Unfortunately, Mexican composers aren’t that well known outside of Mexico. Carlos Chávez, a friend of Aaron Copland, is highly regarded among critics for his symphonies, but I’ve never heard one of them live. As far as Latin American composers go, the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos is probably the most frequently performed outside of their respective countries. One Mexican composer whose work I have heard live is that of José Pablo Moncayo.
Moncayo, born in 1912, was a protegé of both Carlos Chávez and Aaron Copland. Copland frequently vacationed in Mexico, where he developed a close friendship with Chávez and other Mexican musical figures. Copland’s fond tribute to Mexico, El Salón México, was given its first perfomance in Mexico City under the direction of Carlos Chávez. On the recommendations of Copland and Chávez, Moncayo was granted a scholarship to study at the Tanglewood Music Center, the famed summer music academy, where he took part in Aaron Copland’s composition courses.
Moncayo composed a fair amount of music. However, there is one work which he is especially famous for and that is Huapango. This piece, first performed in 1941, is inspired by the folk music of the Mexican state of Veracruz. It sounds very Mexican.
The orchestra performing this composition is the Orchestra Sinfónica “Simón Bolivar“, a youth orchestra from Venezuela (yes, that Venezuela) under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel Ramírez, new music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The orchestra and Maestro Dudamel have achieved a great of renown recently. This is from their appearance at The Proms, the famous British summer concert series which takes at the Royal Albert Hall in London.