University of Texas Press
  • Contemporary “Latin American” Composers of Art Music in the United States: Cosmopolitans Navigating Multiculturalism and Universalism

The diverse perspectives of contemporary composers of art music who were born in Latin America and now work in the United States, as well as performers and critics of their music, reveal the various ways that these composers navigate two, sometimes conflicting, popular discourses: multiculturalism and universalism. These composers promote their Latin American identity in a music market that has increasingly embraced ideals of multiculturalism, while competing in music academies that celebrate the autonomous creativity of each composer more than affiliations based on ethnicity or nationality. After introducing theories of multiculturalism, universalism, and cosmopolitanism, with respect to composers Tania León (b. 1943) and Oswaldo Golijov (b. 1960), the article discusses five up-and-coming composers born in the 1970s: Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann, José Luis Hurtado, Felipe Lara, Pedro Malpica, and Mauricio Pauly.


As diferentes perspectivas dos compositores contemporâneos de música erudita que nasceram na América Latina e atualmente trabalham nos Estados Unidos, bem como seus intérpretes e críticos, revelam as diversas maneiras que usam para lidar com duas ideologias americanas populares—e às vezes conflitantes—nos Estados Unidos: o multiculturalismo e o universalismo. Os compositores promovem suas identidades latino-americanas num mercado de música que adere cada vez mais aos ideais do multiculturalismo e, ao mesmo tempo, competem no mundo acadêmico da música que celebra antes a criatividade autônoma de cada compositor do que afiliações étnicas ou nacionais. Depois de apresentar teorias de multiculturalismo, universalismo e cosmopolitanismo sobre os compositores Tania León (1943–) e Oswaldo Golijov (1960–), o ensaio discute cinco compositores promissores que nasceram na década 1970: Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann, José Luis Hurtado, Felipe Lara, Pedro Malpica e Mauricio Pauly.


Latin American Composers, United States, multiculturalism, universalism, cosmopolitanism

Palabras Clave

compositores latino-americanos, Estados Unidos, multiculturalismo, universalismo, cosmopolitanismo

[End Page 40]

“When you play a piece by composers who were born in Europe, . . . they’re not depicted by race, they are not depicted by nationality, they are not depicted by gender.”

tania león1

“What I do is even more extreme because my career often zigzagged and because the world is more globalized. It’s not because I said, ‘Let’s combine Latin with this other.’”

osvaldo golijov2

“Latin American composers” is a flag, an advertisement. Although I don’t want people thinking about that, it’s something I cannot avoid.”

josé luis hurtado3

A “Latin American” presence in the contemporary art-music scene of the United States raises questions about place, identity, and musical meaning. When and why do composers born in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean refer to themselves and, more often, are referred to as “Latin American” while living in the United States? For whom does their music sound “Latin American” and for whom does it not? How have identity politics affected their self-presentation and reception among audiences and critics? How can theories of global connectedness and cultural identification help explain their experiences, opinions, and music? Referring to themselves as “Latin American” while being in the States is, on the one hand, an easy shorthand. “Latin American” serves as a social category that the general U.S. public understands to mean born south of the border. On the other hand, the terms “Latin America” and “Latin American” carry significant ideological baggage, including an intellectual history fraught with inter-American, interclass, and interracial conflict. As Walter Mignolo has argued, “‘Latin’ America is not so much a subcontinent as it is the political project of Creole-Mestizo/a elites” (2005: 58–9). This article explores how and when a selection of composers and their observers use the descriptor “Latin American.” The composers tend to identify with and promote various Latin American cultural heritages in a classical-music market that has increasingly embraced multiculturalism, while they emphasize their idiosyncratic aesthetics in music academies and art-music circles that revere the autonomous creativity of composers. The discourse of “Latin American” in the contemporary art-music scene in the United States, I will argue, functions within tensions between competing ideologies of what I am calling “American multiculturalism” and “aesthetic universalism.” Cosmopolitanism offers a framework that mitigates these tensions and reflects the experiences and opinions of the composers. [End Page 41]

Generally speaking, multiculturalism celebrates differences among groups distinguished by social categories (e.g., race, ethnicity, culture, religion, nationality), whereas universalism, with regards to aesthetics, focuses on the allegedly common sensibilities and thereby foregrounds the idiosyncrasies of individual expression rather than social groups. Outside the fields of theology and ethics, universalism is most often distinguished from particularism and cultural relativism, while the ideologies of multiculturalism and pluralism in American intellectual history are typically contrasted with assimilation and individualism. The objective of this article is not to reify dichotomies between universalism and particularism, pluralism and assimilation, individuals and culture, global and local (or, for that matter, between Latin America and the United States, or Latin America and Anglo America). Instead it calls attention to ways that multiculturalism and universalism manifest in art-music circles by examining how Latin American composers working in the United States encounter and navigate these ideologies.

Cosmopolitanism, as theorized by Ulf Hannerz, James Clifford, and Bruce Robbins, offers an appropriate framework to interpret these composers’ situations for several reasons. First, this approach to cosmopolitanism balances particularist (i.e., Latin American) and individualist (i.e., art-music composer) identifications with which these composers struggle. Second, it speaks to their transnational mobility, including migration and occupational travel. Third, it addresses hierarchies of social status and the privileges of elite culture pertinent to art-music circles. Although cosmopolitanism situates their experiences and perspectives within current discourses on global connectedness and local emplacement, I will not argue that their music is “cosmopolitan.” The details of this social theory do not translate neatly into musical analysis.

These issues surface in case studies of seven contemporary composers originally from Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru. A discussion of Tania León (b. 1943) focuses on parallels between changes in her approach to composition and those within the academic art-music world since the late 1970s, as multiculturalism began ameliorating a prevailing aesthetic universalism. While she began incorporating music and topics from her Cuban background (among other influences) into her compositions, she continued utilizing the discourse of universalism to combat the tendency of U.S. multiculturalist agendas to identify artists based on social categories. Next, the more recent compositions of Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960) and their critical reception in the United States illustrate how discourses of multiculturalism and aesthetic universalism have addressed musical eclecticism and overt musical borrowing. The article then introduces five up-and-coming composers born in the 1970s—Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann, José Luis Hurtado, Felipe Lara, Pedro Malpica, and Mauricio [End Page 42] Pauly—who formed a consortium called “áltaVoz” (“loud speaker,” “loud voice”) to concertize their music collectively and foster cross-cultural education. Their decidedly abstract compositional styles, and myriad levels of comfort identifying as “Latin American,” compete with their strategy to market the collective as “Latin American” and endlessly frustrate attempts to locate a “Latin American” sound in their music.4

Focusing on these seven composers from the Americas, who live and work in the United States, also supplements the understudied history of this topic, which Aurelio de la Vega first introduced in this journal (1980a). De la Vega compared the various levels of contact that ten composers from Latin America experienced with the art-music scene in the United States and provided a historical review of the topic.5 Following the new industrial strength of the United States in the global economy at the turn of the twentieth century, and the subsequent growth of art-music institutions, he informed us, composers born south of the United States increasingly traveled to the United States in addition to Europe, for education and performance (De la Vega 1980a: 163). The visibility in the United States of art-music by these composers increased after World War I, when composer collectives, arts organizations, and government agencies began promoting dialogue within the Americas through the arts. In 1928, composers Chávez, Cowell, Ruggles, Verèse, and Whithorne formed the Pan American Association of Composers with the objective of creating “music of the Western Hemisphere” (Root 1972; Parker 1987; Oja 2000: 194). Although U.S. policies toward nations to its south have historically been hostile and self-serving, the U.S. government actively promoted cultural exchange through the Pan- American Union, which established a Music Division in 1938 as part of Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy (1933–1934). The Music Division premiered hundreds of works by Latin American composers at music festivals held in Washington, D.C. The Music Division’s publications are arguably the first scholarly treatments in the United States (Chase [1945] 1962: 350; Haskins 1957; de la Vega 1980a: 173–74; Oja 2000: 279).6

It was not until the 1960s that attitudes in the United States toward Latin American art music began improving to begin fostering a “rewarding and healthy” interchange among composers in the United States and Latin America (de la Vega 1980a). The Chilean-American composer/scholar Juan Orrego-Salas established the Latin American Music Center of Indiana University in 1961.7 In the past two decades organized efforts to present art music by Latin American composers include Tania León’s festival Sonidos de las Américas (part of the American Composers Orchestra), Uruguayan-American composer/conductor Gisele Ben-Dor’s Music Discovery Project, James Brooks-Bruzzese’s Symphony of the Americas, and Mexican pianist/conductor Alondra de la Parra’s Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas (founded in 2004).8 [End Page 43]

Multiculturalism, Universalism, and Cosmopolitanism

No one actually is or ever can be a cosmopolitan in the full sense of belonging everywhere. . . . The interest of the term cosmopolitanism is located . . . in its local applications. . . . Its provocative association with privilege is perhaps better understood, in this context, as the normative edge that cosmopolitanism tries to add to the inclusiveness and diversity of multiculturalism—as an attempt to name a necessary but difficult normativeness. The term is not as philosophically ambitious as the world “universalism,” though it does some of the same work. (It makes room for moments of generalizing, one might say, without offering license for uninhibited universalizing.) Nor is it as politically ambitious as the word “internationalism.”

(Robbins 1992: 183)

There are no simple, clear-cut definitions of multiculturalism, universalism, and cosmopolitanism. Even their etymologies fail to convey their historical developments, contemporary usage, and diverse roles in local identity politics. Their interrelationships at specific historical moments become critical for understanding their significance. This section introduces each term as I will use it to interpret the situations of the featured composers.

