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April 10, 2001

Modern ComposersLorenzo Ferrero. La Nueva Espana -- Six Symphonic Poems. National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Takuo Yuasa, conductor. (Naxos, CD # 8.555044) 2000.

This new album from Naxos is a monument to multi-culturalism: a set of symphonic poems about Mexico, written by an Italian composer, performed by a Ukrainian orchestra, with a Japanese conductor. And it works beautifully. The work itself is a paean to cultural diversity, which Ferrero himself calls a "precious asset [that] must not be squandered."

Lorenzo Ferrero (b. 1951) is one of Italy's foremost composers. His musical output has consisted primarily of works for the theater, but he has also written numerous instrumental and orchestral works, mostly in a mainstream "neo-Romantic" style. La Nueva Espana (New Spain, as Mexico was once called) is a suite of six pieces written over an eight-year period, between 1991 and 1999, and "dedicated to the memory of [the] ancient human tragedy" of the years 1519 to 1521 -- the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish. The cycle of suites or symphonic poems "follows the chronological order of the historical events" of that period, from the first suite, "Presagios," dealing with "the Aztec chronicles in the years preceding the arrival of the Spanish [that] tell of prophecies of disaster," to the final conquest of the Aztec nation and the apotheosis of Cortes.

Ferrero describes the musical language he uses in these suites to tell the story of the conquest of Mexico as "cinematographic." His reference to movies does not imply that he intended these suites to be a "soundtrack for imaginary scenes," but rather that the music tells a story from multiple perspectives, "taking on, so to speak, the perspective of a movie camera which is able to show the different intensities of emotional involvement: a long distance shot or one in close-up, or at a subjective level, through the eyes of a character." The second movement or suite, for example, refers to the burning of his own ships by Cortes, as viewed through the eyes of one of the Spanish soldiers who realizes with great sadness that their expedition is to be a voyage of no return. In the third movement, "Ruta de Cortes," the composer says "the perspective is more objective, widening progressively as the Spanish continue their march, until it reaches, through transformations in the theme, a very long distance shot when...they see the valley of Mexico." The fifth section, "La Matanza del Templo Mayor," describes the massacre of more than twenty thousand Aztecs by the Spanish. In this section, Ferraro says, "the viewpoint alternates rapidly between that of the 'subjective camera' as seen through the eyes of the Spanish and the Aztecs and the purely 'objective' view of the massacre."

One of the things the Romantic composers did best was convey emotion and feeling in their music, and Ferrero uses a neo-Romantic style to effectively show the range of emotional states in an episode as horrific as the Aztec conquest. The composer states that even as historically remote as that story is, it still has relevance because of what it teaches us about the danger of cultural intolerance. It is a lesson we seem to be slow to learn.

You can hear excerpts from La Nueva Espana by Lorenzo Ferrero on WHIL-FM (91.3) Thursday, April 12 at 7:00 p.m. as part of their weekly series of music from after 1950.

--- J. Green


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