Saturday, December 28, 2013

Rio International Cello Encounter

This excellent video by Noilton Nunes showcases the incredible diversity of the Rio International Cello Encounter, which had its 19th annual event last August in Rio de Janeiro under the direction of the amazing British-born cellist David Chew. There's more on this series at the Rio International Cello Encounter website.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Martírio dos Insetos on CD

The violin concerto O Martírio dos Insetos is one of the last of Villa-Lobos's major works to be recorded commercially. Up until now we've had to make do with YouTube videos from Miami and Astana, Kazakhstan. The latter performance, with violinist Askar Duisenbayev and The State Chamber Orchestra "Academy of Soloists" conducted by Daniel Bortholossi, has been released on the CD BrasilCazaquistão. I have no idea where you can buy this, but it's posted on the Brazilian Concert Music blog here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lots of cellos from Happy Valley

The Penn State University Cello Choir, under the direction of Professor Kim Cook, plays two movements from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 1.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Choros no. 6 from Caracas

This fine performance of Choros #6 is from the recent Festival Villa-Lobos in Caracas. Marcelo Lehninger conducts the Orquesta Sinfonica Simón Bolívar. [People in Toronto should note that Maestro Lehninger will be conducting the Toronto Symphony Orchestra this weekend, in an all-Tchaikovsky concert.]

Monday, November 11, 2013

Villa-Lobos's cello on CD and DVD

Cellist Hugo Pilger and pianist Lúcia Barrenechea will release a new CD/DVD of music by Villa-Lobos and other Brazilian composers later this month. The recording features Villa-Lobos's own cello, made in 1779 by Martin Diehl. Here's a picture of the instrument from the Museu Villa-Lobos:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

6th Festival Villa-Lobos in Venezuela

The 6th annual version of Venezuela's Festival Villa-Lobos takes place in Caracas later this month. This Festival has hosted important Villa-Lobos performances in the past, including the cantata Mandu Çarará at the 4th Festival in 2011. This work is still without a commercial recording.  One of the encouraging things about this Festival in the past has been postings of concerts on YouTube. Here is Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4 from last year's Festival, with the Orquesta Simón Bolívar conducted by Roberto Tibiriçá.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sebastian Benda plays Villa-Lobos

Memoires, the new 2-CD set from Genuin by the Swiss pianist Sebastian Benda (1926-2003), includes works by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Martin, Mussorgsky, and 5 pieces by Villa-Lobos, recorded from 1961 to 1994.

Though the back of the CD only says "Selected works" of Villa-Lobos, the actual tracks are:
  • Alma brasileira 
  • Festa no sertão 
  • Lenda do caboclo 
  • Impressões seresteiras 
  • Dança do indio branco 
These pieces were recorded in 1981.

Benda spent nearly 30 years (1952-1981) in Brazil, though he traveled extensively in Europe during that period as well. During that time he had a significant impact on the musical life of the country. In a short note on Villa-Lobos that Benda provides for the liner notes, he says this about Brazil's greatest composer:

Villa-Lobos’s personality is energetic and highly authentic; his music is the music of Brazil, the music of the jungle and the sertão, the dry outback in the northeast, and the music of the sea. It describes the unique characteristics of the people, the way of life and the natural environment of Brazil and is uncommonly vital and impressive. He transforms the folklore, which has a regional character at its center, into a universal language whose message reaches audiences on all continents with ease.

Here is Benda in Sao Paulo in 1952:

I know Benda best from his chamber music recordings (especially the Naxos recording of the Martinu cello sonatas with his son Christian). This wide-ranging collection shows he was a gifted pianist and musician.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Villa-Lobos at the Latin Grammys

The Best Classical Album category of the 14th Annual Latin Grammy Awards includes three of the six nominations featuring the music of Villa-Lobos. All are albums that I would have put close to the top of the list for my favourite albums in the past year.

