I spent an hour chatting with English bass-baritone Pavlo Hunka yesterday about his massive Ukrainian Art Song Project, for an article due out on Thursday. At one point, Hunka said that the real measure of any country is its culture, so, if Ukraine ever wants to hold its head high internationally, it needs to showcase its indigenous artists.
It's an idea that goes back to the birth of nationalism in the mid-19th century. It's easy to forget that, until then, artists wrote for their patron: the king, queen, grand duke, archbishop, etc. People pledged their allegiance to a kingdom or principality or dukedom, not a nation.
With the rise of nations, artists tried hard to find nationalistic links, which included realising that they had to go out and catalogue the music of the people and use it in a way distinctly appropriate to that nation. (There's a dark side to fanatical nationalism, too, but let's not go there.)
The best known expressions of musical nationalism come from Europe. The music of Grieg, Sibelius, Dvorak and Bartok, to name just a few composers, is everywhere. But it's really just the tip of an iceberg that we neither see nor hear often enough.
Here is a nicely performed, entertaining snippet from Mexico, who we don't hear from often enough. This lunchtime concert at Trinity Wall Street was put together by pianist César Reyes, who moved to New York City to study in 2001, and founded a Latin American music festival there in 2008: