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Talk about Hispanic American literature and any avid reader around the world will tell you about Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Rulfo and Ernesto Sábato. A poetry enthusiast might mention Pablo Neruda, Rubén Darío, Jorge Luis Borges... If you talk about art, you are certain to run into Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and when you bring up classical music, you may end up debating whether Pablo Casals could be claimed by Puerto Rico. Someone may mention Heitor Villa Lobos (Latin, but not Hispanic) and perhaps an opera connoisseur or film fan may bring up the late Daniel Catán.
To say that the Hispanic American world is under-represented in the classical music international scene would be a huge understatement. But what is more interesting to me personally is how under-represented my country, Puerto Rico, is, even within the Hispanic and Latin artistic circles.
García Márquez and Isabel Allende are wonderfully flavorful authors. They are the little piece of somewhat home that I can share with my German-, French-, Dutch-, Whatever-speaking friends. But I want to share René Marqués. I want his plays, stories and novels to be translated and published in all sorts of languages around the world. I want the world to know Rosario Ferré. Everyone knows the political writings of Che Guevara. I want the revolutionary poems of José de Diego, the simple-life and social commentary stories of Abelardo Díaz Alfaro and Luis Lloréns Torres. I want to present the feminist poetry of Julia de Burgos. I want online lists of rococo artists to contain a mention of José Campeche. I want online lists of Latin American artists to contain more than a handful of Puerto Ricans when other countries boast dozens of names.
Our semi-erasure may be due in part to a combination of Puerto Rico's literal insular hurdles and its figurative insularity brought about by its never-ending colonial history. Yet the fact remains that many wonderful artistic manifestations that occur in Puerto Rico, whether brought into fruition by those who were always there or those who may have passed by, often exist and are remembered only within the island's perimeter.
The result is an incredible loss of literature, loss of music, loss of history, culture and identity. A loss not only costly to a nation in oblivion, but to the preservation of humanity, which is kept alive through diversity.
It is therefore my goal to do what I can, in whatever way I can, to prevent this loss from occurring; to preserve, disseminate and promote the artistic history and contributions of my people to the world. One way in which I can do this is through public performance and the creation of an accessible record of the very rich pool of Puerto Rican art song, along with the complete texts and translations of these most deserving words written by great Puerto Rican authors, known and unknown.
Pianist and friend Nathaniel LaNasa and I launched the first recital for the Puerto Rican Art Song Project in the fall of 2016 at Nancy Manocherian's the cell in Midtown, Manhattan, featuring compositions by Jack Délano, Narciso Figueroa, Noel Allende Goitía and Ernesto Cordero. The idea was to expose the classical music audience to a new subcategory of art song in an informal, chat-laced program that included a presentation of beautiful art work and text translations, as well as spoken facts about the historical context of the compositions. The recital was well attended and well received, both in the space and through our live broadcast on YouTube.
Join us as Nathaniel and I keep exploring this incredibly diverse and colorful repertoire, and let us know if you'd like a performance in your community.