Review: Toada e Desafio by Arthur Barbosa. Virtual Performance of the Ballard Chamber Orchestra and the Seattle Pacific University Orchestra (January 2021)
The piece Toada e Desafio for strings was written in 1997 and is based on folk music from the northern part of Brazil. As described by the composer, the piece is divided in two sections: “Toada is slow and melancholic,” and “Desafio is a Repente, a music form that is characterized for its musical duel between two parts.” In Repente, the improvisation of the verses between the performers is ongoing and unexpected, hence the name Repente, related to de repente or “suddenly.” This movement is based on the Baiao, a Brazilian rhythm characterized by dotted and syncopated rhythms.
Toada e Desafio begins with accentuated quarter notes and a descending minor second in each measure, creating a dramatic mourning effect. This minor second becomes an accompaniment for the melody in the next section. This melody, played by the violins, is based on the previous accentuated quarter notes. This is followed by a cello and violin solo over accentuated long notes in the rest of the strings. In the next section, the melody is in the cellos and violas while the violins are playing the accompaniment based on the quarter notes from the beginning. The music in the Toada is dramatic and expressive, transporting the listener to a unique musical atmosphere. The composer refers it to as “a wide and isolated sea in the Northeast of Brazil.”
Desafio starts right after the Toada. With fast rhythms, metric changes, and string techniques such as portamentos, glissandos, double stops, pizzicatos, and percussive sounds made by playing the back of the instrument, this movement is challenging for any ensemble. The main melody in the second violins and is later taken by the first violins while the violas and cellos play a rhythmic accompaniment. This melody transitions to the cellos and later is taken on the violas while the violins play a rhythmic accompaniment. Between these musical duels, all the strings play an interlude with syncopated dotted rhythms. While the first and second violin solo plays, the others accompanythem them with a percussive rhythm played on the back of the instrument. The music leads to a fast and short coda. The composer refers it as representing “the festive nature of the people from the Northeast of Brazil.”
This piece is well written for the strings and offers a unique experience with the music of Brazil. It combines elements from the popular and the classical realms. The Ballard Chamber Orchestra and the Seattle Pacific University Orchestra played flawlessly. The video has an introduction by Prof. Christopher Hanson, Director of Music Education and Orchestral Activities at Pacific Lutheran University, the composer Arthur Barbosa, and Ms. Elizabeth Fortune, Director of Orchestras at Ballard High School. The result of this collaboration has brought the students a unique perspective and experience with Brazilian music. The video is effective in showing the score as the music is performed. I truly enjoyed this performance and hope more ensembles play pieces by this wonderful composer.
Luis Fernandez, DMA, University of Miami; MM, University of Florida; Assistant Professor of Strings and Music Education at University of Wisconsin Green Bay. Fernandez is a native of Venezuela, has performed with Simon Bolivar Orchestra, New World Symphony, Weidner Philharmonic (as concertmaster), and at Aspen Music Festival.