The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Friday is Mexican modernism night at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. New CDs from Cedille show that we should hear more Mexican modernist music by Carlos Chavez, Manuel Ponce and other composers performed here.

August 22, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

From 6 to 9 p.m. this Friday, Aug. 23, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (below) in the Overture Center will host a night that focuses on the great artists of Mexican modernism. Admission is free for MMOCA members and $10 for non-members.

The event will feature an evening of Mexican paintings, prints and photographs as well as refreshments, a gallery talk  6:30-7 p.m. by University of Wisconsin-Madison art professor and artist Jim Escalante and movie screenings.

Here is a link with more details and some visuals;

http://www.mmoca.org/exhibitions-collection/exhibits/los-grandes-del-arte-moderno-mexicano

MMOCA icon 3

As luck or coincidence would have it, the event is happening around the same time that I received some CDs in the mail from the outstanding Chicago-based non-profit regional label Cedille. The recordings feature the works of several composers who also brought modernism to Mexican classical music.

Those composers include Carlos Chavez (1899-1978, below top), Manuel Ponce (1882-1948, below middle), Jose Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958), Jose Rolon (1876-1945) and Samuel Zyman (b. 1956) – all performed by the gifted Chicago pianist Jorge Federico Osorio (below) who possesses great tone, lyricism and drama. He plays with confidence born of natural affinity for the music and an abundance of musical talent.

carlos chavez mexico

Manuel Ponce

Jorge Federico Osorio

I have sampled all the recordings and am both impressed and pleased.

This is not the Viennese modernism of, say, Arnold Schoenberg and the 12-tonists or atonalists. In fact much of this is much more accessible and listener-friendly. Much of that is due, my ears tell me, to the incorporation of tuneful Mexican folk songs and rhythmically catchy folk dances.

El Salon Mexicano CD

That makes it not so different from the photos of Manuel Alvarez Bravo (below top), the paintings of Frida Kahlo (below second), the expressionist style woodcuts of Leopoldo Mendez (below third), the murals of Diego Rivera (below bottom) – all of which are distinctly modern with overtones of traditional Mexican culture and society.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo Senor de Papantla

Frida Khalo Still Life Pitahayas

Leopoldo Mendez El Rebozo de Soledad

Diego Rivera The Fruits of LaborBut for whatever reason this beautiful music has not caught on in the Northern Hemisphere and the United States, and Europe. Perhaps that is yet another expression of the inherent racism or provincialism that runs throughout Euro-centric classical music, as I touched on in recent post that drew some excellent responses form readers. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/classical-music-are-individuals-and-groups-that-perform-classical-music-in-the-u-s-wisconsin-and-madison-racist-if-not-why-dont-we-hear-more-music-from-african-american-hispanic-and-asi/

That is especially regrettable, given that many music ensembles would like to attract more Hispanic or Latino audiences.

It says something that even the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is giving its premiere performance of the Chavez Piano Concerto this season.

The Ear keeps thinking that it would be a smart move, and probably not too an expensive booking, for the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra to book Jorge Federico Osorio to play, and maybe even premiere, the spiky but accessible Chavez Piano Concerto here in Madison. It would certainly add some rarely heard repertoire and much needed ethnic diversity to the music scene.

Chavez PIano Concerto CD

Similarly, I think a lot of solo piano recital would benefit from the music of Manuel Ponce, who composed a lot ore than the ever-popular “Estrellita.” Once could try his Concerto Etudes and “Trozos Romanticos,” his “Mazurcas” (at bottom in a YouTube video), his “Cuban Suite” or even his two etudes written for Arthur Rubinstein. They have elements of Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Debussy and even Scrabin but with a Latin American flavor. These piano pieces certainly a more serious look than they seem to be getting.

Manuel Ponce piano CD cover

But until this repertoire comes to you live, you can’t do better than these recordings that support Jorge Federico Osorio’s remarkable performances that are supported with great sound engineering and informative liner notes.


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