by Jose L. Hernandez and Jeff Nevin
"Intersecting Paths", by Jeff Nevin
The Concerto for Mariachi and Orchestra, "Pasión Mexicana" represents the intersection of traditional mariachi music and Western European art-music at similar though notably distinct moments in their evolution. The twentieth century has witnessed a sort of split in the world of "classical music" -- especially symphonic music -- between composers and performers/audiences which has resulted in a large number of orchestras that are reluctant to program music written in the past 50 years, for fear of alienating their audiences; these orchestras, then have become essentially museums which house and preserve music, most of which was composed more than a century ago. Symphonic classical music is therefore, in my opinion, at a fairly dangerous moment in its evolution: its existing audiences and performers generally prefer to listen to and perform the established "classics" (thus its name), but in serving these interests the concert hall has become a place where expectations of familiarity are fulfilled, and thus the experience of attending concerts regularly can be somewhat static.
The world of mariachi music is experiencing some growing pains of its own. 100 years ago mariachi was a purely non-professional, aurally transmitted, geographically isolated folk-music, but since the 1930's there has also existed a professional wing which has actively sought new music to perform and record, greatly expanding that which can be considered "mariachi" but without ever losing contact with its folk-music soul. Mariachi musicians have improved their instrumental technique to where they can hold their own against most classical musicians, and the music they perform has evolved to where it might be considered as a sort of "parallel" classical music in the same sense that East Indian classical music is, for example. It is a direct result of the mind-set and actions of these professionals that mariachi has become so popular both within Mexico and world-wide, but there are still many people within the mariachi community who advocate that mariachi stop evolving in this way and that we simply "preserve" mariachi in its present form.
So the Concerto for Mariachi is, for both of these worlds, a step outside of currently widespread sentiments and a step back into the "traditions of innovation" which have made these much-beloved musics what they are today. For mariachi this represents the logical "next step" in its evolution: a formal introduction of its virtuoso musicians and their unique music to the world of Western classical music, with expansive musical forms and serious musical treatment unlike anything ever seen in mariachi before. And for the world of classical music this is unexpectedly fresh, new music with a character, sound, vibrancy, life and just raw human emotion so unlike the repeated performances of well-known music which are the norm in so many concert halls today.
At the same time, however, immense care was taken to ensure that the true, classic mariachi sound and soul were respected and are pervasive throughout this concerto; and just as much care was taken to ensure that the traditions of Western European art-music, so loved and respected by Don Jose Hernandez and this composer as well as audiences and musicians worldwide, were equally respected. Both audiences, therefore, can rest assured that they are in for a treat: something new, something known... and definitely something to remember!