Although multiculturalism is now passé as an analytic framework (Robbins 1995: 106; Mishra 2005), it still permeates the American performing-arts industry in which composers promote their works. Néstor García Canclini distinguishes between two “narratives of multicultural society” that are useful here: “academic theories” and “sociopolitical movements.” The former “conceive[s] of identities as historically constituted, imagined, and reinvented in ongoing processes of hybridization and transnationalization, which dissolve their ancient territorial roots,” a process that is closer to the notion of cosmopolitanism I will utilize. Multiculturalism as “sociopolitical movements,” on the other hand, “unequivocally emphasize[s] the original territorial foundations of ethnic groups and nations, dogmatically avowing the telluric and biological traits associated with that origin, as if they were unaffected by historical vicissitudes and current changes” (García Canclini 2001: 77–8). García Canclini’s two definitions of multiculturalism are, without a doubt, interrelated: In so far as population groups are socially defined and differentiated due to competition rather than bound by a set of inherent and autonomous characteristics (Barth 1969), multiculturalism in the States sought to overcome the resulting social inequalities through, what Charles Taylor calls, a “politics of equal recognition” (quoted in Mishra 2005). Because multiculturalist discourses differ by nation, I am calling the sociopolitical movement in the United States “American multiculturalism.”9 [End Page 44]

American multiculturalism has provided new opportunities to promote a “Latin American” identity in the performing-arts marketplace. This agenda has increasingly influenced the policies of art institutions since the 1980s, though to a lesser extent the programming of concert music than other types of performing and visual arts (Pankratz 1993: 359; Heilbrun and Gray 1993: 2; García Canclini 2001: 8). Concurrently, the musical tastes of “highbrow” American audiences have broadened “from snob to omnivore” during the 1980s, which “signifies an openness to appreciating everything” (Peterson and Kern 1996: 904). This article will explore how a thirst for cultural diversity in the arts has assisted the promotion of contemporary Latin American composers in the United States, while irritating some of them because of tendencies to pigeonhole them into social categories.

Although various definitions of universalism have been forwarded by religions, philosophers, legislatures, and human rights activists, it is a belief in a universal aesthetic judgment—what I’m calling “aesthetic universalism”— that permeates the culture of American music conservatories. With philosophical roots in the universalism of Immanuel Kant and the European Enlightenment, certain European composers (mostly Germans) were canonized beginning in the nineteenth century and eventually were taught in American music academies as near-autonomous geniuses who composed “great works” (Kerman 1985; Kingsbury 1988; Nettl 1995; Burkholder 2004). Even the inclusion in music education curricula of traditions other than Western classical music from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (however minimal and marginalized) began only within the last fifty years (Nettl 1995: 86).

Aesthetic universalism in art music circles reveals the tastes of those in power, masking a normative, Eurocentric attitude. Robbins urges scholars to look for who controls and gains from such normalizing claims (1999: 75). In this spirit Bruno Nettl and others have remarked that the discourse of universalism in art-music institutions has unhitched the canon of composers from their cultural and national contexts, and treats them as superhuman, supranational, and thus universal geniuses (Nettl 1995: 41). The very same Eurocentric vision of art-music led critics to dismiss the prospect of an “original contribution of Latin America within contemporary compositional techniques,” as Gerard Béhague argued, which was a bias that resulted from the “presumed universality of musical creation in the Western art-music tradition” (1979: 353). At the same time, claiming that aesthetics and techniques of art-music composition are “universal” has also proved a powerful strategy for composers who want to avoid being categorized, based on their national origin, gender, or ethnicity, in order to compete on an even playing field worldwide and/or to distance themselves from nationalist trends. Depending on the situation, the composers discussed [End Page 45] below either favor or eschew universalism, which reveals their mixed feelings about this ideology.10

Because I am arguing that contemporary Latin American composers in the United States encounter and must navigate discourses of American multiculturalism and aesthetic universalism, it is I who have chosen to interpret their experiences using an approach to cosmopolitanism that addresses three pertinent topics: local and global affiliations, transnational mobility and migration, and privileges of membership in elite culture. First coined in ancient Greek philosophy and revived by Kant, cosmopolitanism has been adopted more recently to explain the circumstances, attitudes, and politics of individuals and communities who tend to circulate internationally and acquire cultural competences, or at least an empathy for Otherness, within the various localities in which they dwell (Hannerz 1990: 239–40; Werbner 2008: 2). Among the myriad cosmopolitanist theories, those articulated by Bruce Robbins, James Clifford, and Ulf Hannerz aptly address the situations of Latin American composers in the United States. Pnina Werbner recently used Homi Bhabha’s term “vernacular cosmopolitanism” (Bhabha 1996) to group the common arguments of these authors as follows:

Vernacular cosmopolitanism—an apparent oxymoron that seems to join contradictory notions of local specificity and universal enlightenment—is at the crux of current debates on cosmopolitanism. These pose the question first, whether local, parochial, rooted, and culturally specific loyalties may coexist with translocal, transnational, transcendent, elitist, enlightened, universalist and modernist ones; and second, whether boundary-crossing demotic migrations may be compared to the globetrotting travel, sophisticated cultural knowledge and moral worldview of deracinated intellectuals. Indeed, the question is often reversed to ask whether there can be an enlightened normative cosmopolitanism which is not rooted, in the final analysis, in patriotic and culturally committed loyalties and understandings.

(Werbner 2008: 14)

Travel, mobility, and migration are clearly central to cosmopolitan experiences, perspectives, and activities, though the details of exactly how continue to be debated. “Not all postcolonial cosmopolitans are travellers [sic]—nor are all travellers (as Hannerz reminds us) cosmopolitan,” writes Werbner (2008: 17). Robbins noted how Hannerz defined the cosmopolitan by way of exclusionary statements: not merely someone who “moves about in the world” with “a willingness to engage with the Other,” not tourists since they don’t participate, not exiles and not ordinary labor migrants. Instead, Hannerz asserted, “transnational cultures today tend to be more or less clearcut [sic] occupational cultures (and are often tied to transnational [End Page 46] job markets)” (Hannerz 1990: 243; quoted in Robbins 1992: 177). Art-music composers constitute one such cosmopolitan occupational culture. Tania León, Osvaldo Golijov and even the young composers of áltaVoz have moved in and out of the Americas due to family relocation or advances in their music education and careers. The “routes” they have traveled, to employ Clifford’s framework of “discrepant cosmopolitanism” (1997), have remained mostly within an international circuit of music schools, universities, and conservatories, and they tend to trace their journeys in terms of their education and mentors.

Although the Greek term “cosmopolitan” means “citizen of the world,” cosmopolitans are still deeply affected by the specific places and historical moments through which they pass. “For it is still the case that no one lives in the world in general,” asserted Clifford Geertz. “Everybody, even the exiled, the drifting, the diasporic, or the perpetually moving, lives in some confined and limited stretch of it—‘the world around here’” (1996: 262). For this reason the specific locations and eras in which these composers live will prove inseparable to their experiences and actions. Argentina, in the era of Astor Piazzolla and the Dirty War, impacted Golijov’s musical sensibilities and provoked his emigration. León’s early compositions in New York City embraced aesthetic universalism at a time before multiculturalism had strongly influenced art-music circles. The strictness of Mexican music conservatories affected Hurtado’s initially conservative style. And the group of young composers in áltaVoz formed and adopted a Latin American group identity specifically in Boston.

Any study of cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, Latin American identity, and art-music culture—and especially all four topics combined—should address issues of class hierarchy and elite culture for three reasons. First of all, Western art music tends to function symbolically as “highbrow cultural capital” (Bourdieu [1979] 1986; Peterson and Kern 1996; DiMaggio and Mukhtar 2004; Small 2001). Second, discussions of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism can mask class privilege (Higham 1993; Griffin and Tempenis 2002) and U.S.-centrism (Yúdice 1992; Neilson 1999). And third, the ideologies surrounding “Latin America” are intimately connected to postcolonial class stratification (Mignolo 2005). The notion of “cosmopolitan mobility” is, therefore, as applicable to socioeconomic class as it is to international travel and migration. Although the specific composers to be discussed come from middle- to upper-middle class families and struggled financially while studying abroad, they have already achieved or expect to achieve upward mobility due to the financial earnings and high social status in elite Western culture gained as professional composers and university professors.

Musicologists have variously evoked cosmopolitanism, though inconsistently. The concept often appears in concert with foreign, modernist, [End Page 47] mass-mediated, and/or Eurocentric influences and opposed to local, indigenous, nativist, and/or traditional music. In studies of Western art music in Europe, “cosmopolitan” often serves to offset the nationalistic associations of specific composers (Cavallini 2004; Tusa 2006), whereas in the United States (Crawford 1993) and Latin American (Turino 2003) “cosmopolitan” art music has denoted Eurocentric aesthetics and techniques. Scholars of popular music outside Europe and the United States (Bilby 1999; Turino 2000; Olaniyan 2001) have described musicians and producers who incorporate “cosmopolitan” idioms—defined as foreign, Western, Eurocentric, and modern—into music otherwise considered indigenous, local, and/or traditional. Turino, for example, who also draws on Hannerz, Appiah, Clifford, and Robbins, uses “cosmopolitan” to denote a Eurocentric, high-modernist aesthetic which he distinguishes from “localist,” folk aesthetics. Cosmopolitans for Turino tend to utilize folk aesthetics in order to localize themselves.11

By contrast, at least two musicologists have used cosmopolitanism as an outlook or practice that balances the global/local opposition. Brigid Cohen recently utilized Bhabha’s “vernacular cosmopolitanism” and Edward Said’s “plurality of vision” to interpret how composer Stefan Wolpe sought to integrate his multinational, yet locally grounded life experiences and artistic collaborations into a developing modernist aesthetic (2007: 22–6, 34–6). And Paul Greene found “a spirit of cosmopolitanism” among Nepali youth who are both “very inclusive of many ethnic groups” while they “retain their cultural distinctiveness” (2001: 178). For Greene cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism are synonymous in Nepal and oppose a “model of syncretic fusion” (179) (see also, Stokes 2004: 61 f.; Bohlman 2006).

Other scholars use cosmopolitanism to balance both global and local affiliations, as outlined in Werbner’s quote above. Clifford’s “discrepant cosmopolitanisms” also aims to forge a middle ground between “the excessive localism of particularist cultural relativism, as well as the overly global vision of a capitalist or technocratic monoculture” (Clifford 1997: 36). Jacqueline Loss likewise uses cosmopolitanism to describe Latin American authors and artists who are engaged in an inter-American dialogue while remaining rooted in local scenes. Loss’s cosmopolitanism “verifies context and specificity at the same time that is driven toward archiving those cultural objects that uniquely portray un-homely and decontextualized sites.” In doing so, cosmopolitanism introduces “a mode of negotiating the discipline of Latin Americanism” to expand current understandings of regionalist affinity (2005: 7–8). As a way to mediate global and local affiliations, my use of cosmopolitanism aligns closely with these writers and musicologists Cohen and Greene.

