The School of Music at UNCSA will present the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra with Guillermo Figueroa on Saturday, April 29. Guest conductor and violinist Figueroa will both play and lead the orchestra in a performance of Ernesto Cordero’s Violin Concerto, his recording of which received a Latin Grammy nomination. The program will also include Jennifer Higdon’s “Blue Cathedral” and Hector Berlioz’s masterpiece, “Symphonie Fantastique.”
The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. on April 29 at the Stevens Center, 405 W. Fourth St. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students with valid ID online or by calling the box office at 336-721-1945.
Maestro Figueroa, who is the principal conductor of The Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, explained that Cordero is one of the most important Puerto Rican composers for guitar, as well as violin, flute-piccolo, piano, voice, and more.
“We are friends and contemporaries,” Figueroa said. He described Cordero’s violin concerto — “Ínsula Tropical for Violin and String Orchestra” (2007) — as: “very lively. He (Cordero) uses rhythms and feelings associated with Puerto Rico, and the 3/2 time signature, which is typical in Latin music. The Central Mountain area of Puerto Rico inspired the second movement, a slow waltz.”
The third movement, a fantasy on salsa rhythms called Golden Hummingbird, is very fast.
“It is very enjoyable and listener-friendly,” Figueroa said.
Figueroa's recording of Cordero’s violin concertos on the Naxos label with The Zagreb Soloists received a Latin Grammy nomination in 2012. One of the most versatile and respected musical artists of his generation — renowned as conductor, violinist, violist and concertmaster — Figueroa is also the music director of the Music in the Mountains Festival in Colorado and the Lynn Philharmonia in Florida. He is the founder of the highly acclaimed Figueroa Music and Arts Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
While he was the music director of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, Figueroa met Saxton Rose, currently dean of the School of Music at UNCSA, who was principal bassoon at the time.
“Guillermo is a legend in Puerto Rico and throughout the world,” said Rose.
“Guillermo is a legend in Puerto Rico and throughout the world.”School of Music Dean Saxton Rose
They performed together in the Puerto Rico Symphony to critical acclaim at Carnegie Hall in 2003, The Kennedy Center in 2004, and Spain in 2005.
“Guillermo is a Berlioz specialist and has made recordings of all of Berlioz’s works,” Rose continued. “It’s perfect that he will perform this piece with us, and a great experience for our students to perform with him.”
One of the most famous symphonies in the world, “Symphonie Fantastique” is said to have been inspired by an unrequited love affair of Berlioz. It comprises five movements, the last being “A Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” which includes the use of large bells that Berlioz had cast especially for the piece.
The giant bells — one in C, the other in G — are not part of the usual percussion instruments in an orchestra, but UNCSA located a pair of them at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
“We traveled to Cincinnati to pick up these Berlioz Bells especially for this performance,” Dean Rose said.
Rose and Figueroa collaborated to select the music in this concert. “It’s a great program with lots of variety,” Rose said.
“We have set a priority to have our students perform music by underrepresented groups, such as female composers and composers from Latin America,” Rose noted.
“Guillermo suggested the Jennifer Higdon piece.”
Higdon’s “Blue Cathedral” is a 13-minute full-orchestra composition that the Curtis Institute of Music commissioned and premiered in 2000.
In her program notes for the piece, Higdon wrote: “Blue … like the sky. Where all possibilities soar. Cathedrals … a place of thought, growth, spiritual expression … serving as a symbolic doorway in to and out of this world. Blue represents all potential and the progression of journeys. Cathedrals represent a place of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge and growth. As I was writing this piece, I found myself imagining a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky. Because the walls would be transparent, I saw the image of clouds and blueness permeating from the outside of this church.”
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April 14, 2023