Artistic Ambassador Program

Robert L.  Ferreira, President
Member, Board of Trustees
Coconut Grove, Florida


go to

Coral Gables, Florida


Ralph E. Lara is a graphic artist and designer who specializes in line drawing (as illustrated below with the Great Composer Series) and watercolors.

Mr. Lara started drawing as a child before he could read and write and he has not stopped since. He cannot imagine life without art.

His work has won several awards in the United States.

He is very interested in Eastern culture and philosophy and is a passionate lover of classical music and jazz and an avid collector of records, books and Oriental art.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) Monteverdi's father was an apothecary who had a shop outside the Cathedral of Premona. Claudio was his eldest son and received a good musical education under the Cathedral's director of music. Monteverdi is usually thought of a major innovator, someone who helped to change the exploratory musical climate of the Renaissance into that of the more confident, humanistic Baroque. Yet he was no lone innovator, but rather belonged to a steady progressive movement in which other composers as well as artists from other fields also played a part. It has been said that his greatest gifts lay in finding how traditional means could be applied to novel ends. His choral masterpiece, The Vespers of the Blessed Virgin has the same towering stature as Bach's B Minor Mass and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Outside church music, Monteverdi's greatest talent was for creating vivid musical images, whether in his numerous and colorful madrigals or in his operas. It is above all, in the field of opera that he stands as the pre-eminent father figure. As a form, opera was only a decade old when he composed his first work in this genre, Orfeo, yet this work in a prologue and five acts is elaborately structured and emotionally involving. It even has an overture, like many later operas, and the music enhances and illuminates the test. Monteverdi strove to create music that would move the soul and satisfy both the ear and the intelligence. His works show the kind of texture and imagination that would become common in later music but was unusual in his time. In his many operas, right through from Orfeo to The Coronation of Poppea, a masterpiece written when he was over seventy, his characters come across as real people. Indeed, Poppea is surprisingly modern in its realism and lack of conventional moralizing. Monteverdi's beloved wife died young, he went on to write celebrated church music for the Cathedral of St. Mark's in Venice and by 1632 became an ordained priest.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) Known as "the red pries" because of his hair color and his membership in the clergy, Vivaldi was the most original and influential Italian composer of his generation. He was taught violin by his father and trained for the priesthood, though his enthusiasm for this is debatable. He was not ordained until 1703, and soon gave up saying Mass, allegedly because of delicate health. Vivaldi obtained a position as music teacher at the Ospedale de la Pieta, a large orphanage noted for the standard of its music. He was to be associated with this place for most of his life, and helped to turn its all-female orchestra into one of the most accomplished musical ensembles in Europe. Though he spent most of his life in his native Venice, he traveled widely outside of Italy and his music became known throughout Europe. Vivaldi wrote in a number of forms, including much church music, but it is the concertos - of which he composed more than 500 - that have made him famous. More than anyone else, Vivaldi established the three movement form as the standard for concertos, and his innovative techniques and energetic rhythms were adopted by composer all over the continent. Vivaldi's most famous opus is a group of four concertos subtitled The Four Seasons. Their imagery - of birds in Spring, storms in Summer, huntsmen in Autumn, and icy landscapes in Winter - is as vivid today. These descriptive pieces are the forerunners of "program music" (works with an extra musical meaning or story), which became popular with composer in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Born in Eisenach, into the most musical family in German history, Bach received an unusually thorough humanistic education. In composition he was largely self-taught