First up is a piano disc from the great Nelson Freire, Brasileiro: Villa-Lobos and Friends, on Decca. This one stands out, even amongst the plethora of great Villa-Lobos piano discs of the past decade. It not only includes a generous sample of Villa-Lobos works, some of which aren't that well-known, but also pieces by Villa's colleagues Guarnieri, Oswaldo, Levy, Lorenzo Fernandez, Santoro and Mignone.

Next is a really entertaining album from composer/arranger/pianist Mario Adnet: Um Olhar Sobre Villa-Lobos, on Borandá from Brazil.

Finally, the excellent 2nd disc in the new Naxos series of Villa-Lobos Symphonies from OSESP and Isaac Karabtchevsky, with the 6th & 7th Symphonies.

We'll see who wins on November 21, 2013. Good luck to all!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Estrella é Lua Nova in Toronto

Villa-Lobos lovers in Toronto can hear one of Villa's best vocal works, Estrella é Lua Nova, at the premiere performance of the Concord Vocal Ensemble on Monday, December 9, 2013, at Windermere United Church. This song, adapted by Villa-Lobos from the African-Brazilian Macumba ritual, is becoming a favourite piece for choirs around the world.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 9 with the OSB

Roberto Minczuk conducts the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira in the 9th Bachianas Brasileiras, from an August 2013 concert.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Choros no. 7 from Iowa

This concert from Ames, Iowa includes one of Villa's greatest works, the 7th Choros, and a key piece by his close friend Edgard Varese. I'm looking forward to hearing all four works. The concert will be streamed live at tomorrow, October 24, 2013, at 7:30pm CDT. 

I couldn't find out much about the Neil Thornock piece "Lurgy" on the web, though as a big Goon Show fan, I'm hoping it makes reference to the episode "Lurgi Strikes Britain". The dreaded lurgi!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Another performance of the 3rd Symphony

I mentioned in a post yesterday that I hoped the newly-revised scores of the Villa-Lobos Symphonies would result in more performances. Here's one, with conductor Isaac Karabtchevsky (a supervisor on the score publication project) and the Orquestra Petrobras Sinfônica. This is the last movement of Symphony #03, from April 2013.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Symphony scores from Criadores do Brasil

The new series of Villa-Lobos Symphonies recordings on Naxos has been based on revised scores prepared by Thomas Hansen, Cláudio de Freitas, João Maurício Galindo and conductor Isaac Karabtchevsky, published by Criadores do Brasil. The scores for Symphonies 3, 4, 6 and 7 are included in this catalogue, available for purchase and rental. I hope this easier availability might increase the chances of hearing these works in concert halls around the world.

Festival Villa-Lobos preview

A very cool preview of the 51st Annual Festival Villa-Lobos, coming to Rio de Janeiro this November.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Nicholson Baker on Villa-Lobos

Nicholson Baker's new novel Traveling Sprinkler includes a long, beautifully written passage about Victoria de los Angeles's classic recording of Bachianas Brasileiras #5:
"She sings like a mad tropical bird, and it's just a fondue of molten wanting and grieving and everything that you wish you could remember and feel and know."
I once compared BB#5 to a 'black box'. Baker is one of the few people I've come across who can go inside the box and tell us something insightful and interesting about what he's heard.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

51st Festival Villa-Lobos

The Museu Villa-Lobos in Rio de Janeiro is the site of another Festival Villa-Lobos; the 51st annual event takes place from November 8-24, 2013. Follow the Festival on Twitter, on Facebook, and at the Festival's website.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Violin Sonatas from Germany

A new CD of Villa-Lobos's music for violin and piano comes from the German label Telos Music. Violinist Laurent Breuninger and pianist Ana Flavia Frazao play the 3 sonatas and 6 shorter pieces. I'm looking forward to hearing this; especially the third sonata, which is a favourite chamber work. You can buy the CD at JPC.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Villa-Lobos Website moves to Indiana

The Heitor Villa-Lobos Website, originally at from 1994 to 2013, will soon be resurrected at its new home: the Latin American Music Center at Indiana University.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Bratke piano disc

he third volume in Marcelo Bratke's complete Villa-Lobos piano music series is now out from Quartz Music.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Cello Fantasia

Lars Hoefs and Rose Chen play the 2nd movement of the piano & cello version of the Fantasia for Cello & Orchestra. This is a great work, and one that I've been thinking about lots since I heard about the recent death of Janos Starker. Starker played the work with the Paraiba Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eleazar de Carvalho, on a classic Delos CD called A Brazilian Extravaganza.

