Alfredo Rodríguez: A Little Piece of Cuba in Philadelphia

Alfredo Rodríguez, jazz pianist, was born in Havana, Cuba and his music explodes with Cuban passion, and is infused with its influences. In a video for “Havana Culture,” he says: “El cubano lleva la música adentro y la música está en todos lados.” (Cubans have music within them and music is all over).  He began his studies at the Manuel Saumell music school for students between 7-10 years. Eventually, he caught the “ear” of Quincy Jones and left Cuba in 2009 to make a career in the United States.

The Annenberg Center Live presents a Cuba Festival this Spring in Philadelphia. On April 5, 2018, The Alfredo Rodríguez Trio, composed of piano, drums and bass guitar, improvised on familiar Cuban melodies, such as Guantanamera, and original pieces, such as Bloom. Other songs included: Thriller, Bésame mucho, Yemayá, and Ay Mama Inés. 

The origins of jazz include improvisation and the making of music in the moment. The musicians do not use scores and each performance will be different. They work together to invent new ways of playing and making variations on a melody, and not on preparing a written score to present as “the composer” intended.  In addition to rousing variations and solos by all three instrumentalists, they encouraged audience participation in singing a repeating 10 pitch melody on a syllable, and the chorus of Guantanamera. It was fun to sing and it reinforced the act of music making as a collaborative improvisational event. As an audience member I wasn’t just sitting and listening passively, but creating with them.

Alfredo Rodriguez. Annenberg

I was most impressed by Rodriguez’ solo piano composition, Bloom. Most of the other pieces were loud in dynamics, very percussive and rhythmic. In contrast, this lovely soothing melody ethereally emanated from Rodríguez. Here is a version on an electric piano:

Without any sort of backdrop or screen with images on it, I was transported by the music of The Alberto Rodriguez Trio. In Yemayá, I imagined the goddess in her blue, floating on the sea, to the trills in the piano, and suddenly louder more marked chords, perhaps signal the entrance of Changó. Thriller invoked Michael Jackson and his monsters in a playful way, while Bésame mucho and Ay, Mama Inés, were an opportunity to combine latin sounds and rhythm with jazz for a cool performance.

It was easy to imagine the couples dancing to Ay Mama Inés. Fittingly, the trio ended the 100 minute concert with Guantanamera. Guantanamera,  no matter how it is played, is a hymn to Cuba and all things Cuban. It always reminds me of José Martí as well as the island, strength and simplicity, and the Cuban people. The enthusiastic audience applauded with a standing ovation.  

For more information about Alberto Rodríguez, see his website or Facebook page.  Visit for a list of upcoming events this season.


Songs You Left Behind: An Evening of Cultural Pride

On February 21, 2018 at the Kimmel Center, several Latino musicians and bands entertained a wall to wall enthusiastic audience. The concert was free and the fourth annual one of an initiative between the Kimmel Center and Javier Suarez, the Vice President of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  “Songs You Left Behind” was held in the SEI Innovation Studio, which is located in the basement of the Kimmel Center. The goal of the event is to “bring the music of the Americas to new audiences.” This was definitely successful on Wednesday evening, since the sold out audience was comprised of people familiar with the music (of their homelands or ancestors) and many people who were curious but who did not know the songs or genres.

Javier Suarez and a representative from the Kimmel Center, acted as emcees. The setup was similar to a cabaret with a song or a few from each vocalist or band and then stories, jokes or interaction with the audience about music and related topics. The musicians represented Colombia, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States. Since all but one were individuals or small bands, they were well served by the venue. The last group to perform, Banda Retoño, a Sinaloan (Northern Mexico) ensemble from New Jersey, really needed a much larger space. They have 15-16 musicians who play a variety of instruments, including clarinet, tuba, trombones, trumpets and percussion. Their numbers were superbly performed, but it was much too loud for the space.

The concert began with solo vocalist, William Eduardo, representing Costa Rica.  He sang “América, América” to a recorded accompaniment. He came back later in the evening with another ballad, “Jamás” (by Camilo Sesto from Spain) in which he encouraged the audience to sing along, and we did! I had great fun listening to him and enjoyed his “in your face” style, which is typical of Latin American singers of pop and ballads. A nod to the music of the mid-twentieth century, it was an interesting contrast to some of the dance music performed in the evening. Here is a youtube recording of  “América, América” by Spanish singer Nino Bravo:

In addition to Banda Retoño, Marla Jimenez also sang a Mexican song, “Mi querido viejo” made famous by Vicente Fernandez.  Ms. Jimenez was accompanied by Berto and Giovanni on guitars and she explained that the song was sung to her often by her father. She became emotional sharing this since her father had passed away and she was inspired to sing this song in his memory. From Colombia, Miguel Reynoso and De Tierra Caliente (USA/Colombia) played a few songs, including “Como un sueño” written by percussionist, “Papa Buda,” and a cover of “Carito” by Carlos Vives.  Although “De Tierra Caliente” sings in Spanish, they definitely have a United States sound, more like funk than salsa in “El sonido”, which they also performed in “Songs You Left Behind.”

