L’AIMABLE (Kindness)

L’AIMABLE (Kindness) by Joseph Nicolas Pancrace Royer – Composer (1705-1755)

Claudine Gómez-Vuistaz – Harpsichordist

It is a rare privilege to  hear “live” harpsichord music.  Those interested in Baroque music, a Western classical style music from 1600 to 1750, will have such unique opportunity to experience as Mexican born harpsichord performer Claudine Gómez-Vuistaz steps tonight on stage at Antonello Hall at MacPhail Center for Music. This event is sponsored by the prestigious one-hundred year old Minnesotan musical school and the Mexican Consulate in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Gómez-Vuistaz, who also performed on June 9, 2012 at Lloyd Ultan Recital Hall at the University of Minnesota, showcased French Baroque music for harpsichord. Her new CD “La Pléiade” contains a wide selection of instrumental compositions by French composers including Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), Gaspard le Roux (1660-1707), Jacques Duphly (1715-178), and Joseph Nicolas Pancrace Royer (1705-1755).

Among some of the favorite pieces performed were “La Marche des Scythes (March of the Scythians), and “L’Aimable (Kindness) by Joseph Nicolas Pancrace Royer who was born in Turin, France.  As a composer and harpsichordist, and at the age of twenty-nine years old, Pancrace Royer became “maître de musique des enfants de France, responsible for the musical education of the children of the king, Louis XV.” In 1753, he became music director of the Royal Opera orchestra, writing six operas, of which the “ballet-héroïque Zaïde, reine de Grenade was his most popular opera.

For Claudine Gómez-Vuistaz, who studied at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City under the tutelage of Luisa Duron, her dedication to performing this musical genre and music of French and Mexican composers is no coincidence. Having inherited the love of baroque music from her father Claudio who was born in Paris, France,  Claudine has devoted most of her professional life to teaching and performing baroque music; and her album is a way to honor her father’s memory. Claudine’s early fascination with harpsichord music and this antique musical instrument came from her mother, Emma Gomez, who is a renowned Mexican harpsichordist herself, performer, and a music teacher who taught piano at their home in Mexico City.

“That experience I hold as something wonderful, and I never doubted what I wanted to do in my life – to play the harpsichord,” says Gómez-Vuistaz.



Gomez-Vuistaz adds, “In Mexico there is a grand tradition in harpsichord music and Mexican baroque music that today we highlight throughout ambitious projects.” For the last ten years, Claudine coordinates a permanent cycle of classical/baroque music that specializes in the repertoire of harpsichord music, of which over 60 harpsichord performers from all over the world have attended. Other highly popular festivals include “Festival de Música Barroca” which is held in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.


“Baroque music forms a major portion of the classical music canon. Composers of the baroque era also include Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederic Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi, George Philipp Teleman, Claudio Monteverdi, and Henry Purcell.”

After this year’s death of Gustav Leonhardt, the most important harpsichord performer since the grand composers of the 18th century, Gómez-Vuistaz said,

“All harpsichord performers have the task to continue disseminating harpsichord music, and to teach young musicians this wonderful music and the beauty of this instrument.”

One of the principal characteristics of French music for harpsichord was its search for expression, particularly the pieces of “character” which were dedicated to some honorable person and social influence.

Claudine Gómez-Vuistaz goes on to emphasize that while the fortepiano was becoming the fashionable musical instrument of Europe in the late 18th century, in France, harpsichord music was still vibrant and it was in its last boom. In its own way, but not without quality, the music repertoire contained in her new album is a sample of some of the most recognized pieces of French music for harpsichord of the 18th century and perhaps considered the swan’s last songs for harpsichord.




A new Year and what if in 2012 there would be no more suffering and you could reach enlightenment? According to an ancient spiritual philosopher this is possible.

Prince Siddhartha Gautama, born to a Royal Hindu family between 563 BCE (dates vary in history), left  his palace for the first time at age 29 to meet his subjects;  but what he encountered was most unexpected – men of old age, disease, and suffering.   As he confronted a reality unknown to him up to this point in his privileged life, he made the intention to learn and see life beyond his sheltered walls. From multiple street encounters with similar scenarios in which he witnessed extreme poverty, hunger, and great suffering among the people, he vowed to find a path that would eliminate suffering from the world.