At different times, in different situations, and for different reasons, the composers featured here have engaged the discourses of multiculturalism [End Page 48] and universalism in the art-music world of the United States. But they never completely agree with either ideology, neither claiming to represent their particular cultural affiliation nor denying it. Cosmopolitanism speaks to the commonalities of their varied situations and attitudes with regards to their diverse affinities, transnational mobility, and participation in an elite occupational culture.

Tania León

Tania León has mixed feelings about being included in a discussion of Latin American composers and probably about being labeled “cosmopolitan.” Although she is proud of her Cuban roots, she resents being categorized as anything other than musician, composer, and conductor.12 Nonetheless, because of her transnational biography, her use of Cuban music, her role in promoting Latin American composers in the United States, and her recognition by others as a Latin American artist, she is of great interest to the present study. In the 1980s she began intentionally incorporating into her compositions music from Cuba and elsewhere (United States, Europe, Mexico, Japan), and in the 1990s she actively helped expose U.S. audiences to Latin American art music as the cofounder and musical advisor of the music festival, Sonidos de las Américas. Her acute awareness of historical flows of people, music, and ideas informs both her self-identity and her compositions. As Jason Stanyek poignantly phrased this, “León sounds these histories—that’s sound as a verb” (Stanyek 2008). Also of interest here, the progression of her musical output parallels the coincidental rise in multiculturalist agendas within an art-music scene in the United States that hitherto emphasized aesthetic universalism. I am not arguing that multicultural agendas bolstered her success, but rather that an increased acceptability in art-music circles for the expression of personal heritage created an environment in which her new approach to composition could flourish. Meanwhile she has continued leveraging universalistic arguments to counter pigeonholing based on race, gender, and national origin.

León was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1943 to a non-musical family of African, Spanish, Chinese, and French ancestry. After completing degrees in music, music education, and accounting in Cuba, she wanted to continue her music studies in Paris. But in 1967 a free airplane ticket provided by a Catholic organization brought her to New York instead where she soon found work as an accountant. Thanks to guidance from the American Council of Émigrés in the Professions, she received a full scholarship to study music at the New York College of Music and thereafter at New York University with Ursula Mamlok. A chance encounter with Arthur Mitchell led to her long association with his Dance Theater of Harlem as a founding member, which jumpstarted her professional music career. Since 1985 [End Page 49] she has taught music at Brooklyn College where she first became the Claire and Leonard Tow Professor, and then a Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York (in 2006). She has earned prestigious awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Guggenheim Foundation as well as honorary doctorates and residencies, nationally and internationally.13

León’s arrival in the United States coincided with the late Civil Rights Movement and the beginning of the multiculturalist movement in the artmusic world. León recalls feeling the effects of the public’s interest in diversity as a woman composer, starting in the mid-1970s, but more so in the early 1980s when she served as music director of the Community Concert Series of the Brooklyn Philharmonic and programmed works by composers of African descent (Interview with author, July 18, 2008). In addition to her acclaim as a composer, she has noticed that multiculturalist agendas have brought her new audiences in U.S. cities outside of her home turf of New York, where she has a loyal following:

They want to program Latin Americans and they do the research and my name comes up. They want to program women and my name comes up. They want to program people of color and my name, you know. They want to program Cubans, there we go.


Despite receiving additional exposure, it is perfectly understandable that she would protest, “I am totally anti-label” (Raymond 1999), for she has been pigeonholed into almost every social category that her gender, race/ ethnicity, and national/regional affiliations might allow. Witness her presence on surveys of American composers (Upshaw, Zinman, and Orchestra of St. Luke’s 1998), North American women composers (Rickards 2001; Snell and Foundation Philharmonic Orchestra 1999; Solomon 1994), Latin American composers (Voices of Change and Rives-Jones 1998), Latin American women musicians (Mendoza 2004), Cuban celebrities (Martínez-Fernández 2003), African American composers (Thamyris 2002; Walwyn 1997), and African American conductors (Lundy et al. 1988). She once defended herself against such trends to a question about being a black conductor, saying:

I am not a feminist, am not a black conductor, and am not a woman conductor. I am nothing that the people want to call me. They do not know who I am. The fact that I am using this physical costume does not describe my energy, does not describe my entity. My chosen purpose in life is to be a musician, a composer, a conductor. This is the way I am making my contribution to mankind.

(quoted in Lundy et al. 1988: 219) [End Page 50]

A decade later she vented, “Every time I read a different article, I have a different category” (Raymond 1999).

Her critique is perfectly applicable to the present article, for which I selected León and Golijov based on their affiliations with Latin America as well as their acclaim, whereas the composers of áltaVoz explicitly promote the group as “Latin American.” The validity of describing composers and compositions as “Latin American” will indeed be explicitly examined with respects to áltaVoz.

León contrasts her reception in the United States to that in Europe, where she has felt none of the effects of a multiculturalist movement, but instead an enthusiasm for her compositional style and aesthetics. “They have not been concerned about my looks, my gender, my ethnicity, nothing. . . . I don’t know if they get attracted to the energy in my music. I don’t know if they get attracted to my syntax, to my harmonizing, to my way of using pitch, because I am tonal, atonal, post-tonal, you know. It’s like a big jambalaya. And for them it’s very, very attractive” (interview with author).14 While it would be unwise to envision the European art-music scene as egalitarian and colorblind based on León’s impressions, they underscore the relatively higher emphasis on cultural and ethnic identification that she has experienced in the United States in comparison to Europe and Cuba.

León also wrestles with the competing discourse of aesthetic universalism in the art music world, a presence that she has noticed give way over the past two decades to an increased awareness of the cultural and societal influences on composers and an acceptance of more explicit cultural references in music. “When people talk about Beethoven, they don’t talk about the fact that he was my height. They don’t talk about the color of his skin or what kind of hair he has. . . . Beethoven is Beethoven” (interview with author, emphasis hers). Defending her use of popular Cuban dance genres like rumba, León has argued that although canonical composers, such as Bach and Beethoven, also drew on familiar dance rhythms (not to mention other composers), they were often misconstrued posthumously as autonomous geniuses: “So [Bach was] using his own popular flavor of folk, of his own culture, in his music. We have distilled the whole thing in such a way that all of a sudden, his music comes from heaven. We don’t want to hear those traces in there” (Raymond 1999). When she began studying composition in the United States, she recalled, the most influential contemporary composers were Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Boulez, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, who were discussed in terms of the “complexity” and “mechanisms” of their compositions. Meanwhile, overtly ethnic references in the music of Aaron Copland damaged his reception among academic composers (interview with author). In the art-music environment of the 1970s, León adopted the prevailing attitude of aesthetic universalism when composing [End Page 51] and presenting herself, fearing that, as K. Robert Schwartz wrote, “her diversity would be a liability . . . by a new-music community that might have sneered at her heritage” (Schwartz 1994: 4).

As the multiculturalist movement began contesting aesthetic universalism in the art-music world, León’s music also began to change. She was inspired during a trip to Cuba, after a nostalgic twelve years away, when she saw her father for the last time. “I felt an explosion inside of me. I realized that there were very cherished things in me that I was denying. And I felt the sounds of my environment, the sounds of my childhood, starting to come back to me” (quoted in Clark 1997). León began integrating her deep-seeded knowledge of Cuban music and themes of Cuban culture into her compositions—as she had done and still does with many music traditions. She began including direct musical references and borrowings, such as a rumba guaguancó accompaniment in “A la Par” (1986) and “Batéy” (composed with Michael Camilo in 1989) and a comparsa melody and carnival theme in “Indígena” (1991) (Schwartz 1994). León had internalized the melodies and rhythms she would later utilize having studied classical music in a Cuban conservatory, played popular music with friends through adolescence, attended religious ceremonies as a child, and simply grown up with music all around her. “We know these things. When you grow up in certain countries, or certain ethnicities, certain cultures, you are absorbing this without really realizing that you are really absorbing it” (interview with author). Through the processes of composing and teaching music, she added, “my understanding of rhythm, I think, has grown immensely by being able to dissect all of that. So therefore I can actually go into it, drop it, pick it up, manifest it when I want to” (ibid.). León has developed systems for composing and teaching so that complex rhythms can sound as “natural” as possible. Joseph Kerman and Gary Tomlinson connect León’s diverse musical training with her unique rhythmic style, evident in “Kabiosile” (1988), which “owes something to African and Latin drumming, and also something to modernist masters of rhythm such as Stravinsky and Bartók” (Kerman and Tomlinson 2000: 372).

One of León’s first compositions after visiting Cuba was “Batá” (1985), which exemplifies her explicit integration of Cuban music and European modernist approaches to express personal sentiments, here honoring the memories of relatives. Reiner analyzed this six-minute, one-movement orchestral piece as emphasizing accented beats and frequently changing tempi, meters, and dynamics, and featuring an overall tempo shift from fast to slow to fast (Reiner 1999: 166–69). It was dedicated to her father, who, during their reunion in Cuba, suggested that she begin incorporating Cuban music into her compositions. He died a half-year later. As she recalled, “he said, ‘Well, your music style is very interesting but where are you [End Page 52] in your music, I mean, you’re missing.’ And that’s when he told me, ‘Come on. Use some of the things you know so well. Listen to the music of Cuba’” (interview with author, emphasis hers). A piccolo carries a melodic fragment at the beginning and end of “Batá,” symbolizing childhood memories of her father’s whistling.

