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Born in Mexico, Arturo Márquez spent his middle school and high school years in La Puente, California, where he began his musical training. After he returned to Mexico, Márquez studied at the Conservatory of Music and the Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico, followed by private study in Paris with Jacques Castérède, and then at the California Institute of the Arts with Morton Subotnick, Stephen Mosko, Mel Powell, and James Newton.

At that time, Márquez was much interested in avant garde techniques and processes, although his time at Cal Arts gave him ideas about how jazz and world music elements could be added to the mix. His first Danzón, composed in 1992, shows how that was beginning to play out. It was essentially an electronic piece for tape and optional saxophone, but including Minimalist aspects and references to the traditional danzón, an old salon dance from Cuba that became very popular in Veracruz and then in Mexico City, where it still holds sway.

This initial elaboration on the danzón proved crucial for Márquez, renewing his own musical language in a turn away from Modernist impulses. His Danzón No. 2, one of the most popular pieces of “classical” music of the last quarter-century, confirmed this new direction.

“The idea of writing the Danzón No. 2 originated in 1993 during a trip to Malinalco with the painter Andrés Fonseca and the dancer Irene Martínez, both of whom are experts in salon dances with a special passion for the danzón, which they were able to transmit to me from the beginning, and also during later trips to Veracruz and visits to the Colonia Salón in Mexico City,” the composer writes. “From these experiences onward, I started to learn the danzón’s rhythms, its form, its melodic outline, and to listen to the old recordings by Acerina and his Danzonera Orchestra.

I was fascinated and I started to understand that the apparent lightness of the danzón is only like a visiting card for a type of music full of sensuality and qualitative seriousness, a genre which old Mexican people continue to dance with a touch of nostalgia and a jubilant escape towards their own emotional world; we can fortunately still see this in the embrace between music and dance that occurs in the State of Veracruz and in the dance parlors of Mexico City.”

-John Henken