By Peter Rutenberg
Apart from Leonard Bernstein's well-known Chichester Psalms and Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla, the repertoire on this program finds its origins among important Mexican composers of the 20th century, as well as from that country's vast and colorful store of folklore. Of the three names that open the program - Blas Galindo, Carlos Chavez and Ramon Noble - only Chavez is widely recognized in this country at present. Yet all had significant connections with North America during their lifetimes. The balance of the program will speak for itself with a cross-section of choral arrangements reflecting Mexico's multifaceted musical traditions.
Bias Galindo Dimas was born in San Gabriel (now Venustiano Carranza), in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, on 3 February 1910 of Huichol (Indian) ancestry. In 1929, he began to teach himself organ, and then clarinet, and by 1931 had enrolled in the Mexico City Conservatory to study composition with Chavez. Together with composers Moncayo, Perez and Contreras, he formed the "Group of Four" whose purpose was to promote their works and the indigenous instruments and melodies of Mexico. Introduced to New York concertgoers by Chavez in 1940, he came to the attention of Aaron Copland with whom he studied at the Berkshire Music Center the following two years. Further work at the Conservatory in Mexico City garnered him a professorship, and in 1947, the directorship - a position he would hold until 1961. He also became chair of the music department at the National Institute of Fine Arts (Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes) in that year and was later a founder-member of the Mexican Academy of Arts in 1966. Galindo passed away in 1993.
Carlos Antonio de Padua Chavez y Ramirez, better known as Carlos Chavez, was born in Mexico City on 13 June 1899 and died there on 2 August 1978. Initial music lessons with an elder brother were exchanged for further studies beginning in 1910 with Ponce - the same year as the Mexican Revolution - and later, with Ogaz6n. The primary focus was the piano, for Chavez believed his study of "the masters" would provide the necessary education in composition. His professional debut coincided with the inauguration of the constitutional government in 1921, and, owing to his success, he thereafter enjoyed the favor of official government support. A long and important relationship with the United States began in the mid-1920s, highlighted by ties with Copland, Cowell and Varese, which in turn led to the founding of the Pan American Association of Composers. Returning to Mexico in 1928, he was greeted with an invitation by the musicians' union to conduct the then-newly-formed Mexico Symphony Orchestra. His leadership lasted 20 years during which time he introduced over 150 works from the international repertoire and conducted over 80 premieres of new works by his compatriots. At the same time, he became director of the National Conservatory, revamping the entire curriculum and establishing a conduit for the brightest talents to perform with the Symphony.
Besides these mainstream activities, Chavez explored three other areas of concern: folk and popular music, history and bibliography, and "new musical possibilities"- including experiments in the 1930s with electricity - by forming what he called "academies for investigation." In the final year of his post at the Symphony, he was asked by the Mexican president to design an agency that would become the National Institute of Fine Arts, and one year later, assumed the directorship of that body until 1952. With numerous accolades and awards the world over, conducting engagements in Mexico, commissions from the United States, and a concurrent second career as an arts writer, Chavez remained a key figure on the international scene for two decades more. His Tierra Mojada (Wet Earth) to a text by R. L. Velarde, was written in 1932.
A native of Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico, the late Ramon Noble was born in 1925 and studied at the National Conservatory. In 1987, he was awarded the honor of "Distinguished Student of the Autonomous University of Hidalgo." Mr. Noble founded the Choir of the National Institute of Fine Arts, and, with Amalia Hernandez, established the Choir of the Ballet Folclorico. At the Institute, he served as coordinator of the choir office, hosting some 600 visiting choirs from the United States and other countries. He passed away in 1998.
Leonard Bernstein hardly needs an introduction to American audiences. A consummate performer, composer and educator, Bernstein is to be remembered for his ecumenical approach to life, breaking down both the barriers between opera and musical theater and those between so-called "serious" music and jazz, and bringing his vast knowledge and unexcelled clarity as a communicator to the benefit of the masses in his televised lecture-concerts. The Chichester Psalms, proffering a trio of texts in the original Hebrew of the Psalmist, are set in a bold yet lyrical musical style, and were commissioned by and written for the Chichester Cathedral's Festival in 1965. From the fierceness of Lamah rageshu? (Why do the nations rage?), to the reassuring tenderness of Adonai ro'i (The Lord is my shepherd) set for treble solo, the Psalms capture an ancient strength, merging it deftly with a modern consciousness.
Ariel Ramirez was born in Santa Fe, Argentina, in 1921, and dedicated his life to the study and practice of the folklore of his native land. His 1963 composition, Misa Criolla (Creole Mass) follows the form of the traditional Roman Catholic Mass Ordinary using the Spanish vernacular, and is based on various South American folk styles, particularly those of Argentina. Each of the rhythmic and melodic patterns are evocative of specific feelings which are in turn used to flavor appropriate sections of the Mass, according to the mood of the text. The plaintive Kyrie takes on the loneliness of the vidala-baguala from the northern plateau of Argentina. The carnavalito is from the same region, but its markedly different character imbues the Gloria with a festive brilliance. Central Argentina is represented in the Credo with the obsessive rhythms of the chacerera trunca. The heavenly choir that opens the Sanctus introduces the unusual Bolivian folk rhythm known as the carnaval cochabambino. The estilo pampeano ("Pampas" style, from southern Argentina) underscores the Agnus Dei with a somber mood, leading to the poignant plea for peace which concludes the work. Throughout, colorful percussion instruments and solo voices reminiscent of the Mariachi style, delight the ear with their graceful simplicity.