Category Archives: Spanish Classical Music, Spanish Classical Art Song, Latin American Art Song, Latin American Vocal Chamber Music

Semiramide 30 day Challenge Day 3 Arsace Assur duet “Bella imago…”



I have not sung many opera scenes with true basses.  The last I did that comes to memory is the duet between Laura and Alvise in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.  There are more common encounters in baroque opera between these two voice types, as well as also in a couple of Bach cantatas that I have sung.  There are occasions in which the mezzo interacts with the bass in recitative passages, but not often in large presentational duet like the one in Semiramide.

The scene with Arsace and Assur in Act I of Semiramide begins with Arsace’s recit  “…e questo Assur chi’io già detesto”.  It would be a mistake to sum this scene as a big testosterone sable rattling scene. Its divided in four sections sections, and contains  bridge section to mirror the power struggle and conflict (with what I call “emotional close ups”) between the two characters: a young dashing somewhat lovelorn general and a mature general that has been working many years to attain absolute power in ancient Babylon.

American bass Samuel Ramey as Assur in Rossini’s Semiramide

No. 5 Scena and duetto Arsace and Assur

Recitative “…e questo Assur chio gia detesto” “E dunque vero? audace”

Maestoso allegretto giusto: “Bella imago degli Dei”

Andante: “D’un tenero amore”

Allegro vivace: “Io tremar?”

A tempo:  “Va superbo, in quella Reggia”

A cut version could last 7 plus minutes. The uncut performance of the duet from the 80’s with Horne and Ramey  in London clocked in at 11’30, its truly a superb version:

Arsace Assur Duet from Semiramide with Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey live performance London

The recit exposes the power struggle and rivalry between the two characters; Arsace ends his statement with scale with possible cadenza and begins the A section (Maestoso allegreto giusto) which then returns at the A tempo at the end of the scena. The Decca London 1965 recording cuts out the  Andante section, which gives a great platform to show almost a soft side for Assur, wonderful expressive singing for Arsace, as well as beautiful cadenza in which both characters sing together, its a great moment. The “io tremar” of the Allegro vivace changes the mood in an aggressive way to bring us back to the A section, which in the uncut version repeats; its in this section that the ornaments are done.  Musically and dramatically the scena is a mini opera, except that the conflict remains to be resolved (with deadly force) later on in the opera.

Its a big chunk of music. In the Kalmus score its 18 pages for this scena…for now I will learn the return of the A section come scritto  (Horne re writes the passages leading to the end of this first exposition). It definitely needs a high note, as indicated by Rossini by the two fermatas. Not too worried getting this A section in my voice, as well as the gorgeous introspective cantilena section.  The grouping of the figures in the last part of the duet are super trumpet like in character. I sung thru it a couple of times today. Tomorrow I will work on the possible ornaments and cadenzas for the duet.  None are indicated in the Ricci cadenza book. After that, I’m moving on to the Act II cavatina of “In si barbara”. I’m skipping over the Act I finale quintet for now.

I will sing thru a big chunk of this role in a small concert on September 6th in NYC so I can try all this out for size. Still working on that August 19th deadline to learn every note and every word! Maybe not every ornament and cadenza, but yes to be able to read the score from top to bottom.


Italian mezzo soprano Lucia Valentini-Terrani as Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide

My “Semiramide” Summer 2017 Challenge Day 2


As I take myself thru the paces of learning Arsace, something I have been wanting to do for many years now, I’m getting into a good grove.  Yesterday I reviewed the recits I had learned the day before, as well as making more inroads into my duet with Assur, which is extensive.  I found it helpful to make a road map of what Act 1 looks like for Arsace, and that way lay out clear goals by day of what to learn and review.

ACT I – Role of Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide

No. 4 Recitativo:  “Ecomi al fine in Babilonia”

Aria:  “Ah, quel giorno”

Recitativo:  “Ministri”

No. 5 Scena and duet with Assur

“Bel imago”

Recitativo after Semiramide’s  Bel raggio “Al tuo comando”

No. 8 duet “Serbami ognor”

No. 10 Quintet

I’m hampered by not having a cut sheet, at this point I’m learning all the notes and passages.  Without really knowing the overall architecture of the opera, it already reads to me as a masterpiece. The recitatives are very dramatic and theatrical; Rossini exposes the characters sometimes rapidly changing emotions and thoughts with sudden harmonic changes to allude to different emotional states. In this way it reminds of Handel’s craft in his opera Alcina.

Rossini is always looking for coloratura passages that highlight the characters personality, that follow them as a sort of leimotif; I will find some examples and post.

The recitative “Ecomi al fine” is a four page recitative that is preceded by a mini overture like prelude, that paints the sumptuous and mystery of the Babilonian temple that Arsace has gone for his secret appointment with the temple priests.  A recent Naxos recording omits the recitative. So far Decca London Marilyn Horne disc with Sutherland and the live video on youtube with Lucia Valentini-Terrani are my favorite versions of this accompanied recitativo.  This recit introduces the character and important information about the drama, in my opinion its a big mistake to cut it from the performance.

So on day 2, I have gone thru the recitatives Ecomi al fine; Ministri; recitative preceding duet with Assur E questo Assur, ch’io gia lo detesto; duet with Assur has several sections, I have gone over the first two expositions. Uncut this duet could last 15 minutes at least.  It seems like Rossini builds his scenas like Neoclassical architecture; I want to reach out to my friends at the Rossini Gesellschaft about this comparison!


