Canciones de Jara: Recalling the Soul of an Activist

Though there appears to be a tension between the song short form -simple, with alternating verses and choruses- and the large symphonic form developed during the classical era in Europe, Lorenz uses Canciones de Jara to resolve some of those contradictions and explore the deeper meanings of Jara’s songs. ‘That’s what the symphonic context allows,’ he says. 

Courier Post’s Dave Allen previewing the East Coast premiere of Lorenz’s Canciones de Jara with Roberto Díaz and Symphony in C, conducted by Rossen Milanov.

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NEW RELEASE: Compass Points by The Verdehr Trio

Compass Points. The Verdehr Trio: Walter Verdehr, violin; Elsa Verdehr, clarinet; Siliva Roederer, piano.  Included in Vol. 19 of The Verdehr Trio series  “The Making of a Medium.” Crystal Records, US, 2011

NEW RELEASE: El Muro by the North Texas Wind Symphony

El Muro. University of North Texas Wind Symphony; Eugene Corporon, conductor. Included in a CD titled “Revelations” containing other works by Higdon, Grantham, and Reed. GIA Publications, US, 2011.

El Muro (The Wall) for wind symphony

El Muro. University of Florida Wind Symphony; David Waybright, conductor.  Along with works by Reed and Hindemith. Mark Masters Records, US, 2010

Music and Sustainable Development in Cuba

When one thinks of Cuba, one thinks of three things: tobacco, revolution, and music.  However, of these three emblems, music best defines the identity of the country.  Since more than a century and a half, music has allowed Cubans to remain attached to the past while at the same time respond to influences and demands from the present.  Throughout the dramatic history of Cuba —which includes slavery, independence from Spain, U.S. interventions, and a socialist-communist revolution among others—, music has always been there for Cubans to not only record events but to also adapt to them.  During a five-week study abroad program offered by Michigan State University in conjunction with Cuba’s Universidad de La Habana and Colegio San Gerónimo, Ricardo Lorenz will teach courses in Havana that will explore Cuban music as it reflects upon some of the country’s major historical events.

Contrasts between the old and the new Cuba are everywhere in Havana

Under the new federal guidelines that make it legal for U.S. citizens affiliated to educational institutions to visit Cuba, Lorenz will travel to the Island with MSU students and with his colleague Rene Hinojosa (College of Social Sciences), who is a veteran of the study abroad programs in Latin American and who has taught in Cuba on several occasions before. Lorenz will pay particular attention to how today, in the city of Havana, music is visibly contributing to stir the country towards a new era, an era in which the old revolutionary culture seems to be merging with a new individual entrepreneurship mindset. After coming back from a site visit to the city of Havana, Lorenz explained that he was most struck by “how humanity exults in Havana; how the energy, talent, and spirit of the Cubans greatly overwhelm the infrastructure of the city and the commodities available.”  While in Havana, Hinojosa and Lorenz met with two of the most distinguished Cuban musicians:  multi-instrumentalist Bobby Carcasses, founder of the Havana Jazz Festival, and

With López Gavilán and Dr. Mariana García at Havana's García Lorca Theater

composer and President of Cuba’s musicians union Guido López Gavilán, whom they met at a especial performance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony by the Harvard-Ratcliff Orchestra joined by Cuban soloists and choruses.  Lorenz is planning on having both Carcasses and López Gavilán offer guest lecture-presentations for the MSU students during the four-week study abroad program to take place in Cuba between May 7 and June 10, 2012.

Rumba Sinfónica premieres in the Middle East and South America


Rumba Sinfónica, a thirty-minute concerto of sorts for Latin band and symphony orchestra, was the result of a close collaboration between composer Ricardo Lorenz and pianist/arranger Jorge Gómez.   Since its premiere

Jerusalem's Henry Crown Concert Hall

with the Minnesota Orchestra in the fall of 2007, Rumba Sinfónica has been performed two dozen times by Jorge Gómez’s band Tiempo Libre and different professional, college, and youth orchestras across the U.S. and Canada.   For the 2010-2011 season, Rumba Sinfónica traveled over the Atlantic Ocean and over the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas to receive premieres in Israel and Venezuela.   On November 3, 2011, two-time Grammy nominated Tiempo Libre performed the work with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra at this city’s world-renown Henry Crown Concert Hall.  In what Lorenz describes as “a new phase in the life of the work,” Rumba Sinfónica was performed for the first time by a band other than Tiempo Libre this past June 2011 in Venezuela.  A group made up of some of the best musician from the country’s salsa scene performed the work with the Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Caracas (OSMC) conducted by Rodolfo Saglimbeni.  The high caliber pick up band was lead by veteran timbal player Frank Márquez and included Guajeo’s singer Edgar “Dolor” Quijada, pianist José Martínez, and trumpet player Marino Zambrano, among others.  

