Chavez and His World” at Bard’s SummerScape 2015

by Florindo Troncelliti

There is a natural process by which the present selects from the past only what is good, as in a filter all the impurities are done away with and only the pure water gets through.    —Carlos Chavez 1951

The Bard Music Festival has a history which places it at the top of summer offerings (“the summer’s most stimulating music festival” (Los Angeles Times)). Carlos Chavez and His World, the centerpiece of the Bard Music Festival program for SummerScape 2015, promises to conjure a richness of sound, motion and ideas on this subject matter with a focus and breadth heretofore never experienced in the U.S. This is the first Bard summer festival dedicated to a Latin American composer.

American Symphony orchestra music director and conductor Leon Botstein promises – through the style of thematic programming he has pioneered — to produce a fascinating and incomparable musical and cultural experience. Carlos Chavez and His World will roll out over two weekends in eleven separate concert programs from August 7 – 16, 2015.

Each program is themed to portray a different salient aspect of the life, work and milieu of Chavez (1899 – 1978), who is the central figure in 20th century Mexican music. The concerts are complemented by pre-​​concert lectures, panel discussions, special events and expert commentary. The eleven event musical menu is enriched by performances of some compositions from Chavez’s predecessors and contemporaries, and the supplementary programs address questions of Mexico’s musical identity both in terms of the traditional-​​regional and the modern-​​global contexts.

The venue for the festival is Bard’s Hudson River campus, mainly the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts.

Drawing on recent scholarship, the Festival’s signature programming, multi-​​disciplinary thematic approach, and emphasis on context and reception history make for a depth and breadth of cultural discovery that appeals to classical music novices and aficionados alike.

Carlos Chavez was a unique, internationally renowned composer who embodied 20th century Mexican culture. Chavez was a protagonist of the indigenismo movement, employing modernist composition and performance techniques in his music, while referencing Mexico’s indigenous past. His music is thoroughly inspired by Mexican themes from which he is able to synthesize markers of Mexican identity with twentieth century modernism. His friend Aaron Copland once described his work as, “authentic music of the New World.”

As a conductor, Chavez likewise experienced broad recognition for his accomplishments. He founded the Orquesta Sinfonica de Mexico, the country’s national symphony orchestra. Over his career, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, he traveled often to the U.S. where he guest conducted the major symphony orchestras: Boston, Cleveland, New York, LA, and Philadelphia. In addition, his travels with the baton to Europe and South America gained international visibility for Mexican musical and cultural life.

Carlos Chavez - 1930-40 - Photo by Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Carlos Chavez — 1930 – 40 — Photo by Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Chavez was also known as a writer, music theorist and academic. After the Mexican revolution he founded El Istituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, the overarching cultural institution of Mexico’s dance, music and visual arts. Yet, somehow, his representation in the classical repertory has been very limited, and his presence in the constellation of music and cultural icons has been reduced. Until now.

Carlos Chavez and His World will go a long way to redressing the imbalance of quality and unrecognized work from this composer. Bard seeks to survey, too, this Mexican and Latin American cultural period via Chavez’s life lens. Born in 1899, Chavez lived through the Mexican Revolution 1910 – 1917 (which wasn’t fully settled until 1930). Following the Revolution, there was a great cultural renaissance in Mexico, out of which sprang the artistic material for reassessment of Mexican culture in Carlos Chavez and His World.

Bard’s Festival

Leon Botstein on Carlos Chávez and Latin American Music from The Fisher Center on Vimeo.

The Festival opens on Friday, August 7 with Program One: Chavez and Mexico’s Musical Heritage. The program features an assortment of chamber, vocal, and small orchestral arrangements by Chavez and two contemporaries: Ponce and Revueltas. Also included are songs and other works by eight other composers, presenting a survey of Mexican styles and traditions through themes of Latin America v. U.S. music, culture and life; Europeans in Mexico; the music of Spain; and Mexican musical tradition, including the choral traditional heritage.

Program Two on Saturday August 8th, The Parisian Influence, reflects Chavez’s pilgrimage to Paris in the early 1920s and his experience of the emergence of modern music through his association with Edgar Varese. The performances are preceded by a morning panel discussion on Culture and National Identity: The Case of Mexico. After a pre-​​concert talk by Byron Adams, the program will offer chamber and vocal arrangements by Chavez, Dukas, Ravel, Rolon, Ponce, Milhaud, Poulenc and Stravinsky.

Program Three at 7 P.M. on August 8th, Music and Politics of Mexico: The Crossroad of Antifascism is preceded by a half-​​hour talk by Sergio Vela. We hear the first orchestral concerts in the series, beginning with Chavez’s Sinfonia de Antigona, developed from incidental music Chavez composed for Jean Cocteau’s modern version of Sophocles’ s Antigone. The program includes symphonic works by Chavez and Honegger, and scores for film and theater by Revueltas, and Nancarrow. The film, “Redes,” is an important example of Mexican film’s golden age.

