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Celebrating music of Alberto Ginastera

By Marilou Carlin

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance will explore the life and music of Alberto Ginastera (photo left), the leading Argentinian composer of the twentieth century, with a multi-day music festival, Dec. 6 – Dec. 11.  Entitled “Viva Ginastera!,”  the festival will present multiple lectures and concerts, featuring a variety of U-M ensembles, in celebration of a composer, known for his intense rhythmic energy and captivating lyricism, who was significantly connected to U-M at the height of his career.

The “Viva Ginastera!” centerpiece will be the world premiere of Ginastera’s Concierto Argentino, written in 1935 but then withdrawn by the composer.  It will be performed by renowned pianist and SMTD alumna Barbara Nissman (BM ’66, MM ’66, DMA ’69) with the University Symphony Orchestra and conducted by music director Kenneth Kiesler, recently named winner of The American Prize for conducting. (Photo below: Kenneth Kiesler, and Barbara Nissman.)

This concert, on Saturday, December 10 at 8 p.m. at Hill Auditorium (with a pre-concert lecture beginning at 7:15 p.m.), will also include Ginastera’s popular Piano Concerto No. 1, written in 1962, and his Piano Concerto No. 2, from 1972, which has been restored to its original version by Nissman.  All three works will be recorded by Nissman and the USO for later release.

Recognized as one of the most important of all Latin American classical composers, Alberto Ginastera (April 11, 1916 – June 25, 1983) wrote two ballets, three operas and many orchestral works, concertante, solo piano and organ pieces, choral works and chamber music.  He is considered as important in giving his native folk heritage a voice in art music in Argentina as Bartók was in Hungary.

The “Viva Ginastera!” festival evolved after Barbara Nissman was invited to perform the three piano concertos with the USO.  Nissman enjoyed a long collaboration with Ginastera, beginning with her performance of his First Piano Concerto at U-M in 1970, when Ginastera was the composer-in-residence for U-M’s Contemporary Festival.  Well known for her recordings of the complete solo works and piano/chamber works (now available on the Pierian label), Nissman is also the dedicatee of Ginastera’s final composition, the Third Piano Sonata.

Recently she discovered the manuscript for Concierto Argentino in the Fleisher Manuscript Collection in Philadelphia.  Aurora Nátola-Ginastera, the late widow of the composer, granted Nissman the exclusive rights to perform and make the first recording of the concerto.

“The diversity between these three compositions, written for piano and orchestra, is quite stunning,” said Nissman.  “The sheer physical act of playing his piano music has a cathartic effect, providing a release of raw, earthy emotions that seem to transcend thought.”

In conversations with Nissman during the planning of this concert, Maestro Kiesler suggested expanding on the single concert to focus more attention on the composer, who had such an important connection to U-M.  He then invited other SMTD faculty and students to perform related concerts.

The resulting “Viva Ginastera!” festival officially kicks off on Tuesday, December 6 at 12:30 p.m. with a Brown Bag Lecture at the Institute for the Humanities entitled “Remembering Alberto Ginastera,” in which Kiesler and Nissman will share their thoughts about the man and his music.  A second lecture takes place on Thursday, December 8 at 1 p.m. in Britton Recital Hall, when Carol Hess, musicology professor at Michigan State University, presents “Alberto Ginastera and the Cold War: A ‘Musical McNamara’ in the United States.”

The lecture will be immediately followed by a performance of Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes by a chamber orchestra comprised of and conducted by Kiesler’s conducting students.

The festival continues on Friday, December 9 at 8 p.m. in Hill Auditorium with the U-M Percussion Ensemble, led by Jonathan Ovalle and featuring U-M faculty member Caroline Helton as soprano soloist, performing the dramatic and rarely featured Cantata para America Magica.  Scored for a large ensemble of 13 percussionists, two pianists, celeste, and soprano, the work is set to text taken from ancient pre-Columbian manuscripts and features melodic lines combined with driving, percussive rhythmic structures, giving a nod to both Stravinsky and Bartók.

The concert will also include the University Philharmonia Orchestra, led by Christopher James Lee, performing Ginastera’s joyful Symphonic Celebration, Op. 51, “lubilim.”  Rounding out the program is Ginastera’s Sonata No. 1 for piano performed by student pianist Jovanni-Rey V. de Pedro (DMA Piano Pedagogy and Performance).

