A Cappella en Español

Winter 2015

Program Notes

PROGRAM: A Cappella en Español (February 2015)

Salseo   Oscar Galián
Bésame Mucho   Consuelo Velázquez, arr. José Galván
Naranjitay   Trad. Bolivian, arr. Luis Graff
Las Bienaventuranzas (The Beatitudes)   Jorge Córdoba Valencia
Prende la vela   Lucho Bermudez, arr. Alberto Carbonell
Asturiana from “7 Canciones Populares”

Choreography: Dame Libby Komaiko, Founder and Artistic Director of the Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater

Manuel de Falla, arr. Jonathan Miller
Triste estaba el Rey David   Joaquín Rodrigo
Jota from “7 Canciones Populares” Choreography: Dame Libby Komaiko Manuel de Falla, arr. Jonathan Miller
Las Mañanitas   Trad. Mexican, arr. Ramón Noble
Mata del ánima sola (Tree of the lonely soul)   Antonio Estévez
Hoy recuerdo (“Today I remember” -- Dirge of my mother) world premiere Jean Angelus Pichardo
Chan Chan   Francisco Repilado, arr. Jorge A. Martínez
La Bamba   Trad. Mexican, arr. Deke Sharon
Te quiero   Alberto Favero, arr. Liliana Cangiano
Rosa María (flamenco) Choreography: Irma Suarez Ruiz, Associate Artistic Director of the Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater “Camarón de la Isla” (José Monje Cruz) and Paco de Lucia
Sevillanas Choreography: Irma Suarez Ruiz Trad. Spanish, arr. Jonathan Miller



¡Muchas gracias por venir a escucharnos!
Thanks for coming to hear us!

We welcome you to A cappella en español, a celebration of a cappella choral music drawn from all over the Spanish-speaking world. We’ll go on a tour of many lands, from Mexico to Cuba and the countries of Latin America, then across the ocean to Spain where this wonderful language originated, and back again. You’ll hear folk and folkloric materials, classically “composed” music, choral arrangements of popular and folk songs, and much more. We’re honored to do our small part to celebrate la gran herencia -- the great heritage -- that is becoming more and more a part of our own heritage and culture.

This music is full of rhythm, color, light, and energy. You’ll experience all of these together as we perform with the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, a superb ensemble that really knows its music. I want to give a huge muchas gracias to José Torres, principal dancer, and Irma Suárez Ruíz, associate artistic director, for their interest and involvement in our collaboration. I am a better and stronger musician for having worked with them, and our entire organization appreciates the opportunity to combine our art forms for this program.

* * * * * * *

When norteamericanos think of music in Spanish, a number of things might come to mind: dance rhythms, including salsa, rumba, cha cha, tango, son, and so on. Many of these dance forms are beginning to appear in choral arrangements, and you’ll hear some of these today, including my own brand-new choral settings of a famous flamenco song, a folk song from Seville, and two of the “Canciones populares” by Manuel de Falla.

With our neighbor being Mexico, we might think especially of mariachi music, which originated around Guadalajara, as well as the famous Mexican Hat Dance (the jarabe tapatio, also from the same region). Historically, this association matches the regions from which most of Chicago’s Mexican immigrants have come:  the areas east of the Sierras, coastal mountains, including parts of Jalisco and Michoacán, as well as Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and of course more recently, Mexico City (D.F.).  

Our program wouldn’t be complete without music from the “mother country” of Spain. Two of the greatest classical composers from Spain were Joaquin Rodrigo and Manuel de Falla. Rodrigo’s haunting “Triste estaba” feels very old, older than it really is (it’s from 1950). The songs by de Falla are about 90 years old and have become recital favorites for female vocal recitalists;  my own transcriptions of the “Asturiana” and the “Jota” are based on the beloved recordings by Victoria de los Angeles.  

* * * * * * *

In our own generation, there is “serious” new classical music coming from all of these countries. Mexico is seeing a particular rise in such activity, thanks to the efforts of a number of tireless composers who also serve as producers, promoters, and festival organizers and as cultural ambassadors for Mexico to the outside world. Two of these composers, Jorge Córdoba and Jean Angelus Pichardo, have pieces on our program today, both written for Chicago a cappella. We are fortunate to count them as colegas buenos and amigos queridos.

