Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica from above in a round bowl concert hall Courtesy of Facebook

Every year from September 15th to October 15th we celebrate the rich and vibrant culture of seven Central American nations and their freedom to govern themselves independently. September 15th marks the day Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica gained their freedom from Spain in 1821. September 16th is Mexican Independence Day and September 18th is Chilean Independence Day, both commemorating their independence from Spain in 1810. This year on the All Classical blog, we’re celebrating by taking a look at each country’s major orchestra and learning not only their origin stories but their impacts on each of their country’s musical landscape. Without each country’s hard-fought independence, these incredible orchestras would not exist and our musical world as we know it would be missing a vibrant fundamental thread to its tapestry.

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica was founded on October 31, 1940 because of the efforts of the First Lady of the Republic, Ivonne Clays Spoelders, the Reyes Calderón brothers, conductor Hugo Mariani, and violinist Alfredo Serrano. Their first official concert was performed at the National Theater under the baton of Hugo Mariani, when they were made up of only 40 musicians and went by the title “Orquesta Nacional”. In 1942, they were granted a monthly financial subsidy by the President of the Republic, Dr. Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia, and were given the title of Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica. From 1948 until the late 1960s, the ensemble hosted several esteemed conductors including Edvard Fendler, Joseph Wagner, Ricardo del Carmen, Carlos Enrique Vargas. With the entrance of the 70’s came the creation of the Ministry of Culture and Youth which gave this symphony the opportunity to acquire the profile and artistic range of an authentic professional symphony. In 1972, the orchestra experienced a “Musical Revolution” which allowed the orchestra to be restructured to raise the technical level of its members. They were also able to buy instruments and to create an educational program to prepare young instrumentalists for future work with the orchestra, all under the musical direction of conductor Gerald Brown. In 2017 it was awarded the Latin Grammy in the category of “Best Classical Music Album” for its album Música de Compositores Costarricenses Volume 2. Currently the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica is made up of 74 professional musicians, 87% of whom are Costa Rican and the majority studied in the youth program. October 31st, 2020 will be the orchestra’s 80th anniversary and it is currently considered one of the best orchestras in Latin America. As is true with every corner of our world, 2020 has been a year of adapting to drastic change in the way music is presented and communicated and the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica has risen to the challenge with virtual concert presentations on Youtube, which you can tap into here. Below you can listen to their exhilarating artistry as a full ensemble with a track off their Bossa Nova Sinfonico album entitled “Samba de Uma Nota So/Chega de Saudade/Barquinho/Agua de Beber”.

Bio info courtesy of their website and photo courtesy of Facebook

The Orquesta Sinfónica de El Salvador finds its origins within the rise of military bands, dating back to 1841 when the first military band of El Salvador was created by the commander and governor of San Miquel, Colonel Manuel Cañas. In 1870, the military band becomes the “Gang of Supreme Powers” and eventually grew to contain more than 100 experienced musicians. Through this time, they hosted several conductors including Enrique Drews, Don Carlos Mahlman, Juan Aberle, and Pablo Müller. In 1923, Müller transformed the band into the Symphony Orchestra of the Supreme Powers and the ensemble worked alternately as a band and as a symphony orchestra. 1941 represented a turn to more modern structures when the band and the orchestra were separated into two separate entities by director Alejandro Muñoz Ciudad Real. This gave rise to the first Army Symphony Orchestra. In 1960 the orchestra gave itself the name it currently holds, the Orquesta Sinfónica de El Salvador, and became a sector of the Ministry of Education. Under the leadership of Maestro Cáceres in 2002, they experienced a burst of auditions of works by Salvadoran composers and featured a plethora of national soloists as well as members of the orchestra. In 2012, the Orquesta Sinfónica de El Salvador was declared the “Living Cultural Heritage of the Nation” by the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador, and in 2013 they were declared a “Goodwill Ambassador” by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Currently they are made up of more than 68 talented musicians, reinforced by the vitality of new and younger members in recent years. Listen below to their 2017 performance at the United Nations “Make Your Own Peace” event, where they performed an exciting arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Pérez Prado’s Mambo No. 5.

Bio and photo courtesy of their website

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Guatemala was founded in 1936 during the Presidency of Jorge Ubico. At that time it was called the Orquesta Liberal Progresista and was a component of the Ministry of National Defense. Originally, the orchestra was used for presidential openings, and civic and religious events. Most of the members came from the Conservatorio Nacional de Música. On July 11, 1944, the name of the orchestra was changed to the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Guatemala by means of a presidential agreement, and eventually became a component of the General Directorate of Fine Arts. As an orchestra, they aim to promote and preserve artistic expression through music and to contribute to the development of young Guatemalans through music. In 1991, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Guatemala was declared the Cultural Heritage of the Nation. They offer regular concerts at the Gran Teatro Nacional and at the Auditorium of the National Conservatory of Music. Listen below to their 2010 concert featuring an exquisite interpretation of Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsody.

Bio info courtesy of their website and photo courtesy of Facebook

The Filharmonica de Honduras is the youngest orchestra in our lineup with its foundation in November of 2005. It was born as a project of the Asociación Filarmónica Coral de Honduras for the purpose of promoting and strengthening the musical culture in the country. The Asociación Filarmónica Coral de Honduras is a non-profit entity established in 2002 by Maestro Jorge G. Mejía to promote spiritual and intellectual growth through music. They wanted to give Hondurans more opportunities to participate in healthy and creative activities to enrich the culture and their sense of national identity. Since the orchestra’s foundation, they have performed more than 65 concerts each year and have performed more than 200 works. Listen to their musical excellence below in a clip from their March 2013 concert when they perform El Relicario by José Padilla.

