At the top of today’s 50-minute National Public Radio feature on Silvestre Revueltas – the fourth radio documentary I’ve produced for the WAMU newsmagazine “1A” – I observe:
“Art promoting social justice is everywhere upon us. It’s what our composers and visual artists and playwrights want to produce, it’s what presenters want to present, it’s what our foundations want to fund. We all feel that we’re responding to a state of emergency, especially with regard to issues of race and social justice – and that includes composer of classical music.”
You can hear it here.
Mexico, in the 1920s and ‘30s, was a place where political art flourished. The political murals of Diego Rivera, the political music of Silvestre Revueltas rose above ideology and propaganda to inspirationally define a nation. How and why that happened – and what we can learn from it today – is the topic I pursue.
I’m joined by the social critic John McWhorter, author of the best-selling Woke Racism, who warns that woke activism can diminish the arts (go to 34:50).
My other guests are the Mexican composer Ana Lara, the Revueltas scholars Roberto Kolb and Lorenzo Candelaria, the historian John Tutino, and PostClassical Ensemble conductor Angel Gil-Ordonez. I also sample President John F. Kennedy’s arts advocacy and ponder its pertinence (go to 31:50).
For a fascinating comment on the caliber of Mexico’s political leadership in the thirties – President Lazaro Cardenes possessed a singular cultural/educational vision – go to 23:30.
My final thoughts, at the end of the show: “I’m reminded that William Faulkner had something pretty harsh to say in 1958. Faulkner wrote: ‘The artist has no more actual place in the American culture of today that than he has in the American economy of today, no place at all in the warp and woof, the thews and sinews, the mosiac of the American dream.’ President Kennedy was responding to the estrangement of American artists like Faulkner . . . Do the American arts, can the arts inspire social justice – can they help refresh American identity? Will there by an American Diego Rivera? Can we hope for an American Silvestre Revueltas?”
The show highlights a new PostClassical Ensemble Naxos CD – the world premiere recording of Revueltas’s complete soundtrack to the iconic film of the Mexican Revolution: Redes (1936), unforgettably shot by Paul Strand.
Revueltas – “Mexico’s most famous unknown composer” – figures prominently in my “new paradigm” for American classical music, explored in my new book Dvorak’s Prophecy and the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music.
To see a PostClassical Ensemble documentary film about Revueltas and Redes, click here.
To purchase the new CD with the complete soundtrack, click here.
To purchase a Naxos DVD with the complete film, click here.
I am again indebted to 1A producer Rupert Allman and 1A host Jenn White for this generous allocation of time for an important and ambitious topic, and to my colleague Peter Bogdanoff for his invaluable technical assistance.