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Mariachi meets classical at Weill Hall

  • The Santa Rosa Symphony will present the Mexican mariachi stars Mariachi Sol de Mexico in a free concert on July 31 at the Green Music Center. (Courtesy photo, 2014)

For its inaugural free concert for the community, the Santa Rosa Symphony has invited what many regard as the premier mariachi band in the world — Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez — to perform alongside its classical musicians.

The landmark concert, scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Weill Hall at Sonoma State University, can accommodate up to 4,000 people, both inside and outside on the lawn. The response was overwhelming, according to organizers, with 3,000 tickets requested a full month before the concert.

“We wanted to do a community concert that would bring in family and the Hispanic community, who may not normally come to our concerts,” said Alan Silow, executive director of the symphony. “I think it’s our responsibility to give back to the community after all these years.”

Hernandez, who is the first mariachi musician to have arranged, composed and conducted for symphony orchestras around the world, is a fifth-generation mariachi musician known for pushing the envelope of Mexico’s most beloved music.

His band’s latest album, “La Musica,” is the first symphonic mariachi record ever to be nominated for a Latin Grammy Award. As such, it reaches out to a new audience of non-classical music fans.

Hernandez said he thinks it’s the interesting melodies and words of the mariachi songs that attract the most fans to the music.

“It’s not predictable, and it’s very heartfelt,” he said. “It can be very energetic or very, very romantic. ... People are really going to see what mariachi is about now, in the 21st century.”

Mariachi music was originally brought to the New World by the Spanish conquistadors, who taught the indigenous people of Mexico how to play European instruments. In fact, its roots are not that far from classical music.

“Originally, in the mid-1800s, it was just one violin, one harp and one guitar,” Hernandez said. “Then the rhythms started taking off in the late 1800s, when my great-great-grandparents played.

The mariachi rhythm section consists of a big, bass guitar known as the guittaron, a high-pitched rhythm guitar known as the vihuela and a traditional, Spanish guitar.

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