“He abandoned his crown for the life of a mendicant in an event known traditionally as the “Great Departure.”

He first turned to the teachings of two other spiritual leaders, Alara Kalama, and later, Udaka Ramaputta.  In this new physical and intellectual approach to living his life, he achieved high levels of meditative consciousness;  yet after six years Siddhartha Buddha, the spiritual founder of Buddhism, was still not satisfied and left his humble surroundings to live an even more extreme ascetic life in order to find enlightenment.  To this end, he gave up all earthly pleasures, and for forty-nine days he continued his search through meditation. Towards the end of this period, he gave up food until a point where he collapsed, as he was bathing, and almost drowned in the river.  During a week-long fasting and meditation, Buddha vowed to never arise until he had discovered the Truth.

On the sixth day of  this fast, at age 36, during a full-moon night on July, under a Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, India, Buddha was awakened and finally found enlightenment. As he acquired insight to his long-standing spiritual pursuit, he discovered that extreme asceticism was not the way, but rather the “Middle way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.” His teachings known as the “Four Noble Truths” consist of Nirvana – “The perfect peace of a mind that’s free from ignorance, greed, hatred, and other afflictive states ( Anger, attachment, guilt, lack of Self-Confidence,  and fear). And thus an enlighten person purified his mind from desire, aversion, and ignorance.”  In order to eliminate suffering, a person must eliminate desire and live a life based on moderation and other moral principles.


Enshrined Buddha sitting in meditation under a Bodhi Tree


“In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme “Buddha” meaning “awakened one” or “the enlightened one.” (MIA)

Buddha who understood the cause of suffering, and the steps necessary to eliminate it debated whether or not he should teach the Dharma (“The teaching of the Buddha  as an exposition of the Natural Law applied to the problem of human suffering”) to others.”  “It is written he was concerned that humans could never recognise this path difficult to grasp and practice.” Fortunately, upon further consideration and living by example, he agreed to teach this philosophy and/or religion, first passed on by oral tradition. After more than two thousand years later, over 300 million people around the world attempt to follow step by step his teachings. And many go to great lengths to achieve Nirvana.

“Buddhism denies a supreme deity. Its earliest form was based on Shakyamuni’s teaching and moral code and stressed that everyone, through concerted individual effort and action, could achieve enlightenment” (MIA).  Since the 6th. Century B.C. several Buddhist sects have emerged including,  Hinayana, Mahayana, Esoteric Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Zen/Ch’an Buddhism. “Zen Buddhism (Ch’an in Chinese) stresses an individual’s efforts to achieve enlightenment through meditation, the true nature of existence.”

Buddhist Chanting  and Nature video

Or if you prefer music and singing


How long will it take a person to find enlightenment or nirvana you may ask?  No one can ascertain for sure, but if you would like a complete introduction to Buddhism, the nature of the “Four Noble Truths”, and the elimination of suffering as explained by His Holiness Dalai Lama see:


Lecture at Emory University

In the meantime, I’m off to Yoga practice – Namaste!!!

(“An expression derived from Sanskrit,  a combination of two words, “Namo Aste” – The recognition of one’s existence by another person.”)


Whether one practices a religion or not, there is one common attribute among all world religions, faiths, and philosophies: the magnificent creations of works of art, including paintings, sculptures, structures,  and music, which have been created in the service of religion throughout the centuries as a result of thousands of commissions by religious leaders and devotees.

“Hallelujah” in this splendid legacy that continues to enrich our daily lives and our world.

On this Christian holiday, we briefly explore two historical works that are as contemporary today, as they were when first created.  Both works of music and art share similar religious subject matter.


