Music fest infused with Latin flavor |

Music fest infused with Latin flavor

Susannah Luthi
Special to The Aspen Times

Brazilian composer and musician Gaudencio Thiago de Mello will perform Saturday, Aug. 6 with Sharon Isbin in a recital program that features several of his compositions. He is also featured with Tuesday night's Percussion Ensemble.

This week’s Aspen Music Festival and School audiences may find themselves drawn into the stirring rhythms and wistful melodies of a rich and variegated musical history. It’s the week of the “Postcards from Latin America” mini-festival, a nine-event tour of 20th and 21st century Latin-American composers.

The tour brings insight into deeply rhythmic music that, as AMFS artistic advisor and administrator Asadour Santourian says, “spans the range from serious concert music to that of more popular appeal.”

In Sunday’s Aspen Festival Orchestra concert, “Postcards from Latin America” got under way with performances of Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chavez ” who were featured beside Stravinsky and Prokofiev. The mini-festival continues in explorations of a mix of exotic musical styles from the steaming southern climates.

“The impetus behind the mini-festival comes mainly from the fact that there’s a treasure trove of Latin American music,” Santourian explained. “We don’t hear it frequently or with regularity, but it’s perfectly outstanding music that needs a forum.”

Featured performers this week include festival artist-faculty members Sharon Isbin, who has worked extensively with Latin-American repertoire, Joaquin Valdepenas, Jonathan Haas, Percussion Ensemble conductor, and such guests as composer, arranger and organic percussionist Gaudencio Thiago de Mello.

Out of the concerts comes a taste of rich cultures: Tonight at the 6 p.m. chamber music concert in Harris Concert Hall is the surreal story depicted in Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla’s tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires.

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Then there are the compositions and the dynamic performances of Thiago de Mello, who grew up in the Brazilian Amazon, where missionaries’ spirituals helped inform a deep love of music. He came to New York City ” after he coached a professional soccer team in Brazil (which he says gave him his sense of rhythm) and studied with jazz greats Gil Evans and Richard Kimball.

In his performance with Haas’s Percussion Ensemble at 8 p.m. Tuesday, and with Isbin in her 8 p.m. Saturday recital program, you will hear his compositions as he plunges into his native rhythms of Brazil on percussion.

During Isbin’s recital program, which also features artist-faculty saxophonist Bil Jackson, audiences move from Brazil to Cuba to Mexico for a vivid picture of the countries that produced the music.

“In South America and in Cuba in particular, there’s influence of the African cultures besides the Spanish culture,” Isbin said. “There’s a lot of African rhythmic music in the Brazilian and Cuban repertoire that I play. One of the composers on the program is Cuba’s Leo Brouwer, whom I’ve known for many years and who wrote me a wonderful solo work more than 20 years ago. We’ll be doing a Cuban folk song in the concert as well as a lot of music written by Thiago.”

Then, on Thursday, the Benedict Music Tent stage becomes a set for the tango: “An Evening with Tangos” presents Piazzolla, Pablo Ziegler and Carlos Guastavino, performed by mezzo-soprano Delores Ziegler and festival piano artist-faculty members.

As the festival looks south, the range of concert music grows. Latin-American rhythms, as they’re filtered by composers into contemporary repertoire, continue to influence and transform. Composers like Heitor Villa-Lobos of Brazil ” whose Suite for Voice and Violin is featured at 4 p.m. Saturday concert ” is a standard-bearer within the Brazilian music world. Others, like Mexico’s Manuel Ponce, wrote orchestra and chamber works for the guitar.

“Obviously each piece of music is very individual to each country from which it comes,” Santourian said. “But what’s predominant is the ever-present, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt presence of dance rhythms ” from slow to passionate, to fast to visceral.”

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