“If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.”
― Charles Darwin
How do you like your music served: big-name stars at stadium concerts, via radio as you make your way through midtown traffic, dance club pulsations where you hear the bass in your heart, alone in your living room with Nina Simone and a glass of merlot? Continue reading Editor’s Letter
By Julie Etra
Son Jarocho is a type of folk and dance music originating in the coastal state of Veracruz. “Jarocho” is a colloquial term for the people and culture of Veracruz. Son Jarocho has developed over the last 250 years, blending and fusing the music of indigenous, Spanish, and African roots. The indigenous components come primarily from the region known as the Huasteca, which includes parts of the states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Puebla, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, and Guanajuato. The Huastecs are of course now only a fraction of their former population, with the Nahua the remaining dominant indigenous group (speaking Nahuatl, considered the dominant dialect of the Aztecs). The people who occupy the region share much in culture, including the music addressed in this article, and festivals such as Xantolo (Día de los muertos or Day of the Dead). Continue reading Son Jarocho
By Carole Reedy
Listening to music is merely one way to enjoy it. We also derive satisfaction from reading about it. Here’s a small list of books whose subjects are the giants of music. Choosing any of the books below should enhance your understanding and enjoyment of the composers, musicians, and the environments of their eras. The prestigious authors grant us additional pleasure via exhaustive research and their insightful understanding of musicians, music, and unique styles.
BEING WAGNER: THE TRIUMPH OF THE WILL
By Simon Callow
Even if you aren’t British, you know the name Simon Callow, not only as an actor but of a director of theater, film, and television. In addition, he’s written biographies of Orson Welles and Charles Laughton.
In 2013 Callow performed his one-man show Inside Wagner’s Head, essentially a 100-minute lecture about one of the world’s most controversial opera composers that asks the question “How is it that Wagner has become the most influential and most discussed European artist of the past 200 years?” The evening received rave reviews. Now, for those of us who missed the theater event, Callow gives us a biography that further investigates what it was like to be Wagner. What precisely does he possess that places his music on a level with the gods? Most agree he was a horrible man, but that is said of many artists. Callow writes about the world Wagner created for himself.
Thomas Laqueur of The Guardian ends his review of Callow’s book by saying: “Few of us are comfortable travelling so near the gravitational field of a man ‘who had access to parts of his psyche that most nice people hide from themselves’ and who created from such a murky source dramas and music of horrible beauty.”
It can take some time for the ear to acclimate itself to the complex combinations of notes and the spiritual and historical implications of Wagner’s operas. Best to sit back, relax, and just listen to the sublime music. (I encountered the complexity of Wagner’s music myself when I played some supposedly simple selections from his operas on the piano.)
TOSCANINI, MUSCIAN OF CONSCIENCE
By Harvey Sachs
The 939 pages of this tome are justified by the grand subject of the biography. This is Sachs’ second biography of Toscanini, and it’s twice as long as the first. The inspiration for the second book was new material in the form of documents and letters that Sachs edited in 2002. The letters concern not only music and politics; included also are passionate love letters.
It is agreed by all that Toscanini was a genius, a child prodigy, and the man who brought classical music to the masses when NBC and RCA convinced him to lead the new NBC Symphony Orchestra. He appeared three times on the cover of Time Magazine as well as numerous mentions in Life Magazine articles.
He was a kind man and one of principle. Even though he was the first non-German conductor to perform at the Bayreuth Wagner festival, in 1933 he discontinued his performances there, despite letters from Hitler requesting his presence. He also fled Italy for America during the reign of Mussolini. Sachs’ complete study of the great Toscanini is at the top of music lovers’ lists this year.
THE NOISE OF TIME
By Julian Barnes
This is the only novel to appear on this list. Julian Barnes is a unique writer whose success is well known for those who appreciate his creative approach to storytelling and the style appropriate to each subject. He’s also famous for his nonfiction works, such as Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art, a compilation of articles he’s written that have appeared in different venues over the years. Recently, he published The Noise of Time, which is a story of Dmitri Shostakovich during the reign of Joseph Stalin. In this novel, Barnes succeeds in relating the daily, constant fear that Russia’s most famous composer of the 20th century experiences while writing and producing his controversial atonal music.
Shostakovich fell in and out of favor with Stalin over the years, and with each new artistic attempt the reader feels Shostakovich’s trembling and apprehension for his family. The book opens with Shostakovich waiting with a suitcase at the top of the staircase in the apartment building where he lives with his wife and young child, who are sleeping inside. We come to realize that every night he performs this ritual of protecting his family while he awaits the arrival of the police to arrest him for whatever infraction of Russian law he may have violated with his music.
Pravda, the official government newspaper, sometimes viewed his work as “bourgeois and neurotic and nonpolitical.” Other composers, such as Stravinsky, left Russia at this time. Despite the oppression of Stalin and his cronies, Shostakovich was and remains remembered as an innovative, important composer. This novel also is reassurance to Barnes’ loyalists that his active mind continues to write fresh, innovative, pertinent literature.
WHEN THE WORLD STOPPED TO LISTEN: VAN CLIBURN’S COLD WAR TRIUMPH AND ITS AFTERMATH
By Stuart Isacoff
MOSCOW NIGHTS: THE VAN CLIBURN STORY—HOW ONE MAN AND HIS PIANO TRANSFORMED THE COLD WAR
By Nigel Cliff
These two new books tell the fairy-tale story of the young Adonis who captured the hearts of the Russian people during the Cold War of 1958. In April of that year, the 23-year-old pianist Van Cliburn participated in the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. It was a time of tension between the US and Russia (sound familiar?) with the arms race in full tilt.