And what do Mexican choirs sing? Well, that was part of what I learned when I visited Mexico last May. How many American choirs sing American music and nothing else? Very few. Mexican choral musicians are rather like their American counterparts. They don’t just want to do music from their own country. They love music from us norteamericanos; they love European music, to which some of them feel quite connected; they love madrigals. Most of them love pop and vocal percussion, and they are just as curious and eager for cool stuff as we are up here. Therefore, very few Mexican choirs specialize in singing Mexican choral music exclusively. There are a few great ones that serve as Mexican cultural ambassadors, such as Voz en Punto, a mixed quintet directed by the tireless and hilarious José Galván, and the brilliant Tuumben Paax (“new music” in Mayan) directed by Jorge Córdoba. Another is the group Melos Gloriae, which specializes in the amazing cathedral polyphony of the early Mexican Catholic church. Still, for the most part, choirs there are just like us--no matter what they’re singing, they want authentic experience. One of the great experiences on my trip was working with a group of girls who wanted the “real American” to coach them on “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent. (Read my Mexico blog for more details and photos of that experience. It was wonderful.)  

As I was handed CD after CD by choral conductors in Mexico, which serve as business cards down there, I started noticing a few patterns. I saw that several songs were favorites of many ensembles, as is the case here. There are Mexican “greatest hits,” and they’re not all from Mexico!  That was a cool surprise. In fact, some of the songs most beloved by Mexican choirs are from Cuba, some from Bolivia and Colombia, some from up here in the USA, and so on. Indeed, on my first weekday in Mexico City, whom should I meet but Prof. Digna Guerra, probably the greatest Cuban choral conductor active today, who was finishing up a two-year exchange program at one of the music schools there. As I write these notes, President Obama is taking steps to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, which will do wonders for our appreciation of that incredibly rich culture, from which we have been isolated for too long.

* * * * * * *

Demographic trends point to a moment coming ahead, just a few years from now, when Mexicans -- not just Latinos in general -- will be the single biggest population group in both the city of Chicago and in Chicago Public Schools. This is a major shift from a few decades ago and marks how important Latino culture is in our region.

And yet, even as we can look at trends and large societal shifts, I want to share something that has happened for me very personally as part of this project. Putting this concert together has opened my eyes and ears to the greatness of Latino culture, not only here in Chicago but all around. More importantly, however, this project has opened my heart. This is a little hard to put into words, but I’ll try.

Toward the end of 2013, I found a Spanish-language tutor, with whom I started to meet weekly at a local Starbucks. We would speak Spanish for most of an hour. (The first time, my head felt like it was about to explode, from the stretching of language neurons or something like that.)  Maureen is a lifelong teacher who has taught all over the city and in many places in the world, and she was a kind and patient tutor. I began listening to Mexican radio stations on the way to and from work. At first, I was mostly lost, but over time I could catch more and more words.

And as my Spanish proficiency slowly improved, something unexpected happened. I had the sensation that a film was being lifted from my eyes, allowing me to see what had always been there but which, culturally, I had been somehow trained to ignore. I began to notice people speaking Spanish everywhere in my life. I began speaking Spanish to them, haltingly, but with an open heart. And even before I ever got on a plane to go to Mexico, the response I received has truly altered my experience of living in the Chicago area. People have been gracious, generous, kind, thoughtful, grateful for my interest in their culture, curious about ours. A bartender at a Mexican restaurant in Forest Park, where I was getting some late-night takeout, opened right up and engaged in a warm, deep conversation. The guy who stocks vegetables at our produce market grinned from ear to ear after a short exchange en español.  My new favorite coffee shop in the western suburbs is run by an entrepreneur from Chiapas who grows his own beans there and sells them all over the world; he has two locations now and I enjoy helping him rejoice at his success. I now feel that I literally see what I did not have the ability to see before learning Spanish -- millions of people who live and work and raise their families here and make this city a great place.

Given what has been happening in Ferguson and elsewhere, when there is so much mistrust and misunderstanding between segments of our culture, I feel blessed and grateful to have been allowed an experience in the other direction, toward listening and appreciating and coming to truly love a new culture. It has humbled and opened me to see what was already here. That is a gift that I will cherish for my entire life.

