About the Artists
Praised by Yo-Yo Ma as “wonderful ambassadors for music,” the Mexican-American La Catrina String Quartet was founded in 2001 and takes its name from a popular Mexican folk icon.
One of the most unique chamber ensembles on tour today, their blend of Latin-American and standard repertoire has proven enormously attractive to diverse audiences, catering to the more traditional concertgoers while stimulating the next generation of listeners. Their infectious personalities infuse their playing, creating truly compelling performances. The La Catrina Quartet has a triple mission: to promote Mexican and Latin-American art music worldwide, to work closely with composers in order to promote the performance of new music, and to perform the masterworks of the string quartet repertoire.
Recent concert engagements have taken the La Catrina Quartet to New York City (Merkin Hall, where they made their début in 2010), Washington DC, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, La Jolla, and many other cities. In 2007, the quartet was featured as one of the “next generation of classical stars” in a showcase performance at Carnegie Hall for hundreds of concert promoters from the around the world, having been selected through the highly competitive “Young Performers Career Advancement” program.
The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Mexico is known more for its mariachis than its string quartets, but the La Catrina Quartet [is helping] change some assumptions . . . youthful energy and mature artistry.”
The La Catrina Quartet has received many important awards, including the Bascom Little Fund Grant, the North Carolina Arts Council cARTwheels 2009 and 2010 touring program, and Western Michigan University’s All University Research and Creative Scholar Award. They have premiered works by composers Thomas Janson and John Ferrito at the Kent Blossom Music Festival, and by Zae Munn at the Chicago College of Performing Arts.
The Faculty Quartet-in-Residence at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, the La Catrina Quartet has also held residencies with the Western Piedmont Symphony in North Carolina, the Chamber Music Festival of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (where they collaborated with the Brentano and Miami Quartets), and the Kent Blossom Music Festival, among others.
Daniel Vega-Albela, violin
Blake Espy, violin
Jorge Martínez, viola
César Martínez-Bourguet, cello
About the Composers
For more than three decades the works of American composer Roberto Sierra have been part of the repertoire of many of the leading orchestras, ensembles and festivals in the USA and Europe. At the inaugural concert of the 2002 world renowned Proms in London, his Fandangos was performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a concert that was broadcast by both the BBC Radio and Television throughout the UK and Europe. International ensembles that have performed his works include the orchestras of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New Mexico, Houston, Minnesota, Dallas, Detroit, San Antonio, and Phoenix, as well as by the American Composers Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich, the Spanish orchestras of Madrid, Galicia, Castilla y León, and Barcelona.
In 2003 he was awarded the Academy Award in Music by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The award states: “Roberto Sierra writes brilliant music, mixing fresh and personal melodic lines with sparkling harmonies and striking rhythms. . .” His Sinfonía No. 1, a work commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, won the 2004 Kenneth Davenport Competition for Orchestral Works. In 2007 the Serge and Olga Koussevitzky International Recording Award (KIRA) was awarded to Albany Records for the recording of his composition Sinfonía No. 3 “La Salsa.” Roberto Sierra has served as Composer-In-Residence with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, and New Mexico Symphony. In 2010 he was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Roberto Sierra was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, and studied composition both in Puerto Rico and Europe, where one his teachers was György Ligeti at the Hochschule für Musik in Hamburg, Germany. The works of Roberto Sierra are published principally by Subito Music Publishing (ASCAP).
Of all of the Mexican composers currently active today, Javier Álvarez has been the most widely recognized internationally. Most of this prolific composer’s works are characterized by a harmonious balance between his understanding of the medium for which he writes and a profound technical mastery of his musical language. In John Adams’ words, “the music of Javier Álvarez reveals popular culture influences that go beyond our boundaries of time and space.” Álvarez lives in Mérida, México, and is director of the music department of the Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatán. From 1982 until 2005 he lived in London, where he was a professor at the Royal College of Music and at the Guildhall School of Music, teaching composition and technology. He has composed large-scale works such as Mambo, an opera which combines the use of singers, instrumentalists, and computers, for the Nexus Opera in London.
Born in Argentina in 1921, Ástor Piazzolla spent much of his first 25 years in New York City, and also lived and studied in Paris. Besides being a noted composer, he was also a virtuoso performer on the bandoneón, a sought-after orchestra leader, chamber musician, and arranger. Over the span of his career he wrote more than 1000 works ranging from orchestral suites to an electric octet. He studied with famous musicians including Bartók, Boulanger, Ginastera, and Stravinsky, and was also heavily influenced by jazz musicians Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. This interest in such wide variety of music is often cited as the reason for his distinctive style; he is particularly known for his tangos, which blend the dance form and the formal concert piece.
The prolific and prize-winning Mexican composer Joaquín Gutiérrez-Héras studied music on his own while a young architecture student at the National University of Mexico. In 1949, he won a prize for his composition Divertimento for piano and orchestra. Soon after, he enrolled at the National Conservatory (Mexico). He won a scholarship from the French Institute of Latin America for a year at the Paris Conservatory, where he studied with Olivier Messiaen. After returning to Mexico, Gutiérrez-Héras and other young composers founded the group Nueva Musica de Mexico in 1957. In 1960 he was awarded a scholarship by the Rockefeller Foundation to study at the Juilliard School, where he received a Diploma in composition. He has worked for the National University of Mexico, and was director of its broadcasting station. He is a member of the Academy of the Arts of Mexico, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the National University of Mexico.
Manuel Ponce was a Mexican composer active in the 20th century. His work as a composer, music educator, and scholar of Mexican music connected the concert scene with the usually forgotten tradition of popular song and Mexican folklore. Many of his compositions are strongly influenced by the harmonies and form of traditional songs. Born in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Ponce moved to the city of Aguascalientes and lived there until he was 15. Famous for being a “musical prodigy,” according to his biographers, he was barely four years of age when after having listening to the piano lessons received by his sister, he sat down at the instrument and performed the piece that he had heard. After years abroad in Italy and Germany, Ponce returned to Mexico to teach piano and music history at the National Conservatory of Music. In 1912, he gave a memorable concert of Mexican popular music in Mexico that scandalized ardent defenders of European classical music, but became a landmark in the artistic history of Mexico.
Alberto Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and is widely regarded as the greatest Argentinean composer of the 20th century. He studied at the conservatory in Buenos Aires. After a visit to the U.S., where he studied with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood, he returned to Buenos Aires and co-founded the League of Composers. Among his notable students was Ástor Piazzolla. The progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer brought Ginastera attention outside of classical music circles when they adapted the fourth movement of his first piano concerto and recorded it on their popular album Brain Salad Surgery. By his own account, Ginastera saw his composing career as consisting of three creative periods. The first, from 1937-48, he called “Objective Nationalism,” in which he used Argentine folk music in his compositions. In his second period, “Subjective Nationalism” from 1948-56, the composer uses rhythms and creates folk-like melodies without actual quotation—much like the later work of Bartók and Kodály. The third period, “Neo-Expressionism” from 1957-83, saw Ginastera embrace twelve-tone technique.