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Symphony heads south of the border

Fri., Jan. 24, 2014

Concert showcases Mexican composers, Latin influences

If there’s a blind spot in the general American’s knowledge of classical music, Spokane Symphony conductor Eckart Preu believes it’s most likely the work of composers who hail from south of our border. “We don’t really know much about (Latin) American classical music,” Preu said, “and we don’t really see it as a haven for that kind of music.”

The symphony continues its Classics series this weekend with a program designed to fill those musical gaps. Titled “Music of the Americas,” it showcases classic and modern pieces from both sides of the U.S. border, and Preu hopes it illustrates to listeners how the cultures have influenced one another throughout the years.

This theme is strongly reflected in the opening pieces of the program – American composer Aaron Copland’s “El Salón México” and Mexican composer Carlos Chávez’s “Sinfonía India.” Copland and Chávez were friends and contemporaries, and Preu points to these particular choices as examples of composers from neighboring countries rubbing off on one another. “What I was trying to do was find a correlation, something that helps us understand what this music is actually about,” Preu said.

Easily the most famous selection in the program is Leonard Bernstein’s music from the Broadway classic “West Side Story,” and the symphony will perform a suite of the show’s highlights. In its segments focused on the Puerto Rican immigrants of New York City, Bernstein’s score borrows heavily from Latin American musical traditions, including the cha-cha and mambo. “There’s a lot of music you will recognize here,” Preu said. “It isn’t arranged in order – it doesn’t recreate the musical – but it’s arranged so that it makes musical and dramatic sense.”

The highlight of the “Music of the Americas” program, though, is a 2003 piece from Mexican composer Enrico Chapela titled “Ínguesu,” a musical recreation of the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup final in which Mexico’s soccer team defeated Brazil. “(Chapela) wanted to musically re-create one of the biggest sports successes Mexico ever had,” Preu said. “It was like the Super Bowl times 10.”

According to Preu, every musician in the symphony represents a different athlete on the field, and each musical section represents a different country’s team – for instance, the woodwinds are Team Mexico and the brass is Team Brazil, while the strings represent the audience and Preu himself is the referee, complete with black-and-white striped shirt.

“One minute of music represents 10 minutes of the game, and (Chapela) re-creates the ups and downs of the dynamics of that game,” Preu said. “It’s a tone poem in the tradition of Richard Strauss, but the subject matter is very contemporary and very original.”

With the aid of those theatrics, Preu hopes that this particular selection of compositions will engage the audience while affording them a deeper understanding of a musical culture that he believes often gets overlooked. “It’s highly attractive music,” Preu said. “I think people will take away something new – an appreciation for Mexican classical music. Sometimes it’s good to explore something new and find real treasures we never knew about.”

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