In recognition of the valuable contributions made by individuals with Spanish roots, as well as those hailing from Spanish-speaking nations in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, National Hispanic American Heritage Month is celebrated each year starting on September 15th. Additionally, several Latin American countries observe their independence anniversaries during this time. In this article, I’ll be highlighting five pieces of music composed by four contemporary Latin American composers.
Danzas Latinoamericanas (2017) by José Elizondo (b.1972)
Mexican-born José Elizondo is an award-winning composer whose works are often inspired by Latin American folk music. His works have been widely performed by more than 170 international orchestras and internationally acclaimed performers such as Yo-Yo Ma, Guy Johnston, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason.
In addition to his musical background, Elizondo is also an electrical engineer who earned a degree in Humanities, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Danzas Latinoamericanas was commissioned by and dedicated to Mexican cellist Carlos Prieto. In 3 movements, each movement is inspired by dances from Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.
The first movement is Otoño en Buenos Aires, a passionate tango and one of his most frequently performed works. It pays tribute to both Astor Piazzolla and Carlos Gardel.
‘Otoño en Buenos Aires’ by José Elizondo, performed by Sheku Kanneh-Mason & Ashok Klouda
Pan de Azúcar, the second movement, is named after the famous mountain in Rio de Janeiro. This composition draws inspiration from the enchanting rhythms of Brazilian bossa nova, showcasing the musical styles of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Heitor Villa-Lobos. Its melodies evoke both a sense of wistfulness and tranquility, imbuing the listener with a feeling of serene contentment.
“Pan de Azúcar” from Danzas Latinamericanos, by José L. Elizondo
The last movement, Atardecer Tapatío, is a tribute to the composer’s homeland. Inspired by Mexican jarabe folk-dance music and the sound of “mariachi” bands, The music exudes a carefree, celebratory vibe that is vibrant and lively. Due to its popularity, Danzas Latinoamericanas is arranged for different instrumentations, including a version for piano duet:
“Atardecer Tapatío” from Danzas Latinoamericanas by José Elizondo. 4-hand piano version
25 retintines (2018) by Canela Palacios (b.1979)
Canela Palacios (1979) is an active Bolivian female composer and performer. Most of her works are written for chamber, vocal, and multimedia and many of them are awarded and have been performed in the Americas and Europe.
Much of her music is experimental, including 25 retintines. It was written in 2018 for a guitar quartet. The work received Primer Premio at the Festival Mujeres en la Música Nueva in Bogotá in 2019.
In addition to her composition, she is a founder and co-founder of several projects in Bolivia, including La Casa Taller Collective. It was founded in 2011 and its mission is to promote musical and sound creation. Based in La Paz, this non-profit organization has carried out concerts, interdisciplinary events, and workshops to educate, preserve, and introduce traditional and contemporary Bolivian and Latin American music.
Violin Concerto (2010) and Me Gritaron Negra (2019) by Sadiel Cuentas (b.1973)
Sadiel Cuentas is a Peruvian well-known composer whose works include chamber, symphonic, scenic, and electronic works. Most of his works are based on some Peruvian themes or related to the current politics and news in Peru. For example, his Violin Concerto was commissioned by violinist Carlos Johnson in 2010. It is dedicated to all the victims of the War on Terror in Peru which killed almost 70,000 people between 1980 and 2000.
Concierto para Violín y Orquesta, de Sadiel Cuentas. Carlos Johnson, Violín
Another work, Me Gritaron Negra is the first piece from Dos paráfrasis (2019) for mixed chorus and orchestra. In the work, Cuentas incorporated the poem with the same title written by Victoria Santa Cruz in 1978. Cruz is an Afro-Peruvian composer, activist, and choreographer whose works, including Me Gritaron Negra, attempt to reclaim and reconstruct forgotten black experiences in Peru.
Me Gritaron Negra, de Victoria Santa Cruz. Paráfrasis de Sadiel Cuentas
Cuentas is a professor at the Peruvian University of Applied Sciences and holds a position at the Ministry of Education of Peru.
Bullanguera by Sonia Possetti (b.1973)
Sonia Possetti is an Argentine composer and pianist whose composition represents the “Music of Buenos Aires” today. Her compositional style often reflects her educational upbringing which involves the study of classical, jazz, and Argentine tango, and folk music. Since 1996, Possetti has often teamed up with violinist Damián Bolotin. Together they have performed as a duo and a sextet with four other members: Nicolás Enrich- (bandoneon), Pablo Fenoglio (trombone), Gonzalo Pérez Terranova (vibes and percussion), and Adriana González (double bass).
Bullanguera has been arranged into a duo (piano and violin) version and an orchestral version. The performance in this video was carried out by the orchestra from the Fundación Sistema de Orquestas Infantiles y Juveniles de Argentina, a non-profit organization that creates programs for social transformation. They also promote a network of orchestras and choirs as tools for educating citizens and promoting human development.
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