“Batá” also draws on the rhythms played on the double-headed, hour-glass-shaped drums of the same name, traditionally played in a set of three to accompany the Cuban religion variously called Santería and Regla de Ocha. Although she dedicated “Batá” to her father, she attributes her direct exposure to Santería rituals to his mother, who was also the one to enroll León in a music conservatory when she was four years old. The specific African roots of this religion and music are important to León: the batá drums and their rhythmic polyphony come from the Yoruban people of the region that is now Nigeria, different than the influences from regions in Benin, Ghana, Togo, Angola, and elsewhere that are evident in other religions of Cuba and the African Diaspora. “Calling it ‘African’ is like calling it ‘Latin American,’” she said referring to the religion and anything assigned the prefix “Afro” (personal communication, October 6, 2008; see Hagedorn 2001: 22f.). Specificity continues to trump generalization for León. The rhythms of the batá drums influenced her orchestration throughout the piece, yet they are not heard verbatim until the conclusion, where they function to “narrow the focus to the energy that the rhythms carry themselves” (personal communication). León also drew on batá rhythmic polyphony in composing “Rituál” (1987) for solo piano. Unlike batá performance in ritual settings, the tempi of her pieces “Batá” and “Rituál” do not accelerate, because she found it too difficult for concert performers. Similarly in “Four Pieces for Cello Solo” (1983), which also pays tribute to her father, explicit references to Cuba only emerge in the last movement as the cello is played percussively to sound a clave ostinato.

An interpretation of León’s experiences and attitudes through the lens of vernacular cosmopolitanism would emphasize her local and global affiliations, transnational mobility, and relationship to elite culture. Having migrated from Cuba to the United States and lived in New York for many years, as well as her professional travels to Europe and within the United States, she has gained several points of view on the politics of ethnic diversity within the U.S. art-music world and her Cuban identity within it. When she visits Cuba the locals assume her a foreigner because she has indeed become a New Yorker (interview with author). León also gained upward mobility in economic class and social status from when she first moved to New York City and worked as an accountant and part-time musician, to when she gained professional positions as conductor, composer, and university professor, and later earned prestigious honors and awards. León exhibits a fusion of the particularist and universalist aspects of cosmopolitanism [End Page 53] in her pride of her family background, local affiliations (Havana and New York City), and her participation in musical conversations within the international art-music scene. “I am who I am, thanks to my mestizo heritage and my ancestors from China, Nigeria, France, and Spain. I’m a citizen of the world with a global consciousness” (quoted in Spinazzola 2006). León views her mixed heritage as bolstering her “global consciousness” as a “citizen of the world,” a catchphrase of cosmopolitanism (Appiah 2006: xv ff.). She identifies with the cultural expressions she learned from specific relatives, always emphasizing historical routes and personal experiences that inform her idiosyncratic aesthetic and eschewing generalizations like race, ethnicity, and national origin.

Osvaldo Golijov

“Golijov is picking up where Philip Glass left off,” surmised Jack Sullivan, “drawing a new crowd and issuing a loud rejoinder to a culture that keeps issuing premature death warrants for classical music” (Ritter and Sullivan 2006). Arguably one of the most publicized composers active in the concert world today, Osvaldo Golijov’s career catapulted over the last ten years, starting with his collaborations with the Kronos Quartet in the late 1990s and his acclaimed version of the St. Mark Passion, La Pasión Según San Marcos (2001). In 2006 he was honored as the featured composer of a Lincoln Center festival and won two classical GRAMMY awards. A year later he became the first composer-in-residence at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, which presented La Pasión. Concerts of Golijov’s works have been widely popular among younger audiences, which is good business for classical-music institutions.

Golijov’s cosmopolitan mobility began with studies in music academies on three continents. Born in La Plata, Argentina, in 1960 to Jewish parents from Eastern-Europe (a pianist mother and a physician father), Golijov was “raised surrounded by chamber classical music, Jewish liturgical and klezmer music, and the new tango of Astor Piazzolla.”15 He studied composition in a La Plata conservatory with Gerardo Gandini, in Jerusalem with Mark Kopytman, and in the United States with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood and George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvania where he received his PhD. Golijov holds a professorship in music at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and lives in a Boston suburb.

A closer examination of La Pasión (2001) and its reception illustrates Golijov’s musical eclecticism, his use of Latin American themes, and the current critical climate regarding multiculturalism in the arts. By featuring a Jesus of African descent and Afro-Latin music traditions, instruments, and movement, Golijov’s La Pasión was heralded as a millennial sign that classical music and Christian iconography have been uprooted [End Page 54] from Europe and transported to South America (Eisert and Bomba 2001). The first and last numbers of the work, “Vision” and “Kaddish,” join the Brazilian berimbau (iconic of capoeira), accordion, strings, horns, voices, and electronics to create sonic waves inspired by minimalism, a recurrent style in the work. The third through sixth numbers juxtapose choral counterpoint and Cuban batá drumming, sections that function as “narrative equivalents to recitatives in Bach” (Golijov and Guzelimian 2006). Borrowings from Cuban music continue in other sections, including rumbas, a tres solo, and improvisations on conga drums. “Silencio” is set to Spanish flamenco, while Brazilian music reappears when Carnival samba accompanies the “Crucifixión.”

Golijov incorporates into his compositions popular, folk, and religious music often in a strikingly literal way, which sometimes sounds more like he has incorporated elements of art-music into popular and folk genres rather than the other way around. His eclectic musical palette includes traditions from South America and the Caribbean (e.g., tango, rumba, capoeira, Santería), Spain and the Middle East, and his Jewish background (e.g., liturgical texts and music, klezmer, and Sephardic melodies). Golijov often explains that he metaphorically “modulates cultures like other composers modulate keys” (quoted in [n.a.] 2006; see also, Tsioulcas 2006; Gurewitsch 2006; Golijov and Guzelimian 2006). He utilizes the associative power of myriad genres to evoke specific meanings, for example, he intended flamenco to evoke a certain emotion (Tsioulcas 2006). Golijov informs audiences that he wants to situate the St. Mark Passion in a contemporary Afro-Latin cultural context. But it is up to the listener to interpret his genre juxtapositions—be they choral oratorios with Santería drumming, or Brazilian samba accompanying the crucifixion of Jesus—regardless of his intended symbolic meanings.

At first listen it might seem that Golijov has incorporated the street sounds of his early years in South America and draws on theological perspectives he observed in Catholic Argentina and multi-religious, multiethnic Jerusalem. Yet Golijov never lived in Cuba, Brazil, or Spain, where the musical traditions other than Western classical used in La Pasión originated, nor does he play these music genres himself. Instead he collaborated with musicians and dancers skilled in these traditions to compose and perform parts of La Pasión, whose contributions he graciously acknowledges in the recording’s liner notes (Eisert and Bomba 2001). Through two Boston institutions, the Berklee School of Music and the Brazilian Cultural Center of New England, Golijov met collaborating musicians Gonzalo Grau, Mikael Ringquist, Ringquist’s students Damián Alejandro Padró and Ruskin Vaughn, Deraldo Ferreira, Reynaldo González Fernández, Michael Ward Bergeman, and Aquiles Baez. Each of them either moved to Boston from Latin America (Cuba, Brazil, and Venezuela) or learned the traditions [End Page 55] they played with Golijov while they were students at Berklee. In addition to calling attention to the collaborative nature of some of Golijov’s works (including La Pasión, Ainadamar, and Ayre), these details acknowledge their debt to the global networks of Brazilian capoeira, the music and dance of Cuban Santería, and Spanish flamenco as they intersect within music education institutions in Boston.

Several critics have asked, if only to play the devil’s advocate, whether “it even make[s] sense to call Mr. Golijov a ‘classical’ composer, when so much of his material comes straight from popular and folk traditions, current and ancient” (Gurewitsch 2006; see also, Eichler 2006).16 Critiquing composers who reference others’ compositions or non-classical genres as lacking creativity has actually been a leitmotif of music historiography since the late eighteen century, one that is related to aesthetic universalism, as discussed earlier.17 Yet borrowing from popular and folk genres—whether rhythms, melodies, or entire performance practices—is nothing new, neither for classical music nor for Latin American composers. In Sinfonia Índia, a well-known example of the nationalistic style from the first half of the twentieth century, Carlos Chávez utilized specific Amerindian melodies, rhythms, and instruments from Mexico to forge a “Mexican” sound for concert music in the years after the Revolution. This point has not been lost on Golijov’s critics. Sullivan compared his use of “collage and pastiche” to Charles Ives (Ritter and Sullivan 2006), while Alex Ross has argued that a penchant to “overrun the borders between genres” is common among Latin American composers across genres (2001). Ross has repeatedly commended Golijov and Björk for transgressing outdated boundaries between classical and popular music (2007: 590).18

To be fair, critics have attended to aspects of Golijov’s compositions other than his most explicit genre-references. Reviewing a performance of La Pasión during the 2007 Mostly Mozart Festival, Allan Kozinn quickly moved beyond the musical borrowings to analyze the music as Western art-music by mentioning the recurring themes in the string section, “more acerbic, tonally ambiguous writing” elsewhere, the Gregorian and classical styles in the choral parts, and Golijov’s use of biblical texts (Kozinn 2007). Reviewing La Pasión for the same newspaper a year earlier, Anthony Tommasini emphasized the moments he found most innovative, “when he filters, say, a South American chorus through his own trained ear and comes up with something startling and modern” (Tommasini 2006). Innovation still trumps imitation in the art-music world.

Nonetheless the press has continually associated Golijov’s music, biography, and success with the popularity of multiculturalism in today’s performing-arts market. Golijov is labeled “multicultural” and a “polyglot” (Ross 2001; [n.a.] 2006) both because of the “mash-up of genres” (Eichler 2006) in his compositions and because of his multinational biography. [End Page 56] A review in The Economist was subtitled “Osvaldo Golijov’s multicultural music” ([n.a.] 2006), while Gurewitsch claims, “Mr. Golijov, as one might guess, is his discipline’s poster boy for multiculturalism” (2006).

While audiences can easily imagine Golijov’s biography in aspects of his music, it is likely that the popularity of his concerts owe more to the accessibility of the music genres he incorporates and the spectacle of his productions such as La Pasión (Kozinn 2007; Ritter and Sullivan 2006). Ben Fiane, who called La Pasión a “multicultural, interfaith setting of a Christian text,” stated the matter bluntly: “Golijov, 46, needn’t worry over listener comparisons to Mozart’s Requiem as the audience will surely be too busy enjoying the groove of ‘La Pasión’s’ Afro-Cuban and West African rhythms” (2007).

When Golijov weighs in on these debates, he sounds more cosmopolitan than multicultural. “I am kind of announcing a new era in music, an era in which boundaries will disappear” (Golijov and Guzelimian 2006). Rebuking critics who foreground the Argentine and Jewish influences on his music and identity, he points to the ubiquity of global networks of art and music. “There are very few isolated places in the world today,” he reasons. “So identity—whether cultural, religious or musical—is a very fluid concept” (quoted in Tsioulcas 2006). Dismissing those who question the legitimacy of his musical borrowings, Golijov counters that composers have always “played with symbols,” be they tonal areas, modes, or genres (Gurewitsch 2006). In sum, Golijov argues that his music expresses his family background much less than utilizes resources available to anyone paying attention to the global flow of sounds and ideas. His “omnivorous” taste in music, as sociologist Richard Peterson would say, echoes those of “highbrow” Americans of all ages since the 1980s (Peterson and Kern 1996) as well as resonating with multicultural agendas. Golijov’s musical eclecticism suits contemporary elite culture. This, and his international mobility, bolster a cosmopolitanist reading of Golijov. Whereas León’s compositions since her 1979 trip to Cuba evince an amalgamation of personal heritage and modernist aesthetics, Golijov’s recent work reflects his omnivorous eclecticism more than his multinational biography.

Five Composers Meet in Boston

Compared to the music of León and Golijov, the music of the composers in the collective áltaVoz sounds more abstract and harder to locate sonically in Latin America. While these composers want to be evaluated by the criteria of aesthetic universalism, they chose to identify their collective as explicitly “Latin American.” In this introduction of five up-and-coming composers, and their collaborative association, cosmopolitanism helps explain their seemingly paradoxical use of both multiculturalism and universalism. [End Page 57]

áltaVoz is currently comprised of Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann, José Luis Hurtado, Felipe Lara, Pedro Malpica, and Mauricio Pauly—from Peru, Mexico, Brazil, and Costa Rica.19 Grossmann (b. 1973), the collective’s current director and an assistant professor of music theory/composition at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was born in Lima, Peru, to a Peruvian scientist and a Brazilian mother. Due to Peru’s instability in the late 1980s, his family migrated to São Paulo, Brazil, the home of his mother’s family. After studying violin in Lima as a child and in a São Paulo conservatory (BA, Faculdade Santa Marcelina), Grossmann moved to Miami to study composition (MA composition, Florida International University) and then to Boston (DMA composition, Boston University).

At Boston University, Grossmann met Pedro Malpica (b. 1973), another Peruvian composition student who had studied guitar in Lima (Conservatorio de Lima) and guitar, composition, and music education in Puerto Rico (BA, Music Education, minor in composition, Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico). Malpica was shocked to find another Peruvian composer at BU, because of their miniscule numbers in the United States. After three years at BU (M Mus and doctoral studies), Malpica moved to New York to study composition for a year at The Juilliard School (Graduate Diploma) and then composition and theory at the Graduate Center at City University of New York (PhD student, composition). Grossmann and Malpica visited Peru in 2005 to participate in festivals of new music and lecture at the conservatories, experiences that were personally rewarding for both, yet increased their doubt about the economic feasibility of resettling in Peru.

Costa Rican composer Mauricio Pauly (b. 1976), joined the two Peruvians at BU. Previously a professional pop and jazz bassist with a background in vocal performance and computer science (Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica), Pauly became interested in composition when studying music in Miami (BA, composition and jazz bass, University of Miami). After completing his master’s degree in composition at BU, he followed his girlfriend to Hungary and composed independently. In addition to pursuing composition and a renewed interest in pop-music production, Pauly studied sonology in the Netherlands and is currently earning a PhD in the United Kingdom (University of Manchester).

The three students organized a concert of their music at BU in 2003 and decided to include other local composition students from Latin America to participate. They invited José Luis Hurtado (b. 1975) and Felipe Lara (b. 1979) to join their effort, with whom they had become friends through Grossmann. During a summer Composers Conference at Wellesley College, Grossmann had met Hurtado, a Mexican composer who was to begin his doctoral studies in composition at Harvard. A descendent of several generations of professional Mexican musicians based in Morelia, in the state of Michoacán, Hurtado was born in the small town of Cd. Valles, where his [End Page 58] parents taught high school. He studied piano with the only teacher in town. After high school he moved to his father’s home city of Morelia to attend its conservatory (BA, piano and composition, Conservatorio de las Rosas). During further composition studies in Xalapa (MA, composition, Universidad Veracruzana), Hurtado met the visiting composer Mario Davidovsky, who encouraged him to apply to Harvard. As a doctoral candidate at Harvard, Hurtado has organized a small festival of new music at his alma mater in Morelia since 2005, presenting works by Malpica and himself as well as Schoenberg, Carter, Berio, and Lutoslawski. Recordings of his works will be released on the labels Urtext (Mexico), ATMA Classique (Canada), and Capstone Records (USA).

Grossmann also introduced Lara to the collegial group. Previously a guitarist of samba and jazz, Lara moved from São Paulo, Brazil to Boston (BA, Film Scoring, Berklee College of Music) after briefly studying jazz guitar in London. Having become interested in art music and composition while in Boston, Lara continued to study composition at the New England Conservatory, then at Tufts University (MA, composition), and currently at New York University where he also studies with Davidovsky. Recordings of three of his works will be released on two Brazilian projects, Quatro Visões Contemporãneas na Música Paulista and Jovens Compositores Brasileiros, funded respectively by the State of São Paulo and Petrobras Cultural.

The composers’ cross-cultural competence—a criterion of vernacular cosmopolitanism—developed not only through their transnational mobility, but within the specific metropolises where they studied composition. Even though most of the áltaVoz composers have moved around the Americas and Europe, they tend to single out Boston, more than Miami or São Paulo, as their first exposure to people, culture, ideas, music, and composers from around the world. The relative paucity of people of Latin American descent in Boston and its universities surely contributed to the novelty of their experiences. Some noticed that their influences and approaches to composition changed in Boston, reflecting their new experiences and new teachers. Grossmann believes that as the composers remain in the United States and are affected by their new surroundings and teachers, their composition styles will sound less similar to each other and perhaps less Latin American. He pointed out a review of their 2005 concert at The Juilliard School in which David Cleary described Hurtado’s music as “North-Atlantic” (Cleary). “That’s what’s happening,” said Grossmann. “We get influenced from everywhere and I’m sure that José Luis’s style will change. I have no doubt about that.”

Since arriving in the United States, Hurtado, has tried to “stretch,” as he says, the compositional techniques he learned from more conservative teachers in Mexican conservatories, one of whom coincidently studied composition at Harvard. Hurtado has been developing a new technical [End Page 59] approach that uses timbre in a more “personal way” than the approaches he used in Mexico and while studying with Davidovsky during his first two years at Harvard. When composing his trio, “De relieve doble” (2005), he utilized a new approach to timbre by intertwining two compositions simultaneously: each uses a different set of pitches, one loud and assertive, and the other quiet and gentle. Although each composition would sound cohesive on its own, according to Hurtado, they fuse into a single sonic texture and narrative. Hurtado’s approach has changed enough since leaving Mexico that, “If I played this to my composition teacher in Mexico, he wouldn’t like it.” Rather than interpreting his new approach as breaking old rules of composition, Hurtado understands the changes in his music as indicative of his new experiences. In his words, “music I see as a reflection of your self. So if you’re changing in the good sense of the word, then your music is changing.”

Living abroad and traveling internationally for concerts and workshops relates to the upward socioeconomic mobility that the composers expect to achieve when they become professional composers and university professors. áltaVoz composers have received the patronage of some of the most prestigious music schools in the United States and their credentials will help them gain employment in academies in the United States or in their countries of origin, should they decide to return. However, until then the ways that these composers struggle financially during their training and early careers, like when León first arrived in New York City, illustrate the temporary sacrifices they must endure before they can achieve long-term stability. Even though all members have received some financial assistance from their families (they were economically middle or upper-middle class in their own countries), they have relied on tuition waivers, scholarships, grants, and commissions. Student visas in the United States do not permit part-time employment, whereas they do in Europe, which benefits Pauly. So they have lived with extended family and working partners, and found odd jobs as musicians and music teachers to help make ends meet. Although áltaVoz members depend on their universities for venues and production support, they themselves must pay for performers and concert publicity. It should be recognized that classically-trained musicians and composers rarely occupy the same economic class as their patrons and that employment opportunities differ from country to country.20 Despite the financial challenges of pursuing a career in composition in the United States, it is also not surprising that Malpica and Grossmann are skeptical about the prospect of returning permanently to Peru, as is Pauly regarding Costa Rica.

Forming a composer collective to co-present their work was, in part, a professional survival strategy as it has been for young composers in the United States since the modernists of the 1920s (Oja 2000: 235–36). Their friendship developed into a collaboration that improved their ability to have [End Page 60] their music performed. They began producing concerts together in Massachusetts and New York in 2003, and established the organization with a nominal advisory board consisting of their composition teachers and a few Latin American composers already established in the United States. The board includes Tania León, Theodore Antoniou, Mario Davidovsky, Lukas Foss, Carlos Sánchez Gutiérrez, and John McDonald. Their concert programs have included compositions by other Latin Americans living in the United States such as Ricardo Romaneiro, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, and Davidovsky. When discussing áltaVoz with me, Davidovsky himself, originally from Argentina, opined that regardless of whether the group develops into a national organization, it is fundamentally a group of composers banding together to concertize their music, a common activity for young composers as well as the young chamber musicians they tend to hire. McDonald described the collective similarly, adding that except for notable exceptions most student composer collaborations disband when they outlive their usefulness or when the composers move to other locations.

Why “Latin American”?

The composers in áltaVoz chose to identify the collective as “Latin American” for three primary reasons: to reflect a common bond they felt after meeting in the United States, to promote international education through music, and to attract larger audiences. These sentiments and strategies are not evenly shared within the group. Despite branding the collective as “Latin American,” only one of the composers self-identified as “Latin American” before moving to the United States. The members who are less interested in leveraging a Latin American identity also wish to expand the group to include non-Latin American composers.