Bienvenidos y gracias.
Welcome, and thank you.
                                --Jonathan Miller
                                Founder and Artistic Director


Oscar Galián: Salseo
A wordless song that captures the jubilant spirit of Latin American music, this piece comes from the Venezuelan composer Oscar Galián.  The opening bass-and-percussion motif sets the stage for a layering of musical lines.  As one voice after another enters, the result is something like a Venezuelan band, with the voices taking characteristic syllables of the instruments they imitate.

Consuelo Velázquez, arr. José Galván:  Bésame mucho
Inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001, this song is the most-recorded and most-sung Latin American song in the world, at least in the pop world where such statistics are kept. The woman who wrote it in 1940, Consuelo Velázquez, was only fifteen at the time; she was inspired by the solo piano song, “Quejas, o la maja y el ruiseñor” (“Complaints, or The Maiden and the Nightingale”) from the cycle Goyescas by Spanish classical composer Enrique Granados, published in 1911.  The tunes are remarkably similar, at least in the initial contour of Granados’s melody.

The tune made it north of the Rio Grande in the 1940s, when Johnny Mercer produced the Andy Russell recording that became one of the first big hits for Capitol Records. Jimmy Dorsey took it to #1 on the Billboard chart in 1944.  The Beatles, the Hi-Lo’s and Herb Alpert, among others known to American listeners, also had the tune in their repertoire; recently Andrea Bocelli, Diana Krall and Harry Connick, Jr. have recorded it.  The choral setting here is created by one of the top Mexican composers and arrangers of the present generation, José Galván, creative visionary and leader of the renowned quintet Voz en Punto from Mexico City, and recorded by choirs all across Mexico.

Trad. Bolivian, arr. Luis Graff:  Naranjitay
In Spanish, a naranja is an orange, and a naranjita is a little orange. In this song, a traditional Bolivian huayno with new lyrics by Bolivian poet Gilberto Rojas, the “little orange” is a young woman, the object of desire of the one who wants to “snatch you away from your orchard.” The choral setting by Luis Graff incorporates percussion in the rhythm and style of traditional Bolivian music, which has echoes of Ecuadorian rhythms.

Jorge Córdoba Valencia: Las Bienaventuranzas (The Beatitudes)    
Commissioned by Chicago a cappella in 2012    

Jorge Córdoba wrote the following about this piece:
I wrote this piece considering the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament of the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, and that to me is a reflection of a personal conviction as well as the essentials of the teachings of that mythical character.  The simplicity of these truths and constant verification thereof, was the impetus that got to shape a musical treatment of open structure, sound full of surprises with the idea of strengthening and opening sonic horizons, converging and moving them, to a common point, as the saying goes: There is only one way, there is only one end: God.

The atmospheric mood created by the repeated melodic fragments evokes a sound-world somewhat reminiscent of the composer’s Siete Haiku. We were honored to present this composition in its world premiere in 2012.

Lucho Bermudez, arr. Alberto Carbonell:  Prende la vela
This song captures a particular folk/cultural phenomenon in a particular place:  the coastal Colombian city of Cartagena. This region’s culture developed from the mingling of native Colombians and Panamanians, imported African slaves, and the Spanish who settled there. The “frenzied dances of blacks” along the Caribbean coast of Colombia and Panama were typified by a courtship dance called the cumbia. Branded as “indecent” by white European observers as late as the mid-20th century, the cumbia began to take on more mainstream popularity when Lucho Bermúdez (Luis Bermúdez Acosta, 1912-1994) captured these dances in his now-famous song, Prende la vela. Bermúdez started playing instruments at the age of 5 and seems to have had most of his hands-on musical training in the army, which stationed him at the coast.  Following Bermúdez’s popular success with this song in 1944, when he was invited to perform in the conservative city of Bogotá, the cumbia has spread all over Latin America; it now has variants in virtually every country and is said to be more popular than salsa in some regions. Bermúdez spent several years in Mexico, working with pop musicians there and even covering some Bill Haley songs. It is not an exaggeration to say that Bermúdez was the primary catalyst for the spread of cumbia across the region.

The prominent Colombian composer Alberto Carbonell has created this a cappella version of Prende la vela, popular with choirs throughout Latin America, including the Staccato ensemble at UNAM in Mexico City, led by Marco Ugalde, whose recording inspired us to include it on this program. The lyrics exhort the male dancer to “light the candle.” The cumbia was originally a couples’ dance, where women, wearing long skirts, would playfully wave the skirts while holding a candle.

“Prende la vela” is a stock phrase in many Afro-Latin songs. It basically means “heat up the drum,” but it has strong sexual overtones that reflect the erotic “flash” between the female and male dancers. This dance is done at night and therefore requires a lit candle.

Manuel de Falla, arr. Jonathan Miller:  Asturiana from “7 Canciones Populares”
Choreography: Dame Libby Komaiko, Founder and Artistic Director of the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater

It is difficult to think of a more heart-wrenching, plaintive song in any genre than the Asturiana from Manuel de Falla’s cycle of seven popular songs set for solo voice and piano. The seven songs are taken from folk material derived from different regions in Spain, the asturiana coming from Asturia. The composer had recently relocated to Spain after seven years in Paris, and the impressionism of the time does make its way into these songs. The accompaniment here is achingly spare, transcribed for these performances by Jonathan Miller in a new a cappella format.

Joaquín Rodrigo:  Triste estaba el Rey David
This haunting song comes from the collection Tres canciones sefardíes del siglo XVI (“Three Sephardic songs from the 16th Century”), premiered in France in 1950. Blinded in his youth by diphtheria, Rodrigo completed formal piano studies at the age of sixteen and spent the next six years studying violin, harmony and composition. He moved to Paris to study with Paul Dukas (of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice fame), met and collaborated with Manuel de Falla there, and established himself as a pianist and composer of unusual brilliance. Following the Spanish Civil War, Rodrigo returned to Madrid, where he led artistic activities for the national organization for the blind, began work as a music critic, and continued composing. The 1940 Concierto de Aranjuez cemented his reputation as a composer of international stature. In 1947 he was named to the music faculty at the Complutense University in Madrid. He is known primarily for orchestral, chamber, and other instrumental works, all of which he wrote first in Braille and then dictated to a copyist; his vocal output is primarily of larger works for soloist with orchestra.  Of his limited choral work, this is the best by far. The sad song unfolds like a Renaissance motet, which is appropriate, since the tune on which it is based is indeed from the Spanish Renaissance. Composers around 1500 would routinely write polyphonic treatments of popular single-line melodies. Rodrigo evokes that earlier practice here, with voices imitating one another in different ranges; his control of the four voice parts is not only admirable technically but also deeply expressive emotionally.

Manuel de Falla, arr. Jonathan Miller:  Jota from “7 Canciones Populares”
Choreography: Dame Libby Komaiko, Founder and Artistic Director of the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater
The following notes are provided courtesy of Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater:
As one of Spain‘s national dances, La Jota is also regarded as a musical genre, with its origins in the province of Aragon. Distinguished by a 3/4 rhythm, the music uses guitars, bandurrias, lutes, dulzaina, and drums, especially in the Castilian tradition. Bagpipes and drums are often regarded as part of the Galician and Northern Provence style. In dance, the movement shows a bond to traditional waltz steps, and imitates elements of nature, as when heel movements replicate the flitting of birds. In fact, in Aragon, the dancer‘s arms are held up like eagle wings, and in the “warrior position,” where one arm holds a spear and the other embraces the shield. It should be stressed that La Jota is danced throughout the country, and is included in celebrations and religious ceremonies. Likewise, it is enjoyed by the ordinary people as well as professional dancers who are intent with showcasing this beloved dance form in theatrical settings.

The music for this dance comes from the beloved cycle for solo voice and piano by Manuel de Falla, famously recorded by Victoria de los Angeles.  That recording is the inspiration for Jonathan Miller’s a cappella transcription, heard for the first time in these performances.


trad. Mexican, arr. Ramón Noble: Las Mañanitas
In Mexico, this tune is traditionally sung on birthdays and anniversaries and other festive occasions. Versions of the song have been collected at many locations in both Mexico and New Mexico. The song lyrics are sweet and tender; they even seem to have a slight reference to the Biblical love-lyrics in the Song of Songs, where in the final chapter the poet says, “Arise, my love; let us go into the garden.” In any event, the famous arranger and organist Ramón Noble (of the rollicking choral La cucaracha arrangement) has created a lovely, peaceful setting for this song, including an effective bridge, scored for men’s voices, leading into the final phrases.