A highlight of the evening was Magdaliz Roura and Crisol, who I have heard in different venues over the years. I was impressed with the virtuosity of the flutist and drummer, and Magdaliz’ evocative singing, while she expertly played the guitar. The group dedicated their three songs, two of them from Puerto Rico, to the Puerto Rican people.  “En mi viejo San Juan” by Noel Estrada (1942) was a perfect rendition that began with a flute solo. Their second song was “Bucha y pluma na ma” by Rafael Hernandez (1958), which is one of my favorites. This song was made famous by Puerto Rican vocalist, Myrta Silva, who sang with Cuba’s La Sonora Matancera before Celia Cruz. Magdaliz and Crisol played with gusto and feeling, clearly communicating the hilarity of this song.

They ended their set with an impromptu version of  the Colombian cumbia “La pollera colorá.”

A few audience members got up and danced throughout the evening, and the atmosphere was festive. With only several groups a wide variety of music was performed. This is definitely an event that the Kimmel Center should keep doing each year. Perhaps in a bigger venue for the large ensembles, and a piano?

A Homage to Chiquinha Gonzaga: A New CD by Brazilian pianist, Hercules Gomes

I’ve spent the last several years intrigued by the life and music of Brazilian composer, Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga. She was born in the mid-19th century and was a pianist and conductor as well. I’ve written about her (on this blog even), sung her songs and presented about her life and music. Today, I heard for the first time about Hercules Gomes, a pianist from São Paulo, who is raising funds to create a new recording of pieces in homage to Chiquinha Gonzaga. It is called “No Tempo da Chiquinha.” He’s arranged some of her pieces, adding some of his own style and modernizing her original scores with influences over the last century.  This is his arrangement of one of Chiquinha’s most famous works, Corta jaca:

This is one of my favorites. It is bouncy and danceable. Hercules says that this was his first arrangement of one of Chiquinha’s works, in 2014, for the site:  One can contribute to the funding of this recording by going to the secure crowdfunding site:, and also receive different gifts for a contribution.

Another video that Hercules has put out is of Joaquim Callado’s Querida por todos. Callado was a flutist and instructor, and a mentor to Chiquinha. He is considered the “father of choro.” Although, this piece was not written by Chiquinha, it was written in homage to her, and fits right in with theme of the recording. Playing flute is Rodrigo Y Castro.

Rodrigo and Hercules, who often play together, discuss what Callado meant for flute playing in Brasil. For more information about Hercules, check his website:  and his youtube channel for videos: Hercules Gomes




A música na sala de aula

O público estava de pé. Algumas pessoas estavam dançando e cantando. Todo o mundo irradiava entusiasmo. O grupo de dança terminou seu concerto com um convite para o público: “Levantem-se! Dancem e cantem conosco!”. Eu lembrei de algumas palavras das canções familiares que tinha escutado no Brasil e cantado com eles. A energia do Balé Folclórico da Bahia era contagiosa — como não cantar, como não se mexer? Centenas de estadunidenses se comportavam como se assistissem a um concerto de rock e não a um espetáculo de dança! Mas tudo isso reflete a cultura brasileira.

O Brasil é conhecido por seu soft power. A cultura brasileira chega aqui nos Estados Unidos em forma de dança, de canção, de música, de cinema, de futebol. Com certeza, o Brasil tem muitos destaques nas artes plásticas importantes mundialmente, e no teatro e na literatura também. Sem falar da culinária e das telenovelas. Porém, são as expressões artísticas por meio da música que deslumbram o maior número de estrangeiros. Sendo a música uma “linguagem” universal, pouco importava que 75% (ou mais) das pessoas que assistiram ao concerto não compreendessem o português, e nem tivessem pisado no Brasil. A música as levou para o país na sua imaginação naquele momento.

