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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.

The melodic section in Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez includes six violins and three trumpets, plus a harp that plays both the melody and the bass line.

“It wasn’t until the 1930s that the trumpet was added,” said Hernandez, who plays trumpet and sings. “They added the trumpet to cut through the radio airwaves.”

But the heart and soul of the Mariachi band is the vocals, featuring everything from upbeat solos to romantic trios and lush background harmonies.

During the 1930s, Mexican singers such as Jorge Negrete launched mariachi music to international acclaim during the golden age of the movies. It has become wildly popular throughout all of Latin America, from Colombia to Argentina.

Through the years, mariachi music has continued to evolve, incorporating slow-tempo boleros from Cuba and other popular styles into its traditional repertoire.

“The most traditional rhythms are the “Son de la Negra “ (the story of a dark-skinned woman flirting with all the boys in town) and the jarabe (the Mexican hat dance),” Hernandez said. “Then they added more repertoire to their arsenal.”

Mariachi Sol de Mexico performs regularly at Hernandez’s popular nightclub, Cielito Lindo, located in Los Angeles.

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“It’s a family restaurant,” he said. “We’re there four nights a week.”

When the band is on the road, America’s first all-female mariachi band, Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, fills in for them.

That band was another first for Hernandez, who launched the all-female ensemble after mentoring many young girls through his educational foundation, the Mariachi Heritage Society.

“Personally, I love an all-female group,” he said. “The color of their voices is so beautiful.”

Hernandez studied at the Grove School of Music in Studio City with famous film composers and arrangers such as Henry Mancini and Nelson Riddle. He learned how to arrange music in all kinds of genres, but found himself drawn back to mariachi because it was the music closest to his heart.

He founded Mariachi Sol de Mexico in 1981 and, through the years, has recorded albums with many famous Latin singers, from Selena to Jose Feliciano.

Hernandez served as the vocal coach for Linda Ronstadt’s 1987 global hit album, “Canciones de Mi Padre,” and his band served as one of the back-up bands.

One of the challenges of performing mariachi music is that the musicians not only have to play an instrument, but memorize the music and sing their hearts out.

“The words are very, very passionate,” he said. “Mariachi music is something that is very close and very dear to every Mexican. It’s a music that has no generation gap, between little kids and grandparents.

For the concert on July 31, the orchestra will open each half with a piece performed on its own. Then the mariachi band will take the stage and perform with the orchestra and on its own.

“We’re going to mix it up a little bit,” he said. “I’m so happy to be doing the concert there. ... It’s the power of music coming together.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.

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