STORY BY JAMES JOLLY
University of Iowa music students performed a piano recital based on a popular Chilean revolutionary song for the first time Saturday.
Led by Alan Huckleberry, piano students from Iowa’s school of music took the Sheslow Auditorium stage to play “The People United Will Never Be Defeated.”
The performance, hosted by the Drake School of Fine Arts and the Department of Music, started at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, as six performers took turns playing the 36-piece, hour and a quarter long composition.
Before the recital started, Huckleberry gave a brief preface.
“The song is one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century,” Huckleberry said.
He talked about the historical origins of the song, and why it was being performed.
“Last year, the University of Iowa had a series of arts and human rights projects,” Huckleberry said. “The goal was to combine them both together. This performance is the result of one of those projects.”
He went on to explain that the composer of the piece, an American named Frederic Rzewski, was inspired to write it by a popular Chilean Revolutionary song by the name of “¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”
Rzewski translated the title to English and wrote 36 variations of the song.
The original version has its beginnings in the brutal rebellions of Chile.
In June of 1973, a Chilean musical group named Quilapayún wrote the song amidst civil unrest and socialist rebellions against the standing government.
In September of that year, an American-backed coup overthrew the Chilean government and installed Army Chief Augusto Pinochet to supreme power, much to the displeasure of the Chileans.
The song, and what it stood for, soon rose to prominence as a popular song in anti-Pinochet protests.
The performance at Drake strove to incorporate the human emotions that went into the making of the composition.
During the performance, a slideshow of various civil rights images were on display on a screen behind the piano.
There were images of famous civil rights leaders such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela and numerous uplifting images. But it was not all happy.
During more somber parts of the compositions, images of Auschwitz, Tiananmen Square and slavery appeared on screen.
Near the end of the performance, Huckleberry once again took the stage to play a medley of all of the previous pieces in rapid succession. All of the images kept pace.
Betsy Guthrie, a member of the Drake K-crew, event staff that puts on the shows at Drake, sat in the front row for the entire performance. It may have been a job for her, but that did not stop her from enjoying it.
“I liked the variation that was played with images of a plantation. It was jazzy and exciting,” Guthrie said.
Sarah Adams, a Drake student who attended the recital, was impressed by the skill of some of the players.
“One of the performer’s fingers was just flying across the piano,” Adams said. “I don’t know how long he must have practiced to do that.”
The event ended as the six performers took the stage together for the first time and bowed as the crowd gave them a standing ovation.