Latin music: Salsa, merengue, and samba rhythms come to the concert hall
Latin music influences – including salsa, merengue, and samba – are seeping into the concert hall as directors seek to broaden the appeal.
From salsa to merengue, mambo, samba, and tango – not to mention the current reggaeton – Latin rhythms and melodies have been spicing up popular music for years. But now the infectious, downright hip-swinging, finger-snapping, and foot-stomping influences of folk and popular traditions from every corner of Central and South America are turning up in concert halls, played by symphony orchestras all over the United States. From Honolulu to Westfield, Fort Worth to Indianapolis, and Miami to Los Angeles, works with poetic titles such as "Los Caminos del Inca," "Dos Visions," and "Peregrinos" are being played by classically trained ensembles. These are orchestras whose programs have more often featured Beethoven, Brahms, and Bach than Chavez, Mauleón, and Ginastera. But with symphonies struggling to find new audiences as the ranks of traditional concertgoers thin, what began as a trickle is becoming a flood.Skip to next paragraph
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"The incorporation of Latin-based music into the classical world is long overdue. It represents one of the freshest and most promising trends on the music scene today," writes Carol Reynolds, music history professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, in an e-mail.
"Orchestras are tapping new audiences that are thirsty for the vibrant blending of Latin themes with traditional classical-based forms," she says, adding that classical music thrived when it told the ongoing story of Western culture, but if it ignores a new rising cultural narrative, it becomes a museum piece. "Arts organizations who recognize and incorporate Hispanic culture are both at the cutting edge and ensuring their own future," she says.
Perhaps nowhere is this aggressive push to usher the sounds of the entire hemisphere into the recital space more evident than in Los Angeles. This season's arrival of Venezuela's superstar conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, has ignited a love affair with tonalities from south of the US border. This desire to broaden the symphonic palette expresses what the young maestro calls "one American music," from Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego. "In our modern history we separate the music of North and South America," says Mr. Dudamel, but he adds, it's not true. "It is very important to have an America with no division, no South America, no North America but one America, one music, one life," he said at a press conference.
Beginning April 6, the Los Angeles Philharmonic hosts a month-long festival, "Americas and Americans," which will feature the folk-inspired "Cantata Criolla," and the theatrical passion play, "Pasión según San Marcos" ("The Passion According to St. Mark").
"Dudamel is an example of the next generation influencing American culture," says Eduardo Marturet, conductor of the Miami Symphony Orchestra. "This music is seductive," he says. "It is soulful and rhythmic, and audiences want to hear it."
This is in stark contrast to the response of most audiences to modern classical music throughout much of the past century. "Audiences hated atonal music, and orchestras didn't want to spend the time learning to play it," many dubbing it mere noise, he says. "And the musical establishment was arrogant."