Festival of Latin American Music 1: Program Note

Brazil’s most celebrated composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, composed Alvorada na Floresta Tropical [Dawn in a Tropical Rainforest] in 1953 for the Louisville Orchestra. Though much of his formal musical education took place in Paris, Villa-Lobos always asserted that he had learned music “from a bird in the jungles of Brazil, not from academics.”  At the time of Alvorada’s premiere, he wrote: “A dawn, in any tropical forest of Brazil, is for me an overture of colors accompanied by the magic singing and chirping of the tropical birds, and also by howls, squeals, evocations and the exotic and barbaric dances of the native Indians. . . . The themes of this work are original and they are treated in the scales of certain Brazilian Indians.


Cuban-American Dafnis Prieto has a multi-faceted career as a drummer, composer, bandleader, and educator. This weekend we experience his latest work, Tentación, a multi-media piece for singer-dancers, percussion, several jazz instruments, piano, and orchestral strings. Prieto has written: “Tentación is a love story, or better said an imaginary love story driven by the powerful law of attraction. The seductive quality that makes us dream for a better and happy future inside and around ourselves, diving into a vast range of feelings and emotions. This story involves many sides of an imaginary ‘but at the same time’ real relationship, the sweet, the bitter, the similarities, the differences, the conversations, the advice, the challenges, the suggestions, the ups and downs. It involves real senses caused by the imaginary state of willing, of dreaming, and desire. The music reflects in sounds and lyrics two words – real and imaginary – i.e. the real,  provoked by the imaginary state.


Angélica Negrón has carved a unique niche for herself in new music. Classically trained as a violinist, she now performs as a singer and accordionist with Balún, an electro-acoustic pop band. Her latest work, Fractal Isles, is a Louisville Orchestra commission. It combines electronica and bird callers in addition to a full orchestra. Collectively, they create a vivid minimalist shimmer reflecting on themes of exoticism, invasion, and the construction of otherness. Her composer’s note states: “Fractal Isles is meant to be seen and heard in saturated colored pieces of glass, enclosed in a tube and through a prismatic lens that repeats its inflection, looking back at itself and inevitably getting lost from the outside in the fantasy of what’s inside.”


A 20th-century musical icon, Leonard Bernstein rocketed to international acclaim in November 1943 when, at the last minute, he took over the podium of the New York Philharmonic for an ailing Bruno Walter. Bernstein was already establishing a reputation as a noteworthy composer of both classical and popular stage works. His greatest stage success was West Side Story (1957), a modern interpretation of the Romeo and Juliet story set in the barrios of New York. Bernstein crafted his Symphonic Dances from West Side Story the same year, seamlessly navigating the musical’s instrumental segments. Latin rhythms connect this score to the dance, punctuated by an expanded percussion section. Both American and Puerto Rican, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances plant a New World persona on a European form. Sixty-five years after West Side Story opened, this music still thrills listeners.