Tag Archives: Latin American Art Song

Ninth Annual Latin American Piano & Song of Festival of New York: Review by Sandra Mercado

Ninth Annual Latin American Piano & Song of Festival of New York: Review by Sandra Mercado

The 9th Annual Latin American Piano & Song Festival of New York:

Centennial celebration of the birth of Carlos Jiménez Mabarak, Consuelo Velázquez, Alberto Ginastera, and Henrietta Yurchenco on November 14, 2016 at the Renee Weiler Concert Hall in Greenwich House Music School, New York City.

I had no previous knowledge of the Latin American Piano & Song Festival in New York City. If I had, I would have been there since the first year. This is César Reyes’ 9th year as producer, performer, and music director of this project. I’m familiar with Latin American Art Song but I’m not familiar with Latin American Piano Music. Reyes’ talents as a musicologist were in ample display on November 14th.

Before each piece Reyes addressed the audience and gave a short introduction of how he encountered the piece and how he got his hands on the score, since working editions of this music is difficult to obtain. He dedicated the program to one of his mentors, the American Ethnomusicologist Henrietta Yurchenco. He began the program with Mexican composer Carlos Jiménez Mabarak “Sonata para piano” and “Ay luna ven”. I didn’t know Jimenéz’s music, so it was a pleasure listening to this wonderful pianist bestow life to the notes on the page. This was a great beginning to what ended up being a delightful evening.

Next, he played “Fiesta de pájaros” by Guatemalan composer Jesús Castillo. As a listener, it was fun to picture each bird. Reyes technique allows him to produce a lot of sound and a clear trill for the bird calls. He followed with the Puerto Rican danza “Mis Amores” by Simón Madera. With this piece Reyes failed to transport me to a late 19th early 20th century ballroom in Old San Juan. I was a little disappointed since he had previously taken me to the Amazonas with the bird calls in the previous piece. This didn’t last long since he made up for it by playing “Marinera de concierto” by Peruvian composer Rosa Mercedes Ayarza. This piece was a great discovery, and a wonderful example of Peruvian Nationalist music.

For this festival Reyes invited singer Diana Sofía to sing Consuelo Velázquez’ classics “Amar y vivir” and “Besame mucho”. He then closed the concert with Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s “Milonga” and “Danzas Argentinas”. To an enthusiastic clapping audience, he performed the Mexican National Anthem transcription by Ricardo Castro displaying great skill playing a masterwork of Mexican Nationalism. I greatly enjoyed this concert and discovered new music from composers had not known previously. Thank you, César Reyes, for a delightful evening. Looking forward to the 10th Annual Latin American Piano & Song Festival.


Guest writer of the  Spanish Song Slinger blog, Puerto Rican soprano Sandra Mercado is based in New York City and is dedicated to the classical vocal repertoire of the composers of Latin American.  http://www.sandramercado.com/


“Belleza de las Américas” for NYC: a concert for voice and guitar on Friday, February 20 at El Taller Latino in Manhattan


I’ve been working on a guitar and voice concert by composers from the Americas for the past several years.  The project began when I was approached by an American guitarist living in Madrid — Keith Rodriguez.  We put together a presentation for a benefit concert for a non-profit group  (CESAL) that raised funds for Haiti.  I found songs by the Haitian composer Frantz Casseus which became part of the program.  The program also included negro spirituals arranged by Rodney Stucky, American colonial-era songs arranged by Carlos Barbosa-Lima, as well as songs that I had developed many years before by Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos and others.  This concert eventually became known as “Belleza de las Américas”, a Pan-American program of composers from both the North and Latin Americas.


Francisco and I at Centro Cultural Civico Dominicano in Manhattan a couple of years ago, doing Dominican songs.

Yet this project really had its origin in the early 2000s, when I began to present concerts with Colombian guitarist Francisco Roldán here in NYC.  Our first venture together was a concert in the former CAMI Hall, in which we mixed European and Latin American songs for voice and guitar.  We continued to concertize together for more than five years doing projects, including a concert dedicated to Isaac Albéniz for the Puffin Foundation in NJ, as well as a wonderful project that highlighted the compositions of Dominican composer Rafael “Bullumba” Landestoy with our pianist friend Alexander Wu.

