On the evening of January 23rd I attended a concert presented in the Auditorium of the Library and Archives Canada by the Embassy of Ecuador. Marcelo Ortiz, a Quebecker originally from Quito, was the performer, who plays both the piano and the guitar. Based in Quebec, he also sings, composes and studies ethnomusicology. The programme notes say that he is
a performer of great sensitivity and talent, who travels through the musical universe with his cultural background imprinted on his skin.I don't think he speaks much English, so he addresses his audience in French.
The first thing one notices about Marcelo Ortiz is the hat, a white fedora, embellished with a tassel at the back, on its black brim. Usually a concert pianist doesn't wear a hat on stage, but this was a special occasion, very Ecuadorian. The stage was decorated with the colourful "ecuador love life" logo which brightened up a dark winter's evening for me. As well as his hat, the performer wore a white shirt and black, embroidered waistcoat.
Before he played, Ortiz talked to us about the pentatonic scale, how it is universal, and as an example of its use, he improvised a melody on the black keys. It must be that which gives the music of Peru and Bolivia and Ecuador its melancholic quality. The Sarabande, so he told us, is of South American origins.
He played two of his own compositions, Pasional and Lamparilla, after first performing four short pieces by Gerardo Guevara (1941), one of which was a lyrical pasillo, this being a "poem in music," apparently. Guevara's Fiesta represented fireworks. Another 20th century Ecuadorian composer, Corsino Durán Carrión, was featured next. He too wrote pasillos, but his music, according to Ortiz, was more European or perhaps North American in flavour, influenced by Scott Joplin. I didn't feel it was very profound music, but it was pleasant to listen to.
"Composers are pianists; performers are guitarists," he said.
Now came a change in the programme when Ortiz picked up his guitar, tuned it, and accompanied himself in some songs, first of all Pobre Corazón (the link takes you to a recording he made of this song a few years ago, wearing a different hat), a Cuenca song, and then "a sad poem of loss by four poets" called Vasija de barro.
Ortiz finished his recital with a series of items by Luis Salgado, his one-time tutor (and a keen mountaineer). It included another pasillo and finished with an extract from the Suite Mosaico de Aires Nativos in which he sang and made appropriate onomatopoeic noises: shouts and squeals and the "...isss!" that Ecuadorian women shout as they dance, apparently.
As he bowed, Marcelo Ortiz was given a bouquet of flowers.