Hispanic Heritage Month

5 Classical Artists to Add to Your Playlist this Hispanic Heritage Month

by Mary Lathem

Traditionally known as Hispanic Heritage Month, the period between September 15 and October 15 is a time to celebrate the rich historical and cultural contributions of the Hispanic and Latinx communities. We picked 5 of the countless Hispanic and Latinx artists who have made their mark on the classical music world to add to your listening queue, but don’t stop here! Listen to Concierto – WDAV’s weekly program spotlighting music by Latin American and Spanish composers and musicians – to learn about more influential artists, Sundays at 6 PM. Concierto is presented in both Spanish and English. 

Are “Hispanic,” “Latino,” and “Latinx” synonymous? Not quite – though they’re sometimes used interchangeably in the United States, there are important differences between the three terms. “Hispanic” refers to those who descend from primarily Spanish-speaking countries (including Spain), and “Latino” refers to those who descend from Latin American countries, regardless of Spanish-speaking heritage. “Latinx” was introduced around 2004 as a gender-inclusive term for people of Latin American cultural or ethnic identity. At the end of the day, identity is personal to each individual!

1. Martina Arroyo

American soprano Martina Arroyo’s remarkable talent was discovered when she began to study voice as a hobby in college. Martina continued her voice training after graduation while working as an English teacher and a social worker, embarking on a legendary career after winning the Metropolitan Opera’s Audition of the Air competition in 1957. Though she built a significant following in Europe, Martina held especially close ties to the Metropolitan Opera, where she was a principal soprano for over a decade. Particularly well known for her portrayal of Verdi heroines, Martina is considered a pioneer for performers of African and Puerto Rican descent and continues to pass on her legacy through teaching and masterclasses.

Video: Martina Arroyo, Oralia Dominguez: “Recordare” – Requiem (Verdi) – 1969

2. Alondra de la Parra

Award-winning Mexican American conductor Alondra de la Parra, known for her “spellbinding and vibrant” conducting style, shows a particular commitment to the work of Latin American conductors. She was named Music Director of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in 2017, making her the first female principal conductor of an Australian symphony orchestra, and left the post earlier this year. Alondra currently serves as an official Cultural Ambassador of Mexico. 

3. Ricardo Kanji

Brazilian recorder player, flutist, conductor, and luthier Ricardo Kanji, a founding member of both the Orchestra of the 18th Century and the choir and orchestra Vox Brasiliensis, has specialized in Baroque and Classical interpretation for the majority of his career. Recently, his work reflects a special interest in preserving the music of Brazil’s colonial period. 

Video: Bach – Concerto in D major with Ricardo Kanji

4. Gabriela Lena Frank

Listed as one of the 35 most significant women composers in history by the Washington Post, composer Gabriela Lena Frank’s music “often reflects not only her own personal experience as a multi-racial Latina, but also refract her studies of Latin American cultures, incorporating poetry, mythology, and native musical styles into a western classical framework that is uniquely her own” (from Gabriela’s personal bio). Among numerous achievements and awards, Gabriela is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a USA Artist Fellowship, and a Latin Grammy award. Outside of composition, Gabriela is a virtuosic pianist who specializes in contemporary repertoire. 

Video: Gabriela Lena Frank on the future of classical music

5. Ricardo Iznaola

Cuban American guitarist, composer, teacher, and author Ricardo Iznaola is one of the preeminent classical guitarists of his generation. Over a career spanning four decades, Ricardo has won 9 international prizes, published over 50 musical scores and 4 books, and served as Professor of Guitar at the University of Denver for 32 years. Ricardo was inducted into the Guitar Foundation of America’s Hall of Fame in 2016 and received the foundation’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award.

Video: “Milongueo del Ayer” Ricardo Iznaola, Gregory (Grisha) Nisnevich-guitars

Spotify Playlist

  1. Ganymed (Ganymede), Op. 19, No. 3, D544 (Franz Schubert) – Martina Arroyo
  2. Aida: Act III, “Qui Ramadès verrà… O cieli azzurri…” (Giuseppe Verdi) – Martina Arroyo
  3. “Sobre las Olas” – Juventino Rosas, Alondra de la Parra
  4. Concerto para Violão e Orquestra: II. Ibéria – Francis Hime, Alondra de la Parra
  5. “Landum” (Anonymous) – Ricardo Kanji
  6. “Matais de Incêndios” (Anonymous) – Ricardo Kanji
  7. Danza de los Muñecos – Gabriela Lena Frank
  8. Sonata Andina: IV. Finale Saqsampillo – Gabriela Lena Frank
  9. Ten Etudes-Homages: 8. Homage to Rachmaninoff – Ricardo Iznaola
  10. Valse Op. 64, No. 1 – Ricardo Iznaola

The Genesis of Concíerto

Frank Dominguez

Frank Dominguez, WDAV General Manager and Content Director, Host, Concíerto

When Hispanic Heritage Month ends in mid-October, it will coincide with an important milestone for me: the 5th anniversary of the debut of my bilingual classical music program Concierto.

Back then I had been working at WDAV for sixteen years, and had never thought of producing such a program. It was our general manager at the time, Ben Roe, who asked me if I was bilingual, and whether I could produce a classical music program in Spanish. My response was, “Sure… but why?”

Ben explained the potential he saw in such a program to attract a new audience based on the demographic trends evident in the region and the country. I set about the task, and the result has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.

Even though the idea had evaded me, I knew that classical music was loved by many Hispanics and had always been an important part of their cultures. My parents, who immigrated to this country in 1948 with the equivalent of a grade school education, did not know much about classical music. But they knew enough to tune the radio to WQXR in New York where I grew up, and soon realized how drawn I was to the music as a child.

I also had working class relatives who listened to classical music, like my older cousin Frankie who had a bust of Beethoven in his bedroom. And we had neighbors who were passionate about the music like Domingo, who was a doorman on the Upper East Side, but never failed to buy season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera.

On Concierto we alternate classical music by Spanish and Latin American composers with more familiar fare from the likes of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but performed by Hispanic and Latino musicians and ensembles. In this way we demonstrate the deep roots classical music has in Spanish-speaking countries. The bilingual presentation adds an element of authenticity, and hopefully announces to newcomers that they are welcome.

Now five years later Concierto is heard on about 35 stations nationwide, ranging from San Juan, Puerto Rico to the San Fernando Valley in California. The feedback we get from listeners is overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Spanish speakers are delighted to hear their cultures represented in a different and positive way, while English speakers are pleased to discover appealing repertory and artists unfamiliar to them.

I would never have imagined it when I started working at WDAV, but I sure am glad.


Listen to Concierto on Sunday evenings at 10:00 p.m. on WDAV Classical Public Radio.

Are you in the Charlotte area? Tune into 89.9FM Classical Public Radio.
Prefer to stream? Listen live at WDAV.org or on Apple and Android apps.