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New York Festival of Song Presents "Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women" at Merkin Hall
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New York Festival of Song Presents "Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women" at Merkin Hall

- Classical and Cultural Connections: Arts and Education
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Kaufman Music Center
New York Festival of Song
Steven Blier, Artistic Director, Co-Founder
Michael Barrett, Assoc. Artistic Director, Co-Founder

Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women

María Valdés, Soprano
Efrain Solís, Baritone
Brendan Cowan and Pancho Navarro, Guitar
Leonardo Granados and Jeremy Smith, Percussion
Steven Blier, Arranger and Piano
Michael Barrett, Piano

At Merkin Concert Hall

Press: Aleba Gartner:

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 26, 2016

Tonight’s magnificent vocal and instrumental concert by New York Festival of Song explored Latin American music by women composers. As always, Steven Blier and Michael Barrett sat at opposite grand pianos, facing each other onstage, but this time there was something extra. On the stage were congas, drums, microphones for guitars, and small percussion. We knew immediately that Mr. Blier had arranged an extra treat. And, indeed he did. María Valdés, soprano, and Efrain Solís, baritone, tonight’s two extraordinary vocalists, are both recent graduates of the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellowship. They not only sing with professional tone and native Spanish clarity, but they are both dramatically trained and hugely entertaining. Also included in tonight’s programmatic treat were Francisco “Pancho” Navarro on acoustic guitar, whom I knew well, when he performed in the Argentine Tango milongas, Brandan Cowan, a young classical guitarist, Jeremy Smith, a percussion artist, and Leonardo Granados, a virtuoso on Venezuelan maracas and Latin vocals and percussion. As always, a highly informative program, with lyrics, translations, and Mr. Blier’s notes on the music and history of each individual composer, was provided to the audience. Attending a NYFOS concert is a truly absorbing and enriching experience.

“A Unos Ojos” (“To a Pair of Eyes”), by Rocío Sanz, to a poem by Rubén Darío, brought out Ms. Valdés, with Mr. Blier on piano. This song (…“For the afternoon has gone to sleep, And slumbers in your eyes.”) was sung with vitality and reverence, introducing Ms. Valdes’ virtuosic technical skills. “Homenaje a Garcia Lorca”, to six sequential poems by Lorca, was stunning. “La guitarra” (“The Guitar”), also presented by Ms. Valdés, was atonal, with staccato piano effects (“The Sobbing of the Guitar…”), yet she sang “Canción de jinete” (“The rider’s song”) more dramatically, amidst soft vibe sticks on percussion. While the previous two songs were composed by Beatriz Lockhart, the next four, with Mr. Solís taking the stage with Ms. Valdés, were composed by Odaline de la Martínez, also to Lorca’s poems. “Remanso” (“Haven”) was feminine, romantic, and yearning (“Night is already falling….find me weeping”). But, when Mr. Solís reprised Ms. Valdés’ earlier “Canción de jinete”, he gave it propulsion with the help of the percussionist, Jeremy Smith. “Es Verdad” (“It’s True”), with Ms. Valdés returning, exuded pain and longing (“It is such a lot of work to love you…”), as she sang deep into her mezzo range. Mr. Solís’ “Despedida” (“Farewell”) was also imbued with unrushed pathos and poignancy (“If I die, leave my balcony doors open…”).

A poem by Pablo Antonio Cuadra, “El Nacimiento” (“The birth of Cifar”), composed by Gabriela Lena Frank, was accompanied masterfully by Michael Barrett on piano. Mr. Solís exuded maturity of emotion and classicism (“…a longing, sickness, for the faraway…”). A composition by Clarice Assad, to a poem by Daniel Basilio, “Enquanto a Noite Durar” (“While the night goes on”), was performed by Mr. Solís, with the youthful Mr. Cowan on guitar in his professional debut. The song was quiet with literary allusions (“…Between hell and paradise, In the Creator’s hands…”). “La Casita” (“The little house”), words and music by Dolores Castegnaro, was rapturously sung (“…Remember the tiny little house, And then come back…”) by Ms. Valdés, accompanied by Mr. Blier. At this point, Mr. Navarro took the stage with his melodic guitar interludes and accompaniment. “Júrame” (“Swear to me”), music and words by María Grever, was pulsating, with congas, piano, and Mr. Navarro’s sumptuous guitar. In fact, a piano-guitar duet brought extra applause and appreciation. The drum cymbals with brushes smoothed Mr. Solís’ astoundingly lush vocals. “Fina Estampa” (“Fine figure”), music and lyrics by Chabuca Granda, was written as a tribute to the composer’s father. As it happened, Ms. Valdés’ father was in tonight’s audience to share in his daughter’s NYFOS mainstage debut.

“Sólo A Ti Te Quiero” (“I love only you”), words and music by Ernestina Lecuona, sung by Mr. Solís, brought back Mr. Navarro on guitar, Mr. Blier on piano, Mr. Grenados on congas, and Mr. Barrett, playing a gourd with a stick for extra syncopation. Mr. Navarro’s thematic solos were exquisite, while Mr. Blier added soft chords to Mr. Solís’ sensual lyrics (…”I feel the palpitations, Of your little hands…”). “De Los Amores” (“About love”), words and music by Susana Baca, performed by Mr. Solís, accompanied by piano, congas, guitar, and gourd, evoked a languid rhumba. “Como La Cigarra” (“Like the cicada”), words and music by María Elena Walsh, was a duet for Ms. Valdés and Mr. Solís. This shared song opened with Mr. Blier’s light piano, Mr. Navarro’s elegant guitar, and no percussion. This was a moment of lilting etherealness (“…Singing to the sun like the cicada…”). “Gracias A La Vida” (“I give thanks to life”), music and lyrics by Violetta Para, was another sung duet. Mr. Navarro’s omnipresent guitar, with a touch of congas, added rhythmic flourish to this emotional song (“Thanks be to life, which has given me so much…”). Both Ms. Valdés and Mr. Solís blended tones with accomplishment. “Cachito” (“Little Tidbit”), music and lyrics by Consuelo Velázquez, was another duet and the last song on this expansive program, with everyone together onstage. An encore with a Brazilian flourish added maracas and dancing to the finale. Kudos to all.

New York Festival Of Song Co-Founders
Michael Barrett and Steven Blier
Photo by Dario Acosta

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at