One of my favorite museums is the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, which features amazing works by self-taught artists. Years ago, I brought a bit of that museum home (via its gift shop) in the form of several retablos. These are paintings, mostly from Mexico, each commissioned by someone who has had a brush with death and wants to honor the saint who saved them—often the Virgin of Guadalupe. Their messages are both dramatic and heartfelt.
I recently received a grant to write and record a piece for strings, harp, and percussion with Latin rhythms. When I sat down to write, I took inspiration from these moments of danger on my walls—and from these life-saving saints. I’m pleased to say that the piece is now written. Naturally, I called it Retablos. It’s a 20-minute work in three movements, which are called “Songo,” “Fandango,” and “Cumbia.”
The most challenging aspect of this piece, for me, was the dialog between the harp and the vibraphone. My worry was that the sound and the effect of the two instruments was too similar in timbre and likely to get lost in each other’s sonorities. Luckily, I was able to figure out a way to use that to my advantage. I gave the vibes and the harp a duet section in the middle of each of the movements. I feel very fortunate that there is already a performance planned for this work. The redoubtable David Fanning, conductor of the National String Symphonia, has decided to premiere Retablos in 2017. If you’d like to hear it in the meantime, you can find a synth version, along with PDFs of the score, here.