The Saturday night performance at Hill, of Ginastera’s three piano concertos with Nissman and the USO, will begin at 7:15 with a pre-concert lecture, also led by MSU professor Carol Hess. This concert not only reintroduces Ginastera’s Concierto Argentino, but will also include the first performance of the “original” version of Ginastera’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a work that was jointly commissioned by the Indianapolis Symphony and the late Austrian pianist, Hilde Somer in the early ‘70s.

Ginastera wrote the second movement scherzo for the right hand alone (per la mano destra). However, Somer transcribed it herself for the left hand alone (per la mano sinistra) making significant changes in the piano writing, and also altered the finale. Barbara Nissman, working from the original score, given to her by the composer, has now restored the work to its original version.

Completing the trio of concertos is the well known First Piano Concerto, made even more popular by Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s well-known transcription of the finale’s Toccata. Nissman has performed this concerto with the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, and the St. Louis Symphony, as well as presenting its Dutch premiere at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and its United Kingdom premiere with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

“Viva Ginastera!” concludes on Sunday, December 11 at 8 p.m. at the Britton Recital Hall when the Michigan Chamber Players perform “A Tribute to Alberto Ginastera.”  The program will include Ginastera’s Duo for Flute and Oboe, featuring Amy Porter (flute) and Nancy Ambrose King (oboe); Danzas Argentinas with Jonathan Ovalle and Joe Gramley (marimba); Impresiones de la Puna for Flute and String Quartet featuring Andrew Jennings and SuFan Yiu (violins), Linnea Powell (viola), Anthony Elliott (cello) and Amy Porter (flute); Quintetto for Piano & Strings with Andrew Jennings and SuFan Yiu (violins),  Linnea Powell (viola), Anthony Elliott (cello) and Paul Schoenfield (piano).


December 6 – 11

Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 12:30 p.m. (FREE – no tickets required)

Institute for Humanities, 202 S. Thayer, Ann Arbor, MI

Brown Bag Lecture: “Remembering Alberto Ginastera”

with Kenneth Kiesler, USO conductor, and Barbara Nissman, pianist

Thursday, Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. (FREE – no tickets required)

Britton Recital Hall, Moore Building, 1100 Baits Dr., Ann Arbor

Lecture: “Alberto Ginastera and the Cold War: A ‘Musical McNamara’ in the United States”

with Carol Hess, Michigan State University professor of musicology

Chamber Orchestra (members of Kenneth Kiesler’s conducting seminar)

Ginastera/ Variaciones Concertantes

Friday, Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. (FREE – no tickets required)

Hill Auditorium, 825 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor

Percussion Ensemble/ Jonathan Ovalle, conductor/ Caroline Helton, soprano

Ginastera/Cantata para America Magica

University Philharmonia Orchestra/ Christopher James Lee, conductor

Ginastera/Symphony Celebration Op. 51, “lubilum”

Jovanni-Rey V. de Pedro (student soloist)

Ginastera/Sonata No. 1 for Piano

Saturday, Dec. 10 at 8 p.m.  (FREE – no tickets required)

Hill Auditorium, 825 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor

(Pre-concert lecture with Carol Hess at 7:15 p.m.)

University Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Kiesler, conductor/

Barbara Nissman, piano

Ginastera/Piano Concerto No. 1

Ginastera/Piano Concerto No. 2

Ginastera/ Concierto Argentino

Sunday, Dec. 11 at 8 p.m.  (FREE – no tickets required)

Britton Recital Hall, Moore Building, 1100 Baits Dr., Ann Arbor

Michigan Chamber Players: “A Tribute to Alberto Ginastera.”

Amy Porter, flute/ Nancy Ambrose King, oboe

Ginastera/Duo for Flute and Oboe

Jonathan Ovalle, marimba/ Joe Gramley, marimba

Ginasteras/Danzas Argentinas

Andrew Jennings, violin/ SuFan Yiu , violin/ Linnea Powell, viola/ Anthony Elliott, cello/ Amy Porter, flute

Ginastera/Impresiones de la Puna for Flute and String Quartet

Andrew Jennings, violin/ SuFan Yiu , violin/ Linnea Powell, viola/ Anthony Elliott, cello/ Paul Schoenfield, piano

Ginastera/Quintetto for Piano & Strings

Marilou Carlin is a development writer for the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance.