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A multilevel home run: Freddy Vilches, Adam Eccleston, and BRAVO Youth Orchestra with Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra

Music of Latin America, including Indigenous instruments, to highlight PSCO concert.


Composer Freddy Vilches. Photo by Rachel Hadiashar.
Composer Freddy Vilches. Photo by Rachel Hadiashar.

The Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra travels south of the border in their upcoming concert ¡Adelante! inspired by the music of Latin America (May 4 in Portland, May 5 in Gresham). “It’s a kaleidoscopic program,” said PSCO’s Music Director Steven Byess, “that is built around a new work by Freddy Vilches.”

Portlanders are getting to know Vilches, who has a double life of sorts. One the one hand, he is a professor of world literature at Lewis & Clark College. His doctorate is from the University of Oregon in Latin American literature. On the other hand, he is also a composer, singer, multi-instrumentalist.

A native of Santiago, Chile, Vilches is a self-taught musician who started playing traditional instruments and music as a kid. He learned how to play flutes from the Andes and string instruments from various regions. 

“I play many Indigenous instruments and music you do not learn at the conservatory,” said Vilches in a Zoom call. “I have also studied classical guitar and taken Afro-Cuban percussion lessons in Cuba. I have lived in many countries in South America and the Caribbean because of my research in literature and culture. Some of the choral pieces that I’ve written incorporate Indigenous languages, and my instrumental pieces feature traditional instruments from various regions.”

The PSCO will perform Vilches’s Latin American Suite, which has five movements that features musical instruments and styles from five different regions. 

“The performance with the PSCO will be the USA premiere,” said Vilches, “because it has been performed in Uruguay with the Montevideo Philharmonic Orchestra. Also, part of the piece was done in Bolivia by an orchestra of one hundred and fifty Indigenous musicians.”

For the Latin American Suite, Vilches and his son Nico, who is a sophomore at Lewis & Clark, will play a panoply of instruments with unfamiliar names and offer musical styles that are seldom heard in North American concert halls. The antara and zampoña flutes, along with the charango, a small ten-string instrument from the Andes, are featured in the first movement, “Matices” (“Shades of Color”) to enhance the rhythms of the Bolivian bailecito, the Argentinean chamamé, the Chilean cueca and cachimbo. Maracas and the guitar-like cuatro will highlight the second movement, “En la Llanura” (“On the Plains”), which is inspired by the plains of Venezuela and Colombia. This movement conveys the lively joropo dance style with a mellow, waltz-like rhythm called pasaje. The third movement, “Camino Secreto” (“Secret Road/Journey”) uses the Brazilian guitar in samba and bossa nova rhythms along with jazzy melodies and solos. The fourth movement, “Caribe” offers the sounds of claves, güiro, congas, and bongos to generate the music of Afro-Latin communities, including rhythms such as yambú, guaguancó, and son. The fifth movement, “Del Bajío,” (“The Lowland”) integrates the marimba and the Mexican vihuela to create sounds from Mexico that include the rhythms of son jaliscience, son veracruzano, and huapango.


Oregon Cultural Trust

All of these instruments will be decked out front and center for the concertgoers to see and hear. They will underscore Vilches’s goal of showing the rich diversity of music from Latin America.

Beautiful worlds

The PSCO concert also includes Impresiones de la Puna for Flute and Strings by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. It will be played by Adam Eccleston, the orchestra’s principal flutist and a Powell Flute Artist.

Flutist Adam Eccleston. Photo by Rachel Hadiashar.
Flutist Adam Eccleston. Photo by Rachel Hadiashar.

“I came across Impresiones when I was a young, budding flute player at the New England Conservatory in Boston,” said Eccleston via Zoom. “It is a story about the Andes mountains. The piece is not complicated, but showcases a lot of the flute in seven or eight minutes. The first movement is somber with a lot of cadenzas. That represents the Incas. The second movement is a melancholic love song. The third movement is vibrant and flamboyant. So you get three beautiful worlds in a short piece. It also has some interesting harmonics and there are moments that spotlight the strings. It is a beautiful piece that is easy on the ears.”

I had to ask Eccleston if he has traveled to Peru or has seen the Andes.

“I have not been to Peru,” he replied, “But my family is from Panama. Both cultures love the flute. I have visited Panama quite often, and I will be there in July to conduct an ensemble for a music festival.”

Eccleston’s performance will mark his first solo with the PSCO, which he joined a couple of years ago. He is also known for his work with All Classical Radio (89.9 FM) and the BRAVO Youth Orchestra where he is Director of Orchestras.

“I moved to Portland for the job with BRAVO,” remarked Eccleston. “I’ve been working with them since they were little. Now they will be sitting with me and my colleagues.”


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That’s right. Several musicians from the BRAVO Youth Orchestra will play side by side with members of the PSCO in this concert. 

“For the last few years, I’ve been thinking of collaborating with a youth orchestra,” said Byess. “This concert offers a great way for us to teach and coach players from the BRAVO Youth Orchestra. They will perform the Carmen Suite No 1, which has a number of wonderful tunes from Bizet’s Carmen, and the Danzon No. 2 by Arturo Márquez. That piece has gained worldwide recognition because Gustavo Dudamel has featured it often when he conducts the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, one of the world’s great youth orchestras.”

“So our concert is like a multilevel homerun,” added Byess, “We have a new piece of music that features Indigenous instruments and sounds from Latin America, our wonderful soloist from our own ranks, and youth. It will be a marvelous program!”

“¡Adelante!” May 4 at First United Methodist Church in Portland and May 5 at Gresham High School. More information and tickets available at PCSO’s website.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

James Bash enjoys writing for The Oregonian, The Columbian, Classical Voice North America, Opera, and many other publications. He has also written articles for the Oregon Arts Commission and the Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition. He received a fellowship to the 2008 NEA Journalism Institute for Classical Music and Opera, and is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America.

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