Reflections on “Music from the Americas”

The University Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra and I will present the “Music from the Americas” concert this Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 8 PM in Wilson Hall, Lexington Virginia. Tickets are required. Go to the University’s website for information and to purchase tickets >click here.

The program includes the beautiful music from the Americas featuring Villa-Lobos (Brazil), Ginastera (Argentina) and Randall Thompson (United States). MaryAnne Vardaman will perform Bruch‘s Kol Nidre.

As I study the two pieces from South America, I can’t help but recall and reflect on my visits to both countries.

Hector Villa-Lobos 1887-1959

Hector Villa-Lobos 1887-1959 (photo credit:

Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, with its sensual and suave tenor sax solos juxtaposed to the rustling sounds of the desert and the chugging sounds of the little countryside train of Caipira, capture the swaying rhythms of a country I proudly call my second home. Villa Lobos’ homage to Bach, captures the unique spirit of Brazilians; kind-hearted, full of humor, and proud of their beautiful country.

In contrast, the stylized more aggressive percussive style of Estancia by Ginastera portrays a country which gave birth to Tango; not only the dance but the song. Tango dancing contains sharp, definitive moves that often bring the two dances close in proximity but far in a personal sense; almost a battle of two wills. The songs of Tango are sad melodramas perhaps influenced by the difficult history of a country still defining itself.  “Maambo,” the final dance is a wild, out of control dance that ends the Suite in an explosive fashion–so different from the train from Caipira.

I met many Argentinians in my travels; often sharing stories with me of sadness and profound loss. It is a humbling experience hearing about a friend who passed away, leaving a loving family to grieve or a talented singer going it alone even after so many disappointments. The long melodic lines of the second movement of the Ballet gives us time to pause and pray for a better life.

Thompson’s home-spun Second Symphony is from an era of innocence and patriotism. Though parts of each movement often reflect the new machine age with its repeated highly rhythmic motifs, there are countless singable, folk-like melodies that dot the entire work. Though the composition doesn’t incorporate the jazz rhythms that were showing up in concert pieces during the same time, the “American sound” sung by the strings at the end of the last movement leaves us with feeling of pride and hope. Whatever country you call home, we all cling to hope…all of us.