All the composers have strong personal connections with their countries of birth and intend to participate in the music scenes there, whether or not they return permanently. For Hurtado, who considers himself Mexican more than Latin American, participating in áltaVoz is a patriotic activity.

To be in this group is to be linked to my country, being in another country . . . reminds me that I have a role in the cultural life of my country, not in the cultural life in this country. . . . I think that’s the first thing and the most important thing, besides giving concerts, besides having a weekly beer [with the other composers]. . . . It is not just that I feel more comfortable speaking Spanish. It’s that it reminds me of something—my roots, my origins. That’s the biggest difference.

Malpica identifies as a Peruvian and South American more than with the Latin American culture he experienced in and associates with Puerto Rico, [End Page 61] where he also lived. Malpica’s main goal is to teach music in Peru, but he is uncertain whether he will be able to maintain a career as a cutting-edge composer living in Peru since a professor’s salary will not support frequent travel to what he considers the centers of new-music—Europe and the United States. He fears that his knowledge and approaches will be obsolete within a decade of living in Peru.21

Unlike the other composers, Grossmann defends “Latin American” as inclusive of all cultures of Hispanic-Iberian origin. He identifies less adamantly as Peruvian or South American than Malpica does, perhaps due to his dual Peruvian and Brazilian backgrounds. On the other hand, once he relocated to Boston, Grossmann began to draw inspiration from Peru for his compositions, “probably because I was thinking of traveling back to Peru,” he explained. “I started thinking it had been such a long time since I left, that I really need to go back. So my Peruvian identity probably started to come up.” Grossmann, inspired by his recent professional trip to Peru, the first time he returned after leaving seventeen years ago, now wants to visit frequently in order to support the burgeoning scene of “new music.” At the same time, he intends to settle in the United States, not Peru, for the same reasons as Malpica.

By promoting a Latin American identity, and thereby offering something new and unusual to audiences, some members hope to distinguish the group from the myriad composer collectives in the United States. The audience surveys I conducted verified the viability of this marketing strategy, despite significant differences between their concert audiences at Harvard University and The Juilliard School in May 2006.22 A third to half of the audience members who completed surveys knew neither the composers nor the performers. This unaffiliated segment of the audience at the Harvard concert largely consisted of Latinos/as and South Americans (mostly Peruvians), and were either college students or college-educated parents of a college student. A curiosity to hear music either from Latin America in general or from specific countries motivated this segment to go to the concert, yet few attend classical music concerts on a regular basis. By contrast, those who came to the concert at Juilliard who did not know a performer or composer were older and not of Latin American descent. Many attendees who completed surveys frequently attend classical concerts and specifically those free of charge at Juilliard, likely due to both the school’s location at Lincoln Center and its international reputation for music. Two other audience members were tourists who specifically wanted to visit Juilliard. One respondent learned about the concert in the weekly magazine Time Out and was intrigued by the name áltaVoz.23 Six respondents likewise indicated that hearing Latin American music was an important factor in determining whether to attend. While those audience members unaffiliated with the composers or performers at the Juilliard concert were closer in [End Page 62] demographic make-up to typical audiences of classical music in the United States than the unaffiliated attendees of the Harvard concert, both audiences compared to typical classical audiences similarly in terms of education levels (college educated) and dissimilarly in terms of gender balance (more men than usual).24

Although the audience survey results at both concerts support áltaVoz’s claim that marketing its Latin American identity has indeed attracted a niche audience, there is a flip side: the discourse of aesthetic universalism shuns particularist affiliations. Encapsulating this dilemma, Hurtado describes the group’s intentions as “paradoxical”: They want to promote Latin America and advertise themselves as Latin American composers, yet he does not want audiences to think about Latin America while listening to the music. They distinguish themselves based on their cultural-linguistic and regional backgrounds within a music scene that tends to value the universal appeal of “truly great music” and celebrates the genius of individuals over their social categorization, as was explained earlier.

The universalist attitude toward art music manifested itself at their Juilliard concert with objections to the inclusion of the pre-concert talk that they asked me to present. áltaVoz hoped that introductory remarks would both contextualize their music and encourage cross-cultural education, one of their stated goals. One attendee, composer David Salvage, reviewed the concert for Sequenza 21, an online magazine about contemporary art music. He reprimanded áltaVoz for including the pre-concert talk, describing the move as “a self-aggrandizing, pompous gesture which the collective should never repeat” (Salvage 2006).25 Another attendee tore up my survey and privately told me in response to my talk that “the music should speak for itself.” Although Grossmann dismissed these two incidents as personal grievances, I believe they reflect the conflict between aesthetic universalism and American multiculturalism within art-music culture in the United States. When I asked León about the age-old saying, “the music should speak for itself,” she denied that a universal aesthetic judgment exists and could be applied without understanding musical references, whether they are cultural, national, or stylistic: “Well, music should speak for itself, well that is very nice but if you understand what you are hearing. You see, I think music is a language. . . . If you don’t understand the language or if you don’t have any reference that will press your buttons in terms of what you heard, I have no idea if the person will enjoy the piece or not.”

The emphasis áltaVoz places on a Latin American identity strikes a nerve with some inside conservatory circles who imagine all art music as a unified genre and wish to use uniform criteria for aesthetic evaluation. Meanwhile, Latin American identity strikes a positive chord with other concertgoers, mainly those new to the art-music scene and curious to hear something novel or with which they expect to identify personally. [End Page 63]

Sounding Latin American? Sounding Cosmopolitan?

Clearly the Latin American identity of áltaVoz reflects their interpersonal affinities and their strategies for self-promotion and cross-cultural education. But what about their music sounds “Latin American” if their unmistakably abstract styles lack explicit references to Latin American popular and folk music? Musicologists continue to debate whether contemporary composers from Latin America actually sound Latin American. At one extreme, Coriún Aharonián has identified thirteen “observable trends . . . that can be considered characteristic of [contemporary] Latin America.”26 At the other, Nicholas Collins, asked sarcastically with regards to electronic music composition, “does a hand in the South rotate knobs differently from a hand in the North, á la Coriolis effect?” (Collins 2000). Orrego-Salas, when discussing aleatory music, emphasized the subjectivity of any such interpretation. He proposes that whether or not local distinctiveness can theoretically exist in aleatory music, in reality “composers have often verbalized their intentions or at least their hopes of opening paths of vernacular significance through means allied to improvisatory methods of avant-garde composition” (Orrego-Salas 1985: 158).27

In between these extreme opinions are those who embrace the nebulous but popular concept of a musical “accent” that reveals regional aesthetics—an opinion that most composers in the present study share. Béhague concluded his book-length study of art music by extending Chilean composer Gustavo Becerra-Schmidt’s notion of the Brazilian sotaque—a local, regional accent—to describe all of Latin American art music, asserting that he could detect a Latin American aesthetic in even the most experimental compositions by Latin American composers: “Admittedly, it is difficult to point out accurately where and how the sotaque manifests itself in the considerable music production since 1950, but its existence can hardly be questioned. Given the uniqueness of the cultural context in which his music is created, the Latin American composer cannot escape revealing some aspects of that context” (Béhague 1979: 354). León, while resisting labels that depict her music as exotic, employs the accent metaphor to describe a subtle Latin American aesthetic in her music: “I speak with an accent, so my music might have an accent, which might not be understood by many people. And if the accent has to happen to be roots or folklore or whatever you want to call it at some point, fine. That’s okay” (Raymond 1999). “Accent” may be what the áltaVoz composers meant when describing their music as “fine art with a Latin American flavor.”28 Despite their stylistic differences, all of them told me that they can detect a similarity in their music—a Latin American quality, accent, or flavor—however difficult it may be to identify or describe. [End Page 64]

Out of the five composers, Jorge Grossmann is most comfortable identifying a Latin American aesthetic in all their music and wants to keep áltaVoz an organization open only to composers considered Latin American. He suggested that a sense of drama is present in their compositions and is typical of Latin American art in general.29

The first concert we did at BU was all compositions to Latin American poems. I sat in the audience and listened. We are all from different places, we’re of different ages, studied with different teachers, but I could pick out many similarities in our music and that made me really happy because at least there’s one more reason why we’re part of a group. All of the songs had a really strong, dramatic content that is very much present in the art of Latin America for centuries.

Refuting my speculation that the drama he sensed may have come more from the poetic texts than the music, Grossmann noted that he has felt similarly about their concerts of instrumental music. He also illustrated this drama using two works he composed in Boston which most explicitly reference Peru, titled “Away” (2003) and “Siray” (2005), respectively meaning “to sow” and “to weave” in Quechua. Tapestries of the Pre-Incan Paracan people inspired his general compositional approach in that the crisscrossing musical lines symbolically represent both colorful threads and the dialogues between mythological characters depicted on the tapestries. Although the analogies stop at this basic level, to him these pieces exemplify the drama in Latin American art.30

The way Grossmann negotiates universalism and multiculturalism depends on where he is and with whom he is speaking. Although it may seem that Grossmann wears his Peruvian identity on his sleeve, so to speak, he said he would never present himself in Brazil as composing Brazilian or Peruvian music, because the current universalistic climate in the conservatory culture there avoids throwbacks to overtly nationalistic music. “I would be labeled as a conservative, démodé composer who tries to continue the long-gone tradition of 1920s Nationalism” (personal communication, January 28, 2007). What serves as an asset in United States identity politics is a liability in Brazil.

