Tag Archives: Darwin Aquino

Song cycle “Perfume” (2013) by Darwin Aquino, b. 1979


Composer, conductor and violinist Darwin Aquino

Several years ago, I met Darwin Aquino by phone…out of the blue my pianist friend Daniel Daroca decided to call him, without any previous introduction.  We had found his blog on the internet, and saw that he was the director of a youth orchestra in Dominican Republic, along the lines of “el sistema” from Venezuela.  Gleaning over the blog, we also saw that he was also composer and violinist.  Several years later, we met in person when he was celebrated in a composer showcase concert produced by the Association of Dominican Classical Artists in New York City.  We spoke briefly about him writing me a piece, using texts by a Dominican female poet that I would need to research and elect.  At the time I had struck a friendship with Dominican York poet Marisol Espaillat. I told Marisol I needed help identifying a female Dominican poet that I could look into for texts for this new composition for voice and piano.  We met at Caliope (since closed), a Dominican bookstore in Washington Heights, where I made several purchases, but I did not take my research further at that time.

Pianist, composer and director of North South Consonance Max Lifchitz  knew of my friendship with Darwin.  Upon receiving a special grant from the University of Albany to do a special concert, master class and talks regarding inclusion of minorities in classical music, he suggested I collaborate with Darwin in creating a new piece we could premiere on October 27th, the season opening concert for North South Consonance in Manhattan.  The concert would then be repeated at the Performing Arts Center in Albany (NY) on October 29, 2013.  With a firm date and project on hand, I had to get serious about finding texts for this new song cycle.


Poster announcing “Latin American Song: A Panoramic View” on October 29, 2013 at the Performing Arts Center at SUNY Albany

I came across the poem “Mi vaso verde” by Altagracia Saviñón (1886-1942) via my friend, the painter and theater designer José Miura.  He mentioned that Saviñón  is considered the first “symbolist” poet of Dominican Republic.  Chronologically coinciding with the time period of the French Symbolists,  hers is a melancholic story: a poet of great promise, composing her best most well-known poem at age 17, at an early age exhibited signs of mental illness and lived most of her adult life in an insane asylum, victim of an apparent schizophrenia. Her whole reputation and place in the canon of Dominican literature is based on this poem, which translates into “My green vase”.  José wrote the poem in a beautiful card in his own hand writing, which I still conserve.  I sent the poem to Darwin, and he was immediately enchanted by the text.  Still needing a second poem, I posed my question to painter and writer Fernando Ureña Rib, who suggested the moving poem by Dominican female poet who’s nome de plume was “Carmen Natalia”.   Carmen Natalia Bonilla Martinez (1916-1976), in contrast to Saviñón, realized a full life, in which she became a writer of great distinction in prose, poetry and theater, and became both an early feminist and political dissenter to the then dictator of Dominican Republic Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.  Carmen Natalia emigrated to Puerto Rico, and she was promptly “erased” from the literary canons of her country.  After the death of said dictator she returned to Santo Domingo, and presently  has been recognized as one of the great Dominican poets.  Fernando suggested I use  “Poema de la eternidad cansada”, in which the symbol of an old dress is used to bring out the hypocrisy of societal hypocrisy, and  the themes of imposed societal and cultural roles upon women.

Carmen Natalia Martnez Bonilla

Poet Carmen Natalia Martinez Bonilla

With Darwin’s interest in historical subjects and themes in his composition, both of these poems provided the source of inspiration he needed.  The result is a brief cycle entitled “Perfume”, comprised of three songs: I  Las Flores  II Eternidad Cansada  III Mi vaso verde.

The composer choose to interpose these two poems, making a synthesis that is dynamic, in which one text leads into the other seamlessly.  The first song is built on an almost naïve happy melody that repeats in a joviality and lightness that changes almost abruptly into the miniature “Eternidad Cansada”, which is only four bars long.  Marked Libre, con angustia on repetitive notes, the song  follows immediately without a break into the hypnotic and final “Mi vaso verde”.  This last song, the most haunting of the cycle, has a repeated leitmotif  of two falling notes C# and A natural, echoed throughout as well as directions for the mezzo-soprano to strike two water filled glasses on stage, that play these actual pitches.  Recitative like, with indications for certain passages to be done without vibrato, in some instances in Sprechstimme, the last two pages have a dramatic climax, the first to a high b flat, and the second and final into a repeated ostinato that in my imagination, emulates the laughter of the maddened Altagracia  Saviñón.