Acho que são a qualidade e a variedade das músicas brasileiras (e para falar na música portuguesa, também o fado) e a sua singularidade que fazem que seja tão natural, tão orgânico, incluir a música nas aulas de Língua Portuguesa. Mesmo numa aula de iniciantes de Português, pode-se usar uma canção para mostrar pronúncia, ou para cultivar os ouvidos do aluno aos sons do Português. Dá para mostrar um vídeo de dança ou até ensinar movimentos de dança aos alunos que não conseguem falar muito, para uma lição de cultura. Com uma turma mais avançada, obviamente temos um sem fim de oportunidades para introduzir a música na sua aprendizagem. Uma das atividades que gostava muito era comparar a música nos filmes, Orfeu e Orfeu negro, com as da obra de teatro original Orfeu de Conceição de Vinicius de Moraes. Os alunos de Português são apresentados a grandes músicos e poetas brasileiros e, assim, aprendem melhor o vocabulário e mais palavras, analisam filmes, poesias e estrutura das canções. Sobretudo, podem ver como a música, e não somente as palavras faladas, tem a ver com a emoção e a expressão dos personagens nas versões brasileiras do mito grego de Orfeu. Make Some Noise!

Quando eu ensino sobre o Nordeste, sempre mostro vídeos das diferentes danças e suas respectivas músicas: forró, frevo, xaxado, etc. É uma cultura muito diferente do Sul e do Sudeste do país. Quando eles veem o xaxado, em recentes registros do Youtube, e como a representação do cangaço (especialmente Lampião e Maria Bonita) continua viva, eles compreendem e sentem que eram figuras históricas essenciais nessa cultura regional.

Uma das minhas atividades preferidas com música é explicar a literatura de cordel e o repente. Uso a canção “O que é a literatura de cordel” de Francisco Diniz. Essa canção explica a literatura de cordel numa canção estilo forró. Os alunos fazem sua própria literatura de cordel em grupos como projeto final. Durante a preparação, falamos sobre a história do cordel comparando com meios de comunicação modernos. Assistimos a vídeos sobre o cordel e o repente. Também , antes de escrever e recitar seus poemas, os alunos praticam e recitam poesias famosas e simples como repentistas, com pandeiros plásticos. Fazem modificações no tom de voz e na projeção dela com essas obras para sentirem-se mais confortáveis com o ritmo e usarem suas vozes. Assim, o aluno melhora seu conhecimento da cultura, sua capacidade de usar a língua portuguesa ao escutar e fazer a música ele mesmo.

Sou artista, então para mim, as artes são imprescindíveis para entender o Brasil, Portugal ou qualquer cultura. Aliás, as artes em seus muitos gêneros, às vezes, representam e manifestam os pensamentos de um povo e não somente ideias de indivíduos. Também surgem em resposta à turbulência política. Eu sei que muitos colegas gostam de tocar canções de MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira) especialmente Bossa Nova e músicas da Tropicália. Uma canção forte como Cálice, de Chico Buarque, dá arrepios em si por causa de seu arranjo e o significado da letra. Mas explorar a história da apresentação mostra como a censura da ditadura militar que começou em 1964 operava – cortaram o som quando ele e Gilberto Gil iam tocar a canção em Festival Phono 73, em São Paulo. No caso de Portugal, os alunos escutam Grandola, Vila Morena, quando aprendem sobre a Revolução dos Cravos, comemorada no dia 25 de abril.

Emprego a vida e a música da maestrina Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga, para ensinar língua e História brasileira. A compositora nasceu em 1847, quando o Brasil era ainda monarquia e mantinha a escravidão. Morreu em 1935. Ela viveu num período no qual ocorreram importantes movimentos históricos no Brasil, como a Guerra do Paraguai, a abolição da escravatura, a Revolta do Vintém, a queda da monarquia, o início da república, o governo Getúlio Vargas…sem falar de sua própria história pessoal, riquíssima em acontecimentos, como a publicação de suas partituras, obras de teatros e sua intensa vida boêmia. Os alunos leem uma biografia juvenil dela, veem partes da minissérie, participam de um têm um sarau, e fazem outras atividades relacionadas à história e à música dela.

Acho que podemos transmitir uma parte da cultura lusófona a nossos alunos na sala de aula. Com certeza, essa experiência na aula de Português não equivale ficar num país lusófono e experimentar a vida e a cultura diretamente. Porém, às vezes nossos alunos não têm essa oportunidade, ou a aula é seu primeiro encontro com a cultura e a língua. Devemos fazer com que eles apreciem e sintam essa cultura, que ouçam nos ouvidos e no coração a música desses países. Assim, é uma maneira de comunicar — e daí a importância de nosso trabalho.

