The 11th Chicago Latino Music Festival and it's Artistic Directors Review - Two great composers discuss their music and the festival

The 11th Chicago Latino Music Festival opened on September 8th, 2016 with a lovely concert of romantic traditional music spanning two and one-half centuries by the Spanish Duo Belcorde at the Instituto Cervantes of Chicago, 31 W. Ohio Street. Manuel Briega on violin and Adrian Fernandez on Spanish guitar performed 9 songs- including 3 danzas- to a sold out audience, putting a slightly different twist on pieces by Manuel de la Falla, Federico Garcia Lorca, Pascual Marquina Narro and others.

"Duo Belcorde"; Manuel Briega, violin and Adrian Fernandez, Spanish guitar

The concert began with a tribute to Miguel de Cervantes on the 4th centenary of his death, “Suite de Danzas Cervantinas” by composer Gaspar Sanz, and comprised a selection of works of Spanish music composed between the 17th and 20th centuries, part of what has been called “Spanish musical nationalism”, defined by “the awareness of the richness of Spanish folklore”.

 The evening also featured a lively reception, at which, naturally, both of the Festival Artistic Directors greeted and chatted with guests. On the eve of the opening, this reviewer had the opportunity to interview both Elbio Barilari and Gustavo Leone. Their biographical sketches and paraphrased remarks are set forth below.

Chicago Latino Music Festival Co-Artistic Directors Gustavo Leone and Elbio Barilari; photo courtesy of Jose M. Osorio

Composer Gustavo Leone, PHD is an Argentinian born Professor of Music at the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Loyola University of Chicago. He has composed extensively for harp, chamber ensemble and full orchestra as well as vocal and choral music and  music for the theater.  He is the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Walter Hinrichson Award. It has been written, “Leone’s is a versatile voice in the contemporary firmament”. He is the original curator and current Co-Director of the Chicago Latino Music Festival at which  many of his works will be performed.

 Leone, a full professor, teaches general music, music theory and composition at Loyola. Music is his profession, his passion, and he composes and plays “all the time”. He is proud to say he enjoys all types of music in different environments. He composes string quartets as well as orchestral and electronic music; composing  music for the theater “is a different type of challenge”.

Audience enjoying a Chicago Latino Music Festival concert

He composes music even for instruments- like the viola- that he doesn’t himself play. He knows how the instrument works, “and how far you can reach” with the instrument, and “more importantly”, he has spent “many decades working with musicians- rehearsals are the most important”. He also conducts student ensembles and reflects that “it is a wonderful experience during which the score comes alive”.

Dr. Gustavo Leone; photo courtesy of Christopher Peppey

Included in his work to be performed at the Festival are his String Quartets Numbers 3 and 4. “String Quartet No. 4”, 2016, as a world premiere will be presented as part of the Festival’s International Cultural Exchange Program  in Bogota’ Columbia on October 5 and in Chicago in it’s U.S. premiere on October 7th at the Harris Theater.String Quartet No. 3”, 2015, will be presented in its world premiere on October 6th at The Harold Washington Library. Leone describes them as “like day and night”. For instance, the 3rd was written in different movements, while the 4th is “all in one mode-almost like one gesture”.

He hopes that “a lot of people come and learn about and fall in love with the 300 magnificent years of Latin music” which will be presented at the Festival.

Elbio Rodriguez Barilari is an Uruguayan born composer, a Professor of Latin American Music at UIC, and has been Co- Artistic Director of the Chicago Latino Music Festival for 10 years. He is a member of the electric experimental band "Volcano Radar,"in which he plays electric guitar, electric viola and saxophone. Barilari hosts the internationally syndicated radio program “Fiesta!” heard on WFMT 98.7 Sundays at 3 PM. His works have been internationally performed and will be heard throughout the Festival.

Elbio Barilari with The Chicago Sinfonietta; photo courtesy of The Chicago Sinfonietta

 Barilari, a composer, writer, performer, and radio host who teaches Latin-American Music at UIC notes that he Festival has grown from 2 concerts in the year before he was involved, to 6 when he began to 18 this year: it is expected that 7-10,000 persons will attend and enjoy these wonderful concerts. One of the intentions for the Festival was an effort “to create a network and alliance to work with all the major institutions and organizations to get them interested in this music”. It is also a goal to get all musicians interested in performing this great music- not simply to create “a ghetto” for the genre. Latin American classical music is, after all, “part of the tradition of Western classical music”.

He described his piece “Musing on the Nature of Time,” 2011, to be performed October 7th in its U.S. premiere at The Harris Theater. “It’s a meditation on Mozart’s “Clarinet Quintet"; it has already been performed all over the world. On the last night of the Festival, his “Cuban Canvas”, a world premiere, will be performed at The Studebaker Theater. Barilari describes it as “a piece inspired by Afro-Cuban music. Afro-Cuban religions all have their own music, including vocals (chants) and drums”.

He stated that the Festival “will inspire pride in the Latino audiences- people who are not Latino will have a lot of fun and they will enjoy and discover a treasure which may have been unknown to them”.

Set-up for" Centro Mexicano para la Musica y las Artes Sonoras" concert

The second concert in the Festival took place Sunday, September 25th, 2016, at The Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St. It was  a unique program by "Centro Mexicano para la Musica y las Artes Sonoras" (CMMAS). Formed in 2006 with a stated mission “to promote the development of music and sound art in Mexico”, their presentation consisted of 5 pieces that created  “an intersection of composition and technology”. The final 3-part work , “Corson” for trumpet and tape, (2014) by Gustavo Leone, was performed by virtuoso trumpet player Stephen Burns of Fulcrum Point New Music Project (FPNMP).  Also performing from FPNMP were Kuang Hao Huang on piano and Rika Seko on violin.

Stephen Burns, Artistic Director, Fulcrum Point New Music Project, with trumpet; photo courtesy of Saverio Truglia

Gustavo Leone describes “Corson” as a piece for trumpet and electronics meant to feature the trumpet as a soloist as if it were a small concerto”. He added, “You hear a soundtrack behind the trumpeter; it coincides, collides, goes back and forth until they finish”. Leone put the entire piece together including selecting the tape segments. First he composed the electronic portion, “generating sounds and manipulating them as if applying oil on canvas”; next he added the trumpet portion on top! The piece is exciting, amusing and engages all senses.


The 11th Chicago Latino Music Festival will continue through December 1st at various locations throughout Chicagoland- for information and tickets to upcoming concerts, go to the  Chicago Latino Music Festival website

Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of The Chicago Latino Music Festival 





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