Although the songs have a modern aesthetic, they never approach atonality; they are almost expressionist and explore the possible harmonic and vocal effects that help bring out these texts in the most dramatic way possible.

I plan on explaining briefly what the songs are about, a very brief history of both poets and about Darwin’s hopes for this new creation:

“From these lines from which emanate these three songs, are reflexions about life and death. Interpreted without interreption, the cycle begins with “Flowers”; this text represents “existence” (perfume) of the flower that is bound by water (life) contained in “My green vase”, the dramatic song which concludes the cycle.   The second song, “Eternal Tiredness” symbolizes death and unites the title of the poems by Martinez Bonilla and Saviñón”.

Latin American Art Song: A Panoramic View on October 27th in Manhattan

Anna _Tonna_mantilla_2010

Mezzo soprano Anna Tonna

Hispanic Heritage Month will soon be upon us!  Stretching from Sept. 15 to October 15 of 2013, there many events across the nation that will celebrate the achievements and culture of American citizens of Latin American heritage.  Not to be left behind, North South Consonance, a musical organization directed by composer and pianist Max Lifchitz, who has championed the cause of composers from Latin America since 1980 asked me to present  a recital of songs for piano and voice called “Latin American Art Song:  A Panoramic View”.  The concert will take place at the Christ and St. Stephens Church in Manhattan, located at (W. 69th Street, between Broadway and Columbus) on October 27th at 3 PM.

For the occasion of this recital as well as the presentation at SUNY Albany on October 29th, I took the opportunity to commission a new cycle for mezzo and piano from the young Dominican composer, violinist and orchestral director Darwin Aquino.  It was up to me to find texts, and I had the idea of using female Dominican poet for this new work.  I was given a poem by painter and friend José Miura called “Mi vaso verde”  by the the only “Symbolist” Dominican poet, Altagracia Saviñon.  The second poem came from Dominican writer and current cultural attaché for the Dominican government in Berlin, Fernando Ureña Rib, his suggestion was “Poema de la Eternidad Cansada” by Carmen Martinez Bonilla.  The cycle incorporates excerpts from these two poems in the form of three songs under the cycle title of “Perfume”, dedicated to both the Dominican pianist Maria Fatima Geraldes and  myself.  The settings are modernist, and at one point I “play” two glasses of water.  The composer hopes to be with us at the premiere on October 27th.


Dominican composer, violinist and conductor Darwin Aquino

Part of my appearance at SUNY Albany includes an informal masterclass with voice students regarding Latin American song, and  small talk at Max Lifschitz’s class on Latin American music at the University.  It amounts to a small residency, in which I will have the opportunity of sharing information about the lesser known Latin American composers that I am showcasing in the recital.


The program has been chosen; some of the composer names are familiar, others are not.  Its a shame that there is difficulty in getting editions of Latin American art song, many composers are not known to singers and the song recital public here in the US…most of the music I own is from photocopies, with the exception of the songs I find still in print by Peer Southern Classic of composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chavez, Julian Orbón and Manuel Ponce.  The “Giants” of Latin American song are there, but so many more are not…there are a couple of interesting anthologies of Latin American song, of note are The Latin American Art Song: A Critical Anthology and Interpretative Guide for Singers (English and Spanish Edition) edited Patricia Caicedo and The Art Song in Latin America: Selected Works by Twentieth-Century Composers (Sheet Music) edited by Kathleen L. Wilson, both available through Classical Vocal Reprints, my favorite purveyor of vocal music in the US.

I start with the cycle “Seis poemas arcaicos” by the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce (1882-1948). The composer of the famous “Estrellita”, Ponce was a composer of all genres across the board: Classical, popular and folkloric.  This cycle uses texts from a collection of Spanish Renaissance song lyrics found in the “Cancionero de Palacio”.  Originally for piano and voice, there is an edited version of this cycle for voice and guitar by Gregg Nestor, and recorded by both Gregg and the soprano Anna Bartos.