The first Assur I ever heard was American bass Samuel Ramey, at MET production in the 90’s

I found on youtube channel Addio bel passato has lovingly put Stigniani’s LP recital on line, and the Arsace aria that I fell in love (together with the recitative excerpted) can be heard.

Ebe Stigniani “Ah quel giorno” from Rossini’s Semiramide, conducted by Antonino Votto

On this current hearing (after 20 years!) the tempo is slow to my modern ear and coloratura slightly labored.  She is very spare on the chest notes.  The album is dated 1953, so she had already clocked in several decades of singing professionally.  There is still a bright and stentorian quality to the upper register, but the the bel canto contraltina ease is not there in this recording. Memory can play tricks, and I have plans to listen to the LP on YouTube.

On to day 3! I will be going over sections of the first act with my pianist, so more later.



“Semiramide” Summer Challenge 2017


Today I started my own 30 day challenge to learn all the notes (every melisma and every word!) of the role of Arsace from Rossini’s opera sería masterpiece, “Semiramide”.  I spiral bounded my old Kalmus score which I have owned for many years. The Ricordi critical edition is available, but I’m putting off getting it until all notes and cadenzas are off the page.

Today I learned the first three recitatives as well as the A section of the Arsace/ Assur duet, a confrontation of rivals.

Many years ago I borrowed a long play vinyl of an Italian mezzo active in the 1930’s named Ebe Stignani.  I managed to record it on a tape cassette and started listening. Side A was all light bel canto arias sung with great freshness and youthful tone. On side B Ms. Stignani transformed herself into a spinto/dramatic mezzo with arias from Samson et Delilah arias (sung in Italian of course), the letter aria from Werther as well as the meaty arias from Il Trovatore. On side A the aria “Ah quel giorno” from Rossini’s Semiramide caught my attention. I ordered the whole score (only way for me to excerpt  this aria back then) and learned it pretty much by ear.  I surprised my teacher Richard Torigi a bit when I brought it in, and he even said it wasn’t half bad…and so this aria sung by the character of  Arsace became my first stab ever at music by who was to become my favorite composer, Gioachino Rossini.

The next recording of this aria I started listening to was in one of Marilyn Horne’s Decca London recital albums.  The aria became a sort of vocalise for me before auditions and concert; I never sang it in public until last year actually, at a couple of auditions. The duet with the character of Semiramide  “Serbami ognor” I also started performing it publicly just this past year as part of concert called “Amor en Travesti”, with soprano Gloria Londoño at the Auditorio Nacional de España in Madrid.

One of my operatic idols (flawed, human but divine nonetheless) is Italian mezzo Lucia Valentini-Terrani. I love her live and emotionally connected rendition of the aria on YouTube. The beginning recitative section of Arsace’s first aria is also stunning.

Lucia Valentini Terrani live concert Ecomi al fine…Ah, quel giorno from Rossini’s Semiramide

More on Arsace tomorrow!

“Pascua Florida”: nuevo cíclo para mezzo y piano Miquel Ortega sobre textos de Maria Lejárraga

“Pascua Florida”: nuevo cíclo para mezzo y piano Miquel Ortega sobre textos de Maria Lejárraga

Pascua Florida Nuevo cíclo de 8 canciones para mezzo soprano y piano, sobre textos de María Lejárraga, compuestas por el compositor Miquel Ortega; estreno absoluto domingo 12 de febrero, 2017 en el National Opera Center de Nueva York; mezzo soprano Anna Tonna y Max Lifchitz, piano.

Notas de programa

María de la O Lejárraga (La Rioja, 1874- Buenos Aires, 1974), conocida también como María Martinez Sierra, escritora y feminista española, es uno de esos personajes particulares que nos deja la historia en ocasiones. Hija de buena familia, logró una educación por encima de lo habitual en una mujer de su época. Esposa del dramaturgo Gregorio Martínez Sierra desde 1900, escribió siempre oculta bajo el nombre de su marido, mientras públicamente defendía los derechos de la mujer, consiguiendo incluso un escaño de diputada en 1933.

El matrimonio Martinez Sierra formó la que probablemente haya sido la unión más singular y enigmática de la historia de las letras españolas, una colaboración que resultó clave para la difusión del modernismo. Fundaron revistas literarias de vanguardia, como Helios y Renacimiento, donde escribieron los mejores escritores su época, y desde su papel como productores teatrales en el Teatro Eslava, impulsaron la más importante renovación teatral del primer tercio del siglo xx en el pais, mientras reunían a su alrededor a los creadores más inovadores e importantes del momento.

Tras su matrimonio, María Lejárraga escribió bajo el nombre de Gregorio Martínez Sierra, aunque ha quedado claro en tiempos modernos que todas las obras de Martínez Sierra fueron escritas por nuestra autora (auténticos best-sellers de la época, como Canción de cuna, llevada al cine en 4 ocasiones, una de ellas en Hollywood), asi como también las primeras traducciones en España de Shakespeare, Shaw, Maeterlinck, Ibsen y Ionesco. Entre los muchos triunfos en el mundo de la lírica de la “marca” Martinez Sierra se pueden citar Las Golondrinas y La llama, con música de Usandizaga (1914), y Margot y Jardin de Oriente, ambas de Joaquín Turina.