and held various positions as church organist. His fame as a virtuoso began to spread, and he secured a reputation as the greatest organist and improviser in Germany. His middle years were spent as Kapellmeister to royalty, and he produced an enormous output of chamber and instrumental scores. In 1723 he was appointed Cantor at St. Thomas' Church in Leipzig, that city's most important church and its musical center, where he remained until his death. Bach is generally regard as one of the most important and influential composers that ever lived. It made no difference whether he wrote for the keyboard, the voice, or any of the wind, brass, and string instruments known to him: he understood the capabilities of them all. Neither did it matter in which mode he chose to express himself, for though he had assimilated the styles and practices of traditional schools, he was also conversant with the newer tastes and understood the conventions of vocal and instrumental music from other countries, such as Italy. Although he composed hundreds of magnificent choral pieces, the world probably thinks of Bach firstly as the composer of the immortal Brandenburg Concertos, the Orchestral Suites, and the many splendid concertos and pieces for violin, harpsichord and various combinations of instruments. It was these, particularly in their strangely emotive slow movements that often seem to anticipate a future world of romantics, that had such an influence on later composers like Haydn and Mozart, who used them as models for their own compositions. There is no more revered name in the whole of music than that of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ( 1756-1791) Mozart was quite possibly the single greatest natural genius in the whole history of European music. It is said that he started composing at the age of 4 and from the time he was seven until he was in his twenties, he spent more than half his life traveling and performing away from his home in Salzburg, Austria. Wolfgang's travels throughout Europe exposed him to the many musical schools of the day and he absorbed and remembered everything, refining and improving all aspects of style and technique. Mozart had an amazing ear for tonal color and texture, this gift, coupled with a fantastic and inexhaustible thematic inspiration, allowed him to produce music more memorable and subtly nuanced than that of any other composer of the 18th century. His immense love for the theater inspired him to create richly melodic operas full of living, breathing, three-dimensional characters and to portray situation from different points of view, transcending the simplistic operatic conventions of the time. He composed prolifically in all genres, leaving more than six hundred works in his short existence. Mozart died a month before his 35th birthday. His last unfinished work was a mysterious commission for a Requiem Mass that the composer, due to his failing health, believed to be a sign of his own approaching death. Tragically, it proved to be just that.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Beethoven spent his childhood in his native Bonn, Germany, acquiring musical skills and developing a character marked by strong will and determination, qualities that would permeate his music. By 1792, when Beethoven moved to Vienna to begin his career, Mozart was already dead. Beethoven revolutionized European music (then dominated by the classical symmetry and order of Mozart and Haydn. Many of his mature works exhibit an unprecedented length, boldness of expression, and depth of emotion that stunned, exhilarated and often shocked his contemporaries. His life was filled with internal turmoil and pain, including a premature loss of hearing that devastated him and at one point drove him to suicide. He was an idealist and a fierce opponent of tyranny and injustice who was able to translate all of his feelings, ideas and experiences into his music. In an obsessive quest to express what was in his soul he modified and often broke the strict rules of composition of his period and helped usher in a new era of romanticism and artistic individuality that changed music forever. He wrote prolifically in practically all musical genres, vocal and instrumental, and his works convey a feeling of humanity and revolutionary fervor that made him stand out uniquely among his peers and become the model and idol of every subsequent generation of composers, writers, artists & music lovers.
Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) Rossini, the master of Italian comic opera, had humble origins: his father was an inspector of slaughter-houses and held the official position of Town Trumpeter of Pesaro and played in local theatre orchestras. Rossini's mother was an occasional opera singer. The young Gioacchino wrote his first opera at 16 and two years later received a commission for another opera, which brought him some notice. This early work had a remarkably fine overture (always a Rossini specialty many of them surviving the operas). He became a fruitful composer, writing operas with lightning speed, and his comic masterpiece, The Barber of Seville received its premiere in Rome. After a shaky reception, its superior qualities established it as Rossini's finest endeavor to date. He was a notoriously lazy man and voracious eater. He said that he only cried twice in his life: at the initial failure of The Barber of Seville and at a dinner party aboard a ship when his turkey fell overboard. Rossini, in spite of lazy habits was a prolific creator and operas flowed from his pen in rapid succession until 1829 when after the production of his serious opera William Tell at the Paris Opera, he suddenly decided to write no more for the stage. His music is witty, sparking and full of dazzling coloratura fireworks. A great number of his overtures and vocal pieces have his trademark cumulative crescendos, where the rapidly repeating melody becomes increasingly faster and louder, creating a feeling of enormous exhilaration. His last years were spent in Paris, writing countless songs and instrumental pieces.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Franz Schubert (1797-1828) The history of music (jazz included) is full of geniuses who died young. The Romantic Period following the death of Beethoven seem to exemplify this pattern with Chopin, Bellini, Von Weber, Bizet, and many others died well before the age of forty. The three composers pictured here are among the most lamented casualties of this era. Robert Schumann was born in Saxony. His family's history was plagued with nervous and emotional disorders, and his whole life was haunted by fears of madness, but this did not keep him from becoming a brilliant and original composer, as well as a renowned music journalist and teacher. His many piano works in particular show tremendous individuality and innovation and have influenced many other composers. Hamburg-born Felix Mendelssohn was the quintessential child prodigy, making his debut as performer at the age of 9. The 12-string symphonies he composed between the ages of 12 and 14 can be favorably compared to the works of the young Mozart. Mendelssohn's music is full of grace, charm and an almost unearthly delicacy, especially his incidental music to Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and the ever gorgeous violin concerto, one of the loveliest evergreens in that instrument's whole repertoire. Franz Schubert practically lived to compose, leaving us with several symphonies, operas, chamber and piano pieces, and, most of all, more than 600 songs. He is considered one of the greatest song writers of all time and here lies the chief glory of his output, notably in such great song cycles as The Beautiful Miller's Daughter, The Winter's Journey and the posthumously collected Swan Song. It is strange that, in spite of his talent for song writing, he had literally no success with his operas, which are full of delights still awaiting discovery.
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) and Franz Liszt (1811-1886) French composer-conductor Hector Berlioz and Hungarian-born composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt perfectly fitted the notion of the Romantic artist of the 19th century; unconventional, adventurous, rebellious, impetuous and highly strung. And, true to the Romantic ideal of art and life as one, their music mirrored their temperaments. There are those who consider these composers as some of music's great innovators; others hear only self-aggrandizing bombast and empty, overblown rhetoric. Whatever their limitations, these geniuses' musical legacy reflects their deep love of literature, their fascination for the fantastic, the exotic and the mysterious, and their tremendous talent for vividly communicating their ideas and feelings. Both Berlioz and Liszt in their different ways, became champions of what came to be known as the symphonic poem or program music, in which the musical content is no longer of a purely abstract nature and based on academic forms, but rather is derived from a literary, pictorial or psychological theme which serves as the point of departure for an orchestral meditation touching on a variety of mood and even telling a story. The music of these two highly original talents spans the extremes of artistic expression: Liszt wrote a great deal of piano scores ranging from intimate miniatures to storming, grandiose warhorses that scale the greatest heights of virtuosity and skill. Berlioz created several operas that vary from the light, charming intimacy of Beatrice and Benedict to the nearly 5-hour epic The Trojans. Both composers worked in many genres, including songs, marches and choral works.

