Burbank, CA. May 9th, 2014.
RYCY Productions presents the new album, entitled “América Latina: A Musical Canvas” by La Catrina Quartet. This recording, produced by Guerra, includes the following titles: String Quartet No.1 by Alberto Ginastera; Cañambú by Eduardo Gamboa; and String Quartet Nº. 1, “A Mil Guerras Solo” and String Quartet Nº. 2 by Yalil Guerra, dedicated to La Catrina.
La Catrina String Quartet
Since its founding in 2007, the La Catrina String Quartet (LCSQ) has become recognized as the new vanguard for contemporary Latin American string quartet repertoire. Their mission is three-fold: a deep commitment to the cultivation of new works by living composers from the U.S. and throughout the Americas; the programming of existing Latin American works rarely performed in the U.S. and abroad, and bringing fresh interpretations to classical, romantic and twentieth century masterpieces. Hailed by Yo-Yo Ma as “wonderful ambassadors for Latin American music,” LCSQ members are from México (Daniel Vega-Albela, Jorge Martínez-Rios), Brazil (Roberta Arruda) and Chile (Jorge Espinoza). Their rich cultural origins convey an unparalleled stylistic authenticity and artistic vision in their performances, collaborations and recordings. It is this unique balance of core Latin American repertoire with American and European classical traditions that characterizes both the diversity of their concert programs and appeal to multi-cultural audiences.
In 2010, Symphony Space (NYC) under the direction of Laura Kaminsky commissioned Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra to write his “Cuarteto No. 2” for LCSQ. The quartet’s world premiere was held in 2011 as part of the new music festival “Wall to Wall Sonidos.” That same year they also collaborated with the heralded Cuarteto Latinoamericano for a definitive recording of “Seresta No. 2 for Double String Quartet” by twentieth century Brazilian composer Francisco Mignone. The CD “Brasileiro” featuring the piece won the 2012 Latin Grammy for Best Classical Recording. In October 2014, LCSQ will present the world premiere of a string quartet by Carlos Sánchez Gutiérrez, one of México’s most prestigious and celebrated contemporary composers. The work is commissioned by the Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuato.
Recent and future collaborations featuring American composers and artists include Zae Munn’s commission “Our Hands Were Tightly Clenched” and a groundbreaking recording of contemporary and twentieth century American music with tuba player James Shearer. To document and distill their championing of Latin American repertoire over the course of several years and more than five hundred performances, LCSQ plans to release a multi-disc recording project, of which “América Latina: A Musical Canvas” is the first. LCSQ is currently string quartet-in residence at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. A significant part of their educational mission is to cultivate and expose an emerging generation of young listeners to the evolving multi-cultural face of contemporary chamber music through outreach programs.
Yalil Guerra. String Quartet No. 1, “A Mil Guerras Solo”: Firmly rooted in the twentieth century Latin American tradition of string quartet writing, Guerra opens his first quartet, “A Mil Guerras Solo” or “A Thousand Wars Alone,” with an Allegretto where he explores the open sonority of stacked fifths across the entire group, writing in double stops for everyone over a driving motive that alternates with a rhythmic ostinato by the cello, viola and second violin that is full of Latin American flair over which we hear angular melodies exchanged between the violins and the viola. The initial, fifths motive, serves as a jingle that frames this short movement. The second movement, Adagio, explores the expressive possibilities of the full string quartet sound. It is a ballad full of lyricism ornamented by an intricate dialogue between all the voices that creates the feeling of a slow, sensual dance. This is contrasted by a second section where the composer’s melodies and intense harmonies become almost expressionistic in nature, and in the tradition of the Second Viennese School, the movement closes with a deconstruction by way of pointillism a la Webern of the initial introductory material. The third movement, Allegreto, opens with a Mambo call played in unison that serves as the main motive of this final piece which to this listener sounds like a rondo cuasi una fantasia because of the dreamlike middle sections, in which it is easy to hear the composer’s ear for the visual. Here we also are treated to Guerra’s fascination with the juxtaposition of driving rhythms and variations with lyrical, sinuous melodies that he writes as response to the initial Mambo call.
Eduardo Gamboa. Cañambú: One of Cuba’s and Mexico’s most popular dance forms, Cañambú is a danzón, a two part dance which begins with a slow section, during which the dancers show the intricacy and intimacy of their choreography leading to the fast (montuno) section. The slow section is characterized by very small steps, which the dancers execute as close to each other as possible. It is said that a proper danzón couple ought to be able to negotiate these slow steps successfully on a cinder block without falling off of it. The slow dance, derived from the European contradanza, segues into a fast, montuno section, itself a variation on the Cuban son. This fast, swinging section is characterized by elaborate and virtuosic moves and turns, in a way similar to American Rock and Roll or Swing. It is in this section that the danzoneros, or danzón musicians, have the opportunity to improvise and show off their talent along with the dancing couple.
