Puerto Rico 3

Grouping Francis Schwartz, Rafael Aponte-LeDee and their adherents loosely under the old FLUXUS label, one can speak of the fracture in Puerto Rican classical music asone that divides FLUXUS from ANCO. The larger quarrel, between most of Puerto Rico's musicians and the Casals Festival has some bearing on this tempest in a teapot : the Casals Legacy has bred the FLUXUS/ANCO war. One should not underestimate the importance of an international showcase like the Casals Festival for a small, virtually invisible nation. Campos-Parsi told me:

" For two decades the Casals Festival was the only venue in Puerto Rico where symphonic music was performed. It was, in effect, broadcasting to the whole world the message that we had no music of our own." Reflecting on what he'd said, he commented: "We have always had to be unreasonable to obtain what was reasonable."

A few days later, during the intermission to a concert given by the Emerson Quartet , I encountered Donald Thompson in the lobby of the Centro de Bellas Artes . We strode through the corridors, engrossed in conversation, and narrowly avoided bumping into Martita who happened to be coming up the other way! Full of his usual animosity over the indestructible topic of the Festival, his face was charged with vehemence and he was waving his arms:

" For 25 years the Festival acted like a steamroller over the careers of young composers who were just beginning to become known. The Casals phenomenon descended on them like a catastrophe! It was the great wasteland. It became impossible for Puerto Ricans to obtain support for their compositions from private or public organizations anywhere in the world. Promising young artists either abandoned their musical careers or went abroad."

The Casals Legacy was inaugurated by Luis Munoz Marin and his Popular Democratic Party ( PDP ) as the showpiece of Operation Serenity , the cultural flank of its much publicized and economically disastrous program of forced industrialization, Operation Bootstrap. Over the years and the changes of administration, Operation Serenity has been mercilessly battered. The policies of Puerto Rico's governments have always been Janus-faced: towards the colonial metropolis, either Madrid or Washington, or towards its' citizens. Those who, when in the minority, cried the loudest that the government was ignoring national aspirations, were, once having assumed the reins of power, quick to change their tune .

Operation Serenity has been transformed into AFAC , now the property of Luis Ferre's New Progressive Party ( PNP). As it commands no majority in the legislature, governor Barcelo's position is isolated and precarious. This tug of war between the Executive and Legislative branch has generated an outpouring of gestures on behalf of cultural interests, for the most part empty.

ANCO has chosen to accept, or at least to act as if it accepts these gestures as sincere. FLUXUS refuses to be courted. The significance of this parting of the ways can only be recognized against the historical background of the Casals Legacy since 1957.

Staffed largely with local musicians, of which there are several distinguished families, ( notably the Figueroas) , the Puerto Rico Orchestra was set up in 1958 by Luis Munoz Marin and Ernesto Ramos Antonini; yet it was really Luis Ferre who guaranteed its' survival with proper funding. For many years the orchestra was denied participation in the Casals Festival. Puerto Rico's musicians consider it a major triumph that, after two decades of relentless union agitation, including strikes that closed the Festival down three times, ( in 1977, 1979 and 1981), the PR Orchestra has at last, in this year, replaced the Casals Festival Orchestra as the Festival's official orchestra. To fill up the second half of the season, the Houston Symphony has been imported. Everyone approves of this; even Donald Thompson approves:

" Somebody's got to bring orchestras of that caliber to the island" , he told me , " and the only organization big enough to do it is the government."

Even as the musicians were demanding the right to play in the Festival, the composers wanted their pieces on its programs. Everyone's aspirations were ignored until Casals' death in 1973. The breakthrough came in 1976. The Fundacion Casals , an early version of AFAC designed to perpetuate the reactionary views of its namesake, collapsed . This led to further negotiation and an agreement whereby the works of 3 prominent Puerto Rican composers would be performed each season. It comes as no surprise that first options went to the 'school of 3' : Jack Delano, Amaury Veray and Hector Campos-Parsi. For the spring of 1977 they were even able to get four resident composers on the programs : Rafael Aponte-LeDee , Ernesto Cordero, Luis Alvarez and Francis Schwartz. Yet their works were not in fact performed! By an irony of fate calculated to delight a Greek tragedian, it was also the first of those years in which labor disputes closed the Festival down. Life indeed is short, though Art be long.

By 1978 the honeymoon had already gone sour . Martita Casals, who was known to say that she had never heard a single piece of classical music by one of her own people and doubted that there were any, just dumped the Festival. Then she went to Washington to assume the directorship of the JFK Performing Arts Center. She conveniently absconded, by a legal maneuver, with her husband's name as well. Driven by a spirit of lese majeste, ( or simply yielding to political pressure), she later gave it back.

Spurred on by global ambition , Francis Schwartz skipped off - who can blame him? - to Paris. Rafael Aponte LeDee fell asleep at the wheel - that's what ANCO says . Capitalizing on its unexpected luck , the government made its move. Today all American music ( North and South), all modern music, all contemporary music, and all music by Puerto Rican composers, are banned from the Festival. The season of May-July , 1982 must be deemed the nadir of its courage and vitality: its' trite mixture of war-horses by Beethoven, Brahms and the other classics , leavened with tepid Vieuxtemps and Paisello, did not have much to do with the musical energies of the third quarter of the 20th century.

AFAC's hatchet-man for the job has been Jorge Mester, director of the Aspen Festival in Colorado. His sell-out comes as something of a surprise, as he was formerly the conductor of the Louisville Symphony, the single most important vehicle for the presentation of new symphonic music by American composers. Yet that service which he has rendered the Mainland has not translated itself into any sense of obligation towards its captive satellite. Though denied by him in an official interview, it is transparently obvious that he is the person responsible for the programs of Casals Festival. Even by Gonzalez Oliver, the president of AFAC, admitted as much : Mester " , he informed me , " is the man who really manufactures the programs."

Having plucked the teeth from the Casals Festival, Politics has shown itself willing to offer some concessions to Art. The naked opportunism displayed in the farce of this year's Festival has exposed the Puerto Rican colonial government to ridicule at a vulnerable time. The tigers at the gates, the independentistas and the dissident intellectuals and artists, cannot be totally ignored, even if the initiatives to placate them amount to no more than scraps from the imperial banquet.

Last winter, ANCO and AFAC brokered a deal which passed through the legislature but does not yet have the force of law. The government has agreed to commission 3 symphonic works per year from ANCO. Furthermore , 25% of the programming for the Puerto Rico Orchestra during its' regular season will consist of music written by Puerto Ricans . In exchange for this package ANCO has promised to stop criticizing the Casals Festival.

Ernesto Cordero believes that this agreement signals the opening of a new golden age for Puerto Rican music. The Casals Festival, he says, ( and many people agree with him), is a dead issue. Francis Schwartz and Rafael Apontee - Ledee regard the connivance of ANCO with AFAC on the level of Petain's collaboration with the Germans ! Francis Schwartz expressed himself to me on the matter in this way: " It's nothing more than a theatrical ploy of AFAC. It's designed to give the world the impression that they are really doing something to help Puerto Rican music. There just hasn't been enough music written here to make up 25% of the orchestra's schedule! All that ANCO gets from this shabby deal is a few measly commissions, which they've had before. What it really comes down to crass opportunism."

Of course ANCO doesn't see things the same way. With what appears to be boundless naivete, but may just be good faith, it believes that the government will keep its word. They wait for their 3 commissions, while hoping that John Barnett, the orchestra's conductor, somehow finds a way to bulldoze a season , 25% of which will consist of music written by Puerto Ricans.

Rafael Aponte-Ledee, taciturn, obstinate and gentle, turns to me with a sardonic smile , shakes his head, mutters, "Incredible... they stab their own friends in the back... " The rest is left unspoken, leaving it to my imagination to conjure up the 30 pieces of silver!

