New Classical Tracks: Mexican Soul

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
September 13, 2010

St. Paul, Minn. — The bicentennial of Mexico's independence this year presented a perfect opportunity for 29-year-old Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra. To celebrate her homeland, she assembled a two-CD collection of various short Mexican orchestral works composed over the past 200 years.

"Not a lot of people know symphonic music from Mexico that well, including myself, even though I've been leading this orchestra that focuses on music of the Americas," Alondra explains. "I think that it's really difficult to know what's out there because there's not many recordings of this music, and there's not easy access to scores." After digging through musical archives and private collections for the past two years she was amazed at the quality of works she unearthed. With her new recording, "Mi Alma Mexicana," or "My Mexican Soul," De La Parra says this music is now accessible to everyone.

Alondra de la Parra says, "It kind of breaks this cliche or expectation of what Mexico is. Yes, we are the folk music, the sombreros, and the tacos, but we're also a sophisticated culture, that has a strong influence from Europe, that has developed this high culture." And she's not kidding--on this new release we hear everything from jazz improvisation to 20th century to music that sounds like Schubert or Wagner. Many Mexican composers studied in France so there's also a touch of French Impressionism. No matter the style, it all has the melodic and harmonic influence of Mexican traditional music.

She was fascinated by several works during her research, including a piece by Candelario Huizar titled "Imagenes." "This is a symphonic poem that really shows so much imagination and creativity," de la Parra explains, "It's an exciting work that should be part of the standard repertoire. It's a piece that did really well at its time in Mexico in 1927, but it never made it outside Mexico and it was forgotten."

Daniel Andai, concertmaster of the Miami Symphony Orchestra and of the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, appears as soloist in the charming Melody for violin and orchestra by Gustavo Campa. The gentle waltz-like rhythm and enchanting melody of this late-19th-century work is reminiscent of Viennese salon music.

Alondra de la Parra knew her good friend, the Russian violist and composer Ljova, would give the familiar piece, "Sobre las Olas," by Juventino Rosas, a new twist. "The arrangements of this tune seemed kind of old, so I decided to commission a special arrangement and I thought Ljova would have a fresh look at it and have fun. I think it's a really fascinating, fun arrangement. I really wanted it to sound like a great Viennese waltz and have some fun in between," she reveals.

The youngest composer represented on this recording is Enrico Chapela, who was born in 1974. This two-CD compilation closes out with a nationalistic piece he composed, titled "Inguesu." Chapela didn't find inspiration in the drums and folk tunes of Mexico; his inspiration for this piece came from the celebrated 1999 Mexico-versus-Brazil soccer match. He condensed the 90-minute game into nine minutes of music.

In concert, conductor Alondra de la Parra takes on the role of the referee. After the trombone insults her she shows the yellow card, then the red card. And then she orders him to leave the stage. "It's a real exciting work." she explains, "The woodwinds represent the Mexican team, the brass represent the Brazilian team, the conductor is the referee, and the strings are the audience."

If you thought you knew everything there was to know about Mexican music, think again. On this recording Alondra de la Parra and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas have opened the door to Mexico a little bit wider. "My Mexican Soul" offers popular national pieces like Moncayo's "Huapango," lesser-known works by familiar composers like Carlos Chavez and pieces you've yet to discover.

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