After several years, we are reuniting to do a concert at NYC’s El Taller Latino Americano on February 20th, 2015 and our reunion comes about in a curious way:  this past year I have been devoted to a recording project that friends and family know about, “España alla Rossini”.  The disc relates the dance and musical culture of mid 19th century Spain with the chamber music of songs of Gioacchino Rossini. I recorded the disc in Segovia (Spain) this past year, and it’s set to come out in April of 2015.  I ran a crowd funding campaign on Hatchfund to help pay for the expenses.  One of my benefactors is John Kordel Juliano, a lover of Spanish culture; his generous contribution came with a gift of thanks from me:  a live concert for voice and guitar on the date and place of his choice.


Me singing España alla Rossini at the Museo del Romanticismo in Madrid (Spain) last summer.

The prize/concert is a NYC version of Belleza de las Américas.  Calling upon my old friendship with Francisco, we have devised a repertoire that includes most things in the version of this concert that I do in Spain with my friend Keith Rodriguez:


Anna Tonna, mezzo soprano and Francisco Roldán, guitar

Friday February 20, 2015 at 7 PM at

El Taller Latino Americano

The first four songs of Seis poemas arcaicos by Manuel Ponce, arranged for voice and guitar by Gregg Nestor that uses the Cancionero de Palacio:  Mas quiero morir; Zagaleja del Casar; De las sierra; Sol, sol, gi, gi.

Four songs by Ernesto Cordero: Madrugada, Hija del viejo Pancho, Zenobia and Viaje Definivo

Dos canciones by Cuban composer  Leo Brouwer on Lorca texts

Where is fancy bred by Elliot Carter

Modinha by Heitor Villa Lobos

Excerpts from Five Negro Spirituals, arranged for voice and guitar by Rodney Stucky: Little David Play On Your Harp; Give me Jesus; Deep River

A ti… , song by Colombia’s Jaime León, arranged for voice and guitar by Francisco Roldán

Verano porteño as a guitar solo, by Astor Piazzolla

Come join us for “Belleza de las Américas”

at El Taller Latino Americano, located at 225 W. 99th Street Manhattan

Friday, February 20, 7 PM

Free admission


“Dos canciones Afro-Cubanos” by Alejandro García-Caturla (1906-1940)


Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla

When planning my upcoming Latin American Song: A Panoramic View recital on October 27th in Manhattan, I decided to program the diptych by the Cuban modernist composer Alejandro García Caturla.  I have been interested his Dos canciones Afro-Cubanos since I heard his voodoo inspired Juego Santo in a recording from the mid 50’s by the American soprano Phyllis Curtin.  This disc is probably one of the first US recording of Latin American Art Song by an artist and label outside of Latin America.

My disc of “Canciones y Cantigas” by American soprano Phyllis Curtin

I started looking for a score and found it almost immediately, thanks to New York based tenor and voice teacher Andrés Andrade.  His great aunt in Cuba had studied piano with Caturla.  Currently working from a photocopy of the cycle,  the songs were originally edited by Maurice Senart in 1930 and are a fruit of the collaboration between the Cuban poet and intellectual Alejo Carpantier (1904-1980) and García-Caturla when they were both in Paris in  the 1920’s.  The young Caturla was at the time studying with Nadia Boulanger.  The edition carries the dedication to the Cuban  soprano Lydia de Rivera, who premiered Dos Poemas Afro-Cubanos in 1929 in Paris.  In this photograph I found of de Rivera in the internet, she looks like the 1920’s American actress of the movie Pandora ‘s Box, Louise Brookes:

Cuban soprano Lydia de Rivera

Lydia de Rivera  (1906-1990) was at the time the only Cuban (perhaps the first!) classical singer actively singing and promoting art song from Cuba both in her country and internationally, playing in concert halls of great prestige.  Her notoriety must of been wide, as the cycle Tres Sonetos for voice and piano by the Spanish composer Joaquín Turina are dedicated to her.  I found this photo of Lydia de Rivera and Turina by the  Eiffel Tower (Archive Fundación Juan March, Madrid Spain).

