A Symphonic Cinco de Mayo at HSU
The Humboldt Symphony celebrates Cinco de Mayo with a popular piece by a contemporary Mexican composer and other Latin and Latin influenced orchestral works, on Friday night May 7 and Sunday afternoon May 9 at Fulkerson Recital Hall. This annual spring concert also features trumpeter Branden Lewis, the student winner of this year’s Concerto Aria competition.
“Danzón No. 2 by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez is the highlight of our program,” said Humboldt Symphony conductor Paul Cummings. “It has the Mexican culture written all over it, in terms of themes, rhythms, instrumentation and the overall style of the music.”
This piece became famous recently when conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela played it in its concerts around the world, including in the U.S. “It became wildly popular,” Cummings said, “and one of Dudamel’s signature pieces.” Dudamel is now music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Three other works on the Symphony program are notable not only for their Latin connection, but as orchestral works that began as compositions for piano.
French composer Emmanuel Chabrier wrote Habanera, his homage to the Spain he knew from his travels, originally for piano in 1885, and transcribed it for orchestra three years later. The Russian-born, American modernist master Igor Stravinsky (who knew and admired Chabrier’s work) composed Tango for piano in 1941, and adapted it for orchestra in 1953. Audiences at this concert can judge the differences for themselves, because pianist Emily Loeffler will play the piano version before the Symphony plays the orchestral version.
The third such piece is Souvenir de Porto Rico by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, adapted for orchestra by Thor Johnson. “Gottschalk was a 19th century American composer, and we don’t have many of those,” Cummings said, “at least whose music is still being performed.” Born in New Orleans and steeped in the music of that city, Gottschalk incorporated rhythms and styles that later came to be associated with jazz and ragtime. “He wrote very syncopated melodies—he was very much a pioneer of styles that are uniquely American.”
Gottschalk lived for a time in Puerto Rico and traveled widely in the Caribbean. “This piece is his reminiscence,” Cummings said, “and these syncopated rhythms and wide use of percussion have a definite Latin flavor.”
Not part of the Cinco de Mayo theme but definitely part of the spring concert event, the winner of this year’s HSU Concerto Aria competition, trumpeter Branden Lewis, plays the first movement of the Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra by 20th century French composer Henri Tomasi. “Though there’s a fairly equal dialogue between the soloist and the ensemble,” Cummings said, “this is certainly a virtuoso piece for the trumpet.”
In the Concerto Aria competition, held in November, students select and play a piece with piano accompaniment that they propose to perform with orchestra or band. A panel of judges consisting of Music Department faculty and local professionals chose Branden Lewis for this year’s award.
The Humboldt Symphony spring concert is performed twice: on Friday night, May 7 at 8 pm, and on the following Sunday afternoon, May 9, at 3 pm. Both take place in the Fulkerson Recital Hall on the HSU campus in Arcata. Tickets are $7 general, $3 students/seniors, from the HSU Ticket Office (826-3928) or at the door. Free to HSU students with ID. Conducted by Paul Cummings, produced by HSU Music Department.
Media: TriCity Weekly, Humboldt State Now, Humboldt Beacon, Arcata Eye