Thursday, August 25, 2016

Aaron Copland and the Good Neighbor Policy

This 2014 lecture by Carol Hess from UC Davis at the Library of Congress, entitled "Copland as Good Neighbor: Cultural Diplomacy in Latin America During World War II." is a very good overview of the American's views of the musical scene in Latin America during World War II. The transcript is here.

Copland was often very disparaging about his Brazilian colleague. “Villa-Lobos marshalled a range of modern French processes of composition such that his music is enormously picturesque at times, sometimes cheap and vulgar. Sometimes astonishing original." Copland also said Villa was "Manuel de Falla on a good day; Ottorini Respighi on a bad one."

Prof. Hess is the author of the fabulous book Representing the Good Neighbor: Music, Difference, and the Pan American Dream (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Marin and OSESP at the Proms

Enthusiastic Proms audience from OSESP's 1st visit in 2012.
Yesterday was OSESP and Marin Alsop's big day at the BBC Proms. Their first concert featured two Brazilian works: Marlos Nobre's Kabbalah, and the first movement of Villa's Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4. There was also a bonus for Villa-Lobosians: Richard Rijnvos's orchestration of Valsa da Dor. The audience was clearly having a great time. The second encore, by the way, was Nelson Ayres' orchestration of Edu Lobo's Pé de Vento from his Suite Popular Brasileira. You can listen to this concert for the next month at the BBC Radio3 website.

There was a much bigger bonus than just the two encores, though: the Late Night Prom featuring OSESP & the Sao Paulo Jazz Symphony Orchestra. I listened to this live (yesterday afternoon my time), and the energy from the musicians and audience was fantastic. Once again, you can listen until the end of September. Another triumph for Balmer's Alsop and the Brazilians!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

All dressed up

An uncharacteristically formal picture of Villa-Lobos, looking uncharacteristically serious. This is a 1956 portrait by Studio Harcourt in Paris, from the French Ministry of Culture.

Werner Janssen 78rpm disc

From the French National Library Gallica research portal, here is side 2 of a 1954 LP by Werner Janssen conducting Chamber Groups. Choros no. 4 and no. 7 are to this day rather rare in recordings or concert halls.

String Quartet 17 from the ABM

From the superb Quarteto Radamés Gnattali, Villa's final string quartet, filmed at a 70 anniversary concert in 2015 at the Academia Brasileira de Música. Sometimes people talk about a reduction in quality in Villa-Lobos's final years, but this work is a powerful counter-argument. It's a fitting end to the great series (only sketches of the 18th quartet survive). Here's a sad note: the composer gave the score to the violinist Mariuccia Iacovino of the Budapest Quartet in Paris, but he died in Rio de Janeiro before he heard of the October 16, 1959 premiere at the Library of Congress.

Thanks to Juan L. Restrepo for letting me know about this. As Juan says, it's great to see a quartet on YouTube that's not no. 1 or no. 5 (as fun as both of those pieces are!)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Composer of the week

All five episodes of Donald Macleod's Composer of the Week feature on Villa-Lobos are available On Demand at BBC Radio3's website, for the next month. This is a superb in-depth series: 5 hours altogether, easily the best Villa-Lobos radio feature I've come across in the past 25 years.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The problem of Latin American music

Andrew Farach-Colton has a feature story in the latest Gramophone magazine entitled Viva Latin America. With the Olympic Games underway in Rio de Janeiro, and Latin American music featured at the BBC Proms, this is the summer (or rather, in most of Latin America, the winter) to listen to Villa-Lobos, Chavez, Revueltas and most especially, Centennial Boy Alberto Ginastera. It brings up some issues and questions that I've been pondering a lot in the last few years, as I soldier on promoting the Big Guy on the web.

The basic facts are presented well: Latin American music seems to continue to suffer from a lack of profile, though I'm not sure (North) American music is really that much better off compared to European music. For a while in the new century it looked like Villa-Lobos would break through into the average concert goer's/record buyer's consciousness, but the reputation bounce from the 2009 Villa-Lobos Year hasn't done much better than the Republican National Convention's. After Villa, even at this lower level, there's a big drop-off. Is Latin American music a One Hit Wonder?

Unfortunately, even with Villa-Lobos there's a basic problem that comes with the perception that he was impossibly prolific. He was an undisciplined composer, to be sure, but the catalogue of his substantial works isn't outrageously large. Rather, he was a dedicated musical educator, and the everyday-ness of his arranging, especially for choir and band, resulted in multiple versions of many works. Some works are lost, it's true, but even with that list you can't be sure if he ever actually wrote them, or merely had meant to write them and never got around to it. A corollary of this focus on the hugeness of his catalogue is the idea that there's a huge undiscovered mass of music waiting to be discovered. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Villa's music has been published, and the vast majority of that has been recorded, if not always that well. David Appleby pretty much got a handle on the Villa-Lobos Bibliography back in 1988, and that work has been extended by assiduous work by the Museu Villa-Lobos. His list of (substantial) works doesn't make it to 600, which is a lot, but puts him in the same ballpark as Bach and Telemann and Milhaud.

