MAY 2016: New York Festival of Song Highlights Pieces by Latin American WomenMAY 2016: New York Festival of Song Highlights Pieces by Latin American Women
By ZACHARY WOOLFE
Performed without an intermission, the New York Festival of Song’s long program of pieces by Latin American women, “Compositora,” had flashes of interest near the beginning but settled into a gentle, sleepy groove.
The highlight of the event, on Tuesday at Merkin Concert Hall, was Odaline de la Martinez’s “Canciones de Lorca,” a set of four sensual yet intense, even obsessive settings of Federico García Lorca poems. Sung with keening clarity by the evening’s two vocal soloists — the soprano María Valdés and the baritone Efraín Solís — the songs gained tension and mystery from the interplay between repetitive riffs on the piano (Michael Barrett) and softly insistent percussion (Jeremy Smith). García Lorca was also the source of another revelation: Beatriz Lockhart’s two-song “Homenaje a García Lorca,” alternately stark and wistful.
Gabriela Lena Frank’s works are performed with regularity, but many of the other composers’ names (Rocío Sanz, Clarice Assad, Dolores Castegnaro, María Grever, Chabuca Granda, Ernestina Lecuona, Susana Baca, María Elena Walsh, Violeta Parra and Consuelo Velázquez) were more or less unknown to me, and I’m grateful for the introduction. But much of their work, at least what was presented here, was genially suave Latin pop standards — a bit lulling in this large dose, though lifted by the passionate singers and warmly subtle accompaniment from the guitarists Pancho Navarro and Brendan Cowan and the percussionist Leonardo Granados.
Organized by the founder and artistic director, Steven Blier, who is also the main piano accompanist, the New York Festival of Song’s events are invariably well attended and well received, and as showcases for young artists they have long been valuable. But they can sometimes seem insubstantial, the products of an organization that could perhaps use some fresh perspectives.
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