Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya
♦ 8 p.m. July 12-13
♦ Grant Park Music Festival, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St.
♦ (312) 742-7638;
Updated: July 10, 2013 3:44PM
Because the history of classical music is firmly rooted in Europe and the centuries-old genre continues to be heavily associated with that continent, it is easy to overlook how far its influence has spread.
For proof, look no further than “Caminos del Inka,” a multimedia initiative that Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya began in 2007 to explore and promote the often little-known classical music of South America.
To date, it has spotlighted nearly 100 works from the 18th century to the present, through concerts with orchestras in Europe and South and North America, including the Chicago Symphony, as well as the prestigious Tanglewood and Aspen music festivals.
“I am very passionate about this music and bringing it to as many audiences as I can,” said Harth-Bedoya, music director of the Fort Worth (Texas) Symphony. He founded a non-profit organization to oversee the project and fund the accompanying research, promotional and educational efforts.
He’s bringing the program to the Grant Park Music Festival, which will offer its first-ever “Caminos del Inka” concerts at 8 p.m. July 12-13 in Millennium Park.
Harth-Bedoya’s project was inspired by the Inca Trail, an ancient series of pathways that link what are now Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina, but it also speaks to the broader musical fabric linking all of the Americas.
Grant Park’s “Caminos del Inka” program opens with Daniel Alomía Robles’ “El Condor Pasa” (“The Condor Passes”), which is based on a cachua, a kind of circle dance in which the participants mimic the movements of birds and animals. The indigenous tune, possibly thousands of years old, is one of nearly 700 that the Peruvian composer collected in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia at the turn of the last century.
Some of the “Caminos del Inka” composers have achieved some degree of fame, such as 20th-century Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, but many are all but unknown or forgotten.
“It is a treasure,” Harth-Bedoya said of the works he has uncovered, “that only in the last 10 years or so has begun to be heard more widely, owing in part to the fact that much of the South American music tradition has been oral rather than written. However, even written works that I have found have been tucked away in museums, libraries or people’s attics.”
Some of this might sound a bit dry or academic at first, but the conductor is quick to counter any such notions.
“I would say that audiences will not be disappointed,” he said. “They will discover that the music of the Americas has variety and depth. They will hear rhythms and tunes that they recognize, for example, in ‘El Condor Pasa’ (a song covered in 1970 by Simon & Garfunkel).”
In 1778, Spanish cleric Baltasar Jaime Martinez Companon was named bishop of the northern Peruvian town of Trujillo, and in 1782-85, he conducted a series of expeditions around the region that included gathering some 20 folk melodies. Harth-Bedoya arranged a piece titled “Coleccion de Musica Virreinal” (“Collection of Viceroyal Music”), based on three of these tunes.
In addition to Chilean composer Enrique Soro’s “Danza Fantastica” (1905), the rest of the program is devoted to contemporary works by Diego Luzuriaga, Gabriela Frank, Osvaldo Golijov and Jimmy Lopez.
While Harth-Bedoya has already explored a swath of musical history that was once largely ignored, he has no plans to stop.
“I am continually surprised by the amount of music there is to uncover,” he said. “There is always more work to be done.”
Kyle MacMillan is a locally based free-lance writer.