Bio and photo courtesy of their website

The Orquesta Nacional de Nicaragua has been in existence for more than 35 years and functions as a component of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture. Their mission is to promote, highlight, and foster the highest standards of performance of historical classical music and current Nicaraguan composers. They have hosted a multitude of conductors including Hernán Barría (Chile), Peter Torvik (Canada), Peter Paulichst (Germany), Walter-Michael Vollhardt (Germany), María Elena Mendiola (Cuba), Norman Gamboa (Costa Rica), Antonio Lópezríos (Mexico), Bruno D´Astoli (Argentina) Valerio Galli (Italy), and Urs Steiner (Switzerland). In November of 2005, the orchestra was a beneficiary of a valuable donation of instruments a sibling organization in Japan, and the orchestra is presently under the leadership of Maestro Hugo Sandino. Listen below to their beautiful rendition Suite El Repldamientos, which was written by Maestro Mario Rocha for orchestra, choir, and soloists and features themes of Nicaraguan testimonial music.

Bio courtesy of their website and photo courtesy of The Voice of Sandinism website

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional is the most prominent symphony orchestra in Mexico. Its roots date back to 1881, when Alfredo Bablot (founder of the Music Conservatory in 1866) initiated the Conservatory Orchestra. The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional is the second-oldest symphony orchestra in the American continent alongside the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The original Conservatory Orchestra ran until 1913 when its activities had to be suspended due to the general instability in the country during the Mexican Revolution. When General Venustiano Carranza took over the national government’s seat in 1915, the orchestra took the name of the National Symphony and its funding flowed from the Bellas Artes bureau. During this time, it was under the musical direction of Jesús Acuña and then under the direction of composer Manuel M. Ponce, but with his decline in health came another suspension of orchestra activities. Composer Julián Carrillo was appointed the music conservatory director shortly after this suspension and he briefly revived the orchestra but due to lack of financial support from the government, the orchestra was once again on pause in 1924. The fourth iteration of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional came in 1928 with the creation of the Orquesta Sinfónica de México, which is much more closely related to the current OSN. Carlos Chávez was its first conductor and a private patronage was established so that the orchestra could give its first concert at the Iris Theatre. At this point, the orchestra contained 103 musicians and their program included Debussy’s Ibéria Suite, Tello’s Sonata Tragica, Tchaikovsky´s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor with Vilma Erenyi as soloist, and Strauss’s Don Juan. Since this orchestra was mostly funded through private patronage, this was not considered an official orchestra like the current one is today. In 1947, the current Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional was born out of the creation of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature) as a branch of the Secretariat of Public Education. The first head of the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature was Carlos Chávez. He created a new orchestra for the Conservatory and, although he resigned from his conducting position in 1949 to spend more time composing, the orchestra lived on because he succeeded in gaining the government’s recognition of a national ensemble. In the 1970s, the orchestra went through a period of functioning with a new idea of artistic administration under which there was no principal conductor and instead functioned with guest conductors for its season concerts and a Mexican assistant director for off season engagements. In the 1980s the orchestra reverted back to the old model of a principal conductor and have since had several brilliant leaders including Sergio Cárdenas, Jose Guadalupe Flores, Francisco Savín, Luis Herrera de la Fuente, and Enrique Arturo Diemecke who revived the orchestra’s past tradition of touring. Through the years, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional has hosted a substantial list of incredible soloists including Yo-yo Ma, Rostropovich, Carlos Prieto, Jessye Norman, Francisco Ariza, Plácido Domingo, and Federica von Stade. In 2002, the orchestra was nominated for a Latin Grammy award for Best Classical Album and 2008 the orchestra went on tour. They played in some of the most prominent halls in Europe including: Tonhalle in Düsseldorf and Gewandhaus in Leipzig in Germany; Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Holland; Theater Du Chatelet in Paris, France and Palais Des Beaux Arts in Brussels, Belgium. Let’s listen in below to a piece from their 2010 concert at the reopening ceremony of the Main Hall of Shows in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. This piece is entitled Huapango, written by Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo.

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Chile is the longest-running symphonic group of its kind in Chile, with its establishment in 1941. The first Principal Conductor for the orchestra was its founder, Armando Carvajal, who held the position from 1941 to 1947. He was then succeeded by his concertmaster, Víctor Tevah, who was the Principal Conductor from 1947 to 1957 and again from 1977 to 1985. He received the National Arts Award and the Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau played as a soloist with the orchestra under his direction. Throughout its long history, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Chile has been conducted by a myriad of guest conductors and composers, including Leonard Berstein, Igor Markewitch, Sergiu Celibidache, Herbert von Karajan, Eugene Ormandy, Fritz Busch, Erich Kleiber, Antal Dorati, and Sir Malcom Sargent. In 1960, Igor Stravinsky himself appeared to personally conduct The Rite of Spring. Other composers including Paul Hindemith, Hector Villalobos, and Aaron Copland also directed their works before the Chilean public. The orchestra’s Chilean musical directors include Enrique Soro, Juan Casanova Vicuña, and David Serendero, among countless others. In 2011 the National Council of Culture and the Arts awarded the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Chile the President of the Republic Music Award in recognition of more than 70 years of contributing to the development and consolidation of the Chilean musical identity. Listen in below to their outdoor concert in 2019 at the Teatro Universidad de Chile as they play Rossini’s William Tell Overture with absolute precision and rousing excitement to the crowd’s delight.

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