Hoy nos enfocamos en dicho trabajo de María Lejárraga en el campo de la lírica, y concretamente en la amistad y colaboración entre ella y el compositor Manuel de Falla. Ellos fueron los creadores de dos obras clave del ballet español del siglo XX, El amor brujo y El sombrero de tres picos, que llevaron a la fama mundial Les ballets Russes y Antonia Mercé, La Argentina.

Manuel de Falla conoció al matrimonio Martínez Sierra en París. A consecuencia de la I Guerra Mundial, Falla regresa a España y empieza a trabajar con el matrimonio, en realidad con Lejárraga únicamente. En 1915 Lejárraga y el compositor gaditano realizaron un viaje a finales de marzo y primeros de abril a Andalucía, en visperas del estreno de la primera versión de El amor brujo en el Teatro Lara, el 15 de abril de ese año. La primera ciudad que visitaron fue Granada, ciudad que el músico gaditano no conocía, despues Ronda y Cádiz. En parte del epistolario que mantuvieron ambos (y que publica Antonio Gallego en un trabajo titulado ‘Pascua Florida: Un proyecto poético de María Lejárraga para Manuel de Falla’ en 1996 ) se refieren muchas veces a una especie de “album de viaje” poético musical. En 1980 Union Musical Española publica Obras desconocidas de Manuel de Falla, con cinco canciones, entre ellas “La canción andaluza: Pan de Ronda”, que formaba parte de ese álbum de viaje.


Manuel de Falla, Maria Lejarraga y Joaquin Turina

En las cartas se comentaban planes para una ”suite” y un preludio. Pero la correspondencia delata un cambio de tono, desde la complicidad y familiaridad inicial, al enfado meses despues del viaje, por un incidente entre los dos amigos. La única canción que nos llega, a pesar de los ruegos de Lejárraga a Falla para que pusiera en música otras piezas del poemario, es, pues, “Pan de Ronda”. En el Archivo Manuel de Falla se conserva el esbozo de lo que hubiera sido esta suite vocal, escrito a lapiz con letra de Lejárraga sobre el dorso de un programa de concierto en Cádiz:

“Para el maestro Falla, tan amigo de guardar papeles viejos.”
“Pascua Florida” El jardín venenoso El descanso en San Nicolás El corazón que duerme bajo el agua El barrio gitano El salón de Carlos V Tinieblas en el convento El pan de Ronda que sabe a verdad El sol de Gibraltar Ciudades orientales Cádiz se echa a navegar


Esbozo original del texto “Cadiz se ha echado a navegar” por Maria Lejarraga, cortesia del Archivo-Manuel de Falla (Granada)

Al leer por primera vez estos versos salta a la vista la belleza de los poemas que sobreviven de este listado: El jardín venenoso; Tinieblas en el convento; El descanso en San Nicolás; El pan de Ronda que sabe a verdad y Cádiz se echa a navegar. Un proyecto que no se completó, y que pudo haber sido otra obra maestra de Falla.

Desde que en 2010 Anna Tonna comenzó este viaje para conocer la faceta creadora y a la vez de musa inspiradora de María Lejárraga, todo lo que ha descubierto le ha llevado, junto con Mari Luz Gonzalez, autora del libro Música y músicos en la vida de María Lejárraga, a idear un proyecto en el cual estos poemas semiocultos de Lejárraga pudieran recobrar vida bajo la pluma de un compositor que diera voz a estos versos, creados durante una época feliz para los dos amigos, ese viaje en el que la escritora desveló al insigne maestro las bellezas de la Alhambra y del barrio del Albaicín…

De esta manera Tonna y González encargaron al compositor Miquel Ortega esta labor tan especial y emotiva, terminar este ciclo de canciones, para que músicos y publico se reencuentren con la obra “Pascua Florida”. Tres poemas más, encontrados en el archivo de los herederos de María Lejárraga, forman parte del presente cíclo: Nana del amor perdido, Yo sabía un cantar moro y Mañana de abril.


“Pascua Florida” también podrá verse en los escenarios españoles, próximamente, en forma teatral, con libreto de José Julián Frontal y producción de Curro Carreres. Miquel Ortega continúa trabajando en estas piezas, orquestando el ciclo, para convertirlo en una suite de voz y orquesta.

Con melodias depuradas y llenas de emoción, el compositor logra dar con el color de sus sonoridades, compaginándolo con rítmos que nos llegan de la tierra, el ambiente y sol andaluces, mostrando, tras 102 años de oscuridad, la intimidad de los protagonistas de este viaje por la Andalucía del 1915.


“…me dejé imbuir por la musicalidad del propio poema que a veces hasta parecía dictarme la melodía.” Miquel Ortega

Pascua Florida
Música: Miquel Ortega Letra: María Lejárraga

Jardín venenoso Descanso en San Nicolás Tinieblas en el convento Noche estrellada mirando a Gibraltar Nana del amor perdido Yo sabía un cantar moro Cádiz se ha echado a navegar Mañana de abril

Gallego, Antonio. “Pascua Florida: Un proyecto poético de María Lejárraga para Manuel de Falla.” Revista Atlántica Poesía, 11 (1996): 33-55.