The distinction between native born and resident Puerto Ricans may turn out not to be of much importance. Francis Schwartz comes from the mainland yet is considered a Puerto Rican composer, as is the man who has devoted his life to the cause of Puerto Rico's cultural development , Jack Delano. Roberto Sierra, described as one of Puerto Rico's outstanding young composers, was born but doesn't live here . The problem seems to be that, even if one includes all possible categories of "Puerto Rican composer", there still isn't enough symphonic music around to fill up that amount of time !

The young university teachers of ANCO may be in for a rude shock. Campos-Parsi views the negotiations as laughable: "There isn't enough symphonic music written in the whole history of Puerto Rico to fill up 25% of the season! Anyway, the deal can't pass into law because it's unconstitutional."

Donald Thompson agrees: " There just hasn't been that much symphonic music written here. The bill was rushed through the legislature to annoy Barcelo and the statehood clique . It's a worthless sop to the independentistas . It can't have the force of law. "

Strangest of all was the response of Gonzalez Oliver, AFAC's president. I asked him if there was any truth to the assertion that there doesn't exist enough music to fulfill the arrangement between AFAC and ANCO.

" Yes", he agreed, " it's true." As he stared at some abstract spot on the wall, he continued: " Nevertheless, we will do it." A few minutes later, he commented, " Frankly, I am delighted to have these guys as part of our team."

Virginia Ramirez, executive director of the Corporation Artes de la Representation ( CAR), a sub-bureaucracy within AFAC , merely stated, "The legislature appropriated $15,000 for the commissioning of new works."

She turned out to be the only person I interviewed who seemed to feel that the Casals Festival has a future:

"To me the Casals Festival is like El Morro" , ( the old Spanish colonial fortress at the far western tip of Old San Juan.) . "It is there, and it will be there. It changes with time. It is stalwart, something you can lean on, something which promotes change yet leaves it essence intact."

To which Donald Thompson supplies the typically acrimonious rejoinder: " She's right .The Casals Festival will go on , just another bureaucratic dinosaur that refuses to die. Eventually it's going to become a handful of offices hidden away at the end of a forgotten corridor in some government building . Its staff will sit there with nothing to do. Just to get through the day they will find themselves showing each other videotapes of its glorious past."


FRANCIS SCHWARTZ : Born 1940, Texas. His first notable contribution to music appears to have been the uproar he caused at the inaugural performance of his " Piano Variations on an American Folksong" in Vienna in 1964. His musical activities range across four continents, ( Europe, North America, South America, and Puerto Rico). He once served as a consultant for the UPR's Narcotics Commission. I don't know how he landed that job, except to observe that music is the most potent of all narcotics. His theory of aesthetics, "Poly-Art" was first elaborated in a document prepared for the University of Paris; it has since been applied to a wide range of compositions. The concept remains vague in my mind, however he is intent on evoking a total spiritual response through the simultaneous involvement of all sensory domains, in line with Wagner' Gesamtkunstwerk or Rimbaud's 'sensorial derangement' .

His incidental music for the play, "Caligula" , by Albert Camus, is powerful and captivating . Currently director of Cultural Affairs at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras .

RAFAEL APONTEE-LEDEE : Born , Guayama, Puerto Rico, 1938. Studied with Ginastera in the 60's. Founder, with Francis Schwartz, of Fluxus. To quote the Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians , 1984: "His music is highly advanced, employing nearly every conceivable technique of the cosmopolitan avant-garde."

HECTOR CAMPOS-PARSI: Born 1922, Ponce, Puerto Rico. The most widely recognized Puerto Rican composer. " My native language is neo-classicism.", he told me . A member of the School of 3 , including Jack Delano and Amaury Veray, that established modern music in Puerto Rico in the 40's. Politically right of center, though not bound by any dogma. A confirmed believer in statehood , he now holds the prestigious position of cultural advisor to AFAC. His music is as gentle, cultivated and intelligent as the man himself.

JACK DELANO : Born 1914, Kiev , Russia. Came to US as a child. Studied music in Philadelphia at the Settlement Music School ( where, 4 decades ago, I also studied.) Philadelphia is a bastion of rearguard culture, ( this claim may outrage its good burgers, who think that Philadelphia is the center of all culture). The worth of its artistic pretensions can be gauged from my experience of stepping into the South Street Mall last summer to recite poetry and being squirted with a water pistol.

Weary of dealing with barbarians, Delano emigrated to the more civilized Puerto Rican milieu in the 40's. His music is traditional and coloristic, deeply indebted to Puerto Rico's folk music. He has animated every aspect of its' musical life , film, theater, ballet, radio, TV, education, even the Casals Legacy. Has written no new music is three years.

A hasty first impression of his politics was gotten from noting that a book of reproductions of Ben Shahn's graphics was the only item on his piano lid. This impression was confirmed by our interview.

AMAURY VERAY: born 1922, Yanquo, Puerto Rico. Quoting Campos-Parsi : " Amaury Veray is almost entirely self-taught. He has a tremendous wealth of living experience, great emotional energy and sensitivity. To be with him is to feel the presence of a strong hum. The true language of Puerto Rican folk music, which the rest of us have had to learn, was his from birth. "

Getting an interview with him turned out to be impossible, although the adventure of chasing all over greater San Juan to meet him makes for a story in itself. Initially we set up a time and date to get together at the Conservatory. Its' location is about 7 miles out from Old San Juan, and necessitated making a special bus trip combined with a long walk that took me across a super-highway.

It turned out, that I had to be at the Conservatory a few days beforehand to attend a master class given by the Emerson Quartet and interview Pacotin Figueroa, flute student and member of Puerto Rico's legendary Figueroa family of musicians. Pacotin mentioned that Amaury Veray was in the building, and took me to the small auditorium where he was directing a rehearsal. Veray, short, middle-aged and vigorous, a free-thinking cigarette ( Winston's) smouldering in his left hand, was conducting a small chamber orchestra from a place behind the pianist. The music carried the same kind of intangible excitement I'd encountered in his other works, a sense of the tart flavor of Puerto Rican life , devoid of the sentimentality officially promoted as the national character. We spoke briefly, shook hands, and reconfirmed our appointment.

Two mornings later I was back at the Conservatory at the scheduled time, only to find that all the gates around the grounds were bolted and padlocked! A security guard at the entrance explained that the school was closed for the summer. That evening I telephoned Veray from my hotel room in Old San Juan. He apologized: he'd been so busy with recording schedules he'd forgotten all about the closing date. The government was a pack of idiots for closing down the Conservatory in the summer, etc., etc...We then made another arrangement to meet the next afternoon in El Coqui , a small cantina a block away from the Conservatory. After sitting over a can of beer for one hour and made to feel rather uncomfortable in the self-righteously ethnic El Coqui , I went around the corner, found a pay phone and gave Amaury Veray another call.

He was at home. Once more he apologized: he was overwhelmed with work. That evening he called me back in my hotel. He offered to send me a package of biographical materials to an address in the US. It never came. I don't take these rebuffs personally: composers are like that.

His profound symphonic work, " Homenaje a Gilberto Concepcion de Gracia" , made the strongest impression on me of all the music I listened to while in Puerto Rico. I was able to both hear and watch its performance on an excellent Casals Festival videotape available at the Casals Museum.

The world premiere of this work had been the object of a censorship scandal. Everyone assumed that Veray had been denied an interview on national television because Gilberto Concepcion de Gracia had been an independentista . A protest signed by every prominent composer, ( including all those mentioned in this article), was sent at the time to the Secretary of Education, Ramon Cruz.

ERNESTO CORDERO: Born 1946. One of the officers of ANCO. Teaches in the Music Department of the University of Puerto Rico at San Juan. An accomplished guitarist; composition appears to be a secondary pursuit. He writes good music, quite simple, neo-baroque, guitar oriented. I was unable during my short stay, to listen to the works of any of the other composers of ANCO.

**** To Jim and Peter Geiser, Rickie Solinger and Jan Pileggi, scientists and scholars in New Paltz,NY, for encouraging me to go to Puerto Rico. As I was getting into a car on the Thruway to hitch-hike to New York, Jim and Rickie showed up with a mysterious envelope that turned out to cover the plane fare.

****To Anaisa Delgado, daughter of Isaac Delgado, then research student in molecular biology at CCNY.

****To Isaac Delgado, Ana Maria Hyland and all their friends and relatives in Fajardo,

****To the staff of AFAC who, after giving me full press credentials for the Casals Festival and helped me in many ways: Vicente Aguirre, Mabel Lugo, Virginia Ramirez. Gonzalez Oliver, Jimmy Stewart and Hector Campos-Parsi.

****To several of the members of the Puerto Rico Orchestra: Kachira Figueroa, Rosalyn Ianelli, Carole Cowan, Alan Busteed, and Saul Ovchorov ( Jack Delano's brother).

**** To Casals Conservatory students , Arnauldo and Pacotin Figueroa.

****To the faculty and staff at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras : Lowell Fiet and Gerald Guiness ( English); Francis Schwartz, Donald Thompson, Ernesto Cordero, Carlos Vasquez, Carlos Cabrer, Luis Alvarez ( Music); Andrew Olsen, Frank Anger, ( Mathematics); Daniel Altschuler,(Physics); Gladys, ( director, Casa de Huespedes ) ; and many others.

**** To the staff of the Arecibo Observatory, whose insights into the cosmos provided me with a delightful diversion from a overly rich diet of musical Sturm und Drang.

**** To Rafael Aponte LeDee and his wife, who arranged for my sojourn for about a week or so in the homeless shelter managed by the good-hearted priest and Franciscan friar , Father Venand.

**** To Olgita Alvarez, who got me into a concert honoring of the famed Cuban pop singer, Olga Guillot.

****To the Teatro Rexach and its resident company the "Teatro de Sesenta".

**** To the painter Jan DeSopo and her husband, Monaco, who organized and paid for a poetry reading at their home . To their American house guest, Kerry: by posing as husband and wife, Kerry and I were able to wangle a deluxe promotional dinner, courtesy of the Club Mediterranee .

****To Walter from Germany , the practical and warm-hearted Condado beach-comber.

****To Vanessa Droz and Liliana Somos, editors of the literary review, 'Reintegro'

****To Jorge and Heidi Fuentes, their son Jorge, and his friend, Ramon Morales.

****To Monserrat G. Garcia, daughter of Dr. Gubern, current director of the Gubern hospital at Fajardo.

****To the crowd at the poetry readings at The Happy Apple

**** To Norma van Dorn, waitress at 'Mr. Donut' and belly-dancer at the 'Marrakesh'. She and I almost went through with the plan of roaming the villages of Puerto Rico as a violinist/belly-dancer team.

**** To David Shafer of the Houston Symphony

****To Jorge Mester and Martin Verdrager, Casals Festival

****To Aaron and Rebecca Sapirstein, owners of the Tayrona Shop, Caribe Hilton

****To Denise Rodriguez, Edward Taylor and the acclaimed jibaro painter , Cajiga, Committee for Human Development.

**** To the Medicine Show Theater Ensemble in New York City, for providing me with a stop-over place to stay both before and after the trip.

****To Kevin and Mary Pope, associates of the Catholic Worker, New York City, for supplying a going-away and a coming-home dinner.

**** To Honest John , the drunk Americano of Old San Juan, my self-appointed welcoming committee.

**** To the mystified ticket collectors at the Centro de Bellas Artes. Why they were mystified is a story worth telling. After attending 3 concerts of the Festival I decided, (correctly), that there was little point in attending most of the remainder. As I now had in my possession many complimentary tickets and no direct financing for the writing of this article, I came up with the scheme of trying to sell them back to the Centro de Bellas Artes. The ticket takers were most mystified in as much as I hadn't taken the trouble to notice that all the tickets were stamped COMPLIMENTARY on the back.They were hastily taken back in the general confusion and sold , far more discretely, on a night-to-night basis in the Plaza outside the concert hall.

**** To the wretchedly poor denizens of Father Venand's homeless shelter in the Old City

**** Finally, to my trigonometry students at the University, whose plight paid for my return ticket to New York, all of whom, I hope, passed their exams with flying colors

**** and to many others.

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