The Latin American Ensemble is a new music ensemble at the University of Illinois, playing music from across the Americas as well as the Caribbean. Created by Guido A. Sanchez-Portuguez and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the group has a heavy focus on collaboration. They’ll be performing a free concert at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 12th at Smith Recital Hall. Sanchez-Portuguez was kind enough to answer some questions about the new ensemble ahead of their Saturday performance.
Smile Politely: What is the Latin American Ensemble, and what does it focus on?
Guido A. Sanchez-Portuguez: The Latin American Ensemble (LAE) is a class that students register for credit. It’s an ensemble open to music majors, music minors and even non-music majors with the appropriate level of musicianship to join it. It focuses on the performance and dissemination of music from Latin America, including North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean.
SP: How did the idea for the ensemble come about?
Sanchez-Portuguez: It’s an idea I’ve had for several years, inspired by my time as director of the Jacobs School of Music’s Latin American Popular Music Ensemble between 2009 and 2014. The University of Illinois’ Latin American Ensemble is a similar initiative, but with a greater emphasis on interdepartmental collaboration. In fact, the creation of this project wouldn’t have been possible without the logistical and financial support from the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. They have been extremely generous and supportive of this idea. The School of Music is proud to work alongside CLACS!
SP: You mentioned that you hope it becomes an official established ensemble at the school — how does this happen?
Sanchez-Portuguez: There is a process that the ensemble has to go through before it is considered for “official ensemble” status. It can take some time, but I don’t see why the LAE wouldn’t eventually become an alternative to orchestra, band or choir. The best way to gain notoriety and support is to create high-level music, stay true to our mission of dissemination and show commitment and professionalism. We are already doing all of this! We are playing some really cool and intricate pieces, commissioning arrangements from our own composition students, and we’ve already performed at local schools for Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as a very productive visit to Glenbard East High School in Chicago, where we were a sort of “guest clinicians”, playing with their school’s ensembles and teaching them about the techniques appropriate for these styles.
SP: What is on the program for the November 12th concert?
Sanchez-Portuguez: We will be offering an hour-long program with music from Perú, Costa Rica, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, and the United States, covering a wide variety of styles and genres in this concert.
SP: What do you hope the audience will get out of the concert?
Sanchez-Portuguez: The audience will feel energized during and after our performance. There will be moments where you will feel like dancing (please do!), singing along, focus on our wide array of instruments, etc. It will also be educational because we are playing some styles and genres that don’t get much exposure outside of their points of origin, so it will be a chance for people to learn and definitely appreciate new music. Also, the pieces will be introduced and commented on in English and in Spanish, so it will be a true bilingual experience.
SP: What plans do you have for the ensemble in the future?
Sanchez-Portuguez: The sky is the limit. I have lots of ideas for specific programs based on one country, or one region, as well as multi-region (like the one this Saturday). Inter-departmental collaborations with Lyric Theatre, Dance, etc. We will also be inviting special guests that will be bringing their own arrangements and expertise. Eventually and inevitably, we will have to record an album! Lots of really cool projects in the future.
SP: This might be a big question, but if someone was interested in listening to Latin American guitar but didn’t know where to start, is there an artist you would recommend?
Sanchez-Portuguez: The term “Latin American Guitar” is as big and far-reaching as saying simply “guitar”. But for someone that wants to start dipping their toes into that ocean, I’d definitely recommend listening to early bossanova giants like Luiz Bonfá and Baden Powell, or the classical guitar compositions of Eduardo Martín, or anything by Atahualpa Yupanqui.
SP: Anything else you’d like to mention that I haven’t touched on?
Sanchez-Portuguez: Just that we’re very proud and excited to have arrived! Please come check us out this Saturday!The Latin American Ensemble