Luz, González Peña María. Música y músicos en la vida de María Lejárraga. Logroño: Instituto de Estudios Riojanos, 2009.

Webber, Chr. “María and Gregorio Martínez Sierra.” = N.p.,n.d.Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Sierra, María Martínez, y Alda Blanco. Gregorio y yo: medio siglo de colaboración. Valencia: Pre-Textos, 2000.

Miquel Ortega (Barcelona,1963) es pianista, director de orquesta y compositor. Formado en el Conservatorio del Liceo, amplió sus estudios con Manuel Oltra y Antoni Ros Marbà. Como director ha dedicado una atención especial al mundo de la ópera y la zarzuela.

Ha estrenado títulos como La celestina, de Joaquim Nin-Culmell (2008), Dalí, de Xavier Benguerel (2011), y ha dirigido a los teatros del Liceo, la Zarzuela, Teatro Real de Madrid, Teatro Colón de Buenos Aires, Capitole de Toulouse y Covent Garden, entre otros.

Es autor de la ópera La casa de Bernarda Alba (2007), el ballet Bestiario (2002-09) y el cuento musical El niño y la creación del mundo, estrenado en el Teatro Real de Madrid en enero del 2012. La casa de Bernarda Alba se estrenó en Brasov (Rumanía) en 2007 y posteriormente, en 2009, la obra tuvo su estreno en España en los Festivales Internacionales de Santander y Perelada.

Ortega es hoy en día uno de los directores españoles de su generación más apreciados en el campo operístico. Ha dirigido, entre otros, en el Gran Teatre del Liceu y el Palau de la Música de Barcelona, en el Teatro Real, Teatro de la Zarzuela y Auditorio Nacional de Música de Madrid, en el Kennedy Center de Washington, Teatro Colón de Buenos Aires, Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, Lindbury Studium de la Royal Opera House, Covent Garden de Londres, King’s Theater de Edimburgo, etc.

Su actividad como compositor también tiene a la voz como elemento principal, y muchos cantantes de la actualidad tienen en repertorio algunas de sus canciones; el tenor argentino Luis Lima, el barítono español Carlos Álvarez (que ha grabado bajo la dirección del propio autor cuatro de sus canciones) y las sopranos españolas Montserrat Caballé y Ainhoa Arteta, entre otros. Su producción comprende además, obras de cámara, sinfónicas y óperas.

Su estilo, de carácter mediterráneo, se distingue por su facilidad para la melodía y el uso de la tonalidad y la modalidad, preferentemente, con incursiones politonales y atonales esporádicas.

KAIDAN, promoción y comunicación Blanca Gutiérrez Cardona Tfo: 625 89 93 71

Amor Latino Concert Feb. 12th 2017 and the Max Lifchitz duet upon Sor Juana’s poem “Me acerco y mi retiro”, a blog article by Celeste Mann


I rarely write about myself in my blog, but I have a concert coming up on February 12, 2017 in New York City and that’s my focus for the next week. The theme and title is “Amor Latino/Latin Love.” I’m performing this with two other singers, Celia Castro and Anna Tonna, and pianist/composer, Max Lifchitz. Here’s […]

via “Me acerco y me retiro:” Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Set to Music — deslumbrar

“Tu Eternidad” a song for voice and guitar by Ecuadorian composer, Diego Luzuriaga

“Tu Eternidad” a song for voice and guitar by Ecuadorian composer, Diego Luzuriaga
      While putting our program together for “Belleza de las Américas” for voice and guitar, I looked over a piece of music I had received as a comp copy from Oxford University Press many years ago. They were simple but beautiful songs by the Ecuadorian composer
Diego Luzuriaga. I  messaged the maestro via email  this past fall to ask about his complete cycle for voice and guitar from where the songs came from,  Eleven Songs, composed to his own text. He answered right away and we talked about the work. The cycle is out of print and not obtainable, although it can be checked out from the NY Public Library. I would say the texts are unified by a sort of celebration of life:  a lullaby for the birth of his son, hope in the future as well songs that are set to a kind of romantic poetry, with imagery that is heartfelt and with the smell of  earth. All the songs were recorded by soprano Dana Hanchard (I purchased this CD via Amazon), in which Ms. Hanchard performs these ballads in a  frank and personal manner.

Diego Luzuriaga

I showed the songs to guitarist Francisco Roldán, and he suggested we work on “Tu eternidad”;  we started to develop the piece for our next performance in Long Island this past fall. The composer writes on the score the word “pasillo”, to give us a clue as to the affect of the song. The “pasillo” is a prevalent 3/4 meter and dance step that can be found in many South American countries. The words are simple, forthright but sensual; here is my hasty English translation of this song:

Your Eternity
Inside the wind I will find your voice,
following the path of my days in the sun
and in high nights, with my singing voice.
 I will find your warm clarity
and your fresh cool hands…
Climbing near the rivers, the fog and forests,
I will find your breast, your pulse and your shadow,
I will find your breath and the eternal you
      We worked the song to find its natural arches and climaxes, and for me to find a way to say these words in the most natural way possible.  We performed the song at least once in the original guitar and voice. I afterwards was thinking of ways to include another South American dance in the off shoot of “Bellezas de las Américas”, the project “Alegría Hispana“, which is comprised of the  Latin American songs that Francisco and myself perform, but with the inclusion of the art of Spanish dancer Elisabet Torras Aguilera.  The program as it stood had several dances from Spain and only one from the Americas ( a habanera “La paloma” by Sebastian Yradier).  In order to add more of South American dance, I suggested that Elisabet try to interpret “Tu Eternidad” by Mstro. Luzuriaga with us.
      Elisabet’s specialty includes all the important dance genres of her native Spain (regional folkore, Andalusian flamenco as well as the sophisticated and suave 18th century Escuela bolera).  She willingly took the project up, listening to various different “pasillos” on Youtbe, as well as observing various dance shows, including interpretations by the National Ballet of Ecuador and street videos of this dance…she dabbled in Wikipedia as well as  online documentaries to learn about the birth of the “pasillo”, and the influence of the European waltz upon it.  She related that were two types of “pasillo”, a ballroom version and a popular street version. The costume she chose to  represent this piece included a blouse with high collar (very 19th century), with a full colonial style skirt.  Elisabet’s “pasillo” was a historical, sober and elegant depiction of “pasillo”.  We premiered this new creation this past summer for the Latin American Cultural Center in Queens.

Spanish dancer Elisabet Torras Aguilera, guitarist Francisco Roldan and mezzo soprano Anna Tonna at the Tropicalia Hall, performing “Alegria Hispana” for the Latin American Cultural Center of Queens. Phot credit:  H. Stephen Brown

      This coming Sunday December 11th 2016, we will do “Alegria Hispana” once more, and we interpret this beautiful version for voice, guitar and dancer of Diego Luzuriaga’s 
“Tu Eternidad“, in Huntington (Long Island) at 2:30 pm; free admission. Presented by the South Huntington Public Library (located at 145 Pidgeon Hill Road).  For more information, please call 631-549-4411, or check out our Facebook Page Bellezas de las Americas.

Concert Review of Zarzuela Gala in Carnegie Hall on Nov. 13, 2016, reviewed by Ricardo Llorca

Concert Review of Zarzuela Gala in Carnegie Hall on Nov. 13, 2016, reviewed by Ricardo Llorca

The announcement of a Zarzuela Gala on Sunday, November 13th at Weill Recital Hall at New York’s Carnegie Hall came as a pleasant and unexpected surprise because one does not find often a zarzuela concert in New York City.

For those of you who don’t know (and there’s a big number in the United States, even among a cultured audiences) and although Zarzuela is almost impossible to describe with one word, or to give it a uniform description, Zarzuela is the blending between traditional Spanish music and the European operatic forms. In a way it is the Spanish national answer to musical comedy, a mix of traditional and popular music, even folk sometimes, with opera and operetta forms. Zarzuela comes from a very complicated musical tradition that is wide and very rich. Having survived for such a long time as a genre, one can find zarzuelas composed in the 18th century musical style which could be seen as scarlattiesque; as a 19th century operatic form; dramatic; historical; regional (using traditional dances and popular tunes); operetta-type; as opera buffa, etc.

What matters here is that Zarzuela has always been immensely popular in Spain. They are still performed in every city in Spain (and also in South America) and its most popular tunes are known and sung by almost every Spaniard. My grandmother is a good example of this: in the 1920’s she had a full-subscription at Teatro Apolo (the main theater for zarzuelas in Madrid) and she would attend sometimes to the daily fourth performance of the day, known as “La Cuarta de Apolo” (“Apolo’s Fourth Performance” ) this last one being always the most popular of the four. She knew by heart every song, every prelude, every duo and every trio,from all the zarzuelas in the entire repertoire; and she was no exception since in Spain they were many people who like her,  knew zarzuelas by heart.


Final ensemble “Mazurka de las sombrillas” at 31st Annual Gala of Los Amigos de la Zarzuela at New York’s Carnegie Hall on November 13, 2016. Photo credit:  Keenan Higgins

 In any case, last Sunday November 13th, the New York-based non-profit organization “Amigos de la Zarzuela” organized a memorable all-zarzuela concert in Carnegie Hall, to our delight.  The program included solo pieces “romanzas”, arias, and ensemble works from many different periods and the many different styles that one can find in the Zarzuela repertoire. We even listened to chamber music from composers such as Manuel De Falla, Enrique Granados or Luigi Bocherinni, composers that one necessarily does not relate to Zarzuela.

Maxim Anikushin, the piano virtuoso played these chamber pieces, sometimes solo, and at other times accompanied by Elisabet Torras Aguilera, who in this concert performed “Danza Clásica Española”  and “Escuela Bolera” dance styles;  her dance performances included difficult castanet playing, especially in her performance of “Danza V” by Enrique Granados; in this instance she was accompanied by the polished mezzo Anna Tonna (in a rare version of this solo piano piece with sung text), who is well known for her research and commitment to the music of Spain and Latin America; she had a  clear vocal style that was perfectly suited for Zarzuela and for Spanish repertoire.


Spanish dancer Elisabet Torras Aguilera and pianist Maxim Anikushin during Isaac Albeniz’s “Asturias”, photo credit:  Keenan Higgins

We also heard Spanish tenor Miguel Borrallo, who had an amazing high register, able to easily deal with the difficulties of the Zarzuela repertoire, well known for its vocal challenges.