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) Chopin's name has become synonymous with that of the piano. Many people who don't know his music still recognize his name instantly as that of one of the greatest geniuses of the instrument. The patriotic Polish composer-pianist of popular imagination was, in fact half-French, and left Poland at the age of 20, never to return. He composed most of his music in France, where he established his legendary reputation as a virtuoso performer by no more than thirty public recitals. Chopin was a child prodigy. His Polonaise in G was published in 1817 and a year later - at the age of 8 - his brilliant piano technique captivated Warsaw's society audiences. In 1829 he left Warsaw for Vienna and from there we went to Paris, where he was idolized and became the admired friend of other leaders of the Romantic movement in the arts. From his recitals, and by giving lessons to the pretty daughters of wealthy families, he made enough money to live in style. After several unhappy love affairs he met the woman novelist George Sand (the pseudonym of Amandine Aurore Dupin, Baroness Dudevat) in 1837. By now he was suffering from tuberculosis, the disease that was to carry him off at an early age. A warm climate was recommended, and the lovers took up residence in the island of Majorca, off the Spanish coast, where he completed his 24 Preludes. While on the island he had a relapse, which so alarmed the locals that he and Sand were quarantined in an abandoned monastery. Winter on the island proved disagreeable, so the couple returned to the comforts of Paris and Sand's country home at Nohant. For ten years Chopin lived in elegant seclusion, composing and teaching. But the great romance eventually faded into friendship, and when the 1848 Revolution came, Chopin fled to England. Though desperately ill, he had to give public recitals to earn a living. In 1849 he returned to Paris where he died. Chopin's music was the very essence and epitome of Romanticism and the richest and most influential legacy to be left to the piano by any one composer in the history of music.
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) The preeminent figure in Italian opera during the second half of the 19th century. Verdi was perhaps the greatest dramatist music has yet known. A prolific composer, he reached an astonishing plateau of maturity in his late thirties with a series of back-to-back masterpieces that changed the face of opera forever. Verdi largely dispensed with the excessively florid singing and the sentimental, impossibly contrived plots of the bel canto tradition, replacing them with stories full of excitement, life-like drama and conflict. He peopled his operas with realistic, fully fleshed portraits of human beings facing tragic situations and moral dilemmas that people in the audience could identify with. His music was a revolutionary departure from the pretty smoothness and superficial charm of many of his contemporaries. Verdi's scores are often tough, at times almost brutal, as befits his subjects. His themes are many: unfortunate lovers, vengeful villains, political oppression, jealousy, the ironies of destiny. The are all handled with consummate understanding and compassion. Even in his most spectacular, grandiose works, such as Aida and Don Carlo, with their dazzling costumes, processions and tumultuous crowd scenes, the focus is on the intimate relationships between the principals, conveying with tender insight the uncertainty, fragility and painful vulnerability of people dealing with difficult choices as they are caught in situations and events greater then themselves. In his seventies, Verdi astounded the music world by coming out of retirement and creating Othello, a tragedy based on Shakespeare that proved to be the most eloquent, powerful, and breathtakingly dramatic score that he ever wrote. This would have stood as the pinnacle of an already unbelievable artistic life were it not that a few years later, at the age of eighty, he penned his comic masterpiece, Falstaff, also based on Shakespeare, a work so full of mercurial energy, youthful sparkle, and subtle, fast-moving wit.
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) Equally adored and reviled, Wagner has to be the most controversial figure in music history. A megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, he used everyone he could to further his own means and ambitions. He was perennially in debt and borrowed money from anyone who would offer it with no intention of ever paying it back. He was pathologically prejudiced and a shameless self-promoter, philanderer, liar, betraying his friends and benefactors. And yet, hard as it may be to believe, this horrible little man had a genial, deeply spiritual side that allowed him to compose some of the most moving and transcendental operatic works ever written. Before Wagner opera consisted of set pieces (arias, duets, choruses, etc.) with a clear beginning and end. As his style progressed, Wagner replaced most of this with a continuous stream of music emphasizing dramatic flow and tension. He wrote the words to all his operas and perfected a revolutionary system of leading themes or short snatches of melody that would identify the characters, objects and