Diaspora Duo blends new music with folk influence at Baylor

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Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2013 12:01 am | Updated: 8:12 am, Thu Aug 22, 2013.

Folk music seems on the left end of the musical timeline, but Venezuelan twosome the Diaspora Duo aims to explore its appearance in fresh classical compositions.

Pianist Alfredo Ovalles, a Baylor University graduate, and violinist Raul Saurez will perform some of their latest discoveries in a free recital entitled “Roots: Folk Music After the 20th Century” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Baylor’s Roxy Grove Hall.

The two are returning from several weeks at the annual Aspen Music Festival in Aspen, Colo., and wanted more opportunities to perform before returning to Venezuela, then going to Europe where they work and study.

Saurez will go to Madrid, Spain, after finishing his studies at the Paris Conservatory, while Ovalles heads to Vienna, Austria, where he performs as pianist and continues post-graduate studies at the University for the Performing Arts.

It marks a return to Waco for Ovalles, who studied piano under Baylor artist-in-residence Krassimira Jordan and graduated in 2011 with a master’s degree in piano performance and collaborative piano.

“We’re excited to do (the Baylor recital). I’m very curious to how the audience will respond,” Ovalles said.

The Diaspora Duo 
started in Venezuela in 2006 as a student collaboration on a Brahms horn trio. The hornist moved on to Germany, but Ovalles and Saurez found they shared some of the same interests and continued to perform together.

One of those shared interests was contemporary classical music, particularly works inspired by folk tunes, and the two created the Diaspora Duo to pursue it. Playing as the duo has kept the musicians globe-trotting. This year, the Diaspora Duo has performed in Byelorussia, France, Peru and the United States.

Keeping up with fresh work can be a challenge. Ovalles said he and Saurez often attend contemporary concerts and recitals simply to hear new compositions and, in some cases, meet the creators.

“There’s a lot of new music being done. The trick is going for it,” he said.

Many times, the duo’s most enthusiastic supporters are composers.

“Almost all of them get excited when you ask to play their music,” Ovalles said.

While folk music often is perceived as driven by melody, it varies by culture. In some countries, folk music has distinctive rhythms or tonal qualities; in others, it’s strongly melodic.

Tuesday’s program shows the varied forms folk-influenced composition can take with Bela Bartok’s “Rhapsody No. 1”; Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Suenos de Chambi: Snapshots for an Andean Album”; Esteban Benzecry’s “Rapsodia Andina”; Paul Desenne’s “Venezuelan Suite”; and Fazil Say’s Violin Sonata.

The recital samples East European gypsy music plus flavors of South American and Turkish folk music.

“You can see lots of differences in the music and the different approaches to it that composers take,” Ovalles said.

He said audiences provide a necessary feedback in the creation of new music: A positive response shows there’s value in the work.

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