Talking About Chiquinha Gonzaga…

Next week I travel to Charleston, SC, to give a presentation with songs about the Brazilian maestrina Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga. Chiquinha’s music is timeless–people are still dancing and singing “O Abre Alas”, and musicians around the world play compositions that she wrote in the 19th and early 20th century. Chiquinha is considered the “mother” of Brazilian popular music. Along with Joaquim Callado and others, she mixed African rhythms with European music to create something new. She was a woman before her time–the first woman in Brazil to conduct an orchestra and she wrote over 300 songs and musical pieces. She was an original founder of the SBAT, Sociedade Brasileira de Artistas Teatrais, which sought to support playwrights, lyricists and composers. Chiquinha is also known for her political activism. She was an abolitionist and an in favor of a republic. Celeste Mann 3 29 17 lecture on Chiquinha Gonzaga (1)

“Me acerco y me retiro:” Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Set to Music

I rarely write about myself in my blog, but I have a concert coming up on February 12, 2017 in New York City and that’s my focus for the next week. The theme and title is “Amor Latino/Latin Love.” I’m performing this with two other singers, Celia Castro and Anna Tonna, and pianist/composer, Max Lifchitz. Here’s a link to an article about it:

This concert is exciting to me for a few reasons. First, the opportunity to work with such engaging and passionate artists, and to explore this theme in Spanish and Latin American music. Some of the works that will be performed come from Spain, but my music this time is all from Latin America. I’ll be singing Claudio Santoro’s Canções de amor (1ra serie) and two of Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga’s songs. Both of these composers are Brazilian and I am looking forward to presenting Brazilian music for the first time in New York.


But this article is supposed to be about Sor Juana set to music. For the third time I’ll be performing the duet “Me acerco y me retiro” which is roughly translated as “I approach and then I back away.” This duet was written for Anna and me by Max Lifchitz.  Max is a composer/ pianist originally from Mexico. He’s made his home in the USA for a while now. We first performed the duet in a concert of art songs that we did for Cinco de mayo in New York in 2015, and again in November of 2015 in a retrospective of Lifchitz’ music.

Sor Juana is an interesting historical figure from the 17th century. Born in Mexico, which at the time was still part of Spain, she is probably the most important poet in its history. She was a brilliant woman, born ahead of her time. Too smart when women were not really supposed to be independent or intelligent. Little choices were available to such women, and they usually ended up stifling their intellect or joining a convent. Sor Juana ended up a nun, but was that really her desire?

Recently, channel 11 in Mexico has created a series about Sor Juana Inés, called “Juana Inés.” This series is now being played on Netflix, so there is a much broader audience. Here’s a trailer (in Spanish):

Me acerco y me retiro is an intense piece. As mezzo, contralto, and piano, we intricately weave the verse, mostly about an unrequited love, in melismas, consonant and dissonant harmonies and fierce piano interludes. Her poem ends (translation by Max Lifchitz):

A vivir ignorado
to live unobserved
de tus luces, me ausento
by your eyes, I now go
donde ni aun mi mal sirva
Where never pain of mine
a tu desdén de obsequio.
Need flatter your disdain. 


In addition to the duet, Me acerco y me retiro, there will be a premiere of Lifchitz latest composition based on Sor Juana’s poetry, called Rosa divina. This is a solo piece for a soprano with piano, which will be sung by Celia Castro.  I am hoping that with time these pieces, and others that Lifchitz might create, will give the world another glance at Sor Juana’s poetry in a different medium, through music.

Join us at the National Opera Center in New York City, February 12, 2017 3:00 pm (FREE!) or LIVE STREAMING online at

¿Música erudita mexicana? Sí, existe.

Cuando se piensa en la música mexicana, se suele recordar a la música popular o folclórica–los mariachis, las rancheras. Sin embargo, México tiene un legado de música de salón o música de arte. La exhibición en el Centro Cultural de Santo Domingo en Oaxaca, México, es una colección de capas de partituras musicales.


La exhibición comienza con la música de salón, con un piano y la música religiosa y secular característica de la clase alta. La exhibición muestra las partituras, algunos cuadros de temas musicales, instrumentos y escenas de miniaturas relacionadas a la música.


Los compositores más famosos de la música de arte (y del siglo XX) como Manuel Poncé, Silvestre, Augustín Lara y María Grever tienen partituras suyas en el último salón de la exhibición. También hay algunas partituras de zarzuelas mexicanas, y muchos tangos, polkas, valses y boleros.


