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New England Conservatory
For Immediate Release:
November 15, 2006
New England Conservatory Presents World Premiere of Robert Xavier Rodriguez’s El Día de los Muertos
New Percussion Work Fourth in Series Commissioned by Bradford and Dorothea Endicott
Piece Evokes Joyous Mexican Folk Holiday
The New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble will present the world premiere of Robert Xavier Rodriguez’s El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in NEC’s Jordan Hall. Frank Epstein, Chair of Brass and Percussion and longtime member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, will conduct. The work is the fourth in a series of new percussion pieces commissioned by Bradford and Dorothea Endicott for Epstein and the Percussion Ensemble. Previous works in the series have been composed by Joan Tower, Gunther Schuller, and Jennifer Higdon.
Based in Dallas, Robert Xavier Rodriguez was born on June 28, 1946 in San Antonio, Texas, where he received his earliest training in piano and harmony. Subsequent musical education included study in composition with Hunter Johnson, Halsey Stevens, Jacob Druckman, and Nadia Boulanger. He gained international recognition in 1971 when awarded the Prix de Composition Musicale Prince Pierre de Monaco by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace at the Palais Princier in Monte Carlo. Other honors include the Prix Lili Boulanger, a Guggenheim Fellowship, four National Endowment for the Arts grants, and the Goddard Lieberson Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Rodríguez's music embraces all genres and often combines Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque techniques with ethnic and contemporary materials. He has had particular success with his seven operas. His most recent opera, Frida, based on the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, has enjoyed successful runs at the American Music Theatre Festival, The American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, the Brooklyn Academy's Next Wave Festival, and the Houston Grand Opera.
Written last summer and scored for six players, “El Día de los Muertos” is a musical evocation of the joyous Mexican folk celebration. As the composer explains, “The Mexican version of All Souls Day has a distinctively playful and nostalgic identity, which sets it apart from the ghostly images of the American and European Halloween, as exemplified in Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre. Following Aztec legends, the Mexican tradition represents the dead as sleeping in a cool, quiet place called Mictlán. To begin the holiday, the living send their children (symbolically those farthest away from death) to the cemetery to invite the spirits of the dead to come out for a day to cavort with the living. The living prepare ceremonial dishes and create home altars with memorabilia of their departed loved ones. The skeletons then rise from their graves, and the spirits of the dead are reunited with the living. There is joyous celebration with singing, story-telling, feasting and dancing. At the end of the day, bells ring again and the revels end. The living, again led by the children, say goodbye to the dead and the spirits return to their graves…”
Eschewing all drums except timpani, the score “utilizes a rich assortment of pitched percussion instruments, with prominent use of two marimbas (the marimba being the national instrument of Mexico as well as an apt musical representation of skeletons),” according to the composer. It also makes use of several popular Mexican folk songs, most prominently A la puerta del cielo (At the Gate of Heaven) and La realidad (Reality). “All of the Mexican melodies are combines in a quodlibet at the center of the work, where the living and the spirits of the dead are united.”
Also featured on the concert are: Antonin Dvorak, Song To The Moon from the opera Rusalka adapted by Nathan Daughtrey; Ralph Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, arranged by Blake M. Wilkins; Nathan Daughtrey, Adaptation (2005); Andrew Beall, Deliverance; and Jennifer Higdon, Splendid Wood (2006). The last work is also an Endicott commissioned work and was given its world premiere in April.
The concert is free and open to the public.
For further information, check the NEC Website at: www.newenglandconservatory.edu/concerts or call the NEC Concert Line at 617-585-1122. NEC’s Jordan Hall, Brown Hall, Williams Hall and the Keller Room are located at 30 Gainsborough St., corner of Huntington Ave. St. Botolph Hall is located at 241 St. Botolph St. between Gainsborough and Mass Ave.
ABOUT NEW ENGLAND CONSERVATORY
Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 750 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world. Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars. Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide. Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.
The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions. On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, Contemporary Improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Collaboration Programs, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors. Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music and jazz.
NEC presents more than 600 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, 100-year old, beautifully restored concert hall. These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz and opera scenes. Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.
NEC is co-founder and educational partner of “From the Top,” a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.