Artists can help remember what’s been lost. A piece can be a reminder that memories, and even someone’s roots, are resilient and full of value. They reveal that a loss is not always an end.
The work of electro-acoustic musician Angélica Negrón is based in this spirit of progress and hope. And she’ll show that this weekend at the New York Botanical Garden.
Born in San Juan, Negrón studied piano and violin at Puerto Rico’s music conservatory. She has known since she was 8 that music was her mode of self-expression.
“In Puerto Rico, we’re a very musical culture,” Negrón said. “My family is very musical as well. At family gatherings, my mother would play percussions, and my aunt was studying opera when I was a child.”
Although the conservatory was important to Negrón and her development, she found the academic environment a place where one couldn’t do much except “play things by anyone white or dead.”
“I wanted to be inspired by something other than that,” she said.
To escape that restrictive idea, Negrón moved to the center of multi-culturalism and variety: New York City.
It’s an environment of competition which stands shoulder-to-shoulder with artistic identity, and that atmosphere has affected Negrón greatly.
“Being here, I learned that I had to embrace my own ideas about myself,” she said. “That’s how I was going to be a better artist. Being aware of my place in this city and making my own place in this city as a tiny female in the diaspora has been difficult, but important.”
Being in a place where Negrón felt free and open to a variety of experimentation and self-identification, her creative output blossomed and bloomed. Negrón has worked for prestigious symphonies, popular film festivals and orchestras worldwide. Her style has shifted and evolved from the classical and embraced features of electronica, robotic sounds, music for accordions, and much more.
At the heart of her work, however, is a search for the intangible and the discovery of place.
Last year, the botanical garden approached Negrón to be its composer-in-residence, and she’s been working on “Chorus of the Forests” ever since. Her most ambitious project to date uses the styles, tones and ideas that are deeply rooted in her music, described as an “immersive choral experience that explores humanity’s relationship with the forest in a world increasingly dominated by technology.”
And there’s more to Negrón’s creation and inception of this piece: A hope to connect humanity with nature in the face of climate change.
“Following Hurricane Maria, there are spaces now where trees used to be,” Negrón said. “And yet, there are trees that remain resilient despite the storm. My family is still there, too. Resilience is something I find in the diaspora, and in the community.”
That ethos will be made clear and ambient in the choice of venue for “Chorus of the Forest” — the vast, 50 acre Thain Family Forest. It will be presented through six musical vignettes — and through her abilities as an atmospheric musician with a sense for the intangible, the piece intends to move through the space as naturally as an Autumn breeze.
The soundscape will be framed by a variety of percussive sounds, which have been co-designed by fellow instrumentalist Nick Yulman.
For her performance this weekend, the botanical garden also has commissioned Choral Chameleon, Downtown Voices, Young New Yorker’s Chorus and the chorus group from Celia Cruz High School. Negrón’s experience working and preparing with this grand bouquet of vocal artists was layered in gratefulness and joy, and an excitement about the future.
Shows take place both Saturday and Sunday beginning at 1 p.m., and a later performance at 3.
“I hope to be here more often,” she said. “Getting to know the Bronx through the young community of these choral groups is wonderful. This is a great community, and my work at the garden has made me reimagine my work for the better.”