Spanish composer Joaquín Turina and Cuban soprano Lydia de Rivera, from the Joaquín Turina archive at the Fundación Juan March, Madrid (Spain)

Tres Sonetos by Joaquín Turina, dedicated to Lydia de Rivera

Back to the actual songs, The first of which is Mari-Sabel: I had no actual recording of this piece, as it was not included in the recording I have by Ms. Curtin. I had put off learning this song for years…difficult to learn, with jagged rhythms and harmonies and scales that baptize the Afro Cuban modernist style of which Caturla pretty much inaugurated, the song switches from a “son” tune as well as other various dance rhythms to primitive sounding soliloquies that describe a sunny lazy afternoon, disturbed first by a a peanut vendor, ending with a rambunctious drive to a final dramatic ending with the “son” gone wild.  I started reading up on the piece and how it came about in Google Books, and found the excellent biography and study about this composer by Charles W. White, “Alejandro García Caturla:  A Cuban Composer in the 20th Century”: in 1929 at age 23, Caturla sailed from his native Cuba to Spain, were he was welcomed in Madrid by the most prominent composers and music critics of the day (Ernesto Halffter, Afolfo Salazar, Joaquín Turina among others). He subsequently went to Barcelona to present his Tres Danzas Cubanas at the Festivales Sinfónicos Iberoamericanos.  While in Barcelona, he received an urgent call from his friend Carpantier.  He was asked to compose two songs for Lydia de Rivera’s upcoming concerts in Paris to texts by said poet.  Leaving other extremely important prospects in Spain, such as his debut as conductor as well as premiere of his Tres Danzas Cubanas by Ernesto Halffter, he traveled to Paris to see his name in kiosks around the city announcing his new composition to be premiered by the Cuban soprano.  Caturla finished the songs in a matter of days, and the premiere of Dos Poemas Afro-Cubanos on November 19, 1929 at the Salle Gaveau took place to resounding success.

In White’s book about Caturla, he signals this diptych as a true masterpiece without equal in the new musical aesthetic of Afro-Cuban modernism.  There is an in-depth analysis of both Mari-Sabel and Juego Santo with musical examples.  It was in this cycle, White writes, that the composer does a decisive about face from writing songs closer to popular rhythms to the Avant-garde Afro Cuban modernism that he is now know for.  In the Phyllis Curtin CD is also his “Bito Manué”, using the sarcastic text by Cuban nationalist poet, Nicolás Guillén,

My copy of “Dos Poemas Afro-Cubanos” by Caturla

The second song, Juego Santo relates a voodoo ceremony.   The text evokes vodoo dieties and shamanistic practices.  The ABA song starts with an African drumming theme that is strong and in your face, with Afro-Cuban Spanish words mixed in.  The B section is a dramatic soliloquy describing the rite itself:

They tied the goat, they killed the crow, they cooked the crab and the took out the Devil!

Intense stuff…I will be doing a close up study of this song, information on how to perform it with  background I hope to learn about Cuban voodoo practices.  I have also become very interested in the soprano Lydia de Rivera and have begun asking here in NYC among my contacts to find out if anyone here knew her. According to the article I found on the internet she migrated to the US in 1960, living in NYC until her passing in 1990.  After her triumphant recital tours of Latin American songs in the 1920’s, in her native Cuba she became the muse and interpreter of the songs and zarzuelas of Ernesto Lecuona as well as a voice teacher in her native Cuba.  At this point I do not know of her activities in NYC.

Alejo Carpantier was the subject of three didactic concerts at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid (Spain), which examined his ties to musical culture to both Cuban and Spain, there is the link to the PDF of the program notes, which are filled with information, including a small essay about Caturla.  I enclose here a video clip of the presentations:  The Musical Universe of Alejo Carpantier

Back to our composer, had it not been for his untimely death at the age of 33 years old, Caturla would of surely be considered one of the giants of Latin American music besides the well-known Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chávez, Manuel Ponce and Alberto Ginastera.  This highly original composer, who was at the forefront of a new musical movement in classical Latin American composition is not very well-known outside of intellectual circles.  His Dos Poemas Afro-Cubanos is really an achievement of three artists: the composer, the poet Carpantier and the Lydia de Rivera.  The cycle represents all three of these artists, all of whom are important to the musical culture of Cuba and beyond.    I hope to do them justice!

An additional note, while wandering the stacks of the New York Performing Arts Library and totally by coincidence, I discovered an orchestrated version of this cycle for voice and full orchestra, in Caturla’s hand writing, dated 1930.

Orchestrated version of Dos Poemas Afro-Cubanas  by Caturla

Orchestrated version of Dos Poemas Afro-Cubanas by Caturla