Hooked on Classics
"Hey goombah, I love a how you dance a rumba/But take a some advice paisano, learn how to mambo."
--Rosemary Clooney, on her No. 1 1954 hit "Mambo Italiano"
Very few American kids have their MP3 players loaded with classical music. They prefer to spend their scrilla on hip-hop because other types of music are not seen as hype, phat, street, crunk or crump enough. Classical, they feel, was long ago played out.
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra says to these doubters, please, grip it on the other level. Yo. Well, maybe not yo. But they do want to teach young (and, for that matter, old) music lovers that the world dances to one beat in many forms. No music, no matter how radical, is unaffected by global styles and cultures, many of which not only influence previous generations of music but today's sounds as well.
That's why the centerpiece performance of both DSO 11th annual cultural concert festivals--the Hispanic Festival Concert on Friday, and the African-American Festival Concert the following evening--will be George Gershwin's "Cuban Overture." It's an accessible, entertaining, rich work that draws influence from Afro-Cuban styles and mambo/rumba rhythms. It samples, if you will, traditional hooks from Latin, African, Spanish and jazz traditions, showing how each affected the other.
"Last year, we combined the...programs, [which] sent a powerful message of cohesiveness to the community," says Lynn Flint-Shaw, Dallas Symphony festival committee chair and the person credited with initiating the festival concerts. "We are taking it one step further with the orchestra performing one piece at both concerts that has a feel of both cultures."
More than just a feel, in fact. Cuban music is the bridge between jazz, rumba and habanera; it is a style of song and dance that came from slaves and peasants in three countries (Spain, Africa and Cuba). George Gershwin, already famous for the jazzy orchestral piece "Rhapsody in Blue" and the tone poem "An American in Paris," was inspired to write "Cuban Overture" after a vacation there in 1930. He was wowed by the Cuban percussion instruments, which came to Cuba from Africa. In fact, for the work's first performance, in 1932, he ordered that the Cuban instruments (e.g., claves, bongos, gourds and maracas) be lined in a row in front of the conductor's stand to showcase his new symphonic tools. (Most think that Tito Puente popularized moving the percussive players to the front of the band, but Gershwin got there first.) The overture is partly rumba, partly habanera, two types of dance rhythms that originate from Africa and Spain, respectively. To further emphasize the work's relevance, the piece will feature Hispanic and African-American students from Dallas Symphony's "young strings" educational program, which offers music lessons and mentoring to young minority string students.
This year's Hispanic Festival Concert also features seven works by Hispanic composers, incorporating instruments as disparate as the harp and rattle, the violin and the marimba xylophone. The African-American Festival Concert's highlights include Daniel Bernard Roumain's "Hip-Hop Essay for Orchestra," which incorporates hip-hop in symphonic form. Roumain is a friend of guest conductor Vincent Danner, so perhaps you can ask Danner to explain what is meant when Roumain is called "a combination of Mozart, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Prince." As for any questions you have about the music, you'll have to attend and answer them for yourself.
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