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'Copland and Mexico'

Five-day concert series highlights this composer and orchestral music south of the border

By Robert Faires, Fri., March 21, 2014

'Copland and Mexico'

The name "Aaron Copland" conjures misty Appalachian valleys and broad Midwestern prairies, but this composer whose music is so identified with the American heartland was also deeply inspired by our neighbor to the south, and, in fact, his first major success was with a work based on its music. El Salón México – named for a raucous dance hall that Copland visited with his fellow composer and friend Carlos Chávez – includes themes drawn from a handful of Mexican folk tunes that Copland found in published anthologies, and so captivated audiences that within a couple of years of its 1937 premiere by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Mexico (with Chávez conducting), the piece had been performed by 21 orchestras – more than any of Copland's other works to that date.

El Salón México has remained popular ever since, and you can hear for yourself why when it's revived by the Austin Symphony Orchestra this weekend, along with Copland's Two Mexican Pieces ("Paisaje Mexicano" and "Danza de Jalisco") and Chávez's Chapultepec (Three Famous Mexican Pieces). But you won't just be hearing performances of these works; as the music plays, you'll be seeing projected images of murals, paintings, and photographs associated with the Mexican Revolution. Then, in the second half of the program, you'll see a full movie – the 1936 film Redes, about the fishing community near Veracruz – while the ASO plays live the score by noted Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas. And before the concert, you can listen to a lecture about Revueltas' time in Austin in 1917-18 by musicologist Lorenzo Candelaria, while after it, Candelaria will take part in a Q&A with ASO Music Director Peter Bay and cultural historian and curator Joseph Horowitz.

Horowitz is the mastermind behind the program, which is part of a larger interdisciplinary investigation into Mexican and American culture using Copland as a lens. In addition to the ASO concert, "Copland and Mexico" includes a Monday concert by Danzonera SierraMadre, the leading danzón orchestra in northern Mexico, and a joint concert by the UT Symphony Orchestra, UT Percussion Group, and UT New Music Ensemble featuring more music by Revueltas, Chavéz, and Copland, including the much-beloved Appalachian Spring, which, granted, isn't Mexican, but by the time you hear it Tuesday, you might understand how his work with those folk tunes in El Salón México influenced his treatment of the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" later. Horowitz developed "Copland and Mexico" through a project he calls "Music Unwound," the purpose of which is to integrate humanities content into live concert performances. With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Music Unwound allows orchestras to supplement their musical offerings with multimedia visuals, lectures, recitals, museum exhibitions, and the like, typically in partnership with universities, to further educational goals. For the current phase of the project, which launched in 2011 with "Dvorák and America," ASO and UT received funding as part of a consortium that includes the Pacific Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, North Carolina Symphony, South Dakota Symphony, and Louisville Orchestra. "Copland and Mexico" will be followed by "Charles Ives' America," which will spread over multiple weeks and involve orchestra, chorus, wind ensemble, and scholars of music and history.


"Copland and Mexico": Austin Symphony Orchestra, March 21-22, Friday & Saturday, 8pm, Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside, www.austinsymphony.org; Danzonera SierraMadre, Monday, March 24, 7:30pm, Bates Recital Hall, 2406 Robert Dedman, www.utexas.edu/cola; UT Symphony Orchestra, Percussion Ensemble, and New Music Ensemble, Tuesday, March 25, 7:30pm, Bates Recital Hall, 2406 Robert Dedman, www.music.utexas.edu.

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