For Maria Cordova, the chance to bring “Canto General Siglo XXI” home to Charleston was irresistible.
“It’s very close to my heart,” Cordova said of the piece, a chamber-music setting of Pablo Neruda’s poems, written and directed by her brother Miguel Cordova. “When I saw it first in D.C., I thought I would love the public in Charleston to see it. It was like showing my family something beautiful.”
It really is a family affair: the Piccolo Spoleto performance on Sunday, May 27, will feature her niece Elisa and younger brother Rodrigo, who she said “started learning to act in my mother’s womb,” because her mother was a playwright.
Miguel Cordova derived the chamber cantata’s text from Neruda’s books “Canto General” and “2000.” Elisa Cordova will sing some of the poems Miguel Cordova has chosen while Rodrigo Cordova will read others during the performance.
The piece’s “Siglo XXI” (or “21st Century”) allusion is a nod to a “Canto General” adaptation that Miguel Cordova had worked on with Neruda himself in the 1970s. For this updated version, which has had performances in Washington, D.C., Paris and London as part of an international tour, he has received approval from the Pablo Neruda Foundation.
“The challenge for him has been choosing new poems and, of course, composing new music, and to make it as original as possible,” Maria Cordova said of her brother.
There was no concern, however, over whether Neruda’s poems from the 1950s and 1970s would hold up today.
“They tell a story that's not being told very much,” she said. “Miguel thought it was nice to do a new one for the 21st century, mostly to keep the flame of Neruda alive because he was an excellent poet.”
In creating this concert, Miguel Córdova combined Neruda’s poetry with folk, pop and classical music.
Irina Pevzner, a pianist and executive director of the Charleston Academy of Music, said she has never seen anything like “Canto General Siglo XXI” in the 15 years she has attended Piccolo Spoleto. Pevzner isn’t worried about its mix of styles.
“Tied to one person, this poet, and one ensemble who’s performing it, it provides that unifying element and allows the audience to perceive that as unified variety,” she said.
Pevzner, whose organization helped provide the musicians who will fill out the ensemble, said she was taken by how the piece’s combination of music and poetry enhanced the experience of each.
"Just like with poetry, you have to think, 'What’s between the lines?’ ” Pevzner said. “I think the composer really made that attempt to let the music speak what is unspoken.”