Queens College Year of Brazil
Each year, a country is chosen and celebrated campus-wide.
With the generous support of Aaron Copland School of Music (ACSM) Director Emeritus Dr. Edward Smaldone, key faculty, student performers and professional staff, this year for me has been an unforgettable one, both artistically and academically. It has been a distinct privilege and pleasure to present various forms of Brazilian music in several events– concerts, lectures and assisting performance faculty with archival sources for Brazilian repertoire.
The Y of B kicked off with my Brazilian Jazz ensemble QUARTETO MODERNO performing the opening concert for the Chamber Music Live Series.
The entire concert is streamable in both audio and video on Quarteto Moderno's page, which also features the excellent photography and video production of Simone Caprifogli.
The concert was presented in two contrasting sections. In celebration of Ernesto Nazareth's 150th birthday, the first half focused on two sets of composers:
1) those who shaped the face of Brazilian popular instrumental music:
Nazareth, Anacleto de Medeiros, Pixinguinha, Jacob do Bandolim, Hermeto Pascoal;
2) a special tribute to contemporary composers from Minas Gerais: Milton Nascimento, Toninho Horta and Sérgio Santos.
The second half featured several of my original compositions, representing different genres including samba, choro, baião, guarânia, and toada.
That same afternoon, Boukas presented a lecture: Choro, the Bebop of Brazil, covering the multi-genre's 150-year evolution, its legendary composers and performers. To see and download a PDF of the discography used in the lecture, CLICK
The lecture also served as a prelude for the following month's concert presented by the NEW SCHOOL BRAZILIAN CHORO ENSEMBLE, which Boukas founded in 2008 as director, arranger and performer.
The program was a special ERNESTO NAZARETH 150th Year Tribute including compositions by:
Nazareth, Medeiros, Pixinguinha, Radamés Gnattali, Garôto, Jacob do Bandolim, Hermeto Pascoal, Guinga, Mário Laginha and Mané Silveira.
During this period Boukas also presented a lecture for the Queens College New Music Group (aka Composers Workshop, of which he was a member while earning his M.A.) directed by itinerant faculty member and composer Bruce Saylor. Entitled Brazilian Music Genres and Compositional Applications, this explored several key genres and how generations of major Brazilian composers used them as vessels for creative expression. To see and download a PDF of the discography used in the lecture, CLICK
Throughout the entire Y of B, the most important collaboration with ACSM faculty was with Dr. James John, Director of Choral Arts.
We have a long history, beginning almost three decades ago as professional church singers of early polyphonic music.
Since his appointment at ACSM, we have explored possible collaborations with both ACSM choral ensembles and outside professional groups which he conducts.
With the Y of B upon us, the idea emerged: to create definitive choral arrangements/expansions of landmark pieces from the contemporary Brazilian Songbook (MPB, música popular brasileira) for the Queens College Vocal Ensemble (QCVE). The goal was for these pieces to retain their intrinsic Brazilian nature, while at the same time being grounded in the polyphonic choral tradition which I have loved and performed for almost four decades. The choices of original pieces focused mainly on the music of Minas Gerais legends Milton Nascimento and Sérgio Santos. In addition to these pieces with text, I also prepared technically demanding arrangements of famous choros by Nazareth and Radamés Gnattali– performed in "scat" instrumental style.
In all, there were three performances of these pieces in LeFrak Hall: December 2013 and April, May 2014.
You can listen to some of the QCVE performances on my BRAZILIAN CHORAL MUSIC page.
Presenting these pieces involved a great deal of preparation on everyone's part– including, no less, QCVE learning Brazilian Portuguese totally from scratch, and whole new styles of phrasing and articulation. With the help of pronunciation audio files and timely rehearsal visits, the ensemble did a magnificent job on both the music and rendering the text. Dr. John's brilliant work with the group was marked by an unwavering commitment to render this new and challenging repertoire with authenticity, passion and professional polish. We plan to continue our collaboration, with more Brazilian choral adaptations of music by Guinga, Radamés Gnattali other great Brazilian composers.
Thanks to Dr. John and the QCVE, these pieces are now generating keen interest among noted Brazilian choral conductors. I am thus now expanding to a broader BRAZILIAN CHORAL MUSIC PROJECT, which plans to capture definitive performances and recordings by preeminent Brazilian choirs.
Last but not least, I had the great pleasure of working with the QUEENS COLLEGE SAXOPHONE QUARTET (QCSQ), who performed my chamber piece "Choro Ricercare". It is a densely contrapuntal and technically demanding work which they played beautifully, with great clarity and attention to idiomatic Brazilian choro phrasing. The performance was part of an ambitious concert, "Saxophones in the Spring" featuring an entire ensemble of ACSM saxophonists under the direction of noted saxophonist, educator and historian Dr. Paul Cohen. To listen to the piece, go to my CHAMBER MUSIC PAGE and select track no. 9.
See the VIDEO of QCSQ's performance of Choro Ricercare.
The Queens College Year of Brazil was a transformative experience for me– artistically, personally and spiritually. Having received my MA in composition there, it was a beautiful homecoming and opportunity to share such a rich music and culture with the entire Queens College and Aaron Copland School of Music community. I am forever appreciative to everyone at Queens College who helped make all these special presentations a reality.