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Photograph by Karin Horn
KEY FIGURE: Patricia García Torres performs Copland and more on Saturday at the Mexican Heritage Plaza.

Musical Heritage

Luis Valdez and pianist Patricia García Torres look at Mexican history in music and images

By Scott MacClelland

WHEN acclaimed Mexican concert pianist Patricia García Torres plays Aaron Copland's El Salón México Saturday (Nov. 8) at the Mexican Heritage Plaza concert hall, she will weave a dozen threads of music and culture neatly together. The colorful piece itself plainly inspired the second annual Salón de México—as it is now called—a celebration of Santa Clara Valley's rich Hispanic traditions, sponsored by the Castellano Family Foundation and presented by the Steinway Society of the Bay Area and Mexican Heritage Corporation.

Most of the familiar "big tunes" in Copland's music are borrowed. For El Salón México, they will be recognized by anyone up on their Mexican folk music as "El Palo Verde," "La Jesusita," "El Mosco," "El Malacate" and one version of "La Paloma Azul." Copland took his inspiration, and the name of the piece, from a dance hall he visited with Mexican composer Carlos Chavez in 1932. For the tunes themselves, he turned to the collections El Folklore y la Musica Mexicana, edited by Ruben Campos, and Cancionero Mexicano, by Frances Toor.

Chavez conducted the premiere in Mexico City in 1937, and its colorful orchestration and graphic allusions to Mexican dance bands ushered in Copland's well-known "populist"-style works. García Torres will play the piano transcription by Leonard Bernstein, who was one of Copland's biggest fans, and no small talent himself as a composer in Latin styles.

The vision for the performance came from the late Henry Schiro, longtime executive director of the Steinway Society who, among his last wishes, wanted to "paint a bold tapestry of Mexican culture" by combining Hispanic music and literature. Joining García Torres for the evening is Luis Valdez, playwright and founding director of El Teatro Campesino, who will present a special reading, depicting Mexico's cultural evolution during that dramatic period of awakening, oppression and revolution. Valdez approached Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan historian and novelist, for permission to read excerpts from Galeano's epic historic trilogy of the Americas, Memory of Fire. Specifically, Valdez will draw on part 3 of the trilogy, Century of the Wind—recounting the 20th century, including the Zapata years, from 1908 to 1915, covering the events leading up to the Mexican revolution.

"I've always felt, depending on the piece of music, that there's a visual implication," Valdez said in an interview last week. Saturday's program will feature a multimedia presentation produced by Kinan Valdez and edited by Anahuac Valdez, the playwright's sons.

Alan and Carmen Castellano, long prominent in boosting Hispanic culture and the arts in general in the Santa Clara Valley, have applied their California lottery winnings to the same ends, reinforcing such benefits after several arts-supporting foundations were forced to retreat following the dotcom bubble burst of 2000.

The Castellanos' deeply held interest in the universality of classical music will be further reflected in García Torres' program, which includes works by Mexican composers Federico Ibarra and Manuel María Ponce. Piano compositions by Claude Debussy and Franz Liszt will complete the program. In the days prior to the concert, García Torres has been performing and speaking about the piano and her music to children at three San Jose elementary schools.

"We are extremely honored to have the support once again of the Castellano Family Foundation," says Sarah Clish, president of the Steinway Society of the Bay Area, "and to present this very special evening in dedication to our esteemed colleague, Henry Schiro." Carmen Castellano, president of the Castellano Family Foundation, adds, "We hope our support of this annual concert event will become a longstanding tradition within the San Jose and Bay Area arts and culture scene."

SALÓN DE MÉXICO with PATRICIA GARCÍA TORRES and LUIS VALDEZ, presented by the Castellano Family Foundation, the Mexican Heritage Corporation and the Steinway Society, takes place Saturday (Nov. 8) at 7pm at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $15/$20/$50. (See and for details.)

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