Cliburn’s playing won over the Russian audience, receiving an eight-minute standing ovation, and he won the coveted first-place prize among a field of highly accomplished Russian pianists. On the streets of Moscow the crowds shouted “Vanya!” In the US he became a hero, even gaining a spot on the prestigious cover of Time Magazine. To this day, the videos of Cliburn’s emotional performance 60 years ago are viewed on YouTube and the Classical Arts cable television station here in Mexico.
Both books give us an insight into Cliburn the man and the politics of the time, as well as his struggles with his career and his sensitive aura. Maybe today we need another Van Cliburn?
MARIA CALLAS: THE WOMAN BEHIND THE LEGEND
By Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington
I couldn’t complete this article without mentioning the most famous woman in the field of music, Maria Callas, who graced this world for a short, but powerful, time, using her voice to dramatize the music of the greatest opera composers of the past few centuries.
Fortunately, there are recordings of her prime years, the late 1950s and early 1960s. I chose this biography to recommend because it received rave reviews, and also because of a strange notion I carry that that Huffington’s Greek origins give her a cosmic connection to Callas, who, according to many, is the priestess of the opera.
Many Americans remember Maria Callas only for her passionate love for Aristotle Onassis and the devastation of that loss of love when he married Jackie Kennedy. Callas died at 53 of a heart attack. For Callas fans, I highly recommend an article by Michael Shae that appeared in the New York Review of Books (January 24, 2015) entitled “A Definitive New Callas,” in which he describes the talent that makes her one of the greatest sopranos of all time.
By Jon Darby
I run a mezcal bar in London. For business reasons I needed to get to Oaxaca. Flights to Oaxaca (via Mexico City) were priced at over GBP 1000 – more than double the price I paid for the same route last year. However, flights to the popular package tourism destination of Cancun were around GBP 600. By my calculation, if I could get between Cancun and Oaxaca for less than the difference in air fairs (GBP 400, or about MXN 9,500), I would see some more of Mexico for free. So did I achieve it? Well there were a lot of distractions on the way. Continue reading On the Buses – A Journey from Cancun to Oaxaca
By Brooke Gazer
It may not be the New York Metropolitan Opera performed live at Lincoln Center, but for those who love opera, we do have a small club that meets monthly. The club was begun in 2013 by Salvador López and Miguel Ángel Lugo, who are big opera aficionados. Apparently, Salvador had an extensive collection of DVDs that he was willing to share and an informal group was formed.
In July, Carmen the romantic tragedy by Georges Bizet, was performed by London’s Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Earlier this year, The Mikado, a more contemporary comic operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan, featured Opera Australia.
The Opera Club meets the first Thursday of each month from November to July in the Auditorium at Mansiones Cruz del Mar, which is located on Punta Santa Cruz. Seating is limited, so if you would like to attend, please reserve in advance.
A donation of 100 pesos/ person is requested to cover the cost of using the auditorium. Meetings begin at 6:30 PM, with each person bringing wine and some finger food to share during the pre-show reception and intermission. The performance begins at 7:00 PM.
For more information: http://www.facebook.com/HuatulcoOperaClub
To reserve: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean-view B&B in Huatulco.
By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
Nearly 10,000 people visit the magnificent art deco Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) in Mexico City each week. Most head up the wide marble stairs to see the striking murals by luminaries including Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Many have purchased the relatively expensive tickets for the Ballet Folklórico de México, the National Opera, or the National Symphony Orchestra that take place in the impressive main hall. But most tourists pass by the door to the Manuel M. Ponce Room without noticing it is there. Continue reading A Hidden Musical Venue: Sala Manuel M. Ponce
By Leigh Morrow
This November, during National Conservation week, jazz lovers will be making a pilgrimage of sorts. Much like those loading the car, and traveling long distances to check off their bucket list, this summer’s solar eclipse. The International Mazunte Jazz Festival, in its 12th year, is like that. Millennials and boomers, and all ages in between travel, mostly from the Americas, make the trek to the tiny beach community of Mazunte, Oaxaca a ten-minute walk from my home in San Agustinillo. These jazz aficionados listen to musicians they may or may not recognize, attend music clinics, eat regional Oaxaca cuisine at the artisan marketplace, do group morning yoga and watch in awe, as rehabilitated turtles are released back into the ocean. Continue reading Mazunte Jazz Festival
By Deborah Van Hoewyk
In my time between marriages, I wallowed in country music. Back in the 70s, it wasn’t as slick-pop as nowadays, so it was definitely good for wallowing—broken hearts, drinking in bars, cheating hearts, drinking in cars, lonely nights and neon moons and juke boxes (in bars), and even more drinking. But one day, New York City’s WHN played something that sounded completely different: “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” hit #1 on the Billboard charts for both Country and Pop, driven by a sentimental declaration of undying love delivered in a distinctive tenor, every word clear, the style straightforward, the melody eminently singable. Freddy Fender had arrived. Continue reading Music of the Border: As Complicated as the Border Itself
By Jane Bauer
Los Tigres del Norte
With origins from Sinaloa, Mexico, the band was formed in 1968 when the members were just teenagers. They gained a cult-like following when their lyrics started to portray some of the violence faced in Northern Mexico. The band ranked at number 15 in the list for “The 30 Most Influential Latin Artists of All Time” by Billboard Magazine. Continue reading Top 5 Mexican Bands You Should Know About!