Backstage after the Caracas premiere of Rumba Sinfónica with OSMC conductor Rodolfo Saglimbeni and members of the salsa band


“I wanted Jorge Gómez, who was instrumental in this collaboration, to be present and performing on stage at the South American premiere of Rumba Sinfónica,” said Lorenz, who went on to explain that the current political and economic climate of the country made it impossible to bring Cuban-born Gómez to Venezuela for this occasion.  After the Caracas’ premiere, however, Lorenz felt that it was a source of great pride to experience the work performed with such ease by a homegrown ensemble.   “These fantastic Venezuelan musicians were totally committed to the project and seemed to understand its musical significance as though they were co-owners,” said Lorenz, asserting that it made him confirm what he has always believed.  As he put it, “musically speaking, Cuba and Venezuela are almost like siblings.”   Perhaps this is one of the reasons that motivated OSMC Musical Director Rodolfo Saglimbeni to include Rumba Sinfónica in several upcoming programs of their 2011-2012 season.

Second Congress of Musical Creation in San Juan, Puerto Rico


Lorenz with faculty and students of the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico. Composer and Congress organizer Alfonso Fuentes appears fourth from right.


As a guest composer of the 2nd Congress of Musical Creation hosted by the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico in San Juan, Ricardo Lorenz attended the Caribbean premiere of his work Merengue en el Espejo and delivered a two-part lecture presentation on the topic of finding appropriate spaces for optimal musical creation. The Conservatory of Music’s composition faculty Alfonso Fuentes organized the multidisciplinary event that gathered composers and performers as well as visual artists, authors, musicologists, and folklorists during the dates of February 10-13, 2011.   Founded by the famous cellist Pablo Casals, the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico celebrated its fiftieth birthday in 2009 with the opening of a state-of-the-art, newly renovated 1882 building in the Miramar neighborhood of San Juan.   Lorenz’s flute duet Merengue en el Espejo was performed on the Congress’s closing concert by Josue Casillas and Jonatan Figueroa,

A session of tambores de fundamento offered at the 2nd Congress of Musical Creation

principal and assistant principal flutists of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra.  Chamber works by Puerto Ricans Alfonso Fuentes and Roberto Sierra, Cuban Guido López Gavilán, and Venezuelan Efrain Amaya where also performed on the final concert.  Other artists and scholars who offered lectures and presentations during the four days of the Congress were composer Efrain Amaya, dancer Awilda Sterling, musicologist Cristobal Díaz Ayala, percussionist Andrew Lázaro, sculptor Melquíadez Rosario, and Afro Cuban drummer José Ramírez.

2011-2012 SEASON


Jaromiluna. Ji Hyun Kim, violin; Deidreanna Potter, harp; Calvary Baptist Church, Charlotte, Michigan


Rumba Sinfónica.  Frank Marquez y Los Rumberos Sinfónicos; Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Caracas; Rodolfo Saglimbeni, cond.; Paseo Los Próceres, Caracas, Venezuela


Canciones de Jara: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (East Coast premiere).  Roberto Díaz, viola;  Symphony in C; Rossen Milonov, cond; Rutgers-Camden Center for Performing Arts, New Jersey


Pataruco: Concerto for Maracas and Orchestra.  V International Percussion Encounter. Manuel Rangel, soloist; Conservatory of Tatuí Symphony Orchestra; João Mauricio Galindo, cond; São Paulo, Brazil


Merengue en el Espejo.  Patricia Cardona & Rianna Cohen, flutes.  Bell Hall, University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, Eugene, Oregon


Not my Lover  (PREMIERE). Steven Kandow, trombone; Musique 21 string trio.  Snyder Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan


The Worst [Empanadas] in London (PREMIERE). Anthony de Mare, piano.  Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano; Music in the Loft, Chicago, Illinois  POSTPONED


The Worst [Empanadas] in London. Anthony de Mare, piano.  Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano; Hudson Opera House, New York


The Worst [Empanadas] in London. Anthony de Mare, piano.  Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano; “Van Cliburn at the Modern” concert series, Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas


Jaromiluna.  Andrew McCann, violin; Benjamin Melsky, harp.  Rooms Performance Space, Chicago, Illinois


Monkey to the Sky. Matthew White, euphonium; Royal Northern College of Music Wind Ensemble; Paul Goodey, cond; Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, United Kingdom


Monkey to the Sky. Gail Robertson, euphonium. Musique 21 Ensemble; Kevin Sedatole, cond; Music Auditorium, East Lansing, Michigan


The Worst [Empanadas] in London (NEW YORK CITY PREMIERE). Anthony de Mare, piano.  Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano, including panel discussion and live interview of Stephen Sondheim by Mark Horowitz. Symphony Space, NYC, New York


Cacerola Soul (PREMIERE).  The Iberian and Latin American Music Society (ILAMS) Chamber Ensemble; Maite Aguirre, cond.  Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London, U.K.


