Meet Miami’s The Last Hundred classical ensemble
Miami classical ensemble The Last Hundred performs its second program of 2023 on the campus of University of Miami on Tuesday, March 28 in a free concert. (Photo courtesy of José Camacho)
Hear the phrase, “The Last Hundred,” and many flash to the title of a flick about the last stand of warriors determined to fight the good fight in the face of what seems difficult odds.
For many living classical composers, having their works performed for live audiences can seem like just that kind of fight.
For this reason, one of Miami’s newest classical ensembles took its name, The Last Hundred, from its mission to promote classical works composed within the last 100 years.
The decision to form the group came from collaborative activity between the current members right before the pandemic hit and put plans on hold.
“Juan Trigos, myself and Federico Bonacossa were working together on different musical projects in 2019 and talked about starting an ensemble,” says Daniela D’Ingiullo, The Last Hundred’s soprano and manager. “Juan Trigos came up with the idea of promoting music composed in the last 100 years to create a liaison between 20th-century repertoire and contemporary music.”
Trigos, artistic director, composer and conductor, explains that his motivation for forming the group comes from his love of how classical music evolves over time.
“For me, each period has its charm and mystique,” says Trigos. “I do not think any of them is better because they are more or less modern or old, but because of its own constitution and artistic proposal.”
Trigos emphasizes that though the vocation of the ensemble is to present works composed over the last 100 years, it does not mean that the members see contemporary music as better than the works of earlier periods.
“What is trendy now or progressive is not necessarily better than the old,” says Trigos. “As an example, I can say that the language that is chosen for a given writing or reading is not better in itself than the other. In other words, Japanese is not better than Turkish, it is just different.”
Bonacossa recalls conversations the members had around forming an ensemble after completing a project with Sinfonietta MQ, another group Trigos founded in Mexico.
“We almost immediately began discussing the idea of creating an ensemble in Miami,” recalls Bonacossa. “Catalina (von Wrangell), a close friend and former classmate, joined in right from the beginning. I am very proud of what we have accomplished so far.”
The clarinetist, composer, and the ensemble’s documentarian, says she was attracted to the group by its mission to perform new classical compositions for Miami audiences.
“Since our focus is the last hundred years,” says von Wrangell, “my hope is that we can strike a balance between sharing the music that already belongs to the canon and music that is lesser known, as well as newly commissioned works.”
Its program on Tuesday, March 28, at the St. Bede Episcopal Chapel clearly reflects the group’s commitment to performing new works in intimate and inviting settings, but it also reflects another of its commitments – to perform works by composers of the Americas.
Trigos says that the logic behind opening the program with Heitor Villa-lobos’ gorgeous string duo for violin and cello, “Choros bis” (first performed in Paris in 1929) was to maximize the contrast between the program’s works.
“The objective is to present the diversity of aesthetics, styles and expressiveness of the different composers,” explains Trigos, “so that the public receives and enjoys it as it is and without prejudice. The reason for including Villa-lobos corresponds to our programming vision. He is undoubtedly one of the best-known Latin American composers, but “Choros Bis,” even if it is gorgeous, is not that well known.”
Bonacossa’s invitingly titled new work for classical guitar, “A sparrow flies at a woman as she stares at a crescent moon,” is a concerto The Last Hundred Years will premiere during the program. Bonacossa admits to some otherworldly inspiration for the work.
“The title of the composition is simply descriptive of an image I saw during a tea leaf reading,” reveals Bonacossa. “I have, for many years, been fascinated by divination techniques and sometimes use them as a method for sparking creative ideas. The images and sequences one reveals during a reading are usually metaphors but may also be appreciated for what they are – in this case, a sparrow that flies towards a woman as she stares at a crescent moon.”
Rounding off the program is Trigos’ 2022 work, “El Poema de Tlaltecatzin (Poem of Tlaltecatzin) for Soprano and Ensemble.”
Created with grant support from Harvard University’s Fromm Music Foundation, the poem tells the story of Tlaltecatzin – a 14th-century lord of Cuauhchinanco, which now forms part of the present state of Puebla, Mexico.
“He lived in the dawn of a cultural renaissance when Tzcoco was about to become a center of wisdom and art,” says Trigos. “This poem could be described as an ode to pleasure, but (it is) a kind of composition very different from European or modern American literary creations. As is the case among the songs of several other Nahuatl composers, Tlaltecatzin’s words about pleasure are interwoven with an anguished sense of the loss of oneself through death.”
Using the original text in Nahuatl and its translation in Spanish, Trigos composed the work in seven movements.
D’Ingiullo will sing four of the movements. She admits Trigos’ work posed several challenges.
“This is a very demanding work in two different aspects, the rhythmic and the vocal technique,” says D’Ingiullo. “In this very last aspect, I refer especially to the wide vocal range and the different types of vibrato used (slow, fast, measured) alternating with no vibrato.”
In one movement D’Ingiullo must play the grelots (sleigh bells) while vocalizing in “sprechgesang” – a type of vocal performance halfway between singing and speaking. Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins in “My Fair Lady” utilized this form of song-speech in “Why Can’t the English Learn to Speak?”
Despite its demands, the vocalist has high praise for Trigos’ work.
“I think this is a masterwork, full of sensual atmospheres, sometimes sad, combined with the sweetness of the Nahuatl language,” says D’Ingiullo.
WHAT: The Last Hundred
WHEN: 7 p.m. pre-concert talk with performers, 7:30 p.m. concert, Tuesday, March 28
WHERE: Chapel of the Venerable Bede, Episcopal Church Center at University of Miami, 1150 Stanford Drive, Coral Gables
COST: Free, but must be reserved in advance ($10 donation suggested)