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As one of the founders of Venezuela’s onda nueva style (which picked up on Brazilian bossa nova and the Venezuelan joropo), composer and pianist Aldemaro Romero was known for his ability to mix popular songs and folk elements with classical forms and techniques. The Fuga con Pajarillo, which is a movement from his Suite No. 1 for Strings, does just that, and it was the piece that Gustavo Dudamel brought to the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition he won in Bamberg / 2004.

“You had to bring a piece from your own country. This one is wonderful: difficult to put together, but beautiful,” Dudamel says. “A pajarillo is a typical Venezuelan dance – perhaps the most famous one, alongside the joropo. It’s like a waltz, but with the accent on the weak beat – not ‘one two three, one two three,’ but ‘one two three, one two three. It’s not a comfortable dance! The piece is a pajarillo, but in combination with a complex fugue [a form of musical imitation, like a round]. The pajarillo pervading the melody and rhythm gives a sense of improvisation and contrasts with the predetermined fugal form. This is what makes this piece so fascinating.”

-John Henken