Antonio Estévez: Mata del ánima sola (Tree of the lonely soul)
The Venezuelan plains (llanos) are featured in the poetry of Alberto Alvero Torrealba, the country’s most famous poet of the last century. His lyrics always focus on the people and traditions of his country, including in this song the dance called the joropo. The tenor solo in this song represents the voice of the llaneros (men of the plains), while the choir parts imitate the instruments that play the joropo: the cuatro (a small 4-stringed guitar) in the inner voices, the low bordones guitar, and the diatonic harp in the sopranos. The musician Antonio Estévez was a leader of the second important generation of Venezuelan composers; his most famous work is a co-creation with Torrealba, the Cantata Criolla.

Jean Angelus Pichardo:  Hoy recuerdo (“Today I remember” -- Dirge of my mother) -- world premiere
A composer, arranger and music producer, especially given to connections between music and other art forms, Jean Pichardo is a rising star on the Mexican musical scene. His interdisciplinary work connects music to photography, sociology, literature, theatre, visual art, and more. A tireless promoter of musical events, since 2009 he has been the Coordinator of Logistics and Planning for not only the Open Seminar of Contemporary Music at UNAM in Mexico City but also the 2010 and 2011 meetings of the Xicamiti Meetings for Latin American Composition. He has coordinated festivals in San Miguel de Allende and recently did the same for the first great Guitar Festival in Mexico City.

This work, Hoy recuerdo, came to Chicago a cappella as a result of Pichardo’s meeting Artistic Director Jonathan Miller after a rehearsal at UNAM in Mexico City, directed by Jorge Córdoba in May 2014. Miller and Pichardo established a strong mutual respect through that encounter—so much so that, during the summer and fall of 2014, Pichardo wrote this piece for Chicago a cappella upon receiving a government commission for a new piece for mixed chorus. The story is made further remarkable because Pichardo’s mother, who passed away in May of 2014, asked her son during her final illness to compose a piece of choral music for her;  this is that piece.

The text is taken from a longer poem by Octavio Paz.  The emotion in the text is one of an almost transparent feeling of one on the threshold of death, and the spare musical texture reflects the sense of almost floating, suspended, between death and life. We are honored to have been chosen to receive this musical gift and honored to have the opportunity to share it with you.

Francisco Repilado, arr. Jorge A. Martínez:  Chan Chan
Better known as “Compay Segundo” because he always took the second voice in musical partnerships, Francisco Repilado was a Cuban musician whose contributions to the field are many. He created the instrument known as the armónico, a 7-stringed guitar-like instrument. He was the second voice and player of the tres (a three-stringed guitar-like instrument) in the duo Los Compadres. They leapt to fame with the 1997 release of the Buena Vista Social Club album, the blockbuster release in which Ry Cooder championed the work of Cuban musicians. Chan Chan is the opening track on that album, an example of the Cuban son genre. The places in the song are four towns near each other on the east side of Cuba.

The lyrics tell of a man, Chan Chan, and his lady, Juanica, who are building a house and go to the beach to get some sand. Juanica shakes the sand in a sieve, and her shaking gets Chan Chan aroused. Chan Chan is based on a farmer’s song, which Compay Segundo learned when he was twelve years old. Segundo said of the song’s inspiration:  
"I didn't compose Chan Chan, I dreamt it. I dream of music. I sometimes wake up with a melody in my head, I hear the instruments, all very clear. I look over the balcony and I see nobody, but I hear it as if it was played on the street. I don't know what it can be. One day I woke up hearing those four sensitive notes, I gave them a lyric inspired by a children's tale from my childhood, Juanica y Chan Chan, and you see, now it's sung everywhere."

The rhythms are infectious, and it is said that almost everywhere in Latin America, people can identify this song by its first four chords.

traditional Mexican, arr. Deke Sharon: La Bamba
The large Mexican-American community in Chicago began to grow in earnest after 1910.  "La Bamba" is one of the songs that has been sung here since concerts by Mexicans in Chicago began.