George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)

Invited by the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, George Frederic Handel, began working on a new commission in the summer of 1741 in Dublin, Ireland.  On April 9, 1742 Handel premiered his English-language oratorio “Messiah” in Neal’s Musick Hall in Fishamble Street. This benefit concert, attended by more the 700 hundred persons, raised 400 pounds for Mercer’s Hospital, the Charitable Infirmary,  and the Charitable Music Society.

Handel, who was born in Halle, Germany in 1685, a virtuoso organist, lived most of his life in England. He was known for composing more than 40 operas; and he was not considered a composer of sacred music. Yet, it is remarkable that in 2011, he is best known for this religious music and libretto based on biblical text assembled by Charles Jennes that celebrates Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter.

It is Handel’s magnificent music which has endured the passage of time and “the real glory of Messiah lies in its choruses” (Minnesota Orchestra Program Notes). “Even its creator could be overpowered by this music. As he completed the “Hallelujah” chorus, Handel, tears streaming down his face said, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God himself.”

Performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra


Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Leonardo da Vinci, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, inventor, and writer was born in Florence, Italy in 1452;  and among his recognized genius in a myriad of fields, he was also credited with “breathing new life” into religious works of art during the High Renaissance Period (1500-1600). In  1506 King Louis XII of France commissioned Da Vinci  to create a work of art based on a popular theme during this period in history, “Christ giving his blessing to the world.”

Da Vinci completed his work titled  Salvador Mundi (Savior of the World) in 1513;  yet this  oil on walnut-panel painting was lost to the art world for more than one hundred years. Fortunately, his masterpiece, which some art historians say may be the “male” counterpart to the Mona Lisa,  has been re-discovered and authenticated by several art experts; and it is now on exhibit along with 75 other paintings and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery in London through February 5, 2012.




Pan American Unity

Pan American Unity – Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

Diego Rivera’s work brought into the 21st. century

Imagine walking into the building of the City College of San Francisco to see for the first time its enormous centerpiece-five-panel fresco, 22 feet high by 74 feet wide, titled “Pan American Unity” painted by Mexican muralist painter Diego Rivera.

Pan American Unity was “the keystone of Art in Action” project for the Golden Gate International Exposition which was held from June 1 to September 29, 1940. “The exhibit was designed so that the public could watch artists in the process of creating their paintings, sculptures, and frescoes.”  Rivera’s fresco was completed on December 2nd,  1940; and it is estimated that 25-30,000 people visited the exhibition to see this iconic masterpiece.


Rivera said the mural was “About the marriage of the artistic expression of the North and of the South on this continent. I believe in order to make an American art, a real American art, this will be necessary, this blending of the art of the Indian, the Mexican, the Eskimo, with the kind of urge which makes the machine, the invention in the material side of life, which is also an artistic urge, the same urge primarily but in a different form of expression.”

On December 8th., 2011, on the 125th anniversary of Diego Rivera’s birth, Google-doodle-logo gave tribute to the Mexican legendary artist, painter, muralist, and political activist.

“The doodle features Rivera hard at work on a mural chronicling Mexico’s cultural transformation—from its agrarian roots to bustling cities complete with skyscrapers and airplanes—with Google’s logo spelled out in the background.”


Today, Rivera’s murals grace government buildings and cultural institutions across Mexico and the United States. Influenced by the Mexican Revolution (1910-16) and the Russian Revolution (1917), Rivera believed “That art should play a role in empowering working people to understand their own histories.” He wanted his art to be accessible and viewed by the public at large rather than confined to art galleries. While he was classically trained at Academia de San Carlos School of Painting in Mexico City in his youth, and actually begin to draw at age three, later, as an accomplished painter in his twenties, he traveled to Italy and studied Renaissance fresco style of painting.

Upon returning from Europe, he had the opportunity to establish himself as a muralist painter and implement his innovative ideas when in 1921, the Mexican government commissioned Rivera, along with Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros to paint a series of frescoes in schools and government buildings as part of a new cultural program. This movement, later known, as the Mexican Mural Renaissance would lay the foundation for Rivera’s highly sought-after mural work in the United States from 1930-1950. Rivera’s massive frescoes depict social, historical, national and working class themes, religious motifs, pre-conquest iconography, and the industrialization of America at the turn of the 20th. Century.

