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Fall Preview / Performing Arts

A Latino Flowering

As our cultures blend, the surge in fare with a Latin American bent is a natural, programmers say

September 15, 2002|SCOTT TIMBERG

It's either the zeitgeist, or shameless demographic pandering, or some of both. But the 2002-03 arts season is something of a high-water mark for Southland arts organizations offering Latin American and Latino fare. There's no cabal, no concerted effort to bring so much Latin work to town--some of it is passing through as part of regular national tours, some of it is business as usual at institutions such as the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, or the just reopened Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture in downtown L.A.

But many offerings have the flavor of special events. Two weeks of programming from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, dubbed "Latin Influence on U.S. Culture," will feature a world premiere by Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz alongside Silvestre Revueltas' "Redes," in January. March sees three dates devoted to John Adams' "El Nino," a choral retelling of the birth of Christ that uses Spanish verse from an 18th century nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, whom Adams calls "Mexico's Emily Dickinson, but 200 years earlier." Chamber music from Latin America, a Revueltas documentary, and poetry readings are also part of the Philharmonic's package.

About an hour south, the Eclectic Orange Festival will offer almost two solid months, starting in October, concentrating on the arts of Latin America: Cuarteto Latinoamericano will play music from Piazzolla's tangos to Villa-Lobos' Brazilian-flavored works; the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico and the Orquestra de Sao Paulo, in its U.S. debut, will also perform mostly Latin American repertory. The festival will also spotlight the West Coast premiere of Argentine-born composer Osvaldo Golijov's "Passion According to St. Mark" ("La Pasion Segun San Marcos").

At UCLA and in Orange County, the Kronos Quartet is playing music from its CD "Nuevo." The Long Beach Symphony will have Latin composers on all but two of its six programs, and in November, the First International Latino Theatre Festival will take over the Japan America Theatre, highlighted by a summit of 70 playwrights, directors and actors, an academic symposium and 11 theater companies from nine countries presenting plays.

The cultural action isn't confined to performance. One major offering, the San Diego Museum of Art's just opened survey, "Axis Mexico: Common Objects and Cosmopolitan Actions," focuses on young artists making an international splash.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. The demographic reality is well known: In Los Angeles County, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, 44.6% of the population is of Latino origin, and the percentage of Latinos with household incomes above $75,000 a year has more than doubled in 10 years, to 14.4%. Orange County has a smaller Latino population (30.9%), but a higher percentage (21.6%) in high-income brackets.

Across the U.S., the impact of Latin culture has been on an upswing for a while. The third annual Latin Grammy Awards will take place Wednesday at the Kodak Theatre. Similarly, the Mexican films "Amores Perros" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien" have received enormous attention. Coming up: a Sundance hit with a mostly Latino cast, "Real Women Have Curves," opens Oct. 18, and "Frida," a film based on the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, starring Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina, opens Oct. 25.

But arts impresarios, pushed to explain this season's confluence of Latino events, mostly point to aesthetics. Sandy Robertson, associate director of the Orange County Philharmonic Assn., presenter of the Eclectic Orange Festival, says a Latin theme for a music-heavy festival was "an easy call."

"It came partly because there's a very authentic and energetic blending of the indigenous culture with the European classical tradition," she says.

Enrique Arturo Diemecke, a native of Mexico, is the recently appointed music director at the Long Beach Symphony and the longtime leader of the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico. He has spent his career balancing his love of European classical music--especially Mahler--with the Mexican and South American tradition. The Long Beach season--the first entirely of his devising--includes pieces by Chavez, Villa-Lobos, the Spaniard De Falla, and Diemecke's own Don Quixote-inspired "Camino y Vision," as well as the usual European evergreens.

"In Southern California, people seem to want to know about these composers, they want to see more," Diemecke says by phone from Mexico. "I've done [Latin-American music] a lot with the L.A. Philharmonic, and I have experienced that audiences really enjoy it."

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