26 April 2007
Pacific Symphony Orchestra
Carl St. Clair, conductor
Costa Mesa, CA
1. Rítmico - 7 minutes
2. Cadencioso - 5 minutes 30 seconds (percussion tacet)
3. Danzante - 7 minutes
I was born in Mexico, but my earliest recollections are always accompanied by the sound of Cuban music. During the late 1940s and early 50s many Cuban musicians moved to New York and Mexico. Caribbean music became immensely popular. New dance halls opened every season and they regularly had a Caribbean band playing to dance-crazed couples. It was not unusual to see at the Palladium, on 53rd and Broadway, Dizzy Gillespie playing congas, Tito Puente at the bongos, Chano Pozo with a cow bell in hand and Rapindey singing with Benny Moré. Similar programs played at the Salón México. Not everybody could go to the clubs, of course, so radio stations and gramophone records solved the problem by taking the music into people's homes and workplaces. It was impossible not to be influenced by this music and its contagious beauty.
I have been a devotee of this music the whole of my life. Its rhythms and instrumentation have always fascinated me. But after studying it in detail, as I now have, I've become a huge admirer of it: the complexity and at the same time the precision with which it is composed are quite extraordinary.
Some attempts have been made to use this rhythmic complexity in concert music. Cuban composers Amadeo Roldán and Alejandro García Caturla, to mention only two of them, very consciously set out in the late 1930s to try and bring Afro-Cuban rhythms and sounds to the concert hall. Their untimely death unfortunately left their work somewhat incomplete and their intentions not fully realized. The music scene moved on and other concerns came to the forefront leaving the idea of using Afro-Cuban rhythms in the concert hall somewhat vaguely in the air. There were of course notable composers like Copland that dabbled in them. But these attempts were more like passing stars across a musical firmament that had moved in another direction.
Inspired by the recent upsurge of Caribbean music, I've taken up the old idea and have explored it for the past four or five years. The three pieces that you are about to hear tonight use these rhythms in perhaps the most difficult of mediums: the symphony orchestra which, by its very nature, is more geared towards the large gesture rather than the careful detail, more typical of chamber music.
Writing this piece has been quite a challenge, but a very enjoyable one indeed. For a start, it has put me back in touch with music I love. And then, as if it wasn't enough, it has taken me to clubs and dance halls on a regular basis in order to get those rhythms flowing naturally through my body as well as through my ears. What a treat! Who would have guessed that doing research could be so enjoyable!
I have cast the piece in three movements, not unlike a classical concerto. The soloists are three extraordinary percussionists who are required to play what's written for them as well as improvise at given moments. This was standard practice in the baroque and classical eras. The two outer movements are fast and highly rhythmical; they pose a real challenge to the whole orchestra. The middle movement is more meditative and melodic. My concern here was to write memorable melodies to the subtle rhythmic patterns that breathe life into them.
I sincerely hope you enjoy listening to this piece as much as I enjoyed writing it. And if you find your hands or feet beginning to twitch rhythmically without your permission, please do not stop them. I'll be more than happy if that happens.