El Puerto Rico, which debuted in 2018, is a project of the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MIFA), Don Sanders, executive director. The project has commissioned new works inspired by Puerto Rico for the Victory Players, a MIFA-sponsored ensemble of young musicians from around the U.S. under the direction of Tianhui Ng.
El Puerto Rico III featured compositions by Gabriel Bouche Caro, Carlos Carrillo, Johanny Navarro, Christian Quiñoes, Iván Rodriguez, and Omar Surillo.
Because of the pandemic, many of the pieces were composed as duets, and recorded and presented virtually by New England Public Media in January of 2021.
In June of 2021, NEPM, MIFA and WGBH Music collaborated to bring the Victory Players to WGBH’s Fraser Performance Studio in Boston to record the ensemble performing 10 new works inspired by Puerto Rico.
For El Puerto Rico IV, the Victory Players performed works by J.J. Peña Aguayo, Gabriel Bouche Caro, Armando Bayolo, Johanny Navarro, Christian Quinoñes, Iván Rodriguez, Tony Solitro, Omar Surillo and Liliya Ugay.
The Victory Players
Tianhui Ng, Music Director
Nathan Ben-Yehuda, piano
Clare Monfredo, cello
Giovanni A. Perez, flute
Robert Rocheteau, percussion
Eric Schultz, clarinet
Elly Toyoda, violin
In addition to the videos of the June performances, we invite you to explore videos of interviews with the composers, a video of the January 2021 virtual presentation, and two radio programs of the performances. There's also a nine episode podcast series
featuring performances of all of the works from El Puerto Rico III and IV, along with interviews with all the composers. The series features sixteen new works by ten composers including: José Javier Peña Aguayo, Armando Bayolo, Carlos Carrillo, Gabriel Bouche Caro, Johanny Navarro, Christian Quiñones, Iván Enrique Rodriguez, Tony Solitro, Omar Surillo, and Liliya Ugay.
El Puerto Rico III: Identity Duets
A virtual chamber concert event took place in January 2021 called El Puerto Rico III: Identity Duets. The concert included duets by Puerto Rican composers Gabriel Bouche Caro, Carlos Carrillo, Johanny Navarro, Christian A. Quiñones, Iván Enrique Rodríguez and Omar Surillo.
El Puerto Rico IV: The Rich Port
A chamber concert event called El Puerto Rico IV: The Rich Port was recorded in June 2021 and released in the fall.
Several videos were produced for the performances by The Victory Players as well as interviews with the composers.
Tianhui Ng is director of orchestral studies at Mt. Holyoke College, and he is the music director of the Victory Players, the Pioneer Valley Symphony, the Boston Opera Collaborative and White Snake Projects.
Composer Gabriel Bouche Caro uses a colloquial term to describe the political status of Puerto Rico: "Ni fú, ni fa," roughly translating to "neither here nor there."
What can one single voice do amid all the noise of the world? That is a question central to composer Tony Solitro's "Canción Exaltada."
When composer Iván Enrique Rodriguez moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland U.S., his sense of "Puerto Rican-ness" slowly shifted.
The title for composer Armando Bayolo's contribution to El Puerto Rico, "Nadie Puede Dar Lo Que No Lo Tiene," comes from Ramón Emeterio Betances, the leader of a failed uprising against Spanish rule in 1868.
Composer Liliya Ugay's experience of Puerto Rico exists only in her imagination. She had originally planned to travel there prior to the pandemic, but has only gotten as close as Florida. Her composition focuses on the idea of the "Island of Enchantment."
At a protest centered around the death of George Floyd in 2020, composer J.J. Peña Aguayo saw bomba musicians leading the way.
Like many Puerto Ricans living away, composer Omar Surillo can’t visit home as often as he’d like. But his music brings memories of home and childhood to the listener.
The rhythms of the bomba, Puerto Rico’s traditional dance music, are the underpinnings of composer Johanny Navarro’s work, "Belén: Un Canto Sagrado a mis Ancestros" (“A Sacred Chant to my Ancestors”).
Composer Christian Quiñones, who participated in El Puerto Rico IV, said his music channeled a dichotomy between beauty and the fear of letting go.