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Rio de Janeiro – arr. Marcos Liete (1953 – 2002)
Azulão – arr. Roberto Ricardo Duarte (b. 1941)

Romancero gitano, Op. 152 – Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968)

  1. Baladilla de los tres ríos
  2. La guitarra
  3. Puñal
  4. Procesión
  5. Memento
  6. Baile
  7. Crótalo

Salmo 150 – Ernani Aguiar (b. 1950)


Solo performance by Brad Richter:
Elation – Brad Richter (b. 1969)
Starry Night – Brad Richter

Lamentaciones de Jeremias Propheta – Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

  1. O vos omnes quie transitis er viam
  2. Ego vir videns paupertatem meam

Noche oscura del alma – Carlos Surinach (1915-1997)

Mata del anima sola – Antonio Estevez (1916-1988)

Verano porteño – Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), arr. Oscar Escalada
Invierno porteña – Astor Piazzolla, arr. Oscar Escalada

Libertango (encore) – Astor Piazzolla, arr. Oscar Escalada


An upbeat samba, “Rio de Janeiro” is a celebration of all things Brazilian. The prominent choral director and arranger Marcos Leite (1953-2002) incorporated the harmonic and rhythmic language of bossa nova and Brazilian pop into this choral arrangement, placing the signature syncopated rhythms—playfully called the “stammering guitar” in instrumental bossa novas—in the men’s voices. The upper voices weave a nostalgic homage to the Brazilian homeland, with all parts coming together to enjoin, “pluck the strings of your guitars!”

“Azulão,” a bittersweet ballad, is beloved in Brazil as a folk or children’s song. It was actually penned by composer Jaime Ovalle (1894-1955), a Brazilian finance minister who was self-taught in music. The simple text is one of tender yearning: spurned by a distant lover, the poet sends a bluebird as a messenger of his longing.

The Romancero gitano, Op. 152 of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) is a masterwork of the repertory for chorus and guitar. Born and trained in Italy, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was of Sephardic Jewish heritage, and his ancestors’ migration from Spain to Tuscany in the fifteenth century contributed to his close affinity for Spanish music and culture. Prolific across genres, Castelnuovo-Tedesco is best known for his guitar works, which resulted from a close artistic partnership with the virtuoso guitarist Andrés Segovia.

The Romancero gitano is a musical snapshot of flamenco culture in Andalucía, a region in southern Spain. Although the precise origins of flamenco music are unclear, scholars agree that the style is an amalgam of Arabic, Jewish, near Eastern, and even Flemish influences, all of which came together to define the music of Spain’s Gypsy population. Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) was fascinated by the poetic and dance forms of flamenco, and wrote what would become the texts of the Romancero gitano in the style of the cante jondo, or “deep song,” of the Andalusian Gypsies.

The “Baladilla de los tres ríos” introduces the cante jondo style: prominent guitar accompaniment, an alternation between duple and triple meter, and deeply felt, melismatic vocal refrains. Castelnuovo-Tedesco incorporates distinctively Spanish Phrygian melodic formulas and alternations of major and minor mode into his modern harmonic language, and instructs the guitarist to play “fluent – like rushing waters,” to depict the three rivers of Granada described in the text.

In “La guitarra,” García Lorca relates the guitar’s monotonous lamentations to the desolation of the Spanish landscape. The harmonically rich vocal writing contrasts with the guitar accompaniment, which features rapid repeated notes and a persistent descending bassline. The dolce guitar prelude and postlude pose a wrenching contrast to the bleak text.

“Puñal” is a soleá, a short poem on heartbreak or death. The guitar illustrates the stabbing of love’s dagger with rhythmic, rapid-fire rasgueado strokes, and the voices respond with pointed, imitative entrances and dissonant leaps.

The movement entitled “Procesión” is a collection of three short saetas, songs meant to accompany Andalusian religious parades during Holy Week. Over a repeated pedal tone that depicts the steady procession of worshippers, García Lorca’s text likens the pointed hats of the religious brotherhoods to the stuff of children’s books: unicorns, Merlin, and the sword of Roland. Next, the guitar assumes a rolling, walking tempo as the streets turn to rivers of the faithful carrying statues of the Virgin Mary. Finally, in a march tempo, the voices announce the arrival of Christ to the parched lands of Spain.

Memento” portends García Lorca’s untimely death at the hands of Spanish nationalist forces. The poet asks to be buried with his guitar in the sandy Spanish soil, a resigned plea that Castelnuovo-Tedesco sets to the languid rhythms of a stylized tango. Above the constantly descending guitar line, the women’s voices soar in thirds, a typical sonority of the deeply emotional cante jondo style.

A segudilla dance featuring lively triplets in the guitar, “Baile” showcases the women’s voices as percussive castanets. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s alternation of major and minor modes and incorporation of dissonant harmonies reflects the ambiguity of the Carmen figure, who bears a snake on her head symbolizing death.