Composers also vary in their interpretations of Latin American references or influences in each other’s works. Hurtado told me that Malpica’s works “Exabruptos” (Outbursts) and “Mi Selva” (My Jungle) remind him of the Peruvian jungle. According to Malpica, however, “Mi Selva” refers as much to the metaphorical jungle of emotional turmoil as it does imaginary jungles in nature, be they inspired by the Peruvian Amazon he visited in his youth or the jungles he has seen in television documentaries. He [End Page 65] had been developing an emotionally self-expressive approach in all his recent compositions. Nonetheless, memories of Peru did inflect these works: “Nothing specific to the Peruvian rainforest, but it has some freely interpreted rhythms from Peru. I think more about the Sierra than the jungle.” Malpica strives to express an emotional quality that is both personal and universally appreciated. At the same time, calling himself, on his website, a “Peruvian Composer” front and center and referencing Peru in titles and liner notes allows concert reviewers (e.g., Salvage 2006), and even his colleague Hurtado, to interpret his work as explicitly Peruvian. While clarifying this matter, Malpica underscored the coexistence of personal and cultural/national qualities in the work of every composer (personal communication, December 11, 2008).

The composers differ in the degree to which their compositions intentionally reference the local cultures of their native countries and to what extent they want audiences to perceive these references. Whereas Grossmann and Malpica exhibit influences in their works or descriptions, Hurtado, Lara, and Pauly do not make such connections obvious. “I just choose, and this a personal aesthetic choice, to leave these references where they belong: in the ambiguous weave of each given piece,” Pauly told me. “In this sense it is not that I express the least [‘personal connections with Costa Rica’],” refuting a statement I had made during our correspondence. “It is all, always expressed, and it will all somehow get to the listener, but I choose to leave it to the listener to think and feel what he/she chooses” (personal communication, February 24, 2006). It seems that Pauly would prefer that the “music speak for itself” in a relative sense; in other words every listener draws upon their own aesthetics and inevitably appreciates the music differently. Some listeners will inevitably perceive cultural references in their works, whether or not the composer does, as was the case with Hurtado’s and Salvage’s interpretations of Malpica’s work.

Performances can further confuse attempts to identify cultural aesthetics in art music and distinguish them from the composer’s idiosyncrasies. For example, two musicians active in New York’s scene of experimental new music, clarinetist Jean Kopperud and pianist Stephen Gosling, commissioned a virtuosic showcase from Lara, who delivered a piece requiring extended techniques and extreme dynamics. His peer composers, teachers, and the performers all described the resulting duet, “Livro dos Sonhos” (2004), as dramatic, but they offered different explanations ranging from the personal to the cultural to the circumstantial. When I discussed the work with Lara and Hurtado, after watching a video-recording of their 2005 concert at Juilliard, our conversation turned from matters of music analysis to performance techniques. They compared two performances of Kopperud and Gosling to four previous performances by clarinetist Michael Norsworthy and pianist John McDonald, Lara’s composition [End Page 66] teacher at Tufts University and an áltaVoz adviser. Lara felt that Kopperud and Gosling played the score more precisely in terms of note-wise accuracy, while McDonald’s heightened expressivity caught their attention. He exaggerated gestures and produced a more “raw or rough” character unlike the “purity” of Kopperud and Gosling’s performances. Hurtado “heard more of Felipe [Lara]” in McDonald and Norsworthy’s performances, a statement that Lara found paradoxical. “But how?” he asked, laughing. “Felipe writes the piece as accurately as he can, and the less accurate [rendition] is more Felipe?” After Lara’s wife Roberta Crelier Lara joined the conversation, the three of them concluded that although Kopperud and Gosling played the score more accurately, McDonald was able to express more of Lara’s personality because he knew Lara’s intentions. McDonald generally agreed with this assessment.

Aside from providing insight into the complex relationships among a composer, a teacher, a score and a performer, and the difficulties locating a musical work between a score and its performance, this anecdote illustrates how the so-called “dramatic” quality of Lara’s work can be diversely interpreted, even amongst those closest to the composer. The commissioners of “Livro dos Sonhos” asked for a highly virtuosic piece, which technically created dramatic music. Davidovsky briefly considered that the drama in Lara’s work may reveal his Brazilian upbringing, thereby also assuming that drama is a Brazilian aesthetic. McDonald dismissed the idea that Lara’s work sounded Brazilian, but that he performed it more dramatically than had Gossling. Hurtado heard more of Lara in the rawness and drama of McDonald’s performance. Malpica thought that the “wonderful aggressiveness” of “Livro dos Sonhos” exemplified Lara’s personality, though did not remember any differences among the performances. Everyone heard drama in Lara’s piece, but it remains unclear the extent to which it reflects a Brazilian aesthetic, Lara’s personality or tastes, the executions of the performers, expectations of various listeners, or the circumstances of the commission. It appears that any claim that Lara’s work sounds “Brazilian” or “Latin American” is impossible to justify, and may merely reflect a specific agenda or unconscious bias.

Regarding the composers of áltaVoz, Davidovsky highlighted the complexities of their backgrounds, their idiosyncrasies, and the subtle level at which these references may operate, which have less to do with the composer’s culture than his personal motives. As he told me, “I don’t want to diminish the definitive character of the culture, but at the high end of high music, really, those difference[s] are there, but much, much more subtle. It’s not the quotation of the tune. It’s the quotation of something that is much more abstract.” Listening to their music we may agree with the universalistic interpretation that Davidovsky offers. But language such as “the high end of high music” reminds us of the elitism and aesthetic [End Page 67] universalism in art-music culture that ignores cultural differences among composers—whether or not they are explicitly or intentionally presented in compositions. Davidovsky, like the other composers, seeks a balance between the roles of individuals and cultures in shaping compositions, a goal shared by cosmopolitanism.

It is one thing to argue that cosmopolitanism provides a suitable framework for interpreting the experiences and opinions of these composers, especially in terms of their transnational mobility, intercultural competency, socioeconomic class mobility, and attempts to balance universalist and particularist self-identities. It would be another to claim that their musical compositions are cosmopolitan, that is, exhibit or reflect these same characteristics. If, for example, a cosmopolitan composition is defined as one that balances so-called “universal” compositional techniques and local musical references, then works of musical nationalism from the first half of the twentieth century would sound far more cosmopolitan than the abstract music of Hurtado, Lara, and Pauly. The Latin American references in the works by these composers, if they exist at all, are so subtle that they remain largely undetectable or are misunderstood even by each other. Since Malpica and Grossmann explicitly integrate Peruvian rhythms and mythological themes into some compositions, should their works be considered more cosmopolitan than those of their colleagues? Does Golijov’s music sound more cosmopolitan than León’s for its explicit genre references? Another challenge in constructing a cosmopolitan musical analysis would be deciphering how an empathy with and competency in multiple cultures manifest musically. Some of León’s compositions, and most of Golijov’s, evince intercultural empathy, in that they outright integrate several musical traditions. Still, answering any of these questions quickly becomes a search for easily identifiable references to culturally specific music genres in compositions and performances, be they from parts of Latin America, Europe, the United States, or elsewhere. I remain skeptical that the working definitions of cosmopolitanism, which were created to describe the experiences and politics of individuals and communities, are applicable to an analysis or interpretation of music.


Three decades ago, De la Vega wrote that the “European egocentrism and superiority that totally dominated the international panorama of art music for centuries” had gradually been replaced, especially since the 1950s, with a “global melting pot of music” in which Latin American composers in the United States have contributed to a “hemispheric American music” (De la Vega 1980a: 174). As the United States became a viable destination for composers from Latin America seeking training and employment, immigrant [End Page 68] composers would still have to navigate identity politics in the United States that had inevitably influenced its art-music scene. Based on the experiences, strategies, and critical reception of the seven contemporary composers, this article highlights a tension between an American version of multiculturalism that strengthened in the 1980s and an older aesthetic universalism. The discourse of multiculturalism justifies labeling the composers and their music as “Latin American” (or by national origin) no matter how the composers self-identify and regardless of how “Latin American” their music sounds. Meanwhile, the competing discourse of aesthetic universalism, in its zeal to evaluate all art music on presumably equal terms, ignores the specific backgrounds of composers as well as its inherent Eurocentrism.

The relative abstractness of each composer’s works illustrates some of the resulting frictions and ironies of these identity politics. It is understandably difficult for audiences to notice cultural influences in abstract art music that typically lacks overt references to musical genres other than itself. Although some of León’s compositions utilize music and topical themes from her childhood in Cuba, she often incorporates these resources in subtle ways, as was discussed with regards to her piece “Batá.” Regardless of her music’s relatively abstract quality, producers of recordings and concerts, critics, and music historians often identify her based on social categories including “Latin American,” “Cuban,” “African American,” and “woman composer.” Meanwhile, the composers of áltaVoz actively promote the collective and its music as “Latin American” (internal disagreements notwithstanding), despite the highly abstract nature of their music and their desires to be evaluated on equal footing with other composers. By contrast, Golijov explicitly rejects the more abstract styles and atonality of modernist and contemporary art music, which he feels alienate audiences (Eichler 2006). Because musical references to traditions from Latin America, the Iberian Peninsula, and elsewhere are explicit in his works, some of Golijov’s critics label him “multicultural” and some leverage a universalist stance to question his compositional creativity. The more abstract styles of León and the composers of áltaVoz have spared them from as many such indictments. Still, áltaVoz composers sense subtle qualities of each other’s music that each has variously identified as Latin American, Brazilian, and Peruvian, although complications related to the intentions of composers, idiosyncrasies of performers, and the subjectivity of reception hinder their abilities to pinpoint such aesthetics.

The seven composers use different tactics when wrestling a critical establishment in the United States that is fluent in multiculturalism, while stalwart in aesthetic universalism. León protests the reductionist, essentialist, and exoticist tendencies of multiculturalism. Though universalism has offered León some refuge from cultural pigeonholing, she also came to reject the related myth of autonomous, de-contextualized composers [End Page 69] and consciously attempts to express her personal Cuban heritage through modernist art-music. Golijov rejects multiculturalist labels arguing that his works reflect his own family background much less than they draw on music circulating within global networks to which he was exposed. Witness his use in La Pasión Según San Marcos of Brazilian capoeira and samba, Spanish flamenco, and Afro-Cuban religious percussion, popular genres he heard outside their countries of origin. The composers of áltaVoz utilize multicultural agendas in the U.S. art-music scene by labeling their collective as “Latin American” because it distinguishes their collective from the myriad of composers consortia as well as reflects their mutual feelings of cultural-linguistic camaraderie while abroad. Yet each wants his music to be evaluated using universalistic criteria.

