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Symphony to highlight Brazilian music, with guest conductor-composer, in season-ending concert

Friendly chatter and the chaotic, wildly random sounds of instruments—strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion—slowly quiet as Arthur Barbosa settled himself on a stool, facing a few dozen musicians in a rehearsal room in UND's music department.

"Excuse my bad English," Barbosa told the group. "We will try to communicate through the music."

Barbosa, a composer, violinist and music researcher, had arrived only a day before from Porto Alegre, Brazil, to serve as guest conductor for the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra's final performance of the season.

The concert, set for 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Empire Arts Center, is titled, "The Music of Brazil." The program features compositions by Barbosa, including the world premiere of "Suite Chimango No. 1," which he wrote four years ago with the intention of unveiling it in Grand Forks, said Alejandro Drago, conductor of the GGFSO.

The piece is based on an operetta of the same name, he said.

Another Barbosa composition, "Violin Concerto," will also be performed, with Drago as the featured violinist.

During Tuesday's rehearsal, as the musicians fixed their attention on the conductor, responding to his cues by baton and voice, the unmistakable lure of Latin music and occasional syncopated rhythms filled the air in the band room at Hughes Fine Arts Center.

By turns, there's the familiar hint of the tango, a nod to the march, and what could be the strain of a triumphant anthem. Moments of high energy are mixed with more subdued passages.

Brazilian theme

Sunday's concert will open with the "Brazilian Series," by Alberto Nepomuceno. The fourth of the composition's four movements, "Batuque—Danca de Negro," or "Black People's Dance," is the most well-known, Drago said.

It will continue with the last movement from "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2," by Heitor Villa-Lobos, he said.

In the "Toccata: The Peasant's Little Train," the audience will hear musicians "recreate the sound of the train," Drago said.

Audience members will have the opportunity to enjoy an orchestral performance completely focused on Brazilian music, which "is characterized by rich, rhythmic variety," he said. "There's a special kind of melody.

"Brazilian music uses a great variety of percussion instruments—more than other cultures."

It is also noted for "synthesizing influences from Europe, African-Brazilians and indigenous Brazilian people," Drago said.

Barbosa "is a specialist in these genres, in Brazilian music and in Latin American music in general," he said. "He has incorporated all of this great diversity into his compositions."

It's a rare opportunity when an orchestra is invited to perform the world premiere of a composition, Drago said. Rarer still, when the composer himself is present to conduct it.

"It's exciting for the musicians to work under the composer," he said. "The musicians will have input from him. It's getting everything from the horse's mouth, so to say.

"He goes beyond what a guest conductor would do."

Rare opportunity

Barbosa has studied composition with some of the great masters, including Hans Koelheuter, but he considers himself, as a composer, to be fundamentally self-taught, Drago said.

It is a rare opportunity for orchestra members to perform the world premiere of a composition, Drago said.

The GGFSO musicians are excited about that, as well as the chance to perform under the baton of the work's composer, he said.

Barbosa's compositions have been performed by respected orchestras and chamber orchestras in more than 15 counties, including the United States, Argentina, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Hungary.

In 2003, Barbosa began working as a resident composer at the Musica nas Montanhas Music Festival in Pocos de Caldas, Brazil, where he also taught composition.

A composer of soundtracks for films, plays and contemporary dance, he has received awards in recognition of his work.

His compositions include symphonies, soloist concertos, musicals, overtures, trios, quartets, and works for string orchestra and other ensembles.

Barbosa has been working as a conductor with several groups and has served as guest conductor in performances of his works as well as those in the traditional repertoire.

What: Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra Concert, "The Music of Brazil"

When: 2:30 p.m., Sunday

Where: Empire Arts Center, 415 DeMers

Tickets: $25 for general admission; $15 for students and military with ID. Call (701) 746-5500.

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