As fascism and other forms of dictatorship engulfed Europe in the 1930s and ’40s, the United States began to fear that the whole world would be consumed by such regimes. To prevent totalitarianism’s spread to Latin America, the federal government enacted a “Good Neighbor” policy, in which the United States encouraged solidarity between the Americas.
One aspect of that policy was a cultural-exchange program that sent North American composers to Latin America and vice versa. “It had fantastic musical consequences,” says Director of Oberlin Orchestras Raphael Jiménez, citing Latin-inspired works created by Aaron Copland and friendships that blossomed between U.S. composers and their Latin counterparts such as Alberto Ginastera and Heitor Villa-Lobos.
Jiménez and the Oberlin Orchestra will celebrate that spirit of musical solidarity on Saturday, September 27, with an 8 p.m. concert in Finney Chapel showcasing composers of the Americas.
Prior to the performance, Carol Hess, a music professor at the University of California, Davis, will present a talk about the Good Neighbor policy and the state of Latin American classical music in the United States. Part of Oberlin’s Richard Murphy Musicology Colloquium series, Hess’ talk will take place at 4 p.m. in Stull Recital Hall.
Jiménez’s inspiration for the orchestra program emerged in part from reading a recent book by Hess—his former colleague at Michigan State University—about the Good Neighbor policy and the “Pan-American Dream” of music.
The program will feature works by two Latin American composers, Ricardo Lorenz and Ginastera, and two North American composers, Derek Bermel and George Gershwin. In a living embodiment of the Pan-American connection, both Bermel and Lorenz will attend the concert and collaborate with student musicians in the days leading up to the performance.
Lorenz’s Olokun’s Awakening, written for Jiménez and the Oberlin Orchestra, will receive its world premiere. It is the first scene for a large-scale, as-yet-unwritten melodrama titled The Tale of Chacumbele, which weaves together the life of a fictitious, legendary Cuban composer with Yoruban mythology.
Bermel’s Slides, meanwhile, explores different types of vocal inflection: moaning, Sarah Vaughan-style swoops, and the flow of rapping. All of that sliding finds an echo in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with its famous opening clarinet glissando. Professor of Piano Sanford Margolis, a longtime fixture on the Oberlin faculty who will retire at the end of the 2014-15 academic year, will be the soloist in the Gershwin piece.
Finally, Ginastera’s Pampeana No. 3, Op. 24, composed after Ginastera studied with Copland as part of the composer-exchange program of the ’30s and ’40s, demonstrates the musical effects of the Good Neighbor policy.
“Ginastera’s depiction of the wide-open pampas of Argentina was obviously influenced by Copland’s musical evocations of the American West,” Jiménez says.
The concert and colloquium are part of a series of events on campus in honor of Latinx Heritage Month (September 19 to October 18), which coincides with National Hispanic American Heritage Month. Events at Oberlin range from the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s exhibition of Latin American and Latino Art (through June 28, 2015) to concerts, lectures, and workshops.
Jiménez, who was born in Florida and raised in Venezuela, speaks of the musical fraternity between the Americas with infectious enthusiasm.
“There are so many angles to this program,” he says. “So many connections!”