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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

Latin Grammys More Diverse Than Ever In 2013

Milton Montenegro

[This post has been edited from when it first went online to reflect some of the winners in this year's categories.]

The 14th annual Latin Grammy Awards were handed out on Thursday night in Las Vegas, with a star-studded audience in attendance. More and more, the Latin Grammys are challenging their big brother, The Grammys, for attention. One of last year's nominees, Paul Blakemore, who has been in the running for both Latin Grammys and “big boy” Grammys, spoke to me with great enthusiasm about last year's event. He came away with a sense of camaraderie which he says is lacking in The Grammys. Another friend, Carlos Franzetti, has expressed much the same sentiment. His composition “Zingaros” was awarded Best Contemporary Classical Composition.

As with The Grammys, the bulk of the prime time attention will focuses upon the more broadly popular categories, such as Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year. But there are numerous other categories, and many more creative artists get to make an afternoon as well as an evening of it while the rest of the coveted awards are announced. This is where the classical artists come into play, mixed with the Best Ranchero Album, Best Tango Album, Best Latin Jazz Album, and let's not forget Best Portuguese Christian Album. Think about it. It's a vast territory which is covered here, and not just one language. The Latin Grammy venue is alive with not only Spanish, but also Portuguese, English, and who knows what else.

Here and there, a category invites a crossover of genres and artists. We find this in Best Engineered Album, as well as Best Instrumental Album. In fact there, in the category of Best Instrumental Album we find one of the most nominated artists ever, the irrepressible Paquito D'Rivera. He is in excellent company, as always, this time with the guitar playing brothers Sergio and Odair Assad.

And speaking of crossover, how about this for crossover in another context--crossing national borders? Up for Best Tejano Album was el grupo Los Texmaniacs. Their nominated album, "Texas Towns & Tex-Mex Sounds," ranges broadly as it conjures up the ghost of Marty Robbins, then swings into "San Antonio Rose" with none other than Ray Benson.

Classical music is not neglected. Not only do Paquito and the Assads break into the Best Instrumental Album, but Theodore Kuchar y la Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela are there too with an album called "Latin American Classics." However classical is focused upon most intensely in two specific categories: Best Classical Album and Best Contemporary Classical Composition. In the former, conducter/composer Jose Serebrier was honored with two nominations. The first, an album titled "Adagio," features performances such as "La Oracion del Torero" by Turina. Serebrier's second horse in the race is his ongoing survey of the orchestral music of Dvorak, recorded with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The nominated disc covers the Symphonies 3 and 6. Just as a footnote, Serebrier is originally from Montivideo, Uruguay, which explains how discs covering Turina and Dvorak come into a discussion of the Latin Grammys.

 A couple of other nominees under Best Classical Album are involved with the music of the great Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. One of these discs takes an arranger's perspective, the arranger being Mario Adnet . I am familiar with some of his other work and know him to be a highly skilled craftsman with a fine creative trajectory. His album, titled "Um Olhar Sobre Villa-Lobos" ("A Look at Villa-Lobos") appropriately enlists the help of notable Brazilian singers such as Edu Lobo and Milton Nascimento. Lobo revives a 1970 version of a lyric to Villa-Lobos' "Little Train of Caipira." Here the orchestration is surely suggested by Villa-Lobos original score (Adnet writes that “we all drink from the fountain of Villa-Lobos), but there is also the contemporary genius of Adnet at play here. They don't ask me to vote on these things, but were I voting for Best Classical Album this would be my pick. I've been listening to the album off and on since it released a couple of months ago, and I've not even begun to tire of it.

This is not to diminish the importance of the new cycle of Villa-Lobos Symphonies by the esteemed Brazilian conductor, Isaac Karabtchevsky, and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra. In fact, I like this recording, encompassing the Symphonies 6 & 7 very much. It is great that we will eventually have an entire new cycle of Villa-Lobos Symphonies to complement the fine cycle by Carl St. Clare and the Stuttgart Symphony Orchestra. The nominating committee for the Latin Grammys is to be commended for celebrating this recording. They have not always been so wise, usually ignoring completely the Sao Paulo Orchestra's fine discography. It's about time that Latin America's finest orchestra gets its due.

I have always found it interesting that one of the Latin Grammy categories is Best Contemporary Classical Composition. I don't recall there being anything similar in the “American” Grammys. Of course, this gets a little convoluted in that the voters must decide whether they are making judgment based upon the quality of the composition or the competence of the performance. It must be said that even the greatest music makes little impression if not played well, very well. I haven't had the opportunity to listen to all of the “classical composition” nominees (recordings are often difficult to find), but I will comment briefly on three of the five. First, there is a composition titled "Elegia," by the Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz. If you are unfamiliar with Ortiz' music, I encourage you to seek it out, for it is always worth your consideration. She makes no end run around the fact she is writing contemporary, meaning modern music, and again the nomination committee is to be lauded for including Gabi's music in the running for 2013 Latin Grammy. "Elegia," scored for four sopranos and instrumental ensemble, is a meditation, if you will, on the premature death of the composer's mother. This track is part of an entire album devoted to five compositions by Ortiz, and is from the organization Southwest Chamber Music, makers of fine recordings, many of Latin American music. The quality of this disc attests to their continued dedication to a high standard.

I've known Argentinian born composer and pianist Carlos Franzetti for a number of years and have always had the highest regard for his music. He's also got great jazz chops, and has been nominated numerous times for Latin Grammys in categories ranging from jazz to classical. I'm always happy to see his name pop up, and I of course was happy to see his win for "Zingaros," from the charming score "Pierrot et Colombine." Thanks for the delightful music, Carlos.

A footnote is in order mentioning that one of the other composers whose music is featured in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category is Leo Brouwer. The Havana String Quartet continues their cycle of his complete String Quartets, underscoring the important legacy of Brouwer, a composer at times unjustly ignored in this country. Finally, something completely new caught my eye this year, an orchestral score titled "Abertura Jobiniana," written by the Brazilian composer Rafael Piccolotto de Lima. I would love to know more of his music after hearing the well crafted Jobim tribute. It is also a pleasure to hear something from the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica, a quite competent ensemble in this live concert performance. Keep an eye out for this disc, called "Bossa Nova Sinfonica."

Thanks to all the wonderful musicians who continue to project the spirit of Latin music, in its infinite forms, to audiences around the globe. There is certainly a great deal of work displayed in this year's nominations for Latin Grammys which reflects the ever creative musical soul of Latin America.

James first introduced himself to KPAC listeners at midnight on April 8, 1993, presenting Dvorak's 7th Symphony played by the Cleveland Orchestra. Soon after, he became the regular overnight announcer on KPAC.