Pops Night program notes

Saturday, August 14, 2021 , 6:30 PM

Arr. by Richard Hayman and Jim Kessler: Armed Forces Medley

J.S. Bach / Arranged by Sam Hyken: Toccata y Fuga in Re Menor

Son Veracruzano [Veracruz Folk Music] Arr. by Eduardo Magallenes: El Pijul

Villalobos Brothers / Arr. by Marcos Barilari: Sin Mi

Traditional / Arranged by Eduardo Magallenes: El San Lorenzo

Arturo Márquez: Danzón No. 2

Various / Arranged by Richard Hayman and Jim Kessler

Armed Forces Medley

We begin tonight’s performance by paying tribute to our service members and veterans. Our American military is a true cross section of our population, encompassing people of all races, religions, genders, and orientations, including tens of thousands of non-citizen permanent residents. It is their sacrifice that allows us to enjoy evenings like this one, and to them we are eternally grateful. We salute each of the five divisions of our military with this medley of their official songs. When the familiar U.S. Air Force Song (“Off We Go, Into the Wild, Blue Yonder”) was written by amateur pilot Robert Crawford in 1939, the lyrics established the new, poetic use of the word “yonder.” The oldest of the military songs, “The Marines’ Hymn” (“From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli”) borrows its theme from Jacques Offenbach’s opera Genevieve de Brabant. The Coast Guard’s 1927 song, “Semper Paratus,” was written by Captain Francis Saltus van Boskerck, commander of the Bering Sea Forces, on a dilapidated piano, the only such instrument on the Aleutian Islands at the time. Edmund Gruber, lieutenant in the 5th Field Artillery stationed in the Philippines in 1908, wrote the Army’s march, “The Caissons Go Rolling Along,” while waiting for the ammunition wagons to arrive over hill, over dale. The work ends with the Navy’s march, “Anchors Aweigh.” In 1906, Lieutenant Charles Zimmerman, leader of the Naval Academy band, wrote “Anchors Aweigh” as graduating senior Alfred Miles came up with the lyrics to what would become a favorite at the Army-Navy game showdowns over the years.

J.S. Bach (1685-1750) / Arranged by Sam Hyken

Toccata y Fuga in Re Menor

It’s a minor miracle that we in the 21st century are familiar with Bach’s now-ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue, originally for organ. The origins of the piece are murky. The only manuscript that we have of the score was an error-filled copy made by a child student of a student of Bach’s, possibly the only tenuous sheets of paper preventing the piece from disappearing forever before its first publication in 1833. Leopold Stokowski’s 1927 arrangement of the piece for orchestra was made famous in the Disney adaption in Fantasia, spawning numerous other arrangements for combinations of all kinds. Jacomo Bairos’s Nu Deco Ensemble co-founder Sam Hyken arranged the work for the group, giving it a distinctively Latin flavor. The Afro-Cuban beat drops after the famously dramatic introduction. An infectious 2-3 clave rhythm lays the foundation for an exploration of Bach’s original material. But about halfway through, the orchestra seems to get swept up in the music’s energy and breaks into a high-spirited guajeo, a hypnotic melodic/rhythmic ostinato, or repeated pattern. (Hyken uses a so-called offbeat/onbeat clave motif that is closely connected to the salsa).

Villalobos Brothers

Some selections will be announced from the stage.

The Villalobos Brothers hail from the state of Veracruz in Mexico, a region with a rich musical tradition combining elements of Spanish, indigenous, and African musical styles. The distinctive style is known as son jarocho, a folk idiom that dates back centuries, with popular adaptations that have reached a global audience.

El Pijul is the Villalobos Brothers’ take on a traditional son jarocho built around one of the most familiar harmonic progressions in Latin music: the Andalusian cadence. This is a repeating sequence of four chords descending through a so-called Phrygian tetrachord (for example, A minor, G major, F major, E major), especially prevalent in flamenco music. The song is about the little “Pijul,” a Venezuelan name for the smooth-billed ani, a bird with a distinctive (and loud) rising call that is mimicked in the lyrics (“ay-hee, ay-hee”). The Villalobos Brothers insert a highly charged middle-section break in their version, in an unusual five-beat meter.

Sin Mi (Without Me) is an original by Luis Villalobos. The title of the song has a double meaning. On the one hand, it is an abstract reference to the music itself, which is written in E-flat minor and avoids the note “E” (“mi” in solfege)—in fact, the violinists avoid their upper E string, creating a deeper tone to the song throughout. On the other, the song is a reflection of what the world might be like after the singer has crossed the threshold of the living. The last section of the song uses the Andalusian cadence progression that featured prominently in El Pijul.

El San Lorenzo is a traditional song in the son huasteco style, originating in northern Mexico. Alberto Villalobos spent time living in the region and absorbed the elements of the style reflected in this arrangement. Virtuosic violin passagework and frequent use of falsetto—both found in this energetic song—are hallmarks of the son huasteco. The lyrics here are a humorous ode to St. Lawrence, with the singers alternately offering their praises and apologizing for disturbing the saint when surely, he has his own choirs by now. The singers do manage to sneak in a little request to help them perfect their fiddle playing.

Somos (We Are) is the title track from the Villalobos Brothers’ 2019 album. Composer Luis Villalobos describes it as a song about compassion. He explains, “We are not only Mexicans or Americans or Catholic or Jews or Muslims or blue, red musicians. We are one big family. One big human family.” The lyrics are delivered in rapid-fire form with infectious energy, reminding us that we were all “born free!”

Arturo Márquez (b. 1950)

Danzón No. 2 (1994)

If you were a Mozart in the Jungle fan, you will certainly remember Márquez’s infectious Danzón No. 2 from season two, played in a memorable scene that has Maestro Rodrigo de Souza returning to his hometown in Mexico where he gets the opportunity to conduct his old youth orchestra on the town square. The background of the piece makes its inclusion in the scene particularly apt.

Along with the Villalobos Brothers, Arturo Márquez is among the most prominent current classical composers in Mexico. Early on, Márquez trained as a pianist, trombonist, and violinist in Mexico and California. By his twenties, he was composing mixed media scores, including music for film and theater. It was his orchestral work in the 1990s that led to a series of Danzónes that included his now-famous Danzón No. 2. The piece was on the program of Gustavo Dudamel’s dynamic El Sistema-based youth ensemble, the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, when he toured the United States in 2007, which skyrocketed the piece’s profile. (The television series conductor Rodrigo is loosely based on Dudamel.)

Márquez’s ideas for Danzón No. 2 were sparked by a visit to a Veracruz dance hall. The music is reminiscent of Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla’s in that it exploits the colors of orchestra to create grand and powerful gestures grounded in Latin rhythms and energy. The Danzón begins quietly, with woodwind solos providing a wistful, nostalgic mood. Gradually, though, the hypnotic rhythms and encircling melodies take on a life of their own. What had begun as a musical memory becomes a swirling and all-encompassing reality, as if the listener has been fully transported to another place and time.

Program notes by Jon Kochavi