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Opus for the hemisphere.

Friday evening, April 18, 1958. The lights went down in George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium and conductor Howard Mitchell strode on stage to begin a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C. An ordinary event in the musical life of the United States capital one might think, but such was hardly the case.

This was the opening night of the First Inter-American music Festival--a celebration of contemporary creative talent in the Western Hemisphere without precedent in its aim, scope or international repercussion. The three-day program consisted not of works by Beethoven, Debussy or Tschaikowsky, but of the Concerto for Orchestra of Antonio Estevez, the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra of Roberto Caamano, "New England Episodes' by Quincy Porter and the Symphony No. 2 or Roque Cordero--respectively citizens of Venezuela, Argentina, the United States and Panama. By the time the Festival closed, 15 composers representing eight North, Central and South American countries had given their world premiere.

The organizing institutions included the Organization of American States, the International House of New Orleans, the National Institue of Fine Arts of Mexico, the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation of the Library of Congress and the Washington Board of Trade.

The man who had conceived the idea for the Festival and who marshalled the forces required to bring it to fruition was Guillermo Espinosa. Writing two decades later, the critic Irving Lowens summed up the accomplishment thus: "Espinosa was a man with a dream--to establish the new music of the Americas on a parity with that of Europe. He was a brilliant organizer and planner, a rare example of the dreamer with enough imagination and executive ability to transform his dreams into reality."

Guillermo Espinosa was born in Cartagena de Indias on January 9, 1905, to Mateo Espinosa and Purificacion Grau. He received his elementary and secondary schooling at the Colegio San Pedro Claver, in whose imposing church his ashes now repose. His family was not a musical one, but his mother was an enthusiastic listener. She stimulated her son to become a performer, assuring that he received piano lessons and that he was later admitted to the Instituto de Musica of Cartagena.

He proved an apt pupil and, early in the 1920s, armed with a Prussian Government scholarship, he went to Europe to pursue his studies. Espinosa was enrolled for a time at the Royal Conservatory in Milan, studied with the celebrated conductor Felix Weingartner in Basel, and graduated with the title of Konzertmeister from the prestigious Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin.

The conservatories of Europe were thronged with eager students from all over the world. Young Espinosa imbibed with the best of them, but was not content merely to absorb what the Old World had to give. Recognizing that the musicians of the Americas were being overlooked, he organized the German-Latin American Music Society and the Symphony Orchestra of Foreigners Resident in Berlin to present programs demonstrating not only the participants' specific talents but those of composers fo the conviction from which they came. The conviction evidenced by the young man who had yet to reach the age of thirty was to influence his long, fruitful, career.

With storm clouds gathering in Europe, Espinosa decided to return to Colombia. His ability was quickly recognized, and despite his youth he was offered the leadership of the principal performing ensemble in the country, the orchestra of the Bogota conservatory. By 1936, such was his success that he was able to organize the National Symphony Orchestra, no known as the Symphony Orchestra of Colombia. For its concerts he obtained the services of such celebrated guest soloists as Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz and Andres Segovia.

Espinosa did not forget the place of his birth. He was the moving spirit in the creation of the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical of Cartagena, which sponsored a series of international musical festivals during the 1940s and 19502. Participating artists included Segovia, Claudio Arrau, Nicanor Zabaleta, Jacques Thibaud, Richard Tauber and Mischa Elman; among the performing ensembles were the national symphony orchestras of Guatemala, Panama and Venezuela.

The festivals in Cartagena were not the first with which Espinosa's name had been associated. As early as 1932 he had organized the first inter-American event of record, a small affair in Caracas confined to chamber music and honoring the memory of the distinguished Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreno. His next venture was far more ambitious. To celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of the founding of his country's capital, in 1938 Espinosa organized the Ibero-American Festival of Music held in Bogota. Featured were not only his own orchestra but a chamber ensemble of international promenance and the Orfeon Lamas from Venezuela, which presented a panorama of that country's choral repertory. This was a truly inter-American event, for it featured music of Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Argentina, the United States, Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay and Panama.

By the 1940s, Espinosa came to the conclusion that efforts to promote the music of the Americas required a stronger institutional base than Colombia was able to provide and he accepted the offer of the post in the music section of the Pan American Union, soon to become the General Secretariat of a restructured and renamed Organization of American States. As the headquarters of the association which linked all twenty-one of the then-existing American republics, the Pan American Union seemed ideally suited to Espinosa's purposes. Although it had been presenting recitals featuring Latin American compositions and performing artists to Washington audiences, under Espinosa's directorship--between 1953 and 1975--the concert season flourished as never before. A few of the artists who appeared during the first ten years of his tenure--most of them in their Washington debuts--were Henry Cowell, Jaime Laredo, Harry McClure, Ann Schein, Aldo Parisot, Joao Carlos Martins, Rafael Puyana, Leon Fleischer, Henryk Szerynkg, Lois Marshall, and Agustin Anievas. By the time of Espinosa's retirement the list approached 700 names.

