Mexican conductor opens final week of CMF

By Wes Blomster
Sunday, August 2, 2009

BOULDER, Colo. — Alondra de la Parra knows her way around New York, where she now lives, but it’s Mexico that’s home to the youthful conductor. “I was born in Mexico and I went to school there,” says de la Parra, who has chosen a largely Latin program to open the final week of the 2009 Colorado Music Festival today in Chautauqua. “It’s my culture and my home.”

For her Colorado debut she frames three Latin works with two by Americans with considerable experience of that culture. Joan Tower, whose “Made in America” opens today’s program by the CMF Chamber Orchestra, moved to La Paz, Bolivia, with her engineer father when she was nine and lived there for the next nine years. “‘Made in America’ is a reflection on ‘America the Beautiful,”‘ says de la Parra. “But the melody is continually interrupted.” Argentina’s tango master Astor Piazzolla is now a name familiar to Americans, and the autumn and winter movements of his “Seasons” project offer echoes of Vivaldi. “Arturo Márquez is Mexico’s most famous living composer,” says de la Parra, who has chosen his “Danzn” No. 4 for her program. “His father was a mariachi musician.”

The score is one of nine with this title that he was written for various configurations of instruments.

The conductor calls Eugenio Toussaint, born in Mexico City in 1954, “a good friend” and she is delighted to introduce him to Boulder with his 1992 “Danzas de la Cuidad.”

“The work, which features piano and saxophone, describes different areas of Mexico,” she says. “It’s very well written for orchestra and sounds typically Latin American.”

Even many who consider Aaron Copland America’s greatest composer do not know that he lived for some time in Mexico City and was fascinated by the music he heard in its bars and clubs.

“That makes his ‘Appalachian Spring’ a good fit to end the program,” de la Parra says. “He was the American composer most directly related to Latin culture.”

Copland wrote the work for Martha Graham in 1944.

A golden touch

For the final Tuesday of the summer Christie brings Gonzalo Grau’s Clave Secreta to Boulder.

Christie sees Grau as a musician who can do everything.

“Anything he touches turns to music,” he says. “He’s one of the most versatile musicians I’ve ever met.”

It was this impression that led Christie to engage Venezuelan-born Grau and his ensemble for a collaboration with the Brooklyn Philharmonic last season.

“We were doing our first ‘Nueva Latina’ festival,” Christie says, “and I asked Gonzalo to come up with a program that blends the Western symphonic tradition with Latin folk music.”

So successful was the program that Christie decided to repeat it at the CMF.

On Tuesday Grau and his 12 musicians will be on stage with six CMF instrumentalists — a string quartet, flute and trombone.

“I founded Clave to bridge the gap between the music I play — salsa, jazz, Latin — and Western music,” Grau says. “This has been the main course of my work during the last several years.”

Almost all of Tuesday’s music will be by Grau, who has won a Grammy nomination for his work.

“I come from a classical background,” he says. “Both of my parents were musicians, and I began lessons at three.”

A rare treat

Christie brings down the curtain on the 2009 CMF season with a work only rarely heard in its entirety on this side of the Atlantic: “The Creation,” Joseph Haydn’s account of events from the Book of Genesis.

“This year marks the 200th anniversary of Haydn’s death,” Christie says, “and I can think of no better way to celebrate it.”

He is fascinated by the composer’s ability to portray the forces of nature in music.

“You hear the rush of water and the sun breaking through clouds,” he says. “In the score Haydn describes the whole chaos of creation.”

And he admires the balance of chorus and orchestra in the huge work.

“He never allows the chorus to overwhelm the instrumental ensemble,” he says.

Tim Snyder, who begins his 9th season as artistic director of the Boulder Chorale in the fall, has prepared the chorus for the performance.

Over 200 choristers “auditioned” on line.

“It’s the largest pool of singers that festival has had to date,” Snyder says, pointing to the success of Christie’s tradition of ending the season with a choral masterpiece. “From these applicants I’ve assembled a group of 90.”

(Since chorus members must have room to sit when not singing, the size of the chorus is limited by the relatively small Chautauqua stage.)

Since Snyder was to have only six rehearsals before joining forces with soloists and orchestra, he gave preference to those who had sung “Creation” before and to experienced singers from other choirs in the region.

“And I insisted that they be present at all rehearsals,” Snyder says.

“The Creation,” he points out, focuses attention on a part of Haydn’s immense output unknown to many.

“We think of him as an instrumental composer, the father of the classical symphony and string quartet,” Snyder says. “We pay little attention to Haydn’s sacred music.”

Although the story told in the work is familiar, little is known about its genesis, which began with an English text, “The Creation of the World,” in the hands of Baron van Swieten, Mozart’s friend who single-handedly introduced Bach and Handel to Vienna.

“It was probably van Swieten who translated the text into German,” Snyder says.

The work was first published in a bi-lingual edition, a “first” for its time.

And van Swieten had “lined up” the two texts syllable by syllable.

“But Haydn had composed the German text,” Snyder says, “and the English really didn’t work very well.

“It was awkward.”

In the 50s Robert Shaw, then America’s foremost choral conductor, edited the English text.

“He softened the edges,” Snyder says, “and others worked to make it more singable.”

For the CMF Christie has chosen a new Oxford edition that has sought to restore the original English text while fitting it better to the music.

Part One of the two-hour score tells of the first four days of creation, and Part Two the following two.

“In the third part Haydn’s Adam and Eve reflect on the glory of what God has done,” Snyder says, “And to do that he requires the talents of three seasoned opera singers.”

Snyder is delighted that Christie has engaged Ashraf Sewailam, Boulder’s favorite bass, for the performances.

“I performed Mozart’s Requiem with him,” the chorus master says. “He’s a good friend, he knows the work and has the dramatic power to make it meaningful.”

It’s the joyful optimism of Haydn’s “Creation” that accounts for the appeal of the oratorio, Snyder feels.

“It’s a sunny piece,” he says. “It’s child-like in its happiness.”

Further soloists are soprano Julia van Doren and tenor David Portillo

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