Best of 2008

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It's been a great year for Villa-Lobos lovers.   With a big year coming up - 2009 is the 50th anniversary of Villa's death - let's take a look back at 2008.

Concerts

There were two important Villa-Lobos concert tours in 2008.  Saxophonist Branford Marsalis and conductor Gil Jardim organized the Marsalis Brasilianos tour of 28 cities in the U.S. There were three Villa-Lobos works featured on the tour: the Saxophone Fantasia, Bachianas Brasileiras #9, and BB#5.  

Visiting mainly college towns, Marsalis, Jardim and the Philharmonia Brasileira raised Villa-Lobos's profile right across the country, and with many positive reviews in the blogosphere and in online newspapers and magazines, around the world.  This episode of North Carolina Public Radio's The State of Things podcast includes a fascinating conversation with Marsalis about the tour, Villa-Lobos, and many other interesting topics.

The map below is from the Philharmonia Brasileira website.  

 

 

 

The second major 2008 project was even bigger.  The Sonora Brasil: Heitor Villa-Lobos tour of the Orquestra do Estado de Mato Grosso visited 78 cities in 22 Brazilian states.  That's pretty amazing!  And the repertoire was similarly ambitious: here's a list from the official blog.

Sonora Brasil

There are many pictures from the tour on the Sonora Brasil blog, and some impressive video on YouTube as well.  Here's some very positive, and very perceptive, words from the blog:

"Sonora Brazil has been a success, yes there are many things that can be improved in logistical terms but the mission is a just one and is planting firm seeds for future generations. No more is that more apparent than here in Bahia where we have played to crowds in excess of 2000 people. There is no European equivalent that can boast this level of interest. Cultural development in Brazil is to be admired the world over."

Villa-Lobos himself created the model for this tour, with the Excursão Artistica Villa-Lobos of 1931.  He and a group of friends performed 54 concerts in São Paulo, Minas e Paraná states.  Sonora Brasil is the kind of project that will produce very positive results in the musical future of Brazil.

CDs

Of the 20 or so CDs of Villa-Lobos music this year, one stood out for me.  It's a re-release of two important historic discs from the 78rpm and early LP era - one from 1940 with The Roger Wagner Chorale and The Concert Arts Ensemble, and the other from 1957 with The Brazilian Festival Orchestra And Schola Cantorum.  Each of these original discs included the Nonetto and the Quatuor Simbolico.  For some inexplicable reason, neither of these great works was recorded again until this century, so it was great to get this music onto CD.

Nonetto cover

Thanks to él Records, there's finally an easy way to hear the Nonetto on CD and MP3.

There were three major complete series on CD finished in 2008.  Sonia Rubinsky began her survey of the complete piano music for Naxos back in 1994, to immediate acclaim.  Since then each new release received even better reviews.  In September 2008 Naxos released volume 7, which included some of the most interesting and obscure piano music by Villa-Lobos, including the piano versions of the guitar preludes and the great orchestral work Amazonas.  The series came to a quick and impressive end with volume 8, just before the end of the year.  Rubinsky has certainly contributed to our understanding of the greatness of Villa-Lobos as a composer for the piano.

The second series is shorter, but just as important.  The Swedish company BIS released all three discs of their series of the complete Choros in 2008.  John Neschling conducts the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, with able support from pianist Cristina Ortiz, guitarist Fabio Zanon, and instrumentalists from the SPSO.  Having all the Choros in one place is great - especially since it wasn't too long ago that we were scrambling to hear some of these great works at all.  These are special performances, in excellent recordings, and wrapped up in the high quality BIS package.

The third series was another long one, the Integral Symphonies series from cpo.  It started in 1997 - and ended with Symphony #10 "Amerindia" in early 2008.  Even the best of the music in the Symphonies isn't as great as the bulk of the piano music or any of the Choros, but the performances by Carl St. Clair and the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra of Stuttgart, and the recordings and presentation by cpo, make this a special bunch of CDs.  It certainly was worthwhile resurrecting this music, since there were some minor gems (#2 and #8 stood out, I thought) that we hadn't known about at all.

Conferences

One of the first posts of the year at the Villa-Lobos Magazine was about a Piano Symposium in Paris.  But it was across the Atlantic in the spring that the most important Villa-Lobos Conference was held: Experiencing Villa-Lobos, at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond VA.  Lee Boyd's excellent synopsis is here.  This was a worthy follow-up to the Paris Conference of 2002.

Other Good Stuff

I posted more than 80 stories on The Villa-Lobos Magazine in 2008, spread out pretty consistently through the year.   It's been fun looking through the year's happenings.  I enjoyed this story in February from the Wall St. Journal, along with its great picture.

WSJ picture

During February 2008 BBC Radio 3 had a South American week, which included many excellent concerts. Another important series ran on Portugal's Antena 2, produced by Gilda Oswaldo Cruz.  Thanks to Internet radio, we all had a chance to hear this music, at least for a while.

Very obscure Villa-Lobos discs are out there on the web.  Some of them are rare Brazilian LPs or 78s ripped to MP3.  Thanks to the Brazilian Concert Music blog, for example, we've had a chance to hear works that have never been (and probably will never be) released on CD.  This MEC LP from 1974 is a good example; it's the only way you can hear the second Suite (an awesome work!).

VL Na Musica Sinfonica cover

In what probably wasn't my finest hour as a blogger, I mucked up a post on the national dish of Brazil, Feijoada, but thanks to many experts out there, it all worked out in the end.

And that brings me to the real Villa-Lobos highlight of 2008 for me: the chance to talk with people from around the world about Villa-Lobos.  My VL projects (this website, the Magazine, and Tumbling Villa-Lobos) give me a chance to hear from VL lovers on every continent.  Keep it up!

Happy New Year to all Villa-Lobos lovers around the world, from the Villa-Lobos Factory in cold & snowy Red Deer!

- Dean