Sojourns on the Silk Road: From the Orient to the Occident is a musical journey from East Asia to Spain, seen through the lens of French Romanticism and contrasted with authentic expressions of heritage by Spanish composers. The 19th century Western conception of “the Orient” was largely based on colonial expansions into Africa and Asia during that time. The perceived "exotic" elements of these distant lands and peoples took hold in the imagination of the West with artists and musicians creating their own fantasies of “the Orient,” which could be anywhere from China to Turkey to Morocco to Spain. This concert highlights songs by French composers evoking “the Orient” and contrasts them with Spanish composers inspired by idiomatic folk music from Andalusia with its own legacy of Moorish and Romani influences. Featured composers include Bizet, Ravel, Debussy, De Falla, Albeníz, and Tárrega.
Mezzo-soprano Jessica Blau has performed with opera companies throughout the United States. During the 2018-2019 season, she sang the title role in Opera Cultura's La Llorona (San Jose), Rosina in a bilingual touring production of The Barber of Seville with Portland Opera To Go (Portland), and Cherubino in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro with Pocket Opera (San Francisco). Ms. Blau has a Bachelor of Arts in Art History with a concentration in Latin American and Iberian Studies from Bard College, in addition to a Master of Music from Texas State University, San Marcos, and a Performance Certificate from the University of Houston Moores School of Music, both in Vocal Performance. The repertoire presented this evening is a curated collection of cultural vignettes inspired by Ms. Blau’s extensive travels throughout Spain and Asia, most notably her time spent living in Seville, Spain and in Yangshuo, China. These experiences, combined with her love of French romanticism, have come together in this program to weave a common thread along the Silk Road with brief stops along the way in far-off places.
Fanny Ara is a dancer uniquely qualified to bring this music to life. The French Basque native is an internationally sought-after and award-winning choreographer, performer, and instructor credited as one of the foremost dancers “breaking boundaries in flamenco” today (Alice Blumenfeld, Dance Magazine). She is an artist who excels in the full spectrum of flamenco, from the most traditional to the avant-garde. Fanny has toured extensively in Canada, Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa, and throughout Europe. She has been distinguished with nominations from the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards in the categories of Most Outstanding Individual Dancer, Most Outstanding Music Ensemble, Individual Performance for her project, Juncal Street, and Best Ensemble for her work with the San Francisco Opera in La Traviata. Fanny has done many collaborations in the classical music world, including a notable performance as a featured soloist in Washington National Opera’s 2016 production of Bizet’s Carmen.
Chicago native Katherine Ciscon received her bachelor’s degree in Piano from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and a double master’s degree in Piano Performance and Collaborative Arts from the University of Houston Moores School of Music. She was named Principal Pianist of Houston Ballet in 1995 and has also been a vocal coach and Visiting Artist Professor of Music at the Moores School of Music. While at Houston Ballet, Ms. Ciscon has performed as a soloist in the world premieres of Justin Peck’s Reflections, Stanton Welch’s Class, Nosotros, and The Core, Garret Smith’s Reveal, James Kudelka’s Passion, Ben Stevenson’s Eclipse, and Trey McIntyre’s Bound, among others.