Bloomington Symphony Orchestra collaborates with IU’s Latin American Music Center

Post by IU Newsroom intern Laura Ellsworth:

The Bloomington Symphony Orchestra will perform a concert, presented in collaboration with Indiana University’s Latin American Music Center, at 7:30 p.m. March 4 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

The entire Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

The Bloomington Symphony Orchestra at a previous concert. Photo courtesy of Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

The concert, titled “Scene Change: Untold Musical Stories from Latin America,” will feature selections from the Latin American Music Center library. The performance will include the world premiere of a piece titled “Ash Wednesday” by Chilean composer Juan Orrego-Salas, the founder of the Latin American Music Center.

“Pizza – lovely, delicious pizza – played a role in the genesis of this collaboration,” said Donna Lafferty, executive director of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

The symphony committee responsible for selecting the music to perform during the year frequents Mother Bear’s Pizza for its meetings. Lafferty said the symphony’s most successful events often involve collaboration, so the idea proposed at one of these meetings by committee member Christine Wisch to collaborate with IU’s Latin American Music Center was well received.

Wisch – a Ph.D. candidate in musicology at the Jacobs School of Music, staff member at the Latin American Music Center and violinist in the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra – was well aware of the music the center offered when Lafferty suggested finding a collaboration partner for the next season.

“I thought this collaboration would offer the Latin American Music Center a chance to highlight some of its rare holdings, while also providing orchestra musicians and audience members the chance to discover some really great music and composers,” Wisch said. “I think it’s important to introduce this music to musicians and audiences alike to show how rich and diverse this literature really is.”

Javier León, director of the Latin American Music Center, has been looking for opportunities to broadly promote Latin American music repertoires.

“One of the main motivations for this partnership was to bring audiences a much broader and diverse sense of what Latin American music can be,” León said. “Our partnership has given us an opportunity to champion important and musically diverse voices from Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru – voices that have not been heard enough within the art music world.”

Broadening cultural perspectives through music is a particular goal of Bloomington Symphony Orchestra artistic director Alejandro Gomez Guillén, who has a personal connection to some of the music included in the concert.

Guillén grew up in Bogota, Colombia, surrounded by music, and he often listened to his grandfather’s family choir rehearse. In November, he called his mother to tell her that he had attended a concert in Bloomington and Juan Orrego-Salas was in the audience. Orrego-Salas composed one of their favorite pieces, “Romance Segundo.”

Alejandro Gómez Guillén conducts at a previous concert.

Alejandro Gómez Guillén, artistic director of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, conducts at a previous concert. Photo courtesy of Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

“Here I was, in the same room as this great man and brilliant composer, so of course I told my mother and she just started crying on the phone,” Guillén said.

The music planned for the concert spans the 20th century, from 1904 to 1999, and is geared toward South America. Two of the included composers are still living, including Orrego-Salas, who is scheduled to be in attendance.

“Orrego-Salas is a known figure in music. It’s quite an honor to have him attend,” Guillén said.

“I’ve fallen in love with all of these pieces while studying them,” he added. “I have a great sense of responsibility in doing it well. The audience deserves the best from any concert, but it would be hypocritical to shy away from a huge part of my identity.”

Additionally, Guillén wants to challenge the audience to look past stereotypes of Latin American music to the rich symphonic pieces that are also a part of Latin America’s music culture. He also believes that symphonic music should be inclusive of a wide audience.

“We need to think more like pop artists and recognize their accessibility,” Guillén said.

He added that a repertoire of Latin American music that deviates from the expected is a risk, since many titles and composers are not recognizable, but Bloomington’s mix of cultures translates into a community open to learning more about cultures with which they are unfamiliar.

The Bloomington Symphony Orchestra makes many of its performances educationally rich and conversational to give context to the music performed. Guillén said that patrons should “come as they are,” adding that the Buskirk-Chumley Theater offers popcorn.

Tickets for the concert are available via the Buskirk-Chumley website and in person at the box office. More about the music included in the repertoire for “Scene Change,” including links to other recordings of some of the music, is available on the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra’s website. Details about other upcoming performances are also available online.

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