Urs Leonhardt Steiner has a musical answer to Trump’s border wall
Urs Leonhardt Steiner, the Swiss-born San Francisco conductor and composer who came to the Bay Area in the ’80s to study at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has spent the past 25 years leading musical endeavors that connect communities and cultures.
Steiner’s defiant reaction to Trump’s “divisive call for a border wall” was to put together “¡Viva Mexico! Beyond Border Walls,” the season-opening program of the Golden Gate Symphony & Chorus, which he founded and directs.
At Herbst Theater on Sunday, Nov. 5, that big ensemble will be joined by a celebrated folkloric chorus from Chapala, Mexico, as well as local conductor and teacher Martha Rodríguez-Salazar, who turned Steiner on to some contemporary Mexico City composers. She’s scheduled to conduct a few numbers featuring four young vocal soloists, one from School of the Arts, another from Lowell High.
“I’m an immigrant myself. At some point, I needed to do something in response to this whole Trump wall thing,” says Steiner, 63. “I figured the best thing to do was bring some artists here and connect them with people, and open some doors on both sides.”
Steiner, who co-built and co-directs a music program for children in Managua, Nicaragua, called Musica en Los Barrios, put Aaron Copland’s “El Salón México” on the program with “Huapango” by José Pablo Moncayo and works by two contemporary Mexican composers: Antonio Flores and Eduardo Gamboa.
Then there’s “Canciones de mi Tierra” by the 85-year-old Nicaraguan composer Carlos González Siles, who has lived in San Francisco for decades, but whose music apparently has never been performed in the U.S. Steiner heard about him from a piano-playing Nicaraguan acquaintance who works at the Mission Street paint store the conductor patronizes.
“It’s romantic Latin music,” says Steiner, who recently returned from Chapala, where he rehearsed with the Coro Redes y Cantos de Chapala, a colorful chorus sponsored by the Mexican state of Jalisco.
“The music is not mariachi, it’s older. It’s real serious folk music. Five guitars, harp, double bass. It’s wonderful music. There aren’t many choruses like that in Mexico.”
Up here on this side of the border, Steiner adds, “we hear a lot about gangs and cartels, but not much about the culture and how people live. We don’t know how rich the culture is in Mexico.”
For more information, go to www.goldengatesymphony.org.