Spanish Dance, poetry and paintings to conjure up this exciting time in Spain’s cultural history.  The show is premieres on July 24, 2013 at the DROM Theater in New York City, for more information please see the link below.  More posts to come as we develop the show!

Between the Seas Festival and DROM Theater info on “La nuit espagnole: Flamenco and the Spanish Vanguard”, July 24, 2013


En mis apresurados últimos dias en Madrid esta estancia pasada de mayo del 2013, fuí como siempre que vengo a España a visitar a Carlos Gómez Amat, escritor, crítico de música ya retirado, a su casa en el barrio de los periodistas en Madrid. Siempre elegante, pero ahora entristecido con los malestares inevitables de su edad, nos pasamos una tarde agradable, como muchas que ya habían transcurrido durante mi beca Fulbright en el 2007-2008, discutiendo la obra de su padre, el compositor Julio Gómez (1886-1973) …venía con las buenas noticias que el pianista Jorge Robaina y yo trabajaríamos la edición nueva de las canciones de su padre con la Editorial Boileau en Barcelona. Entre anécdotas siempre entretenidas y ruiseñas, le conté de mis próximas actuaciones y proyectos: un concierto dedicado a la pintura que cuelga en el Hispanic Society of America en Nueva York, La Duquesa de Alba como viuda pintada por Goya, un proyecto en torno al Duque De Rivas para la embajada Maltesa en España, entre otros. Le enseñé mi nuevo iPad, que el declaró como “inventos del demonio”, aunque el lo tomó en sus manos para leer una poesía que había traido por mi gran amigo Francisco M. Quirce, Solo Goya, a quien declaró talentoso, aunque no le terminaba de gustar la palabra “orgasmo” tan repetida en este poema. Estaba ya tomando el diccionario para ver que otra palabra se pudiera poner, cuando le dije que el poeta ya había hecho una segunda versión, “sin orgasmo”…y que pronto pediría al poeta que le mandase ambas versiones para su lectura e opinion.

La tarde inevitablemente nos llevó a que yo bajase los tomos de poesía para leer entre nosotros, como siempre lo hacíamos. Le conté que buscaba los derechos de autor de una poesía utilizado por su padre en una obra para soprano y orquesta, “A ejemplo a los arboles desnudos”, estrenado por la soprano Isabel Penagos, a quien había sido mi profesora en los cursos Música en Compostela en Galicia.

El poeta de los textos de esta obra, Enrique Ruíz de la Serna era un poco más mayor que su padre, y Carlos le conoció muy bien; con ojos un poco humedicidos, al recordar a Don Enrique y como el recitaba sus poemas en voz alta para sus amigos, leimos su poema juntos:

No es el otoño, no, quien a los árboles
arrebata sus hojas, que son ellos,
son los árboles mismos quienes ceden
sus hojas a los vientos….

Los árboles desdeñan
la estéril pompa del follaje muerto,
y, con viril austeridad, aguardan
desnudos los rigores del invierno.
Saben que sólo así la primavera
los vestirá de nuevo!

Alma mía: estos árboles desnudos
sean para ti ejemplo.
Renuncia, como ellos, a lo vano;
despójate, como ellos, de lo viejo.
Si en ti muere una idea, para siempre
arráncala de ti y échala al viento.

Porque son los cadáveres de ideas
la estéril pompa del follaje muerto!
No finjas pensamientos que no pienses,
no sientas con fingidos sentimientos.
Antes que así, desnuda,
resiste los rigores del invierno.

Que al cabo tornará la primavera
y a ti también te vestirá de nuevo!.

Enrique Ruìz de la Serna
Poeta y ensayista colombiano, nacido en 1887.


Pianista Jorge Robaina, Carlos Gómez Amat and servidora

despues de un concierto de las canciones de Julio Gómez

en La Escuela Superior de Canto de Madrid in 2010.

“A ejemplo a los arboles desnudos”, una tarde con Carlos Gómez Amat