At times of natural disasters, such as the recent hurricanes in Florida, Texas and the Caribbean, and the earthquakes in México, tragedy becomes personal when you have friends or family in harm’s way. We have many contacts around the globe who cause us worry when we read about threats to their countries. Luckily everyone is safe this time and we send our best wishes that life will return to normal as soon as possible.
With this blog post, I look forward to introducing you to some of our other dear friends with whom we have collaborated over many years, and continue to enjoy making music together. The artistic vision of Southwest Chamber Music, the ensemble my husband and I founded in 1986, has always included a commitment to diversity, reflecting the reality of the population of Los Angeles. With southern California hosting many of the world’s “second” communities (the largest outside of their home countries), most people in Los Angeles enjoy having the world at their doorstep each day. Our local cuisine is authentic, numerous shopping areas represent different countries, and we have a mix of cultures in many neighborhoods that is one of the planet’s best experiments in people getting along.
However, working with culture in this environment can be a challenge. Arts organizations throughout the world strive to reach new audiences beyond their core constituents. In classical music this is especially a problem as our standard repertory is not only old, but also Euro-centric and male. My book discusses the current state of the classical music business and it certainly has its challenges. However, organizations such as Southwest Chamber Music and our LA International New Music Festival have made substantial inroads toward changing this situation.
My husband Jeff von der Schmidt grew up in a town in east Los Angeles with a large Latin-American community. Many of his schoolmates and family friends exposed him to Mexican music, clothing, food and language from his earliest childhood. At his parents’ restaurant, the staff came from many backgrounds, and included one of the first woman bartenders in Los Angeles! It was a stimulating environment in a very small American restaurant.
In later years, when deciding on our next project, Jeff went back to early inspiration, remembering the music of Carlos Chávez that he heard at his neighbor’s home as a child. To make a long story a bit shorter, this important Mexican composer’s music became the focus of many of our activities over a five year period which resulted in two Grammy® Awards, eight nominations, two tours to Mexico, many side-by-side performances in Los Angeles with Mexican musicians, and became the impetus for numerous trips to Latin America over the past 14 years. We presented the music in educational programs throughout Los Angeles County, collaborated with Latino community venues, and recorded five compact discs of Chávez’ music for small ensembles.
We also attracted new audience members, supporters and board members to our organization by presenting music from Mexico. With an ongoing commitment presenting non-European compositions, we observed over the years that our audiences successfully represented our community, reflecting the diversity in Jeff’s programming .
To both of us personally, the artistic journey into a broad repertory had benefits beyond our wildest dreams. Most important were the friendships we developed, and are still developing, with our neighbors to the south in Mexico, Central and South America. Incredible travel experiences have been one result, with collaborations nurtured over glasses of tequila and mezcal, tacos and ceviche. We even cheered our dear friends, the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble, watching them featured in the opening scenes of the latest James Bond movie, Spectre, while viewing the movie in Hong Kong!
We especially cherish our personal and professional relationship with Tambuco, one of Mexico’s preeminent music ensembles and one of the finest percussion quartets anywhere. We were introduced to them by our mutual friend, composer-percussionist William (Bill) Kraft who was the timpanist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and also founded their Green Umbrella contemporary music series that remains a model for our nation. When Bill and Jeff discussed the percussion works for our Chàvez project, Bill strongly recommended that we consider hiring Tambuco for the performances and recordings because they owned the pre-Columbian instruments needed and it would be difficult to find many of the instruments in Los Angeles.
Thanks, Bill! This began our literal journey with Tambuco: years of side-by-side performances with our ensemble at home and in Mexico, planning meetings in both countries, recordings and trips together to multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy ceremonies, and constant dreaming together. Hassles with visas, percussion deliveries, storage of instruments and difficult venues never got in the way of the friendships and performances, among our finest concerts over 30 years.
The members of Tambuco — Ricardo Gallardo (artistic director), Alfredo Bringas, Raul Tudon and Miguel Gonzalez — are world-class artists and people. They have traveled the globe representing their country to places such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Indonesia, China, most of Latin America, Europe and India. Tambuco is also one of the few non-Japanese artists to win the Japan Prize for their service to Japanese composers; they met the Emperor of Japan and the ensemble is presented in biennial tours throughout Japan. We will join them in Japan in November to observe part of their tour and meet the composers whose works they are performing. And, they have reached new audiences around the world in Spectre, both on screen and performing the music for the opening scenes. Next time you watch the film, you will see them performing on a raised platform as Daniel Craig zooms by them!
We’ve shared so many experiences together. At the 2010 Latin Grammy, the only woman on the red carpet in a simple short dress was striking. Luckily Ricardo knew it was Miss Universe (and Miss Mexico), who graciously posed for a photo. Ricardo’s generosity in opening his heart and home to us (¡con mucho corazon!) has also provided us with an ever-expanding network of new friends and projects. Our most recent compact disc recording presents compositions by Gabriela Ortiz. Her music, and the music of another of Mexico’s leading composers, Javier Alvarez, were centerpieces of our 2015 LA International New Music Festival at REDCAT at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Of course, Tambuco performed with the Southwest ensemble for the festival, and also presented a quartet evening of Japanese composers. With warm Latin spirit, each new colleague becomes a dear friend whose homes we visit and families we embrace.
I know they agree with us that music erases borders and brings people together. We are all living proof of breaking down these artificial walls with common goals and cultural understanding. I look forward to bringing you more stories of numerous people we have the honor and pleasure to know throughout our careers. They provide me with inspiration and I hope they inspire you as well.
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