Maxim Anikushin also accompanied soprano Rosa D’Imperio and baritone Ricardo Rosa, and the other two singers demonstrated their deep knowledge and understanding of the zarzuelas, specially at the end when all four performed the famous “Mazurca de las sombrillas” from Federico Moreno-Torroba‘s “Luisa Fernanda“, or at the end of the first half of the concert in the inspired duet “Dejame tocar tu mano generosa” from Jose Serrano’s “La Dolorosa” (my favorite) in which Anna Tonna and Miguel Borrallo did an excellent job and bringing the audience to tears and to a well deserved final ovation.


Final bows with Maxim Anikusin, Elisabet Torras Aguilera, Anna Tonna, Ricardo Rosa, Rosa D’Imperio and Miguel Borrallo, photo credit:  H. Stephen Brown

Award winning Spanish composer Ricardo Llorca is a professor at the Juilliard School; he  resides in New York City, website:

“Una voz, un mundo: The Latin American Songbook”


I was happy to see that Latin American Art Song was being celebrated for Hispanic Heritage Month here in NYC, with an atractive concert produced by the young and enterprising tenor Mario Arévalo. The concert, held on the evening Friday October 28th as part of the “Music at Second Presbyterian Church” in Manhattan, programmed both Latin song standards as well as lesser known gems from the art song realm; then again, Latin American composers, both pop and classical have been know to walk a fine line between the two worlds. This subtle interplay between pop standards and the denominated “art song” characterized the whole evening.

Tenor Mario Arévalo

The concert was accompanied by pianists Juan Guerra González and Markus Kaitila, as well as percussionist Aracely Sánchez and guitarist Bradley Colten.  Arévalo was joined by sopranos Elissa Álvarez, Teresa Castillo, Rosa D’Imperio and Mary Thorne; tenor Andrés Peñalver and bass-baritone Iván Amaro rounded off the interpreters of the evening.

The concert began with an ensemble version of “Siempre en mi corazón” by the well known Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963) and segued into a first half of short song sets by composers from Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico. Bass-baritone Iván Amaro and tenor Andrés Peñalver performed songs that highlighted composers from Argentina and Venezuela. The young and silver toned soprano Teresa Castillo pleased the audience with two beautifully interpreted songs from the mid 20th century pop standard world that begged to be sung by a lyric voice: “Luna Liberiana” by Jesús Bomilla (1911-1999) from Costa Rica was a mix of jazz and French impressionism; “El Faisán” by Lecuona climbed to a higher tessitura that showed off Ms. Castillo’s voice to great advantage.

Soprano Teresa Castillo

The generous and impassioned voice of Rosa D’Imperio’s spinto soprano filled the hall with her interpretations of “Estrellita” by Mexican Manuel Ponce (1882-1948) as well as the final romanza from Lecuona’s Cuban Zarzuela “María la O”. Joining her in an appropriate manner were the bongos of of Aracely Sánchez.

Soprano Rosa D’Imperio

Mr. Arévalo gave us a wonderful rendition of the bolero “Costumbres” by Mexican composer Juan Gabriel (1950-2016), and Mr. Peñalver drew smiles from the audience when he essayed the well known “Cielito Lindo” by Mexico’s Quirino Mendóza y Cortés (1862-1957).

In the second half, Ms. Castillo returned with a song that again was a perfect fit, with Spain’s Joaquin Rodrigo’s “De los alamos vengo, madre”, followed by soprano  Mary Thorne’s only solo appearance in the concert, with the soprano/guitar version of Heitor Villalobos lyrical first aria from his “Bachianas Brasileiras 5”. The fiendishly difficult buchee fermée section was splendidly performed and greatly appreciated by the audience.

I was pleasantly surprised to know of the work of the lyric soprano Elissa Álvarez, who interpreted three very fine songs by the Colombian and onetime resident of our city of New York, the Colombian composer and conductor Jaime León (1921-2015). Sensitively interpreted and with fine text couloring, she rounded out what was the  bona fide “art song” section of the program. 

Soprano Elissa Álvarez

Following were interpretations of “Fina estampa” by Chabuca Granda of Peru, appropriately sung by Iván Amaro; there was the soulful interpretation of the song “Olas y arenas” by Puerto Rico’s most beloved “torch” song composer Sylvia Rexach by Ms. D’Imperio, with an original arrangement by pianist and composer from El Salvador, Juan Guerra González.

The final set was an homage to Mr. Arévalo’s native El Salvador, which he presided over with two songs by Pancho Lara (1900-1989):  “El carbonero” and “Las cortadoras”; the concert had a special ending with the US premiere of Mr. Guerra González’s nostalgic ode to a mother’s love with “Las manos de mi madre”, which had an attractive melody and brought the concert to a successful close.

Modernismo Rumbero Concert at Americas Society


It was with great interest that I spied that  The Americas Society  on Park Avenue had scheduled a concert of vocal and chamber works dedicated to the young mavericks composers that headed up the early 20th century modernist movement in Latin American music in the 1920’s and 30’s.  The names on the program are composers that I knew from my own forays into songs of the early to mid 20th century composers of Latin America:  the Cuban composers Alejandro García-Caturla, Amadeo Roldán and the Mexican composer Carlos Chávez; so it was with great it was expectation that I made my way via an invitation from America’s Society Martha Cargo to attend the concert with the intriguing and inventive title of  “Modernismo Rumbero” on March 28, 2016.