The cello and the guitar were Villa-Lobos's two favourite instruments: the ones he dreamed in. When I think of Villa-Lobos, I hear the sound of the cello (or lots of cellos) in my head.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bachianas Brasileiras #3 in Barcelona

The Third Bachianas Brasileiras is, after the 8th, the least-performed of the 9 works in Villa-Lobos's most popular series. It's a big, sprawling piano concerto, and it deserves to be played more often. Alexandre Tharaud and L'Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona under conductor Hernández Silva will perform the work three times in early May.

Here are the latest numbers for performances in the Villa-Lobos Concert Database (2001-2013):

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Leonard Bernstein's The Latin American Spirit


Part of the script for Leonard Bernstein's The Latin American Spirit, one of his famous Young People's Concerts broadcast on CBS Television. The full script is here. and the original marked-up scripts can be found at the Library of Congress website.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Uirapuru from Madrid

From Madrid, a performance of Villa's first great orchestral work, Uirapuru. This is from a November 2012 concert. Carlos Kalmar conducts the Orquesta Sinfonica de RTVE.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Carlé Costa concert in Lucerne

Carlé Costa plays the 12 Etudes at a concert in Lucerne in June. I highly recommend his recent Villa-Lobos CD Alma de uma terra.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

OSB plays BB#7

The last movement from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 7, played by OSB, conducted by Roberto Minczuk. This is a from a concert earlier this month.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Amilton Godoy plays O trenzinho do Caipira

Pianist Amilton Godoy plays a beautiful jazz arrangement of the Trenzinho do Caipira movement from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 2, which has become almost a national song in Brazil.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Talich String Quartet plays Villa-Lobos

The Talich String Quartet recently added the 1st Villa-Lobos String Quartet to their repertoire, playing it in a January 2013 concert in Switzerland. They play the Melancolia 5th movement in this live recording from Vermont Public Radio. The Villa-Lobos finishes the program, after music by Beethoven, Dvorak, Ravel and Debussy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The future of the Heitor Villa-Lobos Website.

This is the 19th year of the Heitor Villa-Lobos Website, which has been an information resource on the web since before blogs, Twitter, even before Google. The website is hosted by Red Deer Public Library, a great organization that I've been Director of all that time. As I look towards my retirement from the Library in July 2013, though, it's time to make a change or even retire the site.

I'm wondering if there's an organization out there that might want to host this site. It would be a shame to lose the information on more than 950 recordings, and especially the fairly comprehensive database of concerts from 1999 to the present. A new host could either post a read-only archive of the existing site, or add content moving forward. Let me know if you have any ideas!

The site has had some significant traffic: 425,000 visits and 1.2 million page views since Google Analytics was turned on in 2008. This is from 205 countries, with 23% of the traffic from Brazil, 22% from the US, and 5% from each of the UK, Canada, & Germany. The site is built in Drupal v.5.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Villa-Lobos the Modernist

Here is a compressed version of an important concert from last October, from the Maison du Brésil at Cité Universitaire in Paris. Felipe Magalhães organized and conducted the event, which focused on Villa-Lobos the modernist. The Choros series naturally were an important part of the program, with #01, 02, 05 and the rarely performed #03 and #07. It was great to see a performance of the great Quarteto simbolico (Quatuor symbolique) with the optional female choir (though a piano stood in for the celesta which adds so much to this piece's sound.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Villa-Lobos Centennial

From O Globo's Projeto Aquarius photo gallery comes this picture from the 1987 celebration of the Villa-Lobos Centennial. I'm guessing the guy on the left is from Descobrimento do Brasil, but I can't for the life of me figure out the weird figure to the left of the Amazon Indian. The photo is by Luiz Avila.

