Your world, on shuffle
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
MSU composer blends Cuban, symphonic soundsGet down. Listen up. Get down. How’s that for a history of Western music in six words? It’s also a neat preview of Michigan State University composer Ricardo Lorenz’ massive Latinsymphonic collision piece “Rumba Sinfonica.”
For years, two men dreamed of a taboo liaison between full symphony orchestra and Latin dance machine: Lorenz and Jorge Gomez, founder of Grammy-winning Latin combo Tiempo Libre.
“This is my generation,” Lorenz said. “We can cross these borders, because they’re artificial. There’s no reason why these two mediums can’t make love.”
Lorenz’ proud partner in musical miscegenation, Gomez, knows all about straddling two worlds. Gomez and his Tiempo Libre bandmates learned classical music at the top Havana conservatories, then hit the streets and partied to hot-blooded dance music that was discouraged by Communist authorities. He’s deeply committed to the philosophy and experience embodied in “Rumba Sinfonica.” “I grew up with both worlds, and I had to put them together,” Gomez said. “It’s my life, and now it’s your life, too.”
Gomez put Tiempo Libre together in 2001, after imigrating to the United States. Born in Venezuela, Lorenz grew up in a similar swirl of Latin sounds. He came to the United States in 1982 and has since become a consummate composer.
Both men often wondered how to bring their musical halves together, but “Rumba Sinfonica” sprouted for real in the late ‘90s, when the Chicago Symphony tapped Lorenz to run an ambitious outreach program to the Latin community.
Later, while teaching at Indiana University, Lorenz saw Gomez give a workshop on Latin music to classical violinists.
They found themselves in perfect agreement on how the piece should sound. “It’s not a fusion,” Lorenz said. “The orchestra behaves like an orchestra, and the Latin group doesn’t pretend to be a chamber ensemble.”
When Gomez kicks Tiempo Libre into the mix, dancing on stage, the agenda becomes as clear as the clarion clack of the clave. (“Rumba Sinfonica” literally means “symphonic party.”)
What follows is a sort of salsa slam, as the dance combo runs a defiant rumba tune through a series of Cuban traditional forms, including cha-cha-cha. Tension builds as the symphony reacts, groping for a way to join the party. Can this relationship work? Finally, the elephantine orchestra swoops the Latin band up like a tango partner with a supporting blast of brass. The suppressed love pops like a spaghetti strap. “That’s a great moment,” Gomez agreed. “That’s when the people dance.”
After intermission, Tiempo Libre will return to play timba, its own mélange of Latin music. Timba is a dense, intense dance music that’s often called Cuba’s counterpart to salsa, but it’s more than that. It crams in
more logical fit than it may seem.
“Cuban music is based on
Lorenz encourages his students to put their iPods in ‘shuffle’ mode and