The second of a two part series, the  “Modernismo Rumbero” concert that took place on Monday March 28, 2016  highlighted the most avant garde of movements of the 20’s and 30’s known as “Afrocubanismo“, which in many ways heralds the Harlem Renaissance movement, and which interestingly enough key members of the respective movements were in close contact with each other, such as American poet Langston Hughes and Cuban poet Alejo Carpentier. Also to be noted are friendships and communications between American composer Henry Cowell with the musical factions of Afrocubanism via an association called the Pan American Association of Composers (1928-1934) also known as PAAC, founded by Edgar Varèse. A fascinating collective of music creators, this group sought to forge with new sounds and new identity a way to separate themselves from a past European musical heritage.  Although this concert of  two pioneer musical exponents of Afrocubanism includes Mexican composer Carlos Chávez (how could it not!) with his ties to NYC and to the movement Pan American Composers collective, this concert sought to offer a vision of this very exciting time that involved  identity, race politics in poetry and music creation in the Americas.


Cuban composer Alejandro Garcia Caturla

Pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine began the first half of the program with Garcia-Caturla’s “Preludio corto” (1927)  with its ragtime scales laced with dodecaphony, followed by Roldán’s “Rítmica No. 1” (1930). The pianist delved into both of these piano miniatures with verve and imagination, exploiting the percussive nature of the pieces;  these two short piano pieces were over too soon, and I immediately wished to have the opportunity hear them again; I didn’t know at this point in the concert in the concert that my wish would be granted. The concert continued with the remarkable woodwind quintet ensemble The City of Tomorrow and  soprano Sarah Brailey, with a performance of Carlos Chávez settings of text by modernist Mexican poet Carlos Pellicer for high soprano and wind ensemble called “Tres exágonos” (1923) and “Otros tres exágonos” (1924).  The intrepid Sarah Brailey entered with spiked short blonde hair and an arm sling; with her free hand she yielded a tuning fork. The group subsequently launched into a highly difficult three movement .  I appreciated Brailey’s clear soprano and well pronounced Spanish text, which breathed of the surrealism that was contemporary to this composition. The playing was assertive and energetic.  A serious piece and not for the faint of heart, “Tres exágonos” (1924) reminded me of a possible plaintive flapper Ophelia recounting her troubles listlessly on an analyst couch. “Otros tres exágonos” was a well chosen subsequent piece to contrast, full of humor and highlighted the virtuosity of the guest violist Stephanie Griffin.  I enjoyed the somewhat theatrical music that Chávez assigned to the bassoon part in these pieces, which was full imaginative interjections for the ensemble as a whole. The Carlos Pellicer texts were certainly eye catching, surreal and dreamlike; I post her a translated excerpt:

The ship has crashed into the moon.

Our luggage was suddenly illuminated.

We all spoke verse

And referred to the most hidden facts.

But the moon sank

In spite of our romantic efforts.

The Chávez chamber vocal ensemble piece was followed by a folk like piano solo miniature by Roldán “Preludio Cubano”, and Afro flavored “Mulato” (1932) as well as Garcia Caturla’s “Comparsa” (1930).  To end the first half was the surprisingly long phrased lines of the song for voice and piano “Yambambó” (1933) by Garcia Caturla, a musical setting of the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén famous poem. The song is remarkable on many levels, the first of which that it unites the two most important exponents of the new Afro Cuban modernist aesthetic in both music and poetry.  Having sung several versions of this text, the setting of García Caturla’s was surprising to me. Brailey sailed almost too delicately thru the strongly cadenced Afro Cuban “nonsense” text. The contrast and choice was probably drawn from the composition itself, perhaps in García Caturla’s effort to create his new aesthetic to perhaps to astonish a concert going public of the time, the pairing of a classical soprano with Guillén’s text of drunken black man, with music that harmonically in its melody was close to the Afro-Cuban sound, but arching phrases wise closer to an aria from an opera.  I couldn’t help of thinking of the contemporary art scene analogous to these pieces, the interest in African art and masks of Picasso for example as well as the sheer energy I felt from these pieces of these young composers, wanting to create a new language and a new expression.  How did the public of these pieces react when hearing this music? what did the first interpreters of “Tres exáganos” make of this music, what were their choices?  90 years later the pieces still sound very daring.


Soprano Sarah Brailey

At intermission, music director of the Americas Society concert series Sebastian Zubieta talked of the “nonesense”poem tradition in the early 20th century Latin America from which the text Yambambó is born of; he cited  Lewis Carroll,  but I couldn’t help thinking of a much closer contemporary, Gertrude Stein and her path breaking text for the opera Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thomson. I was also reminded of the US version of these experimental concerts, the well known “Friends and Enemies of New Music”.  Like many movements, these modern Latinos are coming out of a very specific zeitgeist.  Zubieta spoke how the evenings concert was also an homage to these very same concerts that these composers produced to show case their work, and how in the second half of the concert the pieces were repeated; this was the case with the concert of the evening. All the pieces were repeated in a different order, and I must say it was with different ears that I was able to hear the very same music.


A stamp commemorating the Cuban composer Amadeo Roldan

The Americas Society is to be congratulated for the programming of these seldom heard pieces, which in the light of the new diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, it is certainly on point for us to get reacquainted as a concert going public with the musical ties and history between Cuba, the rest of Latin America and the US.