Villa-Lobos has actually been very well served by the gramophone industry. All 17 of the amazing String Quartets have been recorded, multiple times. All of his piano music as well (and it only makes up 7 or 8 discs in total). The core of his orchestral music - the Bachianas Brasileiras and (finally!) the Choros - is on disc in superb recordings. The guitar music has been recorded to death. Pretty much all of the chamber music, the concertos. most important choral works (a subset of a larger total, to be sure), all of this is on CD and streaming services. The symphonies? It's completely wrong for Arthur Nestrovski to say, as he does in the article, that OSESP's current symphonies series underway with Naxos is the first on record. There's a marvellous series on CPO from Stuttgart, conducted by Carl St. Clair, from around the turn of the century, and all still available.

And I can't agree with Marin Alsop's contention that ‘We only really know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Villa-Lobos.' We know pretty much the whole enchilada - sorry, the whole feijoada. Would I welcome Marin Alsop conducting OSESP in Madona, a symphonic poem waiting for its first commercial recording? Of course. The same with some of the stage works, most notably the operas Yerma and A Menina das Nuvens. Villa-Lobos's reputation is based partly on his larger-than-life character: he's the Rabelais of music. It's a big part of his appeal, but it's also holding him back.

As to other Latin American composers discussed in the article, I'm pleased that Saúl Bitrán of the Cuarteto Latinoamericano was quoted as setting down the four most important: Villa-Lobos, Ginastera, Chavez and Revueltas, "the composers who pretty much invented the language of Latin American concert music."

Gramophone has done great work to promote Latin American music in the past. They have a number of knowledgeable reviewers writing for them - most notably Guy Rickards. It's nice to see this review article; I hope it might help to get the Latin American concert music ball rolling again.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Hommage à Chopin for cello & piano

This is very cool: as part of Lars Hoefs's project "The Influence of Chopin on the music of Villa-Lobos," he arranged for cello & piano Villa's piano piece Hommage à Chopin, written in 1949 as part of the celebrations of the centenary of Chopin's death. This video, of the first movement, Nocturne, features Hoefs on cello and Malgorzata Podstawska on a Pleyel piano, one of Chopin's favourites.

Amazon Trilogy Ballet in Rio de Janeiro

Photo: Júlia Rónai

One of the major cultural events taking place in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics is the ballet Trilogia Amazônica, presented at the Theatro Municipal from August 3rd to 14th. Here are the credits:

AMAZON TRILOGY - Ballet in three parts


Music - Heitor Villa-Lobos

Part I - Uirapuru

The Bird Forest (Canto III of The Amazon Forest , 1958) Uirapuru (1917)
Choreography - Daniela Cardim

Part II - Erosion

Erosion, the source of the Amazon River (1950)
Choreography - Luiz Fernando Bongiovanni
Choreography Assistant - Nina Botkay

Part III - Dawn

Dawn in the Rainforest (1953) Amazons (1917) Choreography - Marcelo Gomes Costume - Rene Salazar Scenario - Gringo Cardia Lighting - Maneco Quinderé Regency - Tobias Volkmann

More on this here.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Golda Shultz sings BBno5 at the Proms

You can listen to the 1st of three Proms concerts featuring Villa-Lobos at the BBC's Proms website, for a limited time only. It's the 2nd Chamber Music Prom, and it features soprano Golda Schultz and cellist Guy Johnston, with lots of cello friends.

Still to come at the Proms:

The first movement of the orchestral version of number 4 is part of the August 24 Prom 51 concert by the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop. This Prelude movement is often programmed separately in Brazil. It's great to see that Marlos Nobre's Kabbalah is also included on the program.

Bachianas Brasileiras number 2, played by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel, is part of Prom 67 on September 4. I'm also looking forward to hearing the Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne's Hipnosis mariposa.

London Olympics 2012: Closing Ceremonies

Reposted from earlier this year:

This is really quite outstanding: from the Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, the hand-off to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games, which begin August 5. Marisa Monte is ravishing in an under-stated gown, singing the Aria from Villa's Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 and Gilberto Gil's Aquele Abraço. Hard to believe it's been 4 years!

The Rio Games

Soprano Marisa Monte sings the Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras #5 at the Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London. The Opening Ceremonies for the 2016 Games in 2016 are tomorrow!