Panel Two, Mexico and the United States, Past, Present and Future on Sunday August 9, 10 A.M. – Noon, precedes Program Four: Music and the Ten Year Mexican Revolution. The period following the 10-​​year civil war was an artistic renaissance that saw the creation of explicitly national works addressing the indigenous, mestizo, and/​or modern aspects of Mexican culture, including these songs and works for guitar or piano by Chavez, Revueltas, Galindo and Mancayo, and others. There’s a half-​​hour pre-​​concert talk by Ricardo Miranda.

Sunday, August 9th’s spectacular continues at 5:00 P.M. with a pre-​​concert talk by Roberto Kolb Neuhaus introducing Program Five: Music, Murals, and Puppets. The world-​​renowned Mexican muralist movement, spearheaded by Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, was born of the burgeoning nationalism of the post-​​revolutionary era. Murals bearing social and political messages were created in an attempt to reunify the country under the post-​​revolutionary government. In the musical selections for this concluding section of the Festival’s first weekend, Bard presents works that capture the murals’ riotous color, bold strokes, neoprimitivism, and larger than-​​life aesthetic.

At 5:30 the music program opens with Chavez’s Suite for Double Quartet, from The Daughter of Colchis (Dark Meadow), a ballet commissioned for Martha Graham, of which the New York Times declared, “It’s about sex.” Following is Manuel de Falla’s El Retablo de Maese Pedro, a “puppet chamber opera” based on a scene from Cervantes’s Don Quixote, in which, it is said, de Falla began the transition into the Hispanic neo-​​classicism of his later works. The program concludes with Troka, a wind symphony Revueltas originally composed to accompany a children’s radio broadcast advocating the use of technology and the downfall of imperialism.

An exhilarating assortment of works by contemporary composers inspired partly by Carlos Chavez, the Special Event, Music by Contemporary Latin American Composers, will be held at the LUMA Theater at 7:30 P.M. on Thursday, August 13. These composers are young and innovative. Their works share some of the ethos of Chavez’s imaginary nativism or indigenismo. Several of them have studied in and are now living in the New York City area, and like Chavez, compose music borne of very traditional as well as ultra-​​modern influences.

The final weekend of the Festival, August 14 – 16, kicks off with La Otra Conquista, a film by Salvador Carrasco, showing at 3:00 P.M. at the Ottaway Film Center. At 5:00 P.M. the Orquesta Mexicana will perform works by Carlos Chavez and others at Olin Hall. Program Six of the Festival, East and West, opens with a Pre-​​concert Talk by Kyle Gann at 7:30 P.M. at the Sosnoff Theater. Then, at 8:00 P.M. begins the comprehensive exploration of works revealing the cross-​​cultural Eastern-​​Western influences. This program’s emphasis on percussion is expressed in works by Chavez, John Cage and others.

There is a discussion about Mexico and Latin America in Panel Three at 10 A.M. on Saturday, August 15, followed by Program Seven, New York, New York at 1:00 P.M. at Olin Hall. The Pre-​​concert Talk by Christopher H. Gibbs is to elucidate the connections Chavez made during his extensive visits to New York among a variety of composers such as Varese, Cowell, Copland, and Virgil Thomson, and also the influence of Harlem Renaissance Afro-​​American dance music upon the pieces Chavez composed while living in the City.

Reimagined Landscapes and Pasts, Program Eight, opens at 7:00 P.M. on the 15th with a Pre-​​concert Talk by Leonora Saavedra. James Bagwell conducts the Bard Festival Chorale and Leon Botstein conducts the American Symphony Orchestra in a mostly orchestral program opening with Sinfonia India, Chavez’s best-​​known work. It’s followed by works by Villa-​​Lobos, Revueltas, and Moncayo.

Program Nine, at 10 A.M. on Sunday, August 16, Sacred and Secular Choral Music from 5 Centuries, is a performance with commentary. The performance is by the Bard Festival Chorale conducted by James Bagwell.

Chavez composed a number of works for chamber ensembles in the late 1950s when he was engaged in teaching at different distinguished U.S. educational institutions, such as Harvard and University of Buffalo. Post WW II Latin America, Program Ten, pairs some of Chavez’s works with works of his contemporaries. Richard Wilson gives a Pre-​​concert talk from 1:00 – 1:30 P.M.

Program Eleven, Musical Culture of the Hemisphere concludes the 2015 Festival with some of Latin America’s most important contributions to orchestral literature. Chavez’s ballet symphony, Horse Power, written to symbolize the economic relationship between the industrial United States and the agricultural tropics, is a vital score, rich in orchestral color, which achieves a synthesis between the influence of Stravinsky and popular Mexican dance idioms.

This year’s offerings are certain to deliver the customary giant serving of cultural wealth and inspiration for which the Bard Musical Festival is known. Maestro Botstein and the faculty at Bard have put together another blockbuster with Carlos Chavez and His World for SummerScape 2015.

Featured image: Photo by Manuel Alvarez Bravo circa 1930 – 40

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