Alt.Latino Takes On Classical Composers Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras teams up with NPR classical music maven Tom Huizenga to talk about composers from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Brazil, delighting host Linda Wertheimer.
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Alt.Latino Takes On Classical Composers

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Alt.Latino Takes On Classical Composers

Alt.Latino Takes On Classical Composers

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's time for another visit with our friends at Alt.Latino. Felix Contreras is here while Jasmine Garsd is away this week. Felix, this music sounds a little different from the stuff you normally bring us. What's this?

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Well, on a recent Alt.Latino, what we did was do a quick overview of the tradition of classical music in Latin America. And to do that, we called upon our colleague Tom Huizenga who writes NPR Music's Deceptive Cadence. And I brought him along this morning to talk about classical music as well.

WERTHEIMER: Welcome, Tom.

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda. Happy to be here.

CONTRERAS: This track that we're listening to now is composed by Mexican composer Carlos Chavez, was written about 1940. And it's a celebration of indigenous culture from Mexico, written for wind quartet and percussion sextet. It's called "Xochipilli." And it's named after the Aztec god of poetry, dance and music.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARLOS CHAVEZ SONG, "XOCHIPILLI" PERFORMED BY LA CAMERATA)

WERTHEIMER: Tom, normally we talk to Jasmine about now. And she sometimes has some very bumping dance music.

HUIZENGA: Well...

WERTHEIMER: What are you going to do?

HUIZENGA: ...How about a little bumping dance music from the 17th century?

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SANTIAGO DE MURCIA SONG, "CAMBES" PERFORMED BY HESPERION XXI)

HUIZENGA: I know, Linda, this is a family program. (Laughter) But I couldn't resist some exotic dances from the 17th century. This is music from Santiago de Murcia. He was born in Madrid around 1682. And he was a traveler like a lot of people in Spain at that point. He went to Mexico and soaked up some of the exotic dances from the new world that actually had already been brought back to Spain.

And this is his "Cumbes," which is a very risque dance, which we think was brought to Mexico from West African slaves. And observers have been talking about these cumbes from way back in 1626. But one guy, in 1776, wrote the dance is done with shaking and wiggle-wagging and swaying of the hips, all contrary, of course, to common decency. They fondle each other. They embrace arm-in-arm and belly-to-belly.

CONTRERAS: Escandalosos.

WERTHEIMER: Is there any relationship between what we call cumbia today, Felix?

CONTRERAS: You know, there's - it's hard to say. But one thing that is common is the very quick, almost two-step feel to it - the two-beat feel to it, which was common to cumbia because the dance cumbia was developed by West African slaves when their legs were shackled together. So they developed this music as a way to move while they were shackled.

HUIZENGA: And the music here is a performed by this group called Hesperion XXI led by Jordi Savall.

(SOUNDBITE OF SANTIAGO DE MURCIA SONG, "CAMBES" PERFORMED BY HESPERION XXI)

WERTHEIMER: So far, we've heard classical music from the early 20th century and the 17th century. Is classical music still a vital part of the Latin music landscape?

HUIZENGA: Oh, for sure. I mean, not only just performers, but composers and presenters. The famous Proms concert in London later this summer - part of that whole series, eight weeks of concerts, are going to be devoted to Latin American music.

And one of the most exciting Latin American composers today is Roberto Sierra. He teaches composition at Cornell, born in Puerto Rico. And his Symphony No. 3 he called "La Salsa." And that's where he incorporates some dance rhythms - the merengue from the Dominican Republic and the plena from Puerto Rico. And he takes aspects of these and works with them in a symphonic format.

(SOUNDBITE ROBERTO SIERRA SONG, "LA SALSA" PERFORMED BY THE PUERTO RICO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA)

HUIZENGA: And this is a new album by the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. And the conductor is Maximiano Valdes.

WERTHEIMER: Felix, I understand that one of your all-time favorite songs is an aria from a Brazilian composer who was fascinated by the musical styles of Johann Sebastian Bach.

CONTRERAS: Go figure, right?

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: The music geek in me just comes out. Years ago, I heard this composition by Heitor Villa-Lobos who is from Brazil. And between 1930 and 1945, he composed these nine suites as an exercise in adapting European musical concepts to Brazilian music. And he called them "Bachianas Brasileiras" in honor of Bach. And this is Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, the aria, featuring Spanish vocalist Victoria de los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS SONG, "BACHIANAS BRASILEIRAS NO. 5")

VICTORIA DE LOS ANGELES: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: That's piercing.

CONTRERAS: See? Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: But beautiful.

CONTRERAS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS SONG, "BACHIANAS BRASILEIRAS NO. 5")

DE LOS ANGELES: (Singing in foreign language).

CONTRERAS: We had a lot of fun putting this show together on the Alt.Latino podcast. And I was surprised at the variety of styles and - even going back to the 17th century.

WERTHEIMER: Tom Huizenga, NPR's classical music producer and Felix Contreras from the Alt.Latino podcast. Thank you both very much for coming in.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.

HUIZENGA: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS SONG, "BACHIANAS BRASILEIRAS NO. 5")

DE LOS ANGELES: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. BJ Leiderman wrote our theme. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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