Monkey to the Sky.  Robert Benton, euphonium; Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble; Tim Weiss, cond; Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio


Bachangó.  Tamara Lorenzo Gabeiras, piano; University of Westminster, Portland Hall; London, UK


Compass Points. Verdehr Trio. Cobb Great Hall Wharton Center.  East Lansing, Michigan


Rochela (Raw Cello) for nine violoncelli.  National Summer Cello Institute Ensemble; Germán Marcano, cd.  Mills Hall, University of Wisconsin Madison School of Music, Madison, Wisconsin


Monkey to the Sky.  Robert Benton, euphonium; Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant, cond; International Tuba & Euphonium Congress, Brucknerhauz, Linz, Austria.


Rochela (Raw Cello).  Cello Ensemble of the 9th Annual Dali Quartet Chamber Music Camp & Festival; Ricardo Lorenz, cond.  North Wales, Pennsylvania.


Habanera Science (PREMIERE).  Pre-College/College Orchestra of the 9th Annual Dali Quartet Chamber Music Camp & Festival; Eddie Marcano, cond.  Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

Lorenz and Díaz talk about their recent viola concerto collaboration

Lorenz and Díaz

Read about Lorenz’s Canciones de Jara on the Discovery Channel’s Blog.

Read more about the premiere on the Michigan State News website.

Listen to Ricardo Lorenz talk about Canciones de Jara with Spartan Podcast host Russ White.

Listen to violist Roberto Díaz and conductor Leon Gregorian talk about the premiere of Canciones de Jara on NPR affiliate WKAR  90.5FM

Violist Roberto Díaz premieres Canciones de Jara

On October 22, 2010 Violist Roberto Díaz premiered Ricardo Lorenz’s Canciones de Jara: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra with the Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Leon Gregorian at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts.   After consecutive tenures as Principal Violist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra, Roberto Díaz currently heads the Curtis Institute of Music and performs extensively as a soloist worldwide.

Canciones de Jara bridges the old concerto model and the more recent genre of the so-called protest song. Lorenz’s intention was to merge the extraordinarily expressive range of violists Roberto Díaz and the lyrical, as well as narrative, content found in the songs by Chilean singer/songwriter Victor Jara (1932-1973). Without resorting to direct referencing (except for the Epilogue), the solo part conveys a wide range of moods embedded in Jara’s lyrics, melodies, and chord progressions.  It is almost as thought the viola impersonates the singer/songwriter as he navigates through the dramatic socio-political events that fueled his songs.   Sometimes with countertenor-like sweetness and other times with frightening baritone depth, Canciones de Jara captures widely contrasting emotions, whether it is the sad beauty of I Remember Amanda, the melodramatic condemnation present in Questions on behalf of Puerto Montt, the prophetic optimism of I Will Remain Here, or the elegiac stoicism of Song of the Miner.

Ricardo Lorenz on the genesis of Canciones de Jara: Concerto for viola and orchestra

I heard the songs of Victor Jara for the first time when I was twelve.  They were playing on my sister’s turntable along with songs by household names like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.  I remember vividly Jara’s Te Recuerdo Amanda (I Remember Amanda) or his rendition of Viglieti’s A Desalambrar (Cut the Bard Wire).  Above all else, it was his voice and dramatic delivery style that made a lasting impression on me.  This was in 1973, during the months following the military coup that swept Chile and sank the country into one of the most repressive regimes of the 20th century.  Like my sister and I in Venezuela, many around the world followed in disbelieve the unfolding of this horrible period.  Victor Jara was among the many hundreds of Chileans murdered by the military junta during the onset of the repression.  But unlike many families of these victims who were told that their loved ones had simply disappeared (and were never seen or heard of again), Victor Jara’s widow was able to burry her husband.  It was his popularity that made it impossible for a clerk working at the makeshift morgue not to recognize him even after his handsome features, often watched on TV, were badly disfigured. Sadly, it was this same popularity that made it desirable for the military regime to make a macabre example of Victor Jara in order to instill fear upon any one voicing opposition.

Roberto Díaz working on the Epilogue of Canciones de Jara with guitarist Victor Márquez

Victor Jara was big already before his tragic death, both as a singer/songwriter of socially and politically driven songs as well as a theatre director with many international appearances.  But the fact that he became one of the first casualties of Chile’s military regime made Jara the quintessential protest singer.  A false rumor about his hands being amputated in front of a crowd after being forced to play his guitar spread quickly across the Globe, further elevating his status to that of a folk hero.

While living in Chicago in the late 1990s, I became better acquainted with the music of Victor Jara after arranging several of his songs for Macondo Stew, a Latin-fusion band I had with Chilean singer Claudia Pérez.  It was towards the end of my time with Macondo Stew that Roberto Díaz, then principal violist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, asked me to compose a concerto for him. After familiarizing myself with the intense and uniquely nuanced sound violist Roberto Díaz delivers, and with Jara’s songs fresh in my head at that time, I knew I had found a meaningful match in a new concerto for viola inspired by Victor Jara’s songs.  An invitation by MSU Symphony Director Leon Gregorian; a Grant from Michigan State University’s Office of the Vice-President for Research; and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship gave me the incentive and allowed me to compose the work.

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