WASHINGTON – Leonor Lanza,a 39-year-old Venezuelan composer and pianist,is a musician who resists narrow classification.
In her first visit to United States,she seamlessly wrapped her operatic voice and talent for playing the piano around traditional Latin American songs.
At a concert at the residence of the Venezuelan ambassador Thursday night,Lanza traveled with her songs across a map of Latin music,including tango,boleros,ballads and Latin jazz.
Lanza grew up in a home of self-taught musicians. Her father,a plastic surgeon,plays the mandolin and makes musical instruments. She said her mother’s voice beautifully interprets old Spanish songs.
Coming from a creative musical family,Lanza began studying music at age 9 when her parents enrolled her at a music conservatory in Caracas. She decided to get a bachelor’s degree in music composition and lyrical singing. She said an injury to a tendon in her left hand prevented her from pursuing a professional career as a pianist,although she accompanies her singing in concerts.
She discovered “limitless horizons” after graduating from the conservatory. For a while,Lanza sang in baroque music and opera choruses. But she became fed up with the rigidity of classical pieces and decided to try Latin American folk music and experimental music,genres considered inferior by professors at the music conservatory where she studied.
“When one discovers the Latin American popular music tradition,there is a lode as rich as a Mozart aria,” Lanza said in an interview conducted in Spanish.
Lanza’s other music passion is experimental music. She has gained renown in her country and toured with alternative music festivals in Europe.
Lanza and her group,Sagrado Familion,have recorded 12 albums from live performances before an audience. The musicians agree on a theme,then jam,using instruments from violins to empty bottles.
She said the sounds are not intended to please the ear but to free listeners’ senses. Although her music isn’t easy listening,she is surprised by how people react.
“People come to talk me after the concert and tell me,‘Thanks,I don’t know what I was listening to,but I felt like I was on a trip,'” Lanza said.
Lanza started playing experimental music as a way to go beyond the frames she learned in the music conservatory.
“I listened to my heart because music professors told me,‘You shouldn’t do that,’ ‘you’re breaking the rules,the technique.’ So I asked myself,who should I pay attention to, ‘professors or me,’ and I decided that was me,” Lanza said.
“I have heard Latin American music,many different genres from different countries,but this is the first time I heard someone from Venezuela sing,and I was moved,very moved,” said Carlos Hill,46,a government-relations employee from Arlington,Va.
Tom Steiner,28,a project manager and a violin player from Reston,Va.,said he was surprised to hear a solo pianist from South America who sounds radically different from most popular Latin American music played by American radio stations,such as reggaeton,hip hop music mixed with Latin American rhythms and Spanish lyrics.
The Embassy of Venezuela and the Venezuelan oil company Citgo sponsored the concert.
“For us has been a whole excitement to bring Venezuela culture to the United States,” Bernando Alvarez,Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S.,said. He said the embassy has helped several new Venezuelan musicians perform for the first time outside Venezuela.
Lanza said stiffness in classical music teaching has driven the general public’s interest away from classical compositions.
Lanza ended her tour in the United States Saturday with an appearance in New York. She is composing an album of electronic music for next year.
She praised the Venezuela youth symphonic orchestra program,known as El Sistema,that for 30 years has taught thousands of children to play musical instruments. That program produced Gustavo Dudamel,the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
“Dudamel embodied academic music. He translated it into his own language,and he has revived it and made us in love again with classical music,” Lanza said.