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Love Letters featuring Our Own Norman Menzales

For flutist Norman Menzales, a first-generation Filipino-American, the Great Falls Symphony’s upcoming concert, Love Letters: Scenes of Mexico, Spain & the Philippines, is a celebration of diversity and appreciation of other cultures by composers that include Aaron Copland, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alfredo Buenaventura.

“One of the great American composers, Copland, looked to Mexico, Russian-born Rimsky-Korsakov to Spain, and Buenaventura drew upon his experience as a leading figure in Filipino classical music,” said Menzales, who will perform his flute concerto adaptation of Buenaventura’s Lakambini.

“I am very excited for this opportunity to share my own heritage with the Great Falls community,” said Menzales, who is Principal Flute for the Great Falls Symphony as well as for Colorado’s Fort Collins Symphony and the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra. He also performs with the GFSA’s Chinook Winds quintet.

The concert, scheduled for Saturday, February 10, also features Copland’s El Salon Mexico and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol.

For Copland, it was a 1932 trip to a dance hall in Mexico City that brought him inspiration. The melodic material is based on four Mexican folk songs, in particular El palo verde from which a new Copland style emerged, one in which he exhibited precision and lucidity and a use of catchy melodies and rhythms.

In 1887, Rimsky-Korsakov first wrote a virtuoso piece for violin and orchestra with a Spanish theme, discarded it and then composed an orchestral piece with virtuoso instrumentation that showed off his love of orchestral color. Audiences responded enthusiastically, demanding an encore of the entire piece at its premiere in St. Petersburg that same year.

In 2020, during the Covid lockdown, Menzales found time to peruse the Internet looking for classical music coming from the Philippines. He found a recording of Buenaventura’s Violin Concerto on YouTube, searched profiles on social media and tracked down the then 92-year-old composer and asked permission to adapt his composition to flute. A year later, the reply came.

“He said, ‘I think that would be great, you have my blessing,’” said Menzales, who has spent time working on a recording project that will feature composers and works inspired by the Filipino culture. Buenaventura’s own style features influences by Chopin, Puccini, Tchaikovsky and Wagner.

“It’s a musical culture that is a blend of form and styles from cultures all over the world, which lends itself to adopting new and exciting ideas,” said Menzales.

Tickets for the February 10 concert, which range from $14 – $59, are available online at or by calling the Symphony office at 406-453-4102. 

Throughout the season, free concert previews are offered to broaden your knowledge and appreciation of music. Maestro Grant Harville leads a fun, informative discussion about the upcoming concert. Norman Menzales will join Harville for this talk. Held the Friday prior to each concert, Symphony Previews are from noon to 1 p.m. at Heritage Hall on the campus of Great Falls College/Montana State University. Facebook Live options are available, as well as recorded versions on the symphony website.


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