The local Washington audience was somewhat tepid in its reaction to the First Inter-American Music Festival in 1958. The abundance of unfamiliar, often avant-garde, compositions was unsettling. But composers, performers, scholars and friends of new music were lavish in their enthusiasm. Applause for the First Festival had barely died away before plans were being laid for the Second, which took place three years later. The number of performances doubled, from five to ten. There were twenty-four world premiers and fifteen works received their first performances in the United States.

Meanwhile, the festival activity had been extended beyond the confines of Washington. The first venture abroad was in 1968, with the three concerts of the Fourth Festival held at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. By the Sixth Festival, in 1974, concerts were being presented as far away as Baltimore, New York and Boston.

More remarkably, by that time the Washington-based events had spawned a European offspring. In October, 1964, Madrid was the site of the First Festival of Music of the Americas and Spain, a series of ten concerts under Espinosa's general direction. Two more such events took place in Madrid, in 1967 and 1970.

A highly significant aspect of all the festivals was the wide range of stylistic tendency represented in the programs. For Espinosa, contemporary music meant music by living composers and he made a strong effort to have representation of all current trends, whether traditional or avant-garde. A few rare departures from the contemporary repertory permitted outstanding young ensembles to display their talents in the areas in which they had made their reputation. Thus the Coro de Madrigalistas de Mexico included Mexican colonial composers and folk songs of the Americas in its program during the Second Festival and the Chamber Opera Company of Buenos Aires' Teatro Colon staged performances of works by Mozart and Pergolesi in the course of the Fifth Festival.

It is difficult to convey adequately the significance of the impetus given to musical development in the Americas by Espinosa's activity. As a mere matter of statistics, the six festivals held in Washington under his leadership numbered 52 concerts, at which 189 compositions were played, 65 of them for the first time anywhere, most of the others being presented as Unite States premieres. The participating artists also reaped some material rewards. It can be noted that 70 of the compositions on the programs resulted from commissions to the authors by entities such as the Academy of the Arts of Mexico, the Brazilian Educational Broadcasting Service and the McKim Fund of the Library of Congress, or by individuals ranging from OAS Secretary General Galo Plaza to Espinosa himself.

Inclusion in Festival programs enhanced many composers' reputations. It played a significant role in the spectacular success achieved by Alberto Ginatera. Writing of the Second Festival, the critic Paul Hume declared that Ginastera had emerged as "one of the giants of music in our time." Corroborating this view, Hume's colleague Irving Lowens wrote in 1975 that "Alberto Ginatera owes his exalted position in the world of music today largely to his successes in Espinosa's festivals."

If the Inter-American Music Festivals constitute the most visible aspect of Espinosa's achievement from the public viewpoint, they by no means represent the whole of his effort on behalf of the music of the Western Hemisphere. He was highly active in the affairs of the Inter-American Music Council (CIDEM)--first known as the Inter-American Music Center, established in 1956 on the recommendation of the Inter-American Cultural Council of the OAS--supplying CIDEM with permanent secretariat services through the division he headed at OAS headquarters. Under Espinosa's direction the OAS also engaged in an ambitious music publication program, which included a periodic bulletin on music activities in the Hemisphere and the invaluable reference collection known as "Composers of the Americas." The eighteen volumes of this collection, published during his tenure, provide both catalogues of the published works of New World Composers and biographical information in their regard. While the responsibilities of Espinosa's institutional position did not permit him to pursue his career as a conductor to the extent of earlier years, he did lead orchestras from time to time in the United States and in many countries of Europe and Latin America.

Espinosa died in Washington, D.C., on July 5, 1990, but his contribution to the advance of music in our Hemisphere has not come to an end. His widow is in the process of transferring his library, records, and personal archives to Indian University's Inter-American music center, an institution in whose establishment Espinosa played a significant role. In time, the bulk of his estate is to go to the University to provide scholarship assistance in the field of musical studies.

Summing up Espinosa's career at the time of his retirement in 1975, Irving Lowens wrote: "Never one to seek the spotlight, he was content to let his actions speak for him," adding words which bear repetition today, "For his devotion to the music of the Americas, for his contribution to the enrichment of our lives, and for his boundless energy and selfless imagination, Guillermo Espinosa deserves our deepest thanks."

Ralph Dimmick, a retired staff member of the OAS Cultural Affairs office, is currently a consultant for the Department of Public Information.
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Title Annotation:Inter-American Music Festival founder Guillermo Espinosa
Author:Dimmick, Ralph
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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