Born on December 8, 1886 in Guanajuato, Mexico,  Diego Rivera, whose career spanned over sixty years, was one of Mexico’s most influential painters and one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. “Since his death in 1957, his hundreds of public artworks, his many oils and watercolors, and his political daring continue to contribute immensely to the development of public art across the Americas.”

Music: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23: I. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito by Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Performed by Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra

Latin Renaissance

A new Latin Renaissance – Past – Present – Future

Inspired by the diversity of Latin music from across the Americas and Spain, we produced (Minnesota Orchestra Volunteer Association and Casa de Esperanza) a concert “Latin Renaissance” at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis several years ago. The show featured the music of Latino composers from the late 1800’s to the present, and it featured Mexican waltzes, Argentinian tangos, Brazilian sambas and bossa novas, Cuban danzas and boleros, as well as an amazing cast of performers.  This year, we are seeing a new kind of Latin Renaissance in the Twin Cities steeped in music, art, film, dance, and literature thanks to the efforts of leaders of the Arts community, the Mexican Consulate, and the public at large.

As the Twin Cities gets a glimpse at the first ever Latin Film Festival this fall, a series of Latin performers graced the concert hall of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota. Last Tuesday, Latino-infused, Chicago-based company Luna Negra Dance Theater founded by Cuban-born choreographer Eduardo Vilaro, whose dance performances have been described as “haunting, haunted, and hypnotic” (Chicago-Sun Times) presented a number of dance sketches with a “theatrical bent but as with the other works on the program what stood out was the dancing itself — strong, nuanced, well-integrated into the performers’ bodies.” (Star Tribune)


The tribute to Frida Kahlo titled “Paloma Querida” (“Beloved Dove”) caught my attention as four dancers dressed in distinctive costume portrayed the various faces of the legendary Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954), as the Chicago-Sun Times notes:

“The youthful, passionate incarnation in a red velvet robe; the “indigenous” Frida in a folkloric costume; the gender crossing Frida, dressed in a man’s suit; and, the yearning and damaged Frida in a  corset like costume.”

I chose four of Kahlo’s paintings to illustrate these images and her amazing talent.  Kahlo who has also given inspiration to my music (“Frida”) for her passion and thirst for life despite tremendous health challenges, as well as her incomparable ability to possess strong, artistic, yet vulnerable human qualities has made her an inspirational figure throughout the world.

Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress: http://www.fridakahlofans.com/c0020.html

Self Portrait – Mexican folk style of painting: http://www.fridakahlofans.com/c0040.html

Self Portrait with Cropped Hair Frida: http://www.fridakahlofans.com/c0330.html

The Broken Column: http://www.fridakahlofans.com/c0480.html

On October 28, Mexican born and Grammy-nominated Latin jazz singer Magos Herrera appeared on stage to promote her new album “México Azul,” which gives tribute to legendary Mexican songwriters and the classic cultural films of the 1940’s to the 1960’s.  During her performance at the Ordway, Magos mesmerizing interpretation of Alvaro Carrillo’s (1921-1969) acclaimed song “Luz de Luna,” originally written as a folk-ranchera style piece is sang with a fresh contemporary perspective. Now, under Herrera’s smooth vocals, the piece took on a jazz sound. The new arrangement performed by an ensemble of international musicians is reminiscent of the music of Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927 –1994).

The lyrics by Carillo:  “Yo quiero luz de luna para mi noche triste para cantar divina la ilusion que me trajiste … (I want the moonlight for my melancholy night to sing the divine illusion you brought me..for since you left me I have not had the light of the moon…)


From Nov. 3-13, 2011, the Film Society of Minneapolis and St. Paul will showcase more than 30 Latin films from Mexico, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Peru and other countries, including a documentary by director Gabriel Figueroa Flores (Mexico), who is also a photographer.  His film A Portrait of Diego: The Revolutionary Gaze (Un retrato de Diego: La revolución de la mirada) is the story of one of the greatest Mexican painters of the 20th century. Known for his enormous frescoes depicting Mexico’s cultural and political history, Diego Rivera (1886-1957) who married Frida Kahlo in 1929,  is also credited with giving birth to the Mexican Renaissance.


