Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Sixty Years of Music at the OAS

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Sixty Years of Music at the OAS

Article excerpt

Beginning in 1934, the OAS (then the Pan American Union) launched its musical endeavors by sponsoring free concerts featuring Latin American performers at its headquarters. At the time, more than one voice raised the question, "And where are they going to find so many performers?"

Now, celebrating its sixtieth year, the Division of Arts of the Organization of American States can take pride both in its contributions to music in general, and in the fact that today the Hemisphere is living its own music.

Despite that early skepticism, in 1940 the Technical Unit of Music and Folklore was created, under the direction of the eminent American musicologist Charles Seeger. Then, almost every Wednesday night, the historic Hall of the Americas was transformed into a concert hall, where renowned musicians from all over the Hemisphere performed.

When Seeger retired in 1953, the Colombian orchestra director Guillermo Espinosa replaced him as head. His tireless efforts led to an ever-increasing number of free performances in the Hall of the Americas: From 1934 to 1972, there were 633 concerts and recitals by performers from twenty-eight different countries.

Under Espinosa the Music Unit published a considerable number of scores by composers of the Americas that would otherwise not have seen the light of day. Composers of the Americas, a publication launched by Espinosa in 1955, is a series containing detailed information on the Hemisphere's most distinguished composers. This substantial contribution to the study and dissemination of regional music has profiled the lives and works of more than four hundred composers of the Americas.

In 1956, under Espinosa's leadership, the Inter-American Music Council (CIDEM) was created. The membership of this important body consisted of the national music commissions and councils of all the OAS member states; its goal was to provide a permanent central forum for inter-American musical activity and work closely with UNESCO's International Music Council.

Espinosa also organized the Inter-American Music Festival, which premiered in 1958, with subsequent festivals held every three or four years thereafter. This festival's importance was such that works by some 160 composers of the Americas were performed in the course of the first five festivals, 105 of which received their world premieres and 61 were heard by the U.S. public for the first time.

When Espinosa retired in 1975 Efrain Paesky, an Argentine pianist and university professor, was appointed to head the Music Unit (today, the Division of Arts). Trained in Argentina, Vienna, and Geneva, Paesky had enjoyed a successful career as a concert performer, recording artist, and professor of music.

With Paesky, music at the OAS entered a new phase. While carrying on existing activities, Paesky also reestablished the program of free concerts given in the Hall of the Americas, which had been discontinued earlier due to a shortage of funds. Since 1981, the OAS has also been presenting concerts in Miami, in collaboration with that city's government.

The public performances in the Hall of the Americas are designed to bring young Latin American musicians to international attention as well as give international exposure to works by composers of the Hemisphere. But there is an innovation. "I have always thought," says Paesky, "that there are only two kinds of music: the good and the bad." In short order, the concerts, which previously had been classical only, included popular music, "provided that it is good and well played," Paesky stipulated.

Very soon these performances led to an agreement between the OAS Division of Arts and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, providing for the inclusion of Latin American performers and composers in Kennedy Center programming.

As early as December 1977, the Washington Performing Arts Society, in cooperation with the OAS and CIDEM, presented the Symphony Orchestra of Brazil in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall. …

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