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Leo Brouwer - "Cancion de Gesta "

Leo Brouwer

Canción de Gesta (Epopeya del Granma, la nave llena de Futuro; Epopée [epic poem] of Granma, the ship loaded with Future)

Leo Brouwer

Born: March 1, 1939, Havana, Cuba

Instrumentation: Symphonic Winds

Composed: 1979

Duration: 26 minutes

University of Maryland Wind Orchestra

Saturday, November 5, 2016, 8:00 pm

Elsie & Marvin Dekelboum Concert Hall

Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

The University of Maryland at College Park

There are numerous extant descriptions and program notes of Leo Brouwer's Canción de Gesta, each taking a decidedly political tone. However, the work actually has a much more insightful, diplomatic, and peaceful genesis.

The American Wind Symphony, a summer wind orchestra for college musicians led by Robert Austin Boudreau, commissioned Brouwer to write a piece for their group in the 1970s. Upon reception of Canción de Gesta, the American Wind Symphony then took the piece on their summer tour, performing it upon their floating stage barge; the ensemble still often closes their concerts with the work.

A package arrived from Cuba in 1980 inside, a full score for wind orchestra, with a note saying, “This is my gift to you for what you have given to my brothers and sisters.”

An explanation: Ever since my meetings with Villa Lobos, I have had a penchant for developing more concrete relationships with my fellow musicians in the Americas. In '79 [ed. note: 1969?] I had traveled extensively in Latin America and Central America. I had auditioned a wonderful horn player in Bogota, actually the principal with the National Symphony.

When he told me that his only teacher had been a drunken clarinetist, I asked if he would have an interest in studying with Rainer D’Intinnis, who had been a colleague at Juilliard and was then principal with the New York Philharmonic. He was excited about the idea.

From that conversation developed the concept of bringing 12 “Caribbean Scholars,“ young musicians from Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Honduras, Puerto Rico, who came to Pittsburgh and studied at Pitt, Carnegie-Mellon and Duquesne Universities, while the AWSO housed, fed and provided winter clothing for them.

Out of that program came Pedro Dias, principal English horn with the Met, Fernando Meza, percussion faculty at the University of Minnesota, and Rolando Morales Matos, on the faculty of Curtis Institute. These were the “brothers and sisters” whom Leo Brouwer indicated.

The thematic material of this epic voyage of “the boat loaded with future” is based on Handel’s Water Music; dramatic use of percussion reappears again and again.

(For more on Boudreau's "Caribbean Scholars," see this post from the American Wind Symphony, which includes photos of the group.)

Weaving many musical and programmatic themes together to create a complex tapestry, Canción de Gesta incorporates a story of optimism and hope for a new day from Brouwer's Cuban home with the ideals of the American Wind Symphony. As can be seen in the work's subtitle, Epopeya del Granma, la nave llena de Futuro (Epopée [epic poem] of Granma, the ship loaded with Future), the work synthesizes Handel's Water Music with the journey of Fidel Castro and his revolutionary compatriots from Mexico to Cuba aboard the boat Granma in 1959. Brouwer took inspiration in this vein from from the Pablo Neruda poem, also named Canción de Gesta, that detailed the Granma's journey in verse. However, "the ship loaded with the future" can also be interpreted as the American Wind Symphony's Point Counterpoint II, the floating stage barge populated by young musicians, a musical heir to the ship utilized to premiere Handel's Water Music.

Additional Resources:

Leo Brouwer, Canción de Gesta

University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, Michael Votta, Jr., conductor

Leo Brouwer, Cancion de Gesta for Orchestra (slightly different scoring & length)

National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, Ivan del Prado, conductor

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