A Cuban master, honored

Yesterday I had the honor and privilege of having breakfast with the great Cuban composer Aurelio de la Vega. He was visiting Miami with his lovely wife, the soprano Anne Marie Ketchum (a wonderful interpreter of his songs). We had a great talk about classical music, music education and, of course, politics. How can you avoid that topic at Versailles?



Dr. de la Vega is one of Cuba’s greatest composers and a Cuban cultural treasure — listen to his orchestral masterpiece “Adios.” Dr. de la Vega and his wife were passing through Miami for a few days visiting friends before going to New York City to receive the Ignacio Cervantes Medal for excellence in classical music. Ignacio Cervantes was Cuba’s preeminent nineteenth century classical composer.

Here is the press release announcing the award:

New York Cuban Cultural Center to Recognize CSUN Professor Emeritus Aurelio de la Vega for His Contributions to Classical Music

Media Contact: Carmen Ramos Chandler, (818) 677-2130

(NORTHRIDGE, Calif., Jun. 11th, 2012) — California State University, Northridge music professor emeritus Aurelio de la Vega, an internationally recognized composer, will be honored by Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York with the Ignacio Cervantes Medal, the organization’s lifetime achievement award for excellence in classical music.

De la Vega, 86, of Northridge, will be traveling to New York later this month to receive the honor. The center is hosting a special concert featuring performances of his work on June 29 in New York City as part of the celebration.

Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York (Cuban Cultural Center of New York), a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution founded by Cuban exiles to preserve, develop and disseminate the rich Cuban and Cuban-American cultural heritage, has only awarded the Ignacio Cervantes Medal, named for the Cuban virtuoso pianist and composer, to seven individuals in the past 13 years.

“This is quite an honor,” de la Vega said. “It is very nice when you are at the end of your life to receive accolades particularly those that recognize the hard work you have done over the years. It’s nice to get these honors before you disappear.”

De la Vega was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1925 and studied law at the University of Havana and music composition at the Conservatario Ada Iglesias. He also studied independently with Fritz Kramer in Havana and Ernst Toch in Los Angeles. De la Vega served as a cultural attaché at the Cuban Consulate in Los Angeles and toured the United States as a lecturer from 1952 to 1954 before settling in Los Angeles. De la Vega joined the faculty of what was then San Fernando Valley State College, now Cal State Northridge, in 1959.

Throughout his teaching years and in the years since his retirement in 1993, de la Vega has been an active composer and music lecturer. His list of compositions includes symphonic pieces, chamber music works, solo instrumental pieces, vocal works and piano, guitar, ballet and electronic compositions. Major orchestras and prominent soloists throughout the world have performed his works.

The composer has been the recipient of many prizes and distinctions, including having twice received the Friedheim Award of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In 2008, he was nominated for a Latin Grammy.

In 2000, the Library of Congress honored de la Vega when his graphic score, “The Magic Labyrinth,” was included in the library’s 733-page volume, “Music History from Primary Sources.” Among the music greats included with him were Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Gershwin, Handel, Liszt, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Puccini, Stravinsky and Verdi.

A new CD featuring three of his piano trios from 1949 has been released by the B3:Brouwer Trio. “The Beautiful Cuban Woman,” produced by Latin Grammy-nominee producer and composer Yalil Guerra, includes chamber music from Cuban composers from the 19th century to today.

“It is a fitting tribute,” de la Vega said. “Cuban women are a tremendous force in the cultural affairs of Cuba, as all women are in preserving the arts, the culture, the soul of their communities.”

Later this year, de la Vega is to be further recognized with a special concert of his work in Madrid Spain. In December, the composer will travel to Miami for another concert and to receive recognition from the area’s Cuban art museum.

“I am constantly working,” said de la Vega, adding that as long as his health holds out he will continue to work.

California State University, Northridge is a regionally focused, nationally recognized university serving more than 34,000 full- and part-time students in the San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas. Founded in 1958, Cal State Northridge is among the largest universities in the nation and is ranked among the top universities for bachelor’s degrees awarded to minority students. It has nine colleges and more than 2,000 faculty members who teach courses leading to bachelor’s degrees in 69 disciplines, master’s degrees in 58 fields and doctorates in education and physical therapy, as well as 28 teaching credential programs. Continuously evolving and changing to meet the needs of California and the nation at large, the university is home to dozens of acclaimed programs where students gain valuable hands-on experience working alongside faculty and industry professionals, whether in the sciences, health care and engineering or education, political science, the arts and the social sciences.

Friday night a concert of Dr. de la Vegas’ music will be held before the awarding of the medal. If you are in New York, be sure to attend and honor of our cultural touchstones.

Aurelio de la Vega: A Celebration and a Tribute, “2012 Ignacio Cervantes Medal”

Friday, June 29, 2012 @ 7 pm

A concert in honor of Cuban composer Aurelio de la Vega, considered one of the greatest exponents of contemporary art music. Mr. de la Vega is the 2012 recipient of the Ignacio Cervantes Medal, the CCCNY’s lifetime achievement award for excellence in classical music. With Cuban pianist Martha Marchena and American soprano Anne Marie Ketchum.


“About My Music” Aurelio de la Vega, Composer

Epigrama (“Epigram”), for piano (1953)
Toccata, for piano (1957)

Martha Marchena, pianist

La Fuente Infinita (“The Infinite Fountain”), cycle of songs for soprano and piano (1944), on poems by José Francisco Zamora (Cuba)
1. Se ama más de una vez (“One loves more than once”)
2. El verdadero amor (“The truth of love”)
3. Invocación (“Invocation”)

Anne Marie Ketchum, soprano, Martha Marchena, pianist

The Ignacio Cervantes Medal Award Ceremony

THE AMERICAS SOCIETY, Park Ave. @ 68th St., NYC. Admission: FREE for CCCNY and AS members. Non-members: $10. To register, go here. or email here for more information.

This event is organized and presented by the Cuban Cultural Center of New York, in collaboration with Americas Society, partially supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

2 thoughts on “A Cuban master, honored”

    • Heh. That’s a new one. I’ve been called a Jew and a northern Italian, but never a Latvian. Yes, my parents and grandparents were all vetted by the ICC (The Imperial Commission on Cubanity).

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