The framework of cosmopolitanism seeks to mitigate both universalist and particularist ideologies, global and local affinities, and thereby accounts for the diverse ways that composers navigate these competing discourses. None of the composers reviewed here is satisfied being grouped according to U.S. social categories, including “Latin American,” instead preferring to highlight his or her specific relationships with individuals and communities, formative experiences that continue to influence their music. At the same time, each feels an affinity with multiple collectivities, be they known as Cubans, Mexicans, musicians, composers, conductors, and, occasionally, when in the United States, Latin Americans. Cosmopolitanism also addresses other key aspects of the composers’ experiences and perspectives, such as mobility, both in terms of an international occupational class and transnational migration. All of them have relocated at least once within the Americas and continually travel to attend performances of their works and to teach in workshops. While studying music and living abroad they make economic sacrifices with the hope of gaining upward mobility as they become professionals and respected artists in the eyes of elite culture. Lastly, cosmopolitanism speaks to their deeper engagement, or cultural competencies, with the local communities in which they work and reside, including their native communities, the art-music conservatory cultures, and culturally diverse metropolises such as New York City and Boston. Although perhaps inapplicable to musical analysis, cosmopolitanism addresses the experiences and perspectives of these composers as they navigate multiculturalist and universalist discourses in the United States.

Marc Gidal

Marc Gidal is a PhD candidate in Music at Harvard University, concentrating on ethnomusicology. His dissertation research concerns the music of the Umbanda religion as it is practiced in southern Brazil. He holds a master’s degree in Music from Tufts University and a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from the University of Oregon.


I presented part of this research at the 2007 ILASSA annual conference at the University of Texas–Austin. Most of the featured composers generously offered me invaluable cooperation (see List of Interviews). Carol Oja, Christopher Washburne, and the anonymous reviewers of this journal provided me constructive critiques. [End Page 70] This research also benefited from the advice and/or assistance of Emily Abrams Ansari, William Bares, Crystal Fleming, Erin Graff-Zivin, Sheryl Kaskowitz, Ari Kelman, Marc Lavine, Drew Massey, and Mark Pachuki.


1. Interview with author, July 18, 2008.

2. “Lo que yo hago es más extremo porque mi trayectoria fue más zigzagueante todavía y porque el mundo está más globalizado. No es porque yo dije ‘vamos a combinar latino con esto otro.’” (“El platense que cautiva al mundo de la música”, El Día, La Plata, Argentina, June 5, 2006, available at Osvaldo Golijov’s website,, accessed October 15, 2008. Translated by the author.) Although Golijov made this comment in Argentina, it expresses a sentiment discussed in this article.

3. Interview with author, March 29, 2005.

4. Original research for this article includes interviews and conversations with composers, their advisors and performers of their music (see List of Interviews). All quotations are from these interviews unless otherwise stated. I also conducted two audience surveys during concerts of áltaVoz at Paine Hall, Harvard University (May 20, 2006, 8 p.m.) and at Paul Hall, The Juilliard School (May 22, 2006, 6 p.m.).

5. De la Vega’s review included the three best-known Latin American composers (Chávez, Villa-Lobos, and Ginastera), four composers who studied in the United States early in their careers and later returned permanently (Cordero, Serebrier, Orbón, and Lizaso), and three composers who migrated to the United States after they had established themselves (Orrego-Salas, Davidovsky, and De la Vega himself) (De la Vega 1980a).

6. Due to the efforts of musicologists Charles Seeger and Gilbert Chase, Colombian conductor Guillermo Espinosa and Argentine musician Efraín Paesky, the Division published pamphlets on Latin American “folk music,” catalogues and scores by Latin American composers, and a Spanish-language volume describing music in the United States to Latin American audiences (Chase [1945] 1962: 28, 350). As the presence of Latin American art music in the United States grew, so did its study among historical musicologists in the United States, though not extensively. Musicologists have largely left the subject to Robert Stevenson, Gilbert Chase, and a few immigrant composers/scholars/advocates—De la Vega, Gerard Béhague, and Orrego-Salas—who have bemoaned how long it had taken for comprehensive studies to be undertaken in English (e.g., Piza 1997; De la Vega 1980b).

7. Latin American Music Center website, [December 21, 2005]

8. Sonidos de las Américas’ website, [December 21, 2005]; Ben-Dor Music Discovery Project website,, accessed December 21, 2005; Symphony of the Americas’ website,, accessed December 25, 2005. Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas’ website,, accessed May 17, 2007.

9. García Canclini contrasts multiculturalism in the United States with cultural pluralism in Latin America (García Canclini 2001: 10), and Amy Gutmann distinguishes three types of multiculturalism in Canada and the subsequent version in the United States (Gutmann 2001). [End Page 71]

10. As Bruce Robbins observes, “defenses of universalism, like attacks on it, are increasingly a trivial pursuit, for it is no longer clear whether there is anyone home on either end” (1999: 62).

11. In his survey of music and nationalism in Latin American art-music, for example, Turino writes: “Cultural nationalists typically express that a new national culture will be forged from the best of local ‘traditional’ culture combined with the best of foreign and ‘modern’, that is, cosmopolitan, culture. The localist elements (e.g., gauchos, ‘folk’ music) in the reformist mix are for emblematic distinction and also function as signs of unity or inclusion; the cosmopolitan features (e.g., national anthems and ‘folk’ music) create iconicity with other nation-states, and are also due to the fact that the designers of state-cultural nationalism are cosmopolitans themselves (Turino 2000)” (Turino 2003: 193–94).

12. Donna Jean Reiner thoughtfully discusses the problems with labeling León and her music along U.S.-based notions of race, ethnicity, national origin, and gender. She interprets León’s situation using Canclini’s rubric of transculturation (Reiner 1999: chapter 4; see also, Spinazzola 2006: 9 ff.).

13. For more information about León’s professional activities and accomplishments, see her online biography (, accessed September 14, 2008).

14. León also notes that her close associations with the European composers Louis Andriessen, Luciano Berio, and Hans Werner Henze, as mentors and friends, have helped her visibility in Europe (ibid.).

15. Osvaldo Golijov website, “Biography,”, revised in April, 2008.

16. Other examples include the following: “A few dissenters wondered about the Passion’s originality as a concert work, given its heavy reliance on existing idioms” (Eichler 2006); “It might legitimately be asked whether Golijov is still writing classical music or whether, as one Harvard professor complained, he is merely transcribing sounds that can be heard in any marketplace in Mexico” (Ross 2001).

17. The ideal of the composer as autonomous genius began dominating music criticism only in the late 18th century, before which time explicit musical borrowings were commonplace (Burkholder 2004). A resurgence in musical quotations occurred during the twentieth century, as in the works of Charles Ives and Duke Ellington (Metzer 2003). (Thanks to Sean Gallagher for introducing me to this material.)

18. Ross repeated this point in his radio interview with Tom Ashbrook (“Listening to the 20th Century,” National Public Radio, aired on WBUR Radio, Boston, Friday, October 19, 2007).

19. Each maintains a website with a biography, news, works lists, recordings, and music samples: Grossmann (, Hurtado (, Lara (, Malpica (, and Pauly (,

20. John Walker’s study of contemporary Ecuadorian composers reveals that although “a career in music represents a way up the socioeconomic ladder,” musicians there occupy economic levels just above the poverty line (Walker 2001: 199, 211). Because of a lack of arts support in Chile, Luis Merino describes a “Chilean [End Page 72] Diasporic Interculture” of art music composers who are economically unable to return, resulting in linkages across national boundaries (Merino 2003).

21. Davidovsky, on the other hand, observed that the Internet has allowed composers in Latin America to remain aware of innovations.

22. Approximately 40 people attended the concert at Harvard and 55 at Juilliard. A majority of both audiences returned surveys: 75 percent at Harvard and 50 percent at Juilliard. Ten out of 27 survey respondents at Harvard and thirteen out of 28 respondents at Juilliard did not know a composer or performer on the program.

23. In the concert’s advertisement in the weekly entertainment guide Time Out, the word “FREE,” in red bold type, distinguished it from the other two classical concerts listed that evening.

24. For demographic information on classical concert audiences, see DiMaggio and Mukhtar (2004).

25. I agree with most of Salvage’s critique regarding the length and content of my talk.

26. Aharonián’s thirteen trends are: “1. The Latin American sense of time . . . 2. Non-discursive process of music pieces . . . 3. Expressive blocks . . . 4. Reiterative elements . . . 5. Austerity . . . 6. Violence and a liking for the ‘little things’ . . . 7. Silence . . . as a cultural symbol . . . 8. Presence of the ‘primitive’ . . . 9. An attempt to make new technologies one’s own . . . 10. Breaking through the borders . . . 11. Ideological awareness . . . 12. Magic . . . 13. Identity” (Aharonián 2000: 4–5).

27. Composers have often leveraged aleatory music to prove the universalism of contemporary music, a strategy that some critics say ignores contextual issues of race, class, and gender (e.g., Lewis [1996] 2004).

28. Concert program, áltaVoz Concierto V, The Juilliard School, New York, April, 12, 2005.

29. Drama is not one of Aharonián’s thirteen trends of contemporary Latin American aesthetics.

30. Orrego-Salas might classify Grossmann’s goal to root his music in Peruvian history and values, rather than experimentation for experimentation’s sake, in the introspective trend of “reconciliation with the past” that emerged in the 1970s (Orrego-Salas 1985: 160). The same could be said of León’s music after her transformative visit to Cuba in 1979.

List of Interviews

Mario Davidovsky, telephone interview, December 6, 2005
Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann, telephone interview, December 1, 2005
Felipe Lara, in person interview, February 18, 2005
Tania León, telephone interview, July 18, 2008
José Luis Hurtado, in person interview, March 29, 2005
José Luis Hurtado and Felipe Lara, in person feedback interview, October 10, 2005
Pedro Malpica, telephone interview, December 9, 2005
John McDonald, in person interview, November 1, 2005
Mauricio Pauly, email interview, December 2, 2005 and January 5, 2006
Note: Ongoing correspondences have followed all of the initial interviews except with Davidovsky. [End Page 73]


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