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Venezuelan trumpet virtuoso Pacho Flores to perform with San Diego Symphony

Venezuelan trumpeter Pacho Flores, shown in an undated photo, will join the San Diego Symphony — and longtime colleague Rafael Payare — for a series of performances.
Courtesy of Juan Martínez
Venezuelan trumpeter Pacho Flores, shown in an undated photo, will join the San Diego Symphony — and longtime colleague Rafael Payare — for a series of performances.

San Diego Symphony music director Rafael Payare is a steadfast champion of the music of his homeland of Venezuela, especially in a string of upcoming concert dates with celebrated Venezuelan trumpet player and composer Pacho Flores.

As a child, Flores trained with El Sistema, a major national project in Venezuela that links youth in poverty or vulnerable, underserved communities with instruments, workshops and ensemble training. The program is celebrated all over the world as one of the most significant music education programs — acclaimed conductor Gustavo Dudamel is an El Sistema alum.

As is Rafael Payare.

Rafael Payare is shown in an undated photo.
Courtesy of Gerard Collett
Rafael Payare is shown in an undated photo.

Payare and Flores met as teenagers in El Sistema, where Payare was principal French horn in El Sistema's prestigious Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra; Flores was the Simón Bolivar principal trumpet.

"Rafael Payare, my partner, my colleague from the orchestra, he played the French Horn in my orchestra. And also we had a brass quintet during 16 years," Flores recalled. "After the great success of the Simón Bolivar Orchestra, he took the decision to grow as conductor, and he's doing an amazing job."

The trumpet's rare spotlight in classical concertos

On Saturday, Feb. 26, Flores will join Payare with the San Diego Symphony, performing in "Payare Leads Tchaikovsky" at the Civic Theatre. This classical program will also be repeated in two "SDSO on the Road" concerts throughout Southern California, one on Friday in Costa Mesa and another on Mar. 2 in Palm Desert.

There aren't many classical concertos that showcase the trumpet, Flores said — naming a few notable pieces by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Joseph Haydn, and one that he'll perform on Saturday by Johann Neruda. Flores is passionate about the significance of the Neruda work, "Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major," and the way it enables a trumpet player to call on virtuosic styles and dance-like melodies.

J. B. G. Neruda: Concierto para corno da caccia y orquesta. Pacho Flores

"Neruda is post-Baroque, or pre-classical, you see, in the middle," Flores said. "But maybe it's more classical — I can feel the piece more in the Mozart style, maybe more than Baroque music. It's a beautiful piece."


The Neruda work was written for corno de caccia, Flores said, a piccolo trumpet shaped more like a miniature French horn or flugelhorn than a trumpet, and is known for its use in this piece, or in Mahler's iconic off-stage post horn solo in "Symphony No. 3."

"It's like a new Ferrari. It's an amazing instrument. Everything in tune, it has a beautiful balance, and also a beautiful sound," Flores said of the corno de caccia.

Venezuelan folk dance influences

The Paquito D'Rivera piece set to be performed on Saturday, "Concerto Venezolano for Trumpet and Orchestra," was composed specifically for Flores. It was set to be premiered in the U.S. in a performance with the San Diego Symphony in March of 2020, but that performance was canceled with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Flores, combining folk styles with classical influence in an orchestral piece is quintessential to his upbringing as a Venezuelan musician. The piece combines several dances and mixes a broad range of styles: Venezuelan merengue, joropo and danzon.

A joropo is often considered the national dance of Venezuela, and is a quick style of waltz. D'Rivera included that as the concerto's closing movement. The danzon is a traditional dance from D'Rivera's native Cuba. The merengue, Flores said, is unusual.

"It has, of course, the Venezuelan merengue, different from the Dominican merengue — the beat is in five-eight," Flores said of the time signature. "But, for some reason, people can dance. You can dance in that beat."

Of course, the "Payare Leads Tchaikovsky" program also includes Tchaikovsky, his "Symphony No. 4 in F minor." And don't miss Andrew Norman's contemporary journey through the sounds of the symphony: "Drip Blip Sparkle Spin Glint Glide Glow Float Flop Chop Pop Shatter Splash."

Trumpeter Pacho Flores is shown in an undated photo.
Courtesy of Juan Martínez
Trumpeter Pacho Flores is shown in an undated photo.

Chamber music, fusion styles and a very special guest

On Tuesday night, a small chamber group from the Symphony will perform again with Flores in a program of jazz, Latin and classical fusion pieces at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla.

Three of the fusion works are also composed by Paquito D'Rivera, who will make a special appearance for Tuesday's concert, performing on alto sax and clarinet.

"He's a legend from Cuba. He's a clarinet player, saxophone player and of course an amazing composer," Flores said. He added that since D'Rivera was young, he would blend both popular and classical styles, as well as Cuban influence with that of other parts of Latin America. "That is exactly what I love from Paquito D'Rivera."

"When you can connect the popular music and bring the styles to the classical world, I think, honestly, that you have a little bit of an advantage," Flores said, adding that the skills and versatility of jazz musicians in America is a similar example.

Additional works include pieces from Czech classical composer Bohuslav Martinů; Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla; a bewitching, jazz-tinged work, "1969," by contemporary Spanish composer Antonio Sánchez Pedro; and a piece by fellow Venezuelan contemporary composer, Efraín Oscher.

Flores will also perform his own composition, "Morocota."

"'Morocota' is a waltz, and I dedicate it to my mother. The style for this piece is from my town, San Cristobal in los Andes in Venezuela. It's that flavor of piece," Flores said.


'Pacho, the music doesn't have borders'

Flores speaks with a near-reverence when describing Venezuelan popular and folk music ("When I listen to Simón Díaz, it's God ... it's amazing"), but hesitates to name a favorite style.

"My father told me when I was a child this sentence: 'Pacho, the music doesn't have borders.' For him, the music is music. You can play Piazzola or Tchaikovsky, and you have to play with the most beautiful sound and dignity — every style."