by Jose L. Hernandez and Jeff Nevin
The genesis of Concerto for Mariachi and Orchestra came in a conversation Don Jose Hernandez and I had in the fall of 1996 during which, it is fair to say, he and I gained a mutual respect for our respective talents: Don Jose and his Mariachi Sol de México have indisputably earned their place among the world's finest mariachis, both for their virtuosity while performing and for the high quality of music which Don Jose has always composed and/or arranged specifically for them; while I, in addition to possessing considerable experience performing and writing about mariachi, have a bachelor's, master's, and nearly a doctorate in music composition (this Concerto doubles as my Ph.D. dissertation.
In my heart I felt driven to write something for mariachi and orchestra, and I tried to persuade Maestro Hernandez to let me write it for his group. At first he suggested I simply help him finish a show-piece for mariachi and orchestra which he had begun several years earlier, but I said we should make the piece something bigger, something unique: a piece of serious classical music -- suitable for programming on standard orchestral concerts, not simply "pops" or "Latin-theme" concerts -- which would also strongly embody the mariachi soul and introduce these exceptional musicians to the world of classical music. A piece like this could open the door for Mariachi Sol de México to play with orchestras world-wide, and the prospect of forging new ground for mariachi while expanding the international exposure of his ensemble of course appealed to Don Jose.
We agreed to collaborate on the composition of the world's first Concerto for Mariachi and Orchestra, subtitled "Pasión Mexicana", a piece of music that is situated strongly within two traditions but which is also quite revolutionary for each (see "Intersecting Paths", below). The Concerto is a 22-minute piece in three movements that takes listeners on a musical journey through the history, drama and passion of mariachi -- from its folk roots, to professional mariachis world-wide reflecting back on these roots and looking ahead to the future of mariachi. The first movement "Introducción -- Fiesta de Sones" begins with the mariachis singing their introduction to the audience: "I come from the land, from the people, from the sky... I am the voice of Mexico... I am Mariachi!" Then the mariachi and orchestra play with fiery passion as the movement swells into a fantasia of various sones -- the original mariachi music of more than a century ago -- which incorporates most of Don Jose's aforementioned show-piece.
The second movement, "Serenata en Garibaldi," begins with a gorgeous, almost surreal orchestral depiction of a tiny Mexican village at night. When the mariachis finally enter, they play and sing a touching love-song to the world famous Plaza Garibaldi. This atmospheric movement draws you from these delicate beginnings through an emotional, heartfelt climax, and back to a gentle close. "These are the verses of a mariachi, which he sings to you with love...."
"Jalisco Canta," the third and final movement, is the shortest of the three. This energetic and virtuosic expression of thanks to Jalisco, mariachi's homeland, for all of its musical inspiration brings us to modern times and today's mariachi sound in a warm and joyful celebration. "I give thanks to my homeland for providing me... the son of my mariachi, ...and my music I give to you because I am The Mariachi! ...From my heart, Jalisco sings!"