Recent expansion and growth of US Orchestras: Latin-American Orchestras

Miguel Castro, Tambora, performing with the Houston Latin American Philharmonic.
Miguel Castro, Tambora, performing with the Houston Latin American Philharmonic.

A few days ago I discovered the Houston Latin American Philharmonic. An orchestra formed by Venezuelan conductor Glenn R. Garrido in 2013, the group is obviously based in Houston, the fourth largest city in the US with a est. population of 2,160,821–nearly one million of which is comprised of Hispanics or Latinos (including White Hispanics).

As you can see from its mission statement:

The Houston Latin American Philharmonic is a professional orchestra created to promote and elevate to the highest artistic level possible Latin American music, musicians and composers.

The group focuses on Latin American music, musicians, and composers.

I’d mentioned the Boston Latin-American Orchestra (formed in 2011) in my post, Classical vs. Pop [vs. the Rest], but hadn’t really spent the time exploring this type of ensemble.  I’ve started a subpage in my Ethnic Orchestras of North America tab for to list Latin-American Orchestras and ensembles which focus to some extent on this repertoire.

I think groups like this highlight the difficulties we have with defining Classical Music. With the other large ethnic ensembles which, while modeled on European styled orchestras, tend to incorporate a significant amount of native or indigenous instruments and repertoire (i.e. Traditional Chinese Orchestras and Arabic Orchestras) the Latin-American composers have some closer ties to Western world, instrumentation, and compositional style while still incorporating many indigenous idioms, rhythms, and other stylistic quirks.

Composers such as Ginastera, Piazzolla, Villa-Lobos, Chávez, Golijov, and Revueltas have regularly been included in programming of Western Orchestras for some time. While most of these composers don’t have the canonical status of many of their German, French, Italian, and Soviet counterparts belies the fact that there are a fair number of composers which are ragularly performed in Meso- and South American countries which rarely get programmed here.

One of my favorite CDs, Musica de la Puebla de Los Angeles: Music by Women of Baroque Mexico, Cuba & Europe, is by one of our resident ensembles at IUS, Ars Femina, an early music group which focuses on compositions by women composers. It’s sometimes difficult for us to understand how classical music traditions morphed when introduced into countries outside of continental Europe which impedes our understanding of the art form as it has developed in those non-European Countries (or even in European countries not considered central to the Classical Music tradition).

What I find interesting about some of the Latin American Orchestras is the focus on Dance and having dance soloists during their concerts.  For example, during the Houston Latin-American Philharmonic concert, “VIVA LATIN AMERICA,” Elizabeth Wingfield and Mauro Marcone danced during the orchestra’s performance of Piazzola’s “Libertango”:

Elizabeth Wingfield and Mauro Marcone dancing to Piazzola's "Libertango" performed by the Houston Latin-American Philharmonic
Elizabeth Wingfield and Mauro Marcone dancing to Piazzola’s “Libertango” performed by the Houston Latin-American Philharmonic

And in 2011, the Pan American Symphony Orchestra (formed in 1990) had a concert with performances by a quartet of Flamencas (Carmela Greco, Maria Juncal, La Truco, and Pepa Molina) from Spain during one of their recent concerts which also featured Composer and Oudist, Marcel Khalifé.

Carmela Greco, Maria Juncal, La Truco, and Pepa Molina
Carmela Greco, Maria Juncal, La Truco, and Pepa Molina with PASO conductor and artistic director, Sergio Alessandro Bušlje

Given the fact that one of the fastest growing populations in the US is the Hispanic and Latino group, and that the NEA SPPA have shown that Latin Music has the second largest number of online participation (after, interestingly, Classical Music) I can only imagine we’ll start seeing more and more of these Orchestras (as well as other types of Latin bands) forming and probably at an accelerated rate as we seem to be seeing with Chinese and Middle Eastern Orchestras here in the US.

How I’m starting to interpret this growth of the Ethnic Orchestras is simply a continuation of the fragmentation of audiences which is leading to specialization of orchestras for their particular niches. While the traditional Orchestras tend to be the default, they are no longer the dominant arts ensembles that they might have been in the middle of the 20th century.

We first saw a rise in Early and New Music Ensembles and Orchestras and groups which was natural since Symphony Orchestras tend to focus on late classical to early modern music with the bulk of the repertoire in the Romantic/Late Romantic. That has only increased. Similarly with non-Western Orchestras–since Symphony Orchestras focus on that Central European tradition, orchestras focusing on Symphonic Works or large ensemble works outside of that region are now filling the gaps at the periphery and are getting to be far less marginal as they increase in size and number.

As I’ve blogged about here in the past, I believe that the ratio of Art Music (and the small and large ensembles which perform it) to population is relatively constant.  What’s changing is the type of Art Music which is just a reflection of the changing ethnic demographics.  Whether we refer to these non-European Orchestras as “Classical Music” or not is irrelevant since many of these cultural institutions co-evolved with the European Classical Music culture, sometimes overlapping and dovetailing it, sometimes diverging significantly from it, but always in tandem with it.

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