Gamboa conceived this danzón originally for string quartet or string orchestra, and taking advantage of his command of challenging and rhythmically intricate writing, he explores the possibilities of this popular dance form for the string quartet, making use of extended techniques such as playing “alla chitarra” (like a guitar) as well as by using various percussive effects such as striking different parts of the instruments in order to imitate the sound of the cañambú, a typical instrument in the percussion section of the danzón ensemble. For the closing section, Gamboa adds to this traditional dance a short fugato, which deviates if ever so slightly from the original dance, perhaps as a way of reminding the audience that we are still listening to a classical composer’s take on a popular dance form.
In the words of Eduardo Gamboa, “Cañambú is the name used in Cuba to refer to a certain bamboo cane, different from sugar cane and caña brava, which grows in Manigua Oriental, within the Santiago province. In the beginning of the 1940s, sonero (songwriter and performer) Arístides Ruíz came up with a way to use cañambú as a percussion instrument that would replace the bongos. The cañambucero (cañambú player) holds one segment of the cane in each hand, each cane being a different size, thereby achieving both a treble and a bass sound. Holding them in vertical position he strikes them against a small wooden bench. For the choir parts that alternate with the pregones (a pregonero is a town crier), I used a verse from Alejo Carpentier’s tale Oficio de Tinieblas, which reads as follows: ¡Ahí va, ahí va, ahí va la Lola, ahí va! (There she goes, there she goes, there goes Lola, there she goes!)”
Yalil Guerra. String Quartet No. 2: Written in 2014 for LCSQ, this three-movement work uses a contemporary harmonic language, thick in counterpoint and rich textures that require great virtuosity and expressiveness as exemplified in the first movement, Largo e allegro con fuoco. This writing style is common to many of Guerra’s works, where a canvas of hidden rhythmic patterns and melodic elements from Cuba become structural elements of the composer’s musical language. The second movement, Adagio misterioso is reminiscent of guajiro chants, or Cuban peasant chants as portrayed by the first violin through a series of phrases constructed against the backdrop of a continuously changing contrapuntal texture by the remaining instruments, which serves as the structure for the main section of this movement. The quartet closes with an intensely rhythmic Prestissimo in which the composer uses canonic imitation as the template for a returning rhythmic ostinato that forms the main motive of the movement, which he then contrasts with an equally intense section where he juxtaposes lyricism with a running, intricately woven scherzando commentary that serves both to provide form as well as dynamic motion. The ostinato motive is used throughout as material for experimentation with textural variations, and the movement comes to an exciting finale where the composer pays homage to Beethoven by citing the “destiny call” from his fifth symphony.
Alberto Ginastera. String Quartet No. 1: Considered by many to be the foremost Argentinean composer, Alberto Ginastera (1916 – 1983) was part of the last generation of composers of the late Romantic period, one of the most important offshoots of which is Nationalism, a movement that sought to integrate the aesthetic and formal ideals of western classical traditions in music with sounds and rhythms from indigenous peoples throughout the world. Thus, many composers of the time embraced the idea of contributing to the national identity of their countries of origin by compiling, transcribing and studying extensively the native music of their motherland. It is thanks to these composers that a new discipline in the study of music came into being, namely, ethnomusicology, which in its broadest terms is the study of the music of the world. Some of the most famous nationalistic composers include Modest Mussorgsky (Russia), Antonin Dvorak (Bohemia), Jean Sibelius (Finland) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (England).
Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1 uses as its main compositional materials the sounds and rhythms from the gauchos (Argentinean cowboys) and from the peasants of Las Pampas, the fertile lowlands of South America. This work belongs to Ginastera’s “Subjective Nationalism” period, in which without taking melodies and rhythms directly from Argentinean folk music, he nevertheless relies heavily on them to derive the fascinating sonorities he achieves, much like we may hear in the later works of Bartok and Kodaly. Thus, the first movement evokes the driving rhythms and open sonorities of gaucho music, and if we allow the mind’s eye to wonder, it is easy to picture these South American cowboys horseback riding through the open plains of Las Pampas. The second movement of the quartet – the most challenging for the players – represents a peasant dance called Malambo between two young men coming of age that serves as a rite of passage and which is characterized by very fast, aggressive movements. It is a protracted dance intended to allow for only one of the young men to remain standing – in essence it is a challenge to the stamina of the contestants. As the movement comes to a close Ginastera uses his wit to ingenuously depict the victor, which he signals by the cello playing the very last note. The third movement is a sort of Nocturne in which the composer uses the quartet to imitate the sound of the open strings in a guitar – a motive that we find repeatedly throughout his compositions – as an introduction to the solo violin melody, upon which the cello later elaborates in the middle of the movement. In all likelihood Ginastera composed this beautiful movement to showcase his wife, the prominent cellist Aurora-Natola Ginastera. The last movement returns to the driving rhythms and sonorities of the first, this time interspersed with long pizzicato sections intended to evoke the sound of guitars.
Liner notes ©2014 by Daniel Vega-Albela
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