“Those of us that live in Mexico, really do live in two different Mexicos – there’s the one we live on its streets, movie theaters, malls, and then, there’s the Mexico of the media”, says Maestro Enrique Barrios, speaking by telephone from his office in Mexico. Barrios is the Director of the Carlos Chavez Youth Orchestra, a ninety-member youth orchestra that will present several concerts in the biennial Youth in Music Festival, which is organized by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with fifteen other musical organizations in the Chicagoland area.
Maestro Barrios is commenting of the role of music in the development of individuals and societies, and explaining that one the one hand, he feels the media has exaggerated the situation of violence in Mexico. On the other hand, Barrios feels that the now nearly fifty youth orchestras spread throughout the land will undoubtedly have a positive effect on Mexican society. A highly-recognized director beloved by orchestras the world round, Barrios is also a pivotal player in the development of music in Mexico. In July 2009, he was was named General Director of the Mexican National System of Musical Promotion by the Mexican government, the position of highest responsibility in the Mexican music world.
Barrios describes how the Carlos Chavez Youth Orchestra chooses its members through a rigorous selection process, selecting young people ages 15 to 23 who have applied from all over the republic, and who then audition before juries specialized in each instrument. He adds that the orchestra’s foundation was inspired by another famous youth orchestra, the Orquestra Simón Bolívar from Venezuela (who came to Chicago’s YIM 2009) and additionally follows the famous Venezuelan “sistema” of preparing music students for professional careers via an intense formation process that is 70% practical and 30% theoretical.
Although several chamber groups from the orchestra itself will participate in events around town, the full orchestra’s main concert, Barrios explains, will take place at the Hibbard Elementary School on May 7, where the performance will include “Salón México” by American composer Aaron Copland, a homage to Copland by Mexican composer Humberto Hernández, “Sensemaya” by Silvestre Revueltas, and “Danzón Número 8” by the renowned Mexican composer that gave the orchestra its name, Carlos Chávez.
I wondered how and why these particular pieces were chosen and Barrios answers that he chose them himself, although understandably in full communication with the festival’s organizing team. He notes that these are pieces that he likes immensely, and also considers will be well-liked by the audience, yet they are less familiar than other pieces might be and so they will encourage a process of discovery in the listeners. He is also of the opinion that these Mexican composers exemplify a special group that as of the end of the last century aided in the creation of a new kind of symphonic music for the world, which incorporated different lands’ folkloric melodies and rhythms, making the pieces fresh and accessible all at the same time.
Music, Barrios concludes, can offer hope to an ailing society and become an effective instrument in developing a different kind of culture, particularly its younger members: “These orchestras give youth the option to invest their free time in something that will offer sensations that are similar to what they are seeking in approaching delinquent groups: a sense of belonging, undertaking activities with same-age peers, participating in exciting activities, and obtaining the respect and admiration of others”.