CSUN Celebrates Acclaimed Cuban Composer’s 90th Birthday with Special Concert

Aurelio de la Vega

Aurelio de la Vega

Music will fill the air on Sunday, Oct. 9, when California State University, Northridge hosts a special concert to celebrate the 90th birthday of internationally acclaimed composer and CSUN music professor emeritus Aurelio de la Vega.

The concert, scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. in the recital hall in Cypress Hall, will feature performances by three of de la Vega’s former music students — Carl Byron, Kenneth de Vito and Yalil Guerra — and renowned composer, conductor and pianist Raymond Torres-Santos. The show also will feature performances of several of de la Vega’s works, spanning from his early years in Cuba to his most recent composition, which premiered in New York two years ago.

Cypress Hall is located at the southern end of the CSUN campus at 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge.

“It’s very nice to have a birthday celebration like this at my old home,” said de la Vega, a Latin Grammy nominee and recipient of numerous academic and musical accolades, who retired from teaching at CSUN in 1993.

De la Vega said he has spent the past year traveling and celebrating his 90th birthday at events across the country, including concerts in New York, Miami, San Diego and Chicago. He turns 91 in November.

“The CSUN concert is the end of my 90th birthday celebration,” he explained. “It’s been a very good year, and the best way to top it off is this concert at CSUN.”

Aside from problems with his hips that force him to use a walker on occasion, de la Vega said he is in fine health and looking forward to what his 91st year will bring.

His calendar is already filling up. On Oct. 7, the Los Angeles-based Bilingual Foundation of the Arts will bestow upon him its Lifetime Achievement Award. In November, he will fly to Miami to receive an honor from the National Association of Cuban-American Educators.

De la Vega was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1925 and studied law at the University of Havana and music composition at the Conservatorio Ada Iglesias. He also studied independently with Fritz Kramer in Havana and Ernst Toch in Los Angeles. De la Vega served as cultural attaché in the Cuban Consulate in Los Angeles and toured the United States as a lecturer.

A young de la Vega at the piano. Photo courtesy of Aurelio de la Vega

A young de la Vega at the piano. Photo courtesy of Aurelio de la Vega

Like many musicians and other artists at the time of Fidel Castro’s rise to power, de la Vega was sent into exile. He made Los Angeles his home. He became one of CSUN’s earliest faculty members when he took a job as music professor at what was then San Fernando Valley State College in 1959.

Despite the upheaval in his life, de la Vega remained an active composer. His list of compositions includes symphonic pieces, chamber music works, solo instrumental pieces and voice works, and piano, guitar, ballet and electronic compositions. Major orchestras and prominent soloists throughout the world have performed his works.

He has been the recipient of many prizes and distinctions, including having twice received the Friedheim Award of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. In 2009, the Cintas Foundation in New York bestowed upon him the William B. Warren Lifetime Achievement Award “for his internationally acclaimed contribution to music composition.”

In 2000, the Library of Congress honored de la Vega when his graphic score, “The Magic Labyrinth,” was included in the library’s 733-page volume, “Music History from Primary Sources.” Among the music greats sharing entries with him were Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Gershwin, Handel, Liszt, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Puccini, Stravinsky and Verdi.

A documentary about de la Vega’s life, “Rebel with a Cause,” directed by Camilo Vila and narrated by Andy Garcia, was released in 2015.

For more information about the birthday concert, contact CSUN’s Department of Music at (818) 677-3184.

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