Along with José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rivera initiated a mural movement that spread across Mexico and into the United States from the 1920’s to the 1930’s; yet his work is today as popular as it was during his lifetime.  This documentary film of Diego Rivera was released in 2007 to commemorate his death in 1957. This November, it will showcase at Minneapolis’s St. Anthony Main Theater.


And if you want to see Figueroa Flores’s  photography collection a “unique collection of palladium-platinum prints” (Photography at the Center),  you will have that opportunity on Friday, Nov. 4.


And finally, in two days, it will be Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) a festival rooted in Aztec traditions. On this day family and friends gather to honor those who have left this world, and many celebrants create ofrendas (offerings) for the deceased that contain their pictures, flowers, and other significant mementos of their lives. To see the young people’s ofrenda’s, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has an exhibition of works created by high school students from El Colegio to commemorate this ancient celebration.


Through music, art, dance, film, and literature, a new Latin Renaissance seems to be taking place across Minneapolis/St. Paul and the  United States, as contemporary young and established Latin artists bring to the present the historical works and legacies of dozens of artists from the past, while projecting an artistic future with a new sense of creative expression, interpretation, and inspiration embedded by the rich cultural traditions of all of the Latin cultures.



Juan José Calatayud (1939-2003)

I unexpectedly came across a YouTube video of Juan José Calatayud playing the classic jazz  tune “Misty” on the piano and tears came to my eyes, as a flush of recollections ran through my mind .

You might ask: why so sentimental? It might have been the thought  I would never meet this virtuoso pianist and inspirational man in person – we had planned to do, two years before his death – or that he left an extraordinary musical legacy. Or was it the melancholic melody of Misty? The marvelous vocal performance in English and Spanish by Veronica Ituarte? Or  his photo and the recent stories of him told by mutual fellow musicians?  Although I never met Juan José, he was  greatly admired by our family because he was part of the extended Calatayud clan.

Born on July 31, 1939 in Córdoba, Veracruz, Mexico, Juan José Calatayud was widely known in Mexico for bringing jazz to such a prevalent place in that country’s history. In his book  Jazz in Mexico,  Alain Derbez (author and musician) writes that Calatayud should be in the Jazz encyclopedia because of the same reason  that explains Dave Brubeck’s presence.“In Mexico, as it happened with Brubeck in U.S.A., when Calatayud started playing jazz in the 1960’s, he created new audiences: young people who would enter the jazz world not in a jazz club but in a theater, in a University, in cultural forums.”

Juan Jose Calatayud was a man who lived for his music until the end of his life. Despite an automobile accident at the age of twenty-six years old  that left him paralyzed in his legs,  he never stopped playing the piano, recording music, teaching, or delighting jazz music fans that came to hear him perform in orchestras in Mexico or the United States, including  at jazz festivals  or playing Gershwin’s music as a soloist with the National Symphonic Orchestra in New York.

Most of all he never forgot about the joy of living every moment!

“Juan Jose Calatayud, jazz master, life teacher, enthusiastic peace lover, intelligent and creative human being died on Sunday, March 23,  in 2003 in Mexico City, Mexico,” Alain Derbez said.

It’s been eight years since Calatayud’s passing; but, thanks to today’s  in-the- moment-and-forever technology, we can see and hear celebrated performers – some who have passed away, but for a moment caught on camera, are still here with us: breathing, laughing and performing with complete surrender.

This gives me certain comfort knowing I can just turn to one of the many music videos at any time or place and be reminded of his talent, love for music and unforgotten legacy.

On this Sunday evening,  with fall in the air, I leave you with “Misty”. [music by Erroll Garner, lyrics by Johnny Burke, performed by Juan José Calatayud (piano) and Veronica Ituarte (Voice)].