situations of an opera and would keep recurring throughout the work, changing and evolving as did the characters and events they represented. As Wagner matured, his works became lengthier and more complex, as in the case of The Ring of the Nibelung, a cycle of four operas lasting some 16 hours and performed over the course of 4 evenings. No 19th century composer was more passionately devoted to art for art's sake, and he demanded total, unquestioning loyalty from his supporters, which for the most part they gave willingly. After many years of struggle, he was finally rewarded and saw himself recognized as the great German composer of his time. He even managed to build his dream theatre at Bayreuth, a place dedicated to the performance of his works the way he wanted them staged, and which continues the Wagnerian tradition to this day.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) Easily one of the most popular composers of all time, Russian born Tchaikovsky is also one of the most instantly recognizable. His melodies have been featured in countless films, cartoons, even commercials. His ballets, symphonies and concertos are an essential part of the orchestral repertoire and there's hardly a musical season anywhere in the world that doesn't include some of his major works. At a time when Russian composers were developing a sense of national identity by investigating folk melodies and Slavic rhythms, Tchaikovsky brought European sophistication and cosmopolitan polish. He had a preternaturally sensitive nature. As he matured, his music became increasingly emotional but it rarely raged out of control, for Tchaikovsky was far more than an artist with intense and painful feelings to bare: he possessed the talent to create the most memorable infectious melodies, covering them in dazzling orchestrations. Among his most beautifully scored works are the three ballets, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. In each he was able to evoke a specific atmosphere of enchantment and magic with an added dimension of humanity and real emotion. He thus transformed the music of the ballet from a glittering, decorative gesture into an essential component of stage drama, revolutionizing the art of composing for the dance. Many of his symphonic and operatic works deal with the subject of uncontrollable fate, the mysterious force of nature the guides and decides our destines.
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) During his lifetime, Bohemian born Mahler was more famous as a conductor than as a composer. The current popularity of his music is in part due to the many farseeing conductors who championed his works and to the advent of the long-playing record. In embracing the contradictions of human nature as no one else had before him, Mahler became the first truly modern composer, speaking directly to the fears, doubts and unrest of contemporary humanity, His songs and symphonies span the extremes of human experience: ecstasy and despair, love and death, idyllic innocence and stinging satire, the heavenly and the macabre. While his fourth symphony depicts a child's vision of Paradise, the sixth seems to prophesy all the horror and holocausts of our century. The second and eighth symphonies are gigantic, apocalyptic canvases of heaven-storming grandeur scored for massive forces of orchestra, soloists and choir. The song cycle set to ancient Phinese texts, The Song of the Earth was to all intents and purposes Mahler's ninth symphony but superstition led him to avoid numbering it as such (Beethoven and others had died after completing nine symphonies.). It is his most exquisite music, encompassing youthful hedonism, bitter loneliness, the transience of beauty and love, mortality and, in the concluding movement, a farewell utterance of almost unbearable poignancy and resignation. He never heard this piece (nor his ninth and tenth symphonies) performed. Following the death of one of his two little daughters, Mahler was diagnosed with chronic heart disease. He died only 50 years old.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Debussy's works have become the prototype of what many people mean when they speak of a French or Impressionist style of music. Born in St. Germain-en-Laye, he showed musical gifts as a child and was sent to study at the famous Paris Conservatory. His music is deeply influenced by fantastic literature and by the graphic arts that flourished in France during the second half of the 19th century, such as the paintings of Monet, Renoir and Whistler. Debussy's orchestral palette is indeed as subtle and vivid as that of any painter's. He strove to reinterpret in sound the moods, impressions and feelings normally perceived through the other senses, especially that of sight. In his symphonic poem Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun he evokes the drowsy, suffocating warmth of a summer afternoon with music full of haunting, undulating melody and gradually intensifying sensuality. Debussy's best known masterpiece, La Mer (The Sea) is his most concentrated and brilliant orchestral work and one of the supreme achievements in the symphonic literature. A score whose refinement and expressiveness are typically French, it is nevertheless a work of such imagination that it