Album (& Book!) Review: Danzas Puertorriqueñas – Juan F. Acosta by Hermelindo Ruiz Mestre & Friends

If you swung by the blog last week you’ll know that I posted up a Q&A with Puerto Rican guitarist Hermelindo Ruiz Mestre.

If you missed it, click here and check it out.

Well, today I have for you a review of Hermelindo’s project, comprising a CD and accompanying sheet music book, of the music of little-known Puerto Rican composer Juan F. Acosta (1890 – 1968) – Danzas Puertorriqueñas.

As the name suggests this project presents a series of Acosta’s Puerto Rican dances, ten in all, each with a slightly different flavour. The decision to choose which of the dances to present in this project must have been a tricky one as Acosta apparently wrote 752 of them!  Without knowing any of the other pieces, mostly written as study type pieces for piano in their original form, I’d say that Hermelindo has selected well.

Each of the dances, as I said, has it’s own flavour and feel. They’re all fantastic little pieces around 3 to 4 minutes in length – a great length of piece to probably actually dance to funnily enough! And just enough to snare your interest, have you tapping your toe along, before rounding off and heading into the next tune. Seriously good Latin American melodies and dance rhythms. The sort of stuff I really love.

One of favourites on the album include album opener Ojos de ensueño. A lovely tune that leads you in oh so gently, before leading us into a wonderful dance that I defy anyone not to sway their body to (or least tap their toe!). Another top choice for me from the album is Rosarito y Luis, a lovely piece with just the slightest bittersweet melancholy flavour to it, lulling us along before launching headlong into a lively pulsating dance. And you can listen for yourself here:

My favourite track (after much deliberating and serious amount of listening!) is Bajo la sombra de un pino. It’s a little bit sultry, swaying and and dare I say, just a little bit sexy (ooh la la!). I can imagine myself in the Caribbean just sitting back listening to it!

In selecting the pieces to present on the album and the book Hermelindo says that “I noticed that the writing for this instrument is fairly simple and limited of pianistic effects. What I deducted from this was that the composer, as a teacher and conductor, always thought of these works as small studies that he could later orchestrate for other musical ensembles.

And this is precisely what Hermelindo has done with this project, transcribing each of the ten dances as a duet for two guitars. Wonderful! I shall certainly be taking a look at a few of these (especially the Bajo la sombra de un pino) with my duet partner!

In all of this I’ve neglected to speak of Hermelindo’s playing. Well, I can confirm it’s absolutely top of the class. Hermelindo works a beautiful, full and rich tone from his 2011 Garrett Lee guitar.

An absolutely wonderful offering from a very fine player, presenting the world music that would otherwise remain buried. Bravo Hermelindo!

And don’t forget to head over Hermelindo’s website to pick up your own copy of this fantastic album and duo transcriptions: http://www.hermelindoruiz.com/2/Acosta2

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Introducing Caribbean Classical Guitarist Hermelindo Ruiz Mestre

I’ve had the pleasure over the past few months to get to know, via the modern wonder of email and Facebook Messenger, a wonderful young Puerto Rican classical guitarist and composer by the name of Hermelindo Ruiz Mestre.

Hermelindo is a very unassuming and humble character, which belies his fantastic talent. He has awards aplenty including the Andrés Segovia- Ruiz Morales Prize (Spain 2011) and performed in prestigious concert halls such as Carnegie Hall in New York.

His talent also extends beyond playing the guitar. His prodigious talent in compositions led him to publish his first book, Con los dedos entre hilos, at age 21, which ncluded eight of his first compositions.

He holds degrees from the prestigious Yale University, where he was invited to pursuit a Master degree and an Artist Diploma on a Full-Scholarship. And he’s counted Luis E. Juliá, Dr. José A. López, and Benjamin Verdery amongst his guitar teachers.

I’ve also gotten to know Hermelindo’s fantastic playing and his work in exploring and bringing to a wider audience the music of Puerto Rico through his latest project. This marvellous project is an album and book of pieces (arranged by Hermelindo) by Puerto Rican composer Juan F Acosta, called Danzas Puertorriquenas.

If you enjoy Latin American-style music or you just enjoy exploring our musical world head back this way next week to check out my review of the album.

Hermelindo with Sergio Assad

But before you do that Hermelindo was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions. Read on!

Your album of pieces by Puerto Rican composer Juan F Acosta: Danzas Puertorriquenas is absolutely wonderful – well done! Fantastic arrangements and beautiful playing.  What inspired you to undertake this project?
It was a set of coincidences. I was asked to do an arrangement of “Bajo la sombra de un pino” – one of Puerto Rico’s s most famous dances. Most people don’t even know the composer of this piece and some people were speculating about his vast catalogue of pieces. Over time, I got in contact with the family of the composer and was one of very first musicians to have access to the 1,256 music scores that were hidden for decades after his death. This is actually a very ambitious project and many things inspired me through the process. But the main one is to let people know about this musical treasure.

What is or are your favorite piece or pieces on the recording?

My favorites are “Rosarito y Luis” and “Migda Enid”, they are both a lot of fun to play and I find them very interesting, especially because of their counterpoint. “Ojos de ensueño is another of my favorite ones.

Through from discovering the pieces through to releasing the recording, what was your favorite element of the project?

To work with incredible guitarist Steffen Besser (from Germany), Samuel Diz (from Spain), and Marco Sartor (from Uruguay). They are all superb musicians and each one taught me, in their way, an incredible amount of things. I loved every rehearsal, studio sections, and the memories I have from it. The other element was the excitement of getting into a music of which I could expect nothing, that sensation of discovering something new.

Is there anything you would do differently in approaching a new project?

I would say to plan less and let things move by themselves.

For the readers that may not be aware of you tell us a bit about Hermelindo Ruiz.
Hermelindo is a young dreamer from the Caribbean who believes in creativity and the force of art in humanity. I have been very lucky to have numerous musicians playing my own compositions all over around the globe. Outside of that, I live from playing my guitar in concerts. It is my goal to try to provoke something new in every person I have the privilege to know or to play for.

How did you get started on the guitar?
I got hypnotized watching a guitar player on the TV. My father noticed and made an offer: if I could manage to save half the money for a guitar, by working on the farm growing coffee, he will pay the other half and buy the instrument. I was about 8 years old at the time and agreed. From there, I started to take lessons on how to play the popular guitar. That is how all started.

What are your top tips for someone currently learning or thinking of learning the guitar?
Pay close attention to your fundamentals and feel proud of being undertaking one of the most excited trips of your life!!!

What music (both to play and to listen to) excites you the most and why?
My favorites composers up to today are: Wagner, Beethoven and Bartok. But it is actually difficult for me to answer. I’m still spending a lot of time learning the main repertoire for Classical Music, and I’m also very interested in the music of Latin America (which is really a huge amount of music), the Caribbean, and Central and North Americas. Ask me in 10 years and I will probably have a different answer.

When you’re not practicing and playing, what do you get up to?

Outside of the guitar, I do spend a lot of time composing, arranging and organizing everything related to my career. But, most of my free time is dedicated to meet and have fun with friends. I come from a very special place on the planet: in the Caribbean you better take time to meet with friends and enjoy mother nature; either in the river, in the beach, or in your house. The weather and the lifestyle is the perfect excuse to make a ‘get together’ at anytime of the day.

What can we expect from Hermelindo Ruiz in the near future?
Many things to come. I will keep traveling and playing concerts. I have had a decent online presence since the publication of my first book in 2008. But I have been very slow in sharing videos. I will be adding recordings of new and different repertoire, especially from Puerto Rico and my own compositions. Because it is a very personal repertoire, I was saving it just for my concerts. But I have play it a lot lived recently and I think it is time to open it for everybody.

I’m having some of the most exciting times of my life and I’m sure that will keep bringing ideas for the many things to come. Million thanks, Nicole!!!

So, there we go! What an inspirational character! As, I said above make sure you head back this way early next week to check out my review of Danzas Puertorriquenas.