The picture caption: "1987 - O Projeto Aquarius prestou homenagem a Heitor Villa-Lobos no ano de seu centenário. No programa, 11 obras do compositor, das 'Bachianas' ao 'Trenzinho do caipira', que o público ouviu na Quinta da Boa Vista mais uma vez lotada."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Villa-Lobos: the Albuquerque Connection

"Speaking of the cello, I wish to remember here the cello art of Villa-Lobos. His performances evoked well what he must have been earlier, the young cellist Villa-Lobos.

"He still played with gallantry, with perfect intonation, and with such virtuosity. Not without effort. He arose at eight in the morning and practiced until lunch, and all the time . . . with the inseparable cigar in his mouth. What a curious temperament!"
This is pianist João de Souza Lima speaking of his old friend Villa-Lobos, in a 1967 lecture. Printed in 1969 in Presença de Villa-Lobos, we now have an English translation thanks to Fred Sturm.This entertaining memoir adds so much to one's understanding of Villa's character.

Fred has added a number of really interesting items to his website that advance Villa-Lobos scholarship. The most important is his translation of Antônio Chechim Filho's Excursão Artística Villa-Lobos, the fascinating story of Villa-Lobos's 1931 excursion to rural Brazil by the team's piano technician. Another is the section of family life from Luis Guimarães Villa-Lobos, Visto da plateia e na intimidade, by Villa's first wife. Finally, Fred has added scans of the Cirandas as they appear in the original Guia pratico, which will be of great interest to pianists.

Fred continues his valuable Villa-Lobos performances this spring, with all-Villa-Lobos concerts at UNM in March and May 2013, and a Villa-Lobos/Nazareth/Milhaud concert at the Outpost Performance Space. New Mexico has always been important to Villa-Lobos fans because of the 1971 production of Yerma by the Santa Fe Opera. Now Fred Sturm is turning Albuquerque into a prime Villa-Lobos city, with his concerts, recordings and scholarship.

Here's Sexteto mistico, from a concert Fred organized last February. The whole 125th Anniversary Concert is available on YouTube here.

Symphony no. 10 in Sao Paulo

The Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) continues their series of complete performances of Villa-Lobos's Symphonies with the presentation of no. 10 this weekend. This is a big, big work in the style of Choros no. 10. It was written in 1952 in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the city of Sao Paulo.

And while OSESP and Isaac Karabtchevsky continue their recordings of the series for Naxos, the second CD (with #3 & 4) is all set to be released early next month.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Total Immersion: Villa-Lobos

I've been writing about Villa-Lobos on the Internet for 19 years, and in that time I've seen a major shift in Villa's reputation. Here's an indication that the music of Villa-Lobos may be moving even closer to the mainstream. The Barbican Centre will be presenting Total Immersion: Villa-Lobos, an entire day of his music, with concerts by the BBC Singers, the Guildhall Music Ensemble, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. One of the great things about the event is that some very important but rarely programmed works are featured, including Choros #08, Descobrimento do Brasil, and the choral version of Bachianas Brasileiras #9.

The climax of the day is Choros #10, which knocked the socks off Londoners when it was featured in the 2009 Last Night of the Proms. I'm already looking into travel arrangements for this special day!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Stefan Barcsay's Nocturnes

Here, a bit late, is my review of  Stefan Barcsay's excellent CD Nocturnes.