stands apart from any previous traditions or influences. The sea fascinated Debussy and he tried to convey its mystery and grandeur in many of his other orchestral and piano works. In La Mer he captures the various moods of the ocean in all their richness, utilizing to the maximum his special genius to see images with a painter's eye and to work with colors of instrumental combinations much as a painter works with pigments. From calm grayness to glittering, almost blinding brightness, he makes us feel everything: the gentle rocking of the waves, the sudden shifts of current, the terrifying surges, the shimmering sunlight on the surface and the mysterious depths teeming with life. This uncanny ability to evoke a mood or a visual impression is equally apparent in his other works for orchestra, piano or voice. This is music that still surprises us with its delicacy, inventiveness and originality.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) Perhaps it can be said that Richard Strauss is the last of the great operatic composers, as he lived well into the 20th century. He learned much about music and orchestration from his father, who was principal horn player of the Munich Court Opera. Strauss was a prodigious worker and his reputation and success grew rapidly and effortlessly. He was the first composer to become a millionaire. His idols were Wagner and Mozart, and the influence of these two is felt in much of his work, but in a way that is unmistakably and uniquely Straussian. His music, like the man himself, is full of contradictions and contrasts. It is at times brash and even vulgar; and yet in the same piece, a few minutes later, in a soaring orchestral or instrumental phrase or a ravishing passage for soprano, he can touch emotional peaks beyond the reach of most composers. What so distinguishes his art is his superhuman mastery of the orchestra. He grew up in an orchestral environment as other musicians might grow up with only one instrument. Yet for all his many gifts as a composer of orchestral showpieces, it is to his operas and songs that we must turn to find the heart of Strauss. His operas Elektra, Salome and Ariadne auf Naxos feature absolutely fiendish passages for the soprano voice (Salome also includes the world famous Dance of the Seven Veils). His greatest opera, Der Rosenkavalier is an exquisite comedy with serious overtones, a loving tribute to Mozart set in 18th century Vienna. I contains some of the most gorgeous moments for the female voice ever penned, and it would surprise no one that a man with such an immense talent for vocal music should have married a soprano, Pauline de Ahna, for whom he wrote many of his songs. The years prior to the World War II saw a decline in the quality of Strauss' music but, even after this dark period, the gods were kind. In the last few years of his long life, at his country villa close to the Italian border, Strauss savored the fruits of an astonishing Indian summer of inspiration. This later period gave us the Metamorphosis for we solo strings, a heart-rending lament for the devastations of war, and the breathtakingly exquisite Four Last Songs the composer's final tribute to his greatest loves, his wife and the soprano voice.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) In the world of 20th century art, Russian born Igor Stravinsky is to classical music what Pablo Picasso is to painting and Miles Davis is to jazz: the most influential, adventurous and versatile artist in his field. One can see this in the astonishing advances made in his first three ballets. In the 1913 opus The Firebird, commissioned for the Russian Ballets of Paris, the composer is still very influenced by the style of his predecessors, in particular his teacher and mentor Rimsky-Korsakov, but Stravinsky carries musical invention even further with a bold use of orchestral color and harmony. If The Firebird sounded daring, Petrushka (1911) set the Parisian music establishment on its ear. This ballet, with its truly revolutionary use of rhythm, its frequent and astonishing shifting and mixing of meter, as well as its use of asymmetrical phrases and disruptive syncopation, goes far beyond anything previously attempted in orchestral music. The premiere of the next ballet, 1913's The Rite of Spring caused the most famous riot in music history. Here for the first time in modern Western music, rhythm rather than melody or harmony becomes the primary force in musical development. The savage, often violently brutal sounds of The Rite of Spring challenged the notion that meaning resided only in the orderly interrelationship between melody, harmony and form. This work literally changed the language of music forever. Another surprising about-face came with Pulcinella (1920). This ballet, totally inspired by the works of 18th Century composers, saw Stravinsky developing his own neo-classic style, full of charm and sparkle. In his rather long life this chameleon-like composer never stopped experimenting. He enjoyed to examine closely every creative possibility, leaving us an incredible legacy that includes, in addition to his many ballet scores, several concertos, symphonies, songs, choral pieces, operas and chamber works.

Past Events Ralph E. Lara Favorite Links Florida Chapters webmaster