“Crótalo” is a further treatment of the castanet theme. Here used onomatopoetically, the word “crótalo” means “rattle” or “rattlesnake,” and García Lorca invites comparison between the percussive instrument and a number of creepy crawlers. Castelnuovo-Tedesco complements this imagery with lively dotted rhythms, guitar percussion effects, and winding chromatic melodies, bringing the Romancero to a rousing close.

A member of the Brazilian Academy of Music, an esteemed composers’ organization founded by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Ernani Aguiar composes in both the choral and instrumental genres. Currently a professor of music at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Aguiar specializes in the music of colonial eighteenth-century Brazil. His popular setting of Salmo 150 for choir embodies the praise of God with an exhilarating tempo and lightning-fast articulations.

Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) wrote the Lamentaciones de Jeremias Propheta in 1946, a time in which he had been blacklisted for protesting against the ruling Perón government. Written in exile in the United States, the Lamentaciones are Ginastera’s only non-commissioned choral work, indicating that they were meant as a personal and private expression of grief. The texts come from the biblical Book of Lamentations, the Prophet Jeremiah’s response to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.

Ginastera employs dissonant harmonies based on stacked intervals of a fourth to depict the monumental and wrathful presence of God. Contrastingly, he sets Jeremiah’s personal feelings of suffering in the more traditional language of minor chords. Movement 1, “O vos omnes,” opens with a wailing cry, and continues in a high vocal range to convey an outpouring of stress and grief. Imitative sections depict legions of voices raised in suffering, and shouts of “mors,” or death, decry the mass destruction of the holy city. Movement 2, “Ego vir videns,” is a mournful, chant-like meditation on the humility of the human condition.

Carlos Surinach, or Suriñach (1915-1997), studied composition both in his native Barcelona, as well as in Germany, where he heard lectures by Richard Strauss. He migrated to the United States in 1951, after which he became a celebrated ballet composer for noted organizations such as the Martha Graham Ballet Company and the Joffrey Company. His dramatic style is apparent in his set of four Canciones del alma, or Songs of the Soul, on poems by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591). “Noche oscura del alma” tells the riveting story of St. John’s escape from religious imprisonment. After the tense music of the initial escape, Surinach uses a repeating pitch pattern in the male voices to establish a sense of mystery and danger. Just as John becomes united with God at his darkest hour, it becomes apparent that the repeating pitch pattern—though it passes through dissonance—always resolves to consonance, a musical depiction of God’s guiding light. Phrygian and octatonic scales in the prominent melody lines give the piece a distinctively Spanish and sometimes otherworldly feel.

“Mata del ánima sola” is a stylization of the literature and music of the Venezuelan high plains, or llanura. The text, by Venezuelan politician and poet Alberto Torrealba, is a meditative vignette from the travels of Cantaclaro—Chanticleer—a mythic Venezuelan balladeer. Venezuelan composer and oboist Antonio Estévez (1916-1988) incorporates regional traditions in the free solo verses and joropo dance rhythms of “Mata”; listen also for the folk instrumentation. The alto and tenor voices represent the cuadro, or small guitar; the sopranos, the plucking of the harp; and the basses, a guitar bassline.

The tangos of Argentina’s Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) were as famous for breaking boundaries in their early days as they are for defining tango in the present. Piazzolla—who studied with Ginastera and the legendary French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger—is credited with inventing the nuevo tango, a reimagining of the dance style which incorporates jazz harmonies, heavy dissonance, counterpoint, and expanded instrumentation. Oscar Escalada’s choral arrangements of Piazzolla’s works mimic the composer’s preferred combo: electric guitar, violin, piano, bass or cello, and bandoneón, a small accordion that was Piazzolla’s personal specialty.

Estaciones porteñas is a collection of pieces depicting Buenos Aires in each of the four seasons. Although not originally conceived as a suite, Piazzolla and his Quinteto Tango Nuevo sometimes performed them together, and the pieces are an affectionate homage to the many faces of Piazzolla’s home city. The Phoenix Chorale will be performing two of the four porteñas. Verano, Summer, suggests the bustle of hot days and the languor of warm nights. Melting, laid back slides in the voices mimic glissandi in the original string instruments. Invierno, or Winter, opens with a theme both brooding and dark, which then gives way to signs of life. The most eclectic of the Estaciones, Invierno features an improvisatory jazz solo for piano, as well as a coda reminiscent of a classical canon.

One of Piazzolla’s most famous pieces, Libertango is an exemplar of the nuevo tango style. The chromatic flair and sensuality of the main melodic theme is punctuated by the tresillo 3+3+2 rhythms of the chordal accompaniment; lyrical violin and bandoneón solos in the upper voices soar above. The result is an iconic and joyous celebration of musical freedom.

© Program notes by Dr. Kerry Ginger; edited by Ryan Downey.