MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Our Southern Neighbors: The Music of Latin America at Juilliard

Juilliard’s Focus! Festival for 2017 is devoted to the music of Latin America. Complete schedule and programming here.

Longtime Juilliard professor, conductor, and scholar Joel Sachs, who organized the entire festival, writes:

In the fall of 1992, I was offered the directorship of MoMA’s Summergarden, then a two-month long festival of new music.  Since the museum was preparing a major show of Latin American art, I was asked if my first Summergarden in 1993 might explore Latin American music. I assented, not realizing the challenge of finding the best music of a high swath of the world whose composers were hardly known. I quickly learned that the resources were huge.

As my knowledge of the music of Latin America has increased in the ensuing years, so has the number of composers. A Latin American Focus! festival seemed badly needed, even if six concerts could only scratch the surface. I wanted to emphasize composers still living in their home countries, but could not exclude the Latin America diaspora – composers who went abroad for education, opportunity, and in many cases, to escape the persecution and violence of the 20th century military regimes.

For months I have consulted extensively with composers in Latin America and elsewhere, assembling lists especially of young composer. The quantity of composers is truly staggering, and I have had to create limitations, favoring the living and those who remain in their home countries, while including some émigrés. Three of the pioneers are heard on the opening and closing programs.

Above all, I want to illustrate the stylistic diversity that makes to term ‘Latin American composer’ difficult to define other than geographically. The breadth of styles is truly amazing. The audience should not expect only ‘Latin-sounding’ folklore-based compositions. Since the primary aim of Juilliard’s Focus! festival is to give Juilliard students opportunities to extend their experience and skills, I have excluded purely electronic music, or music requiring indigenous instruments.

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