Amazing Grace

John Newton (1725–1807) Poet

Like other Sunday mornings, I started to write this blog, and could not help but remember the events of a decade ago. Looking for a musical tribute about September 11, 2001 which forever changed thousand of lives, and perhaps the course of history, I came across dozens of heartfelt tributes, online, from people all over the world.  Many of those tributes contained one of the most recognized hymns in the English language.

From the music of a tune called “New Britain” and the words by an English poet and minister John Newton (1725–1807),  came Amazing Grace; a song which is still today as meaningful and popular as it was when it was written in 1773.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…”

It is said that Newton wrote the verses inspired by personal experiences. While in the early part of his life, he had no religious conviction, later, through personal tribulations, he turned to the study of theology; and he was later ordained in the Church of England in 1764. Dedicated to writing hymns, on New Year’s Day, Newton wrote Amazing Grace for his Sunday sermon to illuminate a doctrine of forgiveness and redemption.

“Yea, when flesh and heart shall fail,  and mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, a life of joy and peace. When we’ve been here ten thousand years…bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise..then when we’ve first begun.

Amazing Grace, “how sweet the sound…” performed by Il Divo, a multinational singing group, is one of the best performances of this hymn, I’ve ever heard; and the video seems to capture images suitable for a day of remembrance.

Sobre Las Olas – Over The Waves

Juventino Rosas (1868-1894) – Helmut Brenner (1957-)

Austrian born non fiction author and ethnomusicologist Helmut Brenner lived several years in Mexico. While studying Spanish in the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato, Brenner became acquainted with one legendary Mexican composer whose music caught his admiration and attention. After ten years of “patient and meticulous research,” he published in 2000, Juventino Rosas’ biography and catalog of works, titled “Juventino Rosas, His Life, His Work, His Time.”

Who was this little known Mexican composer that would capture such devotion from Mr. Brenner, you may ask? And to answer this question consider this quote from the author himself as written in the introduction of his book:

“When you are in love, it’s the loveliest night of the year,” sang Ann Blyth in the movie The Great Caruso (1951). Later the song “The Loveliest Night of the Year” was recorded by her starring partner, Mario Lanza. Almost everyone has heard the melody, and just a few know that the song is an English version of a Mexican waltz, but who would ever have imagined that it was written by a Mexican-Indian composer, Juventino Rosas (1868-1894). It is his very best-known piece, originally titled “Sobre las Olas” (“Over the Waves”).

Mr. Brenner’s intention to bring Juventino Rosas’ music and biography to a wider audience” is not only greatly appreciated by those of us who are Rosas’ fans, but it is an admirable work that gives justice to the short life and music of a composer who only devoted a decade to composing due to his untimely death at the age of twenty-six years old.  Yet, Juventino Rosas was the first Mexican composer whose music gained recognition internationally; and his music was very popular in the late nineteenth century, especially in the United States .

“Rosas was one of the best known Mexican composers of salon music, and the composer with the highest number of editions abroad and of sound recordings, the first of them released in 1898, ” Mr. Brenner writes.

The book divided in three parts, includes Rosas’ chronological sequence of different periods in his life, the posthumous evaluation of Rosas’ life: publications; sound recordings, films, statues, and homages, and the thematic catalog, which is the main part of  Brenner’s research. The catalog includes all known works, and gives information on autographs, existing editions, and the location of the first editions.

“Sobre Las Olas” (Over the Waves”) has been performed the world over during a span of more than one hundred years by symphonies, small ensembles, and Mariachi bands.  But perhaps to give this popular and internationally known waltz its proper due, I have chosen two performances, one by the Berlin Symphony, and the other by a Russian Military orchestra, which exemplify this wonderful orchestral work.

watch?v=g7POa3nXagE&feature=related (Original Instrumental German Version)

Sobre Las Olas (Russian Instrumental Version)

– Mario Lanza from the Loveliest Night of The Year Video.

For more information on Mr. Helmut Brenner: http://helmutbrenner.tripod.com/

Why The Arts Matter