As Martin Wilkening states in his illuminating long liner-note essay, all of the pieces on Stefan Barcsay's Nocturnes relate in some way to the 19th century character pieces written for piano: by Chopin, Schumann, Debussy and others. The character piece in this tradition needs to do only one thing, but it's a very, very hard thing to do right. It must paint for the audience a picture. Writing music like this for guitar has advantages, for the five strings can evoke nearly as wide a range as the piano, and the guitar tradition brings with it built-in connections to the landscapes of Iberia and South America.

This disc of character pieces for guitar juxtaposes a series of works written in the late 20th century with the (arguably) greatest series of character pieces in the entire guitar repertoire, the five Villa-Lobos Preludes. The Villa-Lobos Preludes were written in 1940, and judging by their popularity in recital, in the recording studio and on YouTube, nearly every classical guitarist feels the need to master this 20 minutes of music.

Part of the appeal of this music is, I believe, the strikingly real pictures that Villa-Lobos paints in each prelude: a home-spun farmer from the poor, dry north-east of Brazil; a colourful small-time urban gangster; the abstract beauty of Bach; the mystical, eternal Amazonian Indian; and a street musician of Rio (a self-portrait, perhaps, from Villa's time as a teenage guitarist playing with the choros bands). It requires musical imagination as well as technical mastery to make this music come alive, and German guitarist Stefan Barcsay has both. This is a very satisfying series of Preludes which holds its own among the bewildering variety on disc.

What of the works by the four composers who were all born after Villa-Lobos wrote his preludes, but before Villa-Lobos died in 1959? Enjott Schneider who wrote his three Nocturnes for Barcsay, Dusan Bogdanovic, Richard Heller and Ross Edwards all provide a focus on the mysterious, with shifting harmonies that evoke landscapes lit or obscured by clouds passing in front of the moon. The most interesting of the pieces, Ross Edwards' second Blackwattle Caprice, Richard Heller's second Impromptu and Schneider's second Nocturne, add interest through insistent folk music rhythms. Each of these works perhaps owe as much to Villa's Etudes, which transform technical exercises into abstractly beautiful music, as they do to the pure story-telling of the Preludes. All are interesting and colourful, if not quite the works of towering genius that finish this marvellous CD.

This is very highly recommended.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

1940s Caricature of Villa-Lobos

An article from the Washington Times Herald of January 30, 1949. This is from the Gallica Digital Library; unfortunately, there's no higher resolution version available.

The caption reads "Batoneer From Brazil: Heitor Villa-Lobos, Brazil's leading composer, will be guest conductor of the National Symphony today in Constitution Hall. His program includes music inspired by the savage rhythms he has heard in Brazilian jungles."

It's hard to decipher all the text of the story by Glenn Dillard Gunn, but what I can make out is very interesting, in a gossipy way. Gunn visited Villa-Lobos in Rio in 1940, during Stokowski's visit. Meeting Villa-Lobos at his office, he noticed the composer was uncommunicative and edgy.

"Then I learned why he was nervous. He wanted to get to the Teatro Municipale, where Stokowski was rehearsing his new piano concerto. The pianist, a statuesque blonde named Tagliaferro, did not please him. Nor, seemingly, did Stokowski."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Villa-Lobos String Quartets on DVD

The recent DVD by the Radamés Gnattali Quartet of the complete Villa-Lobos String Quartets is a nominee for the 24th Brazilian Music Awards. Here is the 1st movement of the great 7th Quartet, taken from that set.

Another symphony disc from Karabtchevsky & OSESP

Coming soon: the eagerly-awaited next issue in the complete symphonies series from Naxos. Isaac Karabtchevsky conducts OSESP, the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, in the 3rd and 4th symphonies, both written in the year 1919.  The disc will be available at on February 26.


After the war, with such important orchestral works as Uirapuru and Amazonas under his belt, Villa-Lobos was ready to try out some more formal writing for large orchestra. In the 4th symphony especially his work on large canvasses began to pay off, though once the 1920s began he moved to a more modernist style, and shifted his focus to chamber and instrumental works. He wouldn't return to the symphony until the 2nd World War, with #6 in 1944.