Thrilling performance at Western Illinois University demonstrates the richness of music from Spain, Argentina, and Mexico
Hispanic Heritage Month (alternatively called Latinx Heritage Month by some) has been in existence for many years now, but places like universities have really made a concerted effort in more recent years to hold events that celebrate Hispanic culture. Western Illinois University (WIU), where I work, is no exception. Unfortunately, life gets in the way of me attending all events. However, I was fortunate enough to attend a truly exceptional concert on Sunday, October 10 by mezzo-soprano singer Brenda Iglesias, a native of Mexico who is teaching in the School of Music as a C.T. Vivian Music Scholar, accompanied by Dr. Po-Chuan Chiang on the piano. This free concert, given at the College of Fine Arts and Communication Recital Hall, lasted about an hour and featured music from 20th century Spanish, Argentinian, and Mexican composers.
Here’s the video recording of the event, followed by the playlist and my reflections:
Living in a small town like Macomb is sometimes difficult for those who feel like they need regular doses of high culture. Fortunately for those people, the College of Fine Arts and Communications at WIU does a wonderful job of providing high quality plays and concerts that could be very expensive in larger cities, but here they’re accessible to everyone. I’m not a music scholar, so I’m not qualified in any way to critique anybody’s music. But I’m more than happy to discuss how this music and the musicians made me feel.
The choices of music from Spain, Argentina, and Mexico gave a nice cross section of styles from very different parts of the Spanish-speaking world. I’m a little ashamed to admit that although I knew that Federico García Lorca was proficient in music, I had never heard any of his songs, which, not surprisingly, were clearly influenced by the flamenco of his native Granada. My favorite song, overall, was also the only song I knew of previously, “Alfonsina y el mar,” from the songs in the Argentina section of the program. I’ve heard this song many times throughout the years, interpreted by various singers, but I think this version may be my favorite. It’s one thing to listen to a recording of a great song, but it’s a much richer experience to hear the song in a recital hall, sung by a world-class singer with a powerful voice. Some aspects of Iglesias’s interpretation that added to the performance were her gestures and facial expressions. For example, she smiled almost wryly during songs that were a bit flirty and light hearted – “El Vito” might be a good example – then she placed her hands on her hips almost defiantly when singing the line “tengo celos…” (“I’m jealous…”) in the song “Júrame,” and she communicated such sadness when singing about the poet Alfonsina Storni’s tragic death in the aforementioned Argentinian song.
Perhaps what impressed me most about Iglesias’s performance was that it made me realize just how much knowledge and preparation are necessary to pull off a concert like this. Not only does a singer have to have natural talent, but she also has to train for songs that are quite complex, with lots of changes in the rhythms and styles. I noticed, as well, that she changed her accent to reflect the different dialects of Spanish, including the “th” sound (called a ceceo) of words that include the letters “ci,” “ce,” and “z” in songs from Spain, and the strong friction sound in words containing the “ll” in songs from Argentina. Furthermore, in the packet of Song Texts and Translations that was provided to the audience, most of the translations of the songs were her own. Anyone who has attempted to do such translations of lyrics knows how difficult that task is. I’m sure that she also wrote the paragraphs giving the background of the composers. In other words, Iglesias demonstrates that she is not only a world-class singer, but also a real student of the craft, knowledgeable of dialects, translation, music history, and acting/interpretation, all of which might seem tangential skills, although they take years to master and add so much to a performance.
My only minor complaint about the concert has nothing to do with the musicians themselves or the music, but rather with a form of audience etiquette that I wasn’t expecting. Opportunities to applaud were limited to when the musicians came on stage, left stage, and after the three sections of songs. However, each individual song was so well performed and moving that they deserved a rousing applause of their own. When a musician elicits such emotion, the audience should reciprocate, I feel.
Watch the video of the concert and let us know you what you thought of it in the comments below. And if you liked this post, please consider sharing it on your favorite social media. ¡Gracias!