El Viaje (The Journey) and Lyric Fest

El Viaje: The Journey

Produced by Monica Rogozinski

On June 25 and 26, 2016 international percussion master and Philadelphia resident Pablo Batista presented the world premiere performances of his extended work in music and dance – El Viaje (The Journey) – at Temple Performing Arts Center. El Viaje (The Journey) tells the story of forced emigration from Africa to the Americas, and how spiritual and cultural resilience ultimately enabled slaves to adapt and re-establish themselves with dignity in diaspora.

The performances feature 16 musicians, 6 dancers, spoken word and multi-media imagery. Created in collaboration with co-writer/arrangers Dennis Guevara and Victor Pablo Garcia–Gaetan, and Cuban émigré choreographer Gilset Mora, El Viaje combines sacred Afro-Caribbean bata drumming, chant and traditional dance with elements from European classical music, jazz and blues, R & B, funk and salsa. It reflects the journey of captive African cultures as they were blended and transformed over five centuries. Musically, the work also reflects Batista’s 30 years of touring, recording and performing on Grammy-winning releases in jazz, rhythm and blues and gospel.

On a personal level, El Viaje portrays the struggles Batista and his family endured coming from Puerto Rico to the steel mill town of Bethlehem PA in the early 1960s: “This is an epic story that could really be applicable to almost everyone. You can apply it to the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt. You can apply it to the slaves from Africa who were brought to the Americas, or the waves of Irish, Italian, Latino and other immigrant and refugee groups who migrated under difficult circumstances then, and even now. But you can also understand it from a personal perspective — as one who’s on a constant journey and struggle through life.” – Pablo Batista

El Viaje has been in development for three years, but has its origins over 15 years ago. In 2000, Batista was the recipient of the prestigious Pew Fellowship from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, which enabled him to deepen his knowledge of Afro-Cuban drumming. Other study trips followed. In 2012 he traveled to Santiago de Cuba, where he studied with members of Ballet Folklórico Cutumba, one of Cuba’s most highly regarded folkloric dance and music companies. In 2013, Batista won a jazz residency at The Kimmel Center, and was commissioned to develop what became “The Journey.” It premiered there as a work-in-progress in June 2014. June 2015, Batista received a new project grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage to expand and present the completed work of El Viaje (The Journey) for Philadelphia audiences.

Friday Arts captured the last weeks of rehearsals, and the intricate and creative collaboration process of all artists involved, leading to the performance at the Temple of Performing Arts.

Lyric Fest: Connecting People Through Song

Produced by Karen Smyles

Lyric Fest was founded in 2003 by three Philadelphia-area musicians: Suzanne DuPlantis, mezzo-soprano, Randi Marrazzo, soprano, and Laura Ward, pianist, with the shared goal of celebrating and revitalizing the song tradition. It has produced and presented over 60 concerts and recitals featuring more than 160 local, regional and national artists. Currently LF is run by Artistic Directors, Suzanne DuPlantis and Laura Ward.
Commissioning and performing new works has become integral to the mission and programming philosophy. Since its founding, Lyric Fest has commissioned 17 and premiered over 20 new works of local, regional and nationally recognized composers. Lyric Fest enjoys working in partnership with composers providing them with opportunities for creating and mounting performances of their work.
It is one of a very few voice recital series of its kind in the area. While still a relatively young organization, its reputation for excellence and innovation is growing nationally and has begun to receive invitations to bring concerts to Pittsburgh, PA, Princeton, NJ, Washington, DC, and Concord, NH. Lyric Fest has received critical acclaim locally and has been noted in a number of national publications such as Opera News.
The organization remains committed to access through affordable ticket prices; broadening its audience; and to expanding the area’s interest in and knowledge of song as an important and relevant art form.
Friday Arts was delighted to sit down with Suzanne and Laura to talk about how the organization came about and where they would like to see it go. We experience a 2015 concert with the Singing City Choir and a more recent performance at The Academy of Vocal Arts, where 8 composers were commissioned to set letters to music.

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