A link to a PDF of “Modernismo Rumbero” concert program can be found via this link:

Concert for piano, guitar and voice for Musica de Camara of NYC


The tireless Eva de la O, soprano, producer, arts promoter and artistic director of Musica de Camara of NYC has been a supporter of my activities for many years now.  She first programmed me in a solo recital at the Museum of the History of New York in 2006, and has followed my activities both here in town and in Spain. She miraculously appeared at my dressing room at a concert I did in San Juan, Puerto Rico and was at hand to zip me up in a somewhat tight orange satin number that I wore…


Anna at the Festival Ibero Americano de las Artes in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Eva has helped many musicians and interpreters like myself thru the years that are either of Latin American descent and or committed to music by Spanish and Latin American composers, by presenting these artists in concerts at important NYC venues.


Soprano and artistic director of Musica de Camara, Eva de la O

 I was thrilled when she asked me to be part of her series of “Charla Conciertos” (lecture concerts) which take place at New York’s Museo del Barrio, and be part of her season this year which celebrates the accomplishments of the composer Roberto Sierra.  I had the opportunity of interpreting his piece for mezzo and wind quintet called “Dona Rosita la Soltera” with text by Federico Garcia Lorca (see an earlier blog article I wrote regarding this piece). This time I was asked to perform his newly composed cycle “Julia”, for voice and piano on text of my favorite poet, Julia de Burgos (1915-1953)

Julia joven

Poet Julia de Burgos

Together with the cycle for mezzo and piano by Sierra, a piece for solo guitar by this same composer was programmed, “Tres piezas breves” to be interpreted by my new friend  the guitarist  Oren Fader, along with two short songs by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa- Lobos and a cycle for voice and guitar by the Cuban/Spanish composer Eduardo Morales-Caso called “Homenajes”. Both “Julia” and “Homenajes” are NYC premieres.

Its not my first incursion in interpreting musical works with text by Julia de Burgos; I did a special concert project called Canciones para Julia in Madrid (Spain) in the occasion of the centennial of her birth, with my friends at Aeterna Musica and the group from the editorial La Discreta in 2015 but that’s the subject of a future blog article!

I enclose the program notes I wrote for this concert, which will take place on Friday March 4 at 8 PM at El Museo del Barrio of NYC; I will be writing a detailed article on my experience and impressions of the song cycle “Julia”, which I perform with  my good friend, the pianist/opera conductor and composer Samuel Kardos.

Concert Link for March 4 Concert Presented by Musica de Camara – Premiere of cycle Julia by Roberto Sierra

The song cycle Julia (2014) by Roberto Sierra is a commission by the Chancellor of the University of Turabo in Puerto Rico in occasion of the centennial of the birth of Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos (1914-1953), who is acknowledged as one of the great poets of Latin America. Ranging from the folk like and elegiac beginning of “Amante”, the cycle continues its journey taking its cues from Burgo’s projection of the self onto nature with “O pájaro de amor” with its euphoric triad piano figures, to the portrayal of intense self-scrutiny of different states of being using quasi recitativo passages over a syncopated walking bass (“Momentos”). Sierra’s usage of Neo-romantic color is reminiscent at times of Robert Schumann and the great German romantic lied composers; he is able to approach the subtle and at times dramatic cadence of the text, with usage of vocal melodies that transition into intense and at times frenetic heights; this in turn is coupled with an accompaniment that brings the listener to emotionally “complex” moments. The setting of the Spanish text is satisfying and organic, giving full rein for both the interpreters and audience to experience a work that is honest, thoughtful and in synch with the emotional landscape of the poet. Tonight’s performance constitutes the New York premiere of this song cycle for mezzo soprano and piano.

The guitar works and concertos by Roberto Sierra are being commissioned by solo guitar artists and orchestras both here and in Europe; his works for solo guitar are currently being lionized and recorded by the likes of Manuel Barruecos for Naxos with pieces such as his Concierto Barroco and Folías, which incorporate themes and aesthetics drawn from Latin American narrative, folk and baroque music; witty and highly colorful, Piezas Breves was premiered in 1997.

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos hardly needs introduction, as he is considered one of the giants of 20th century Latin American classical; he is represented tonight not in his avant garde, Amero-Indian or Debussy like aesthetics, but in a almost sentimental vein that harks to an imagined 19th century romanticism of his native Brazil: Canção Do Poeta Do Seculo XVIII (1948) is a melancholic melody that like many pieces by the composer, gently balances between art song and popular ballad. Nhapôpé is taken from the first collection of Modinhas e cançðes, composed in 1936 and tells of the legend of a forest goddess that comes during the night seeking a lover.

Homenajes” for mezzo and guitar (2014) by Cuban-Spanish composer Eduardo Morales-Caso is described by the composer as his “most meaningful lyrical-music, which offers historical continuity of the transcendental legacy of Spanish composition.” Each piece offers a separate homage to three of the most important composers of 20th century Spain: Joaquín Rodrigo, Frederic Mompou and Manuel de Falla.


The works of Roberto Sierra are edited by Subito Press. Pictured here is an edition of            Julia de Burgos poetry entitled “Songs of Simple Truth, which I bought at a leftist bookstore in the Village called “Revolutions”,  translated and edited by Jack Agueros