Made famous by Ritchie Valens as the B-side to his 1958 his “Donna,” this song is a traditional son jarocho from Veracruz.  The references to sailors and captains come from Veracruz being a port city. Valens grew up speaking English in the San Fernando Valley around Los Angeles. He learned the words to La Bamba phonetically from his aunt.  The more recent cover of La Bamba by Los Lobos has given a new life to the song.

Alberto Favero, arr. Liliana Cangiano: Te quiero
A poem by the beloved Uruguayan master Mario Benedetti finds musical life in this setting by Alberto Favero, a popular-music composer from Argentina. This choral arrangement, like Kasar mie la gaji, is an international best-seller in the choral world, regularly appearing on repertoire lists for festivals and contests.

“Camarón de la Isla” (José Monje Cruz) and Paco de Lucia: Rosa María (flamenco)
Choreography: Irma Suárez Ruíz, Associate Artistic Director of the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater
Two of the seminal figures in the flamenco revival of the late twentieth century, singer “Camarón” and guitarist de Lucia collaborated on nine record albums between 1969 and 1977. “Camarón” was one of the first to introduce electric bass into his arrangements, which helped to distinguish his work as Nuevo flamenco. While “Camarón” (nicknamed “shrimp” because he was blond and fair-skinned) died in 1992, Paco de Lucía remained active around the world for another two decades as performer, teacher, and mentor. At the time of de Lucía’s death in 2014, he was the most successful flamenco crossover artist ever.  This song comes from the 1976 album of the same name.

The history of Spain is rich with foreign cultures - the Greeks, the Romans, the Moors, the Celts, to name a few.  Pride, elegance, passion, the wide range of emotions, the lively taconeo (footwork), the singing castanets and hypnotic rhythms - all of this is seen in the dance of Spain.The origin of all dances of Spain is Regional or Folk.  Spain has forty-nine provinces, each province having at least fifteen dances of its own.  The dances are divided into three basic types:  Regional, classical and flamenco. The Regional dances depict the Spanish people and their diverse provincial customs and styles.  The Classical dances portray the varied styles of the Renaissance, Baroque, Court Dances, Escuela Bolera (Bolero School) and Semi-Classical (Twentieth Century, Contemporary) dances and music. Flamenco is a culture unto itself. The theories of the origin of flamenco are never agreed upon, even by the experts.  The guitar and singing (Cante Flamenco) represent the Andalusian Province; a combination of ancient Arabic, Indian, Hebraic and Moorish styles.  The word "flamenco" originally meant "Flemish," after the band of gypsies that came to Spain in the 18th century.  Flamenco consists of the cante (singing) palmas (hand clapping), the guitars and the dancers.

There are five basic types of flamenco song: the Cante Jondo (deep song). Cante Chico (light song), Cante Intermedio (intermediate) Cante por Cante (song for singing) and Cante por Baile (song for dancing).  Today, flamenco is associated with its birthplace of Andalusia - its contradictions, its dynamics, its sorrows and its joys.  

Trad. Spanish, arr. Jonathan Miller: Sevillanas
Choreography: traditional; staging: Irma Suárez Ruíz, Associate Artistic Director of the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater
This is a tribute to the women and men of the famed city of Seville, celebrated in both music and dance. The following notes are provided courtesy of Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater:
Named for the Andalusian capital, the Sevillanas is also one of Spain‘s national dances, and its popularity has never dimmed. Traditionally, the dance is part of neighborhood living, where friends and family gather in a corrales and celebrate the highlights of daily life and special occasions. However, the joy of the sevillanas has easily spread to night clubs, and increasingly, the dance has become part of the flamenco and classical traditions, and its variations speak to Spain‘s regional diversity through the preservation of the sevillanas of the corraleras (for neighborhood patios), bíblicas (with biblical themes), boleras, liturgícas (with liturgical, or religious, themes), de feria (typical of feasts) and rocieras (for the rocío feast). The famous La Feria de Sevilla is held for one week each spring, and Sevillanos prepare all year for this internationally-known fair.