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Conductor utilizes folk traditions

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Sergio Bernal is director of the orchestra at Utah State University.

Sergio Bernal is director of the orchestra at Utah State University.

USU Music Department

It isn't very often that a performing arts group from Utah State University drives south to play in Salt Lake City. But the USU Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Singers will do just that.

Under the baton of conductor Sergio Bernal, the two ensembles will give a free concert today in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. A repeat performance of a program they recently played in Logan, the concert celebrates the music of Latin America.

The highlight of the program is Bernal's Violin Concerto. A native of Colombia, Bernal draws extensively on Latin American folk traditions for inspiration. "The concerto uses folk idioms," he told the Deseret News in a phone interview. "I quote folk music and other Latin American music."

The piece is directly the result of Bernal's meeting with violinist Eddy Marcano several years ago. "Eddy Marcano plays in the first violin section of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. He also plays Venezuelan folk music. I have collaborated with him many times over the years."

Marcano traveled to Logan to give the world premiere performance of Bernal's concerto. "He is a wonderful violinist, and the concerto was received very well."

For today's concert, the soloist will be Leonora Reesor. "She is fantastic," Bernal said. "When I came here (to USU) to direct the orchestra, she was the concertmaster, and she spent her entire academic career here.

"She started learning the piece at the beginning of the semester, and she was very helpful in putting it together. The concerto is a challenge for the soloist, the conductor and the orchestra, but she is the ideal violinist for the piece."

Bernal studied conducting with the late Mexican conductor Eduardo Mata in Dallas, while Mata was the music director of the Dallas Symphony. "I met him as a student after I wrote him a letter saying I wanted to learn from him," Bernal said. After a while, Mata invited Bernal to join him in Venezuela, where he directed the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. "I worked with him for 10 years with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra," Bernal said. "It gave me a lot of exposure to Latin American composers."

After a decade in Venezuela, Bernal was eager to come back to the United States. "I had studied with Mr. Mata in the states. I loved the country, and I wanted to come back with my family."

While looking for a suitable position, Bernal came across an opening at USU. The school of music was searching for a director for its orchestra. It appealed to him, and he applied for the job and was hired. So, he and his family moved from South America to Logan in 2001.

In addition to his position in Logan, Bernal is also pursuing a doctorate in composition at the University of Utah. It was there, under the guidance of Morris Rosenzweig, that Bernal wrote his violin concerto. "Morris coached me," he said. "It was very stimulating. I received some sincere and helpful feedback from him."

Bernal is already sketching out future projects. "I am especially interested in writing more concerti for Venezuelan soloists," he said. Currently, however, he is busily at work on a string quartet for the Fry Street Quartet, which is in residence at USU. "I am looking forward to this. They are great musicians, not only as a quartet, but also as soloists."

Meanwhile, Bernal will head to Venezuela in May where his concerto will receive another performance. "This will be at a Latin American music festival in Caracas," he said. "Eddy Marcano will be the soloist and I will conduct."

Today's concert at the U. also includes Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Choros No. 10" for choir and orchestra; Jose Pablo Moncayo's "Huapango" for orchestra; Aldemaro Romero's "Fuga con Parajillo" for strings; and Antonio Estevez's "Mata del Anima Sola" for a cappella choir (conducted by USU choral director Cory Evans).

If you go . . .

What: Utah State University Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Singers

Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah

When: Today, 7 p.m.

How much: Free

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com