I programmed a song by Colombian composer Antonio M. Valencia (1902-1952), the song “La luna sobre el agua de los lagos”, dedicated to the French soprano Ninon Vallin.  Valencia went to the Schola Cantorum in Paris and studied with Vincent D’Indy and Paul Braud.  The song has a definite French feel, and is part of a cycle of settings by the Colombian poet Otto de Greiff.  Given to me be a Colombian musicologist Dr. Luis Carlos Rodriguez, its part of a large cache of art songs by Colombian composers dating from the 19th century to mid 20th century that I received from him when I sang Adalgisa in a production of Norma in Medellin in 2010. Its the first time I have delved in this pile.

Dr. Rodriguez has cited the following recordings of this complete cycle by Valencia:

Elvira Garcés de Hannaford (mezzosoprano) y Luis Carlos Figueroa (piano); Martha Senn (mezzosoprano) y Blanca Uribe (piano); Emperatriz Figueroa (soprano) y Patricia Pérez Hood (piano) in her album “La cancion lirica Colombiana, available on Amazon; Patricia Caicedo as well as Marina Tafur (soprano) and Nigel Foster (piano)

I have intentions of performing the whole cycle of the Grieff settings by Valencia at  my next opportunity! They are  nice songs, the pieces are  vocal and somewhat melancholic.

Short video of music by Colombian composer Antonio Maria Valencia

I repeat the cycle by the much admired  Venezuelan female composer Modesta Bor (1926- 1998), her “Tríptico sobre Poesía Cubana” with texts by Guillén and Ballagas:



Collage of photos of the admirable composer and educator, Modesta Bor (Venezuela)

I follow with the Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla’sDos poemas Afro-Cubanas“.  This composer also studied and lived in Paris, and these songs where edited in France.  It has a definite avant-garde Afro Cuban sound, with texts by Alejo Carpentier.  The only recordings I know of of these songs are by the American soprano Phyllis Curtain.  They both allude to Santeria and the religious practices of the islands, and are intense songs.  Kind of a musical response to Picasso’s and other visual artists  to the art of Africa.  I sang it as an opening for the Center for Contemporary Opera competition many years ago, and got marked down, I guess this song was too controversial and too “contemporary” for that particular panel that year!

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is up next, with his Samba-Classico, and a curious song called Pinga-Ponga, dated 1949 and dedicated to the Catalan soprano Conxita Badía. This song was found by Max Lifschitz in the Conxita Badía archive in Barcelona. We don’t think its ever been performed in the US, and are calling it a “New York Premiere”:

Picture 119

Photo of score, Pinga-ponga by Heitor Villa-Lobos, with dedication to Catalan soprano Conxita Badía

Following the Villa-Lobos and opening the second half will be the cycle “Perfume” by Darwin Aquino b.1979. I follow that with “North Carolina Blues” by the Mexican composer Carlos Chavez (1899-1978), as well as a small excerpt from the lesser known cycle by the  Argentinian Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000), “Los ríos de la mano”, which uses a set of very touching  poems of household objects that “speak” of an internal life.   In this instance I include the songs Plancha, Galorpín, Tijera and Carretilla de madera.  There is no recording obtainable that I know of of this cycle…I had the chance of listening to a wonderful live performance by soprano Brenda Feliciano and pianist Pablo Zinger at the Americas Society in New York City last year.

I end the whole program with the cycle of three poems by Federico García Lorca “Three Spanish Songs” (1959) by Ramiro Cortés (1933-1984), the first American composer of Latin American descent to achieve a notable success in the contemporary American music scene in the 1950’s:

Anna Tonna and Max Lifchitz performing “Adivnanza de la Guitarra” by Ramiro Cortés

His reading of the Lorca texts are remarkable; with its flamenco rhythms, guitar like figures and expressive vocal line, he crowns both the first song and last song in the cycle with a dramatic finish. I first read about this cycle in the book “A singer’s guide to American Art Song 1870-1980” by Victoria Etnier Villamil.  For more on Ramiro Cortés, see his website: www.ramirocortes.com/

It should be a fun recital!