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At-A-Glance

Composed: 1953

Orchestration: piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets (3rd=bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd=contrabassoon), 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (xylophone, clave, tamburo [side drum], panderta [tambourine], triangle, cymbals, maracas, redoblante [snare drum], and bongos), harp, piano, celesta, and strings

About this Piece

Born in Spain to a musical family, Julián Orbón was twice a reluctant immigrant, first to Cuba with his family as a result of the Spanish Civil War, then to Mexico and, ultimately, the U.S. following the Cuban Revolution. Through all his travels, studies (including work with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood in 1946), and development as an artist, Orbón retained his formative affection for the Spanish neoclassicism of Manuel de Falla, composing many works inspired by earlier music.

That is quite apparent in the Tres Versiones Sinfónicas (1953), which also suggest something of the range of Orbón’s interests. The first is—or was—a stately 16th-century pavana for vihuela (a Spanish plucked instrument, like a cross between a guitar and a lute) by Luis de Milán; the second draws on melismatic 12th-century Parisian polyphony by Pérotin; and the finale is inspired by a relentlessly athletic Afro-Caribbean dance, with a traditional tune carried prominently by the xylophone. “Versions” is a nice word for these pieces, which

are not arrangements, or even variations, except in the loosest sense. Rather, they are freely recomposed settings of some aspects of the source material, completely reimagined for orchestra: that “symphonic” adjective is defining, as all three are impressive examples of orchestral virtuosity, in both conception and execution. —John Henken