Visitas a esta exhibición en el Museo de las Culturas (Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo en Oaxaca, México) están incluidas en la entrada general al museo. Es de $65 pesos, salvo el domingo, cuando la entrada es gratis para nacionales mexicanos. ¡No pierdan esta exhibición única! Para más información:



Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra at the Barnes: Mystical Connections

The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra is a professional orchestra based in Philadelphia, started by its conductor, Jeri Lynne Johnson, eight years ago in 2007. They presented “Through the Oceans of Time” on December 19, 2015 at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. The orchestra consists of 40 members, and on Saturday evening they were joined by student instrumentalists of the Settlement Music School’s Trowbridge Chamber Orchestra, for this diverse musical program.  The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra is to be commended for its outreach to the community and its mission to music education. According to the evening’s program booklet:  “The BPCO spends approximately 30 weeks each year presenting programs in Philadelphia public schools and community centers that offer young people the opportunity to engage with classical music.”


At the beginning of the concert it was announced to the audience that Dr. Barnes used to have a weekly lecture on music and art in the art galleries and that the night’s event was in the spirit of that tradition. For sure one can make connections and notice similarities between composers and visual artists (especially contemporaries), and paintings and musical works. In order to elucidate the connections among the musical works, Maestro Johnson gave a brief explanation before each piece. We, the audience, were also invited to browse and stroll through the galleries during the concert to further experience these linkages. Even though the Barnes has art by some of the most important impressionists and others (such as Cezanne, Renoir, Modigliani, Miró, etc.) very few people took advantage of this. There were maybe 3 or 4 people visible in the galleries during the musical performances but most stayed in their seats to listen up close.

Although I thought it was a seductive and different idea, I also felt that it would reduce the live music to accompaniment while viewing artistic masterpieces. Since I came to hear the music, particularly Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9, for me it would defeat the purpose of attending a live concert–that it would turn the live orchestra into a soundtrack. In that case, I could just bring my IPOD and walk around the galleries and examine the paintings. That was not why I was there–I was there for the music.  Nevertheless, I recognize and applaud the effort to make these connections and add some layers to the viewing (of art) and listening (of music) experience.  These are highly technological times and many people have short attention spans–this multitasking approach to visual art and music might appeal to some!

The highlight of the evening for me was the last piece of the program by Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos–Bachianas Brasileiras  No. 9. After playing with aplomb, the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, and the very challenging Stravinsky Concerto in E-flat “Dumbarton Oaks”, the orchestra launched into the hauntingly beautiful “Prelude” or vagaroso e místico (slow and mystical) of the Villa-Lobos piece. Villa-lobos gave a name to each movement with an explanation in parenthesis. The Prelude is almost 3 minutes long and then comes the Fugue, or poco apressado (a little hurried) which lasts about 6-7 minutes.  The sound of the orchestra is very lush and (neo) romantic in this selection.

Villa-Lobos uses counterpoint and fugue. These elements are also found in the other pieces in the concert, which are by Mozart, Bach,  Vivaldi and Stravinsky. That is one of their connections across time and space. Specifically Villa-Lobos is identified with Bach in the Bachianas due to these forms. But that is where the resemblance ends. This piece was originally written for voices, but later Villa-Lobos scored it for instruments. The Prelude begins with a chord and a sublime and poignant melody for one part. Throughout the prelude or “slow and mystical” the melancholy is evident. This invokes saudade, which is typical of the Portuguese musical genres, the modinha and the fado, which both influenced Brazilian music. So much of Villa-Lobos’ music is about nature. There are no words in this instrumental version, but the vastness of the Brazilian landscape is felt in the thick, multilayered sound and majestic gestures of the music–very different from the other works on the program.


This outstanding piece, expertly played by the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, was a strong ending to an entertaining concert, but I wished it wasn’t so short!

All in all, the orchestra, the youth ensemble, the soloists and the music director (conductor) distinguished themselves in a unique venue. There is something gracious and inviting about music in the museums. Even if we do not walk around in the gallery looking at artwork while the orchestra plays or the singers sing, the presence of the art and the beautiful surroundings, create a synergy with the music, the musicians and the audience. This is the ethereal connection over oceans of time and space. This is a connection that is a win win for everyone!


Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia (Photo by Smallbones)

For more information about the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra:

For more information about the Barnes Foundation:

A Grand Night for Singing: The Hispanic Society Presents Works by Enrique Granados

It was dark outside. By 5:00 pm in December the sun has set in New York City. Walking out of the subway at 155th Street, I was worried that I would get lost. The map on the wall in the station was of no help since the Hispanic Society wasn’t even listed. The one and only time I had been in this neighborhood was back in the late 1990s, visiting the Hispanic Society to look up zarzuela scores and libretti.

As soon as I reached the corner, my heart leapt as I spotted an image of the Goya’s Duchess of Alba on a sign. To my right, ahead, across the big avenue, I recognized the looming campus.  There is something about the design of this Beaux Arts building, along the Audobon Terrace–the walkway, the iron bars, that is so reminiscent of Europe, so Madrid.


By Asaavedra32 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

I was very excited to attend this concert  of Granados’ music–From Barcelona with Passion: Enrique Granados in New York, on December 10, 2015.  Two friends were singing, Anna Tonna and Gustavo Ahualli, along with soprano Anna Belén Gómez, Anna de la Paz (dancer), Diane Lesser (English horn) and Borja Mariño (piano). The concert had been advertised on Facebook since September, and “everybody” involved in Spanish music was going.


This was indeed a grand night of music, a unique retrospective of Granados’ pieces. Many of them were performed in their original versions for the first time in New York City at this concert. Aside from the passionate performances, what made this event different and special, was its venue. The exterior of the building is majestic. Inside it houses some of the most cherished Spanish artwork outside of Spain, as well as an archive of literature and music.


The performance took place in the interior courtyard. “Orchestra” seats were on the ground level and filled up fast. I arrived 20 minutes early and was seated near the back. The guest list was five or more pages of typed names and I wondered where they would put everyone if many of them showed up.  Once the first floor was full, guests were directed to the second floor, the “balcony,” where they had a view of the entire floor below of both performers and audience.


On both floors we were surrounded by priceless works of art and entranced by the Spanish atmosphere. The art, the architecture, and the music, combined to make this a fascinating and singular event. Even the reception included Spanish wines, a Rioja and a white. Our senses were stimulated and satisfied a la española. Did I mention all this was FREE?

For more details about the concert please visit Anna Tonna’s blog, Spanish Song Slinger:

Love Songs a la mexicana: An Evening with Max Lifchitz!

Up Close with Max On November 19, 2015 at the Flamboyán Theatre (Clemente Velez Soto Cultural Center) in Lower Manhattan, I join a group of talented musicians to interpret the work of Mexican composer, Max Lifchitz, as part of New York’s Latin American Cultural Week. This is my second time collaborating with Max. The first time was last May for a concert of Mexican Art song with mezzo, Anna Tonna. In that concert we presented some repertoire rarely (if ever) heard outside of Mexico. This repertoire was completely new to me. I had heard of Manuel Ponce and María Grever, but not Blas Galindo or Salvador Moreno, whose works intrigued me and compelled me to include them. For that concert, Max wrote a duet for Anna and me, called “Me acerco y me retiro.” Max set the poem of the same title by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. This love poem’s title, “I come close, and I retreat” makes a lot of sense since Sor Juana was a nun and any romantic endeavors would have been considered scandalous. Amor prohibido?  sor_juana_fielcopia-1

A duet for two lower voices, mezzo and contralto, is not the norm. Most duets between women are sopranos and lower voices (mezzo or contralto). Singing the contralto part to Anna’s mezzo is a very different experience as well. I’m accustomed to singing the lower part but always with sopranos. With a soprano/mezzo duet, the soprano sometimes has a more ethereal quality when floating above the staff. In this duet I feel like the contralto provides that quality–as well as the mystery. There is an earthiness to the low notes but also the sensation of a whisper or echo to the mezzo, because at the part of the range the volume will never overpower that of a higher voice.

I am equally enchanted by the love song “Eres tú” that I will sing on November 19. Max wrote both the lyrics and the music, and it is a simple yet poignant piece that speaks of a total, but perhaps idyllic love:

“Eres tú, siempre mi ilusión” (You are the one of my dreams)

Max employs images from nature, one of my favorite devices for depicting love in poetry:

“Por aguas, por tierras, por selvas y oceános”

By sea or by land, through jungles and oceans

“Corazón, bella como una flor” 

Heart, beautiful as a flower

This dramatic love is a journey through time and space, that ignores time and space, as it is complete and eternal. To be able to sincerely communicate such a feeling, this purest of sentiment, is my challenge for this special event — An Evening with Max!

For more information about the concert: