A fresh, and different view of Latin American concert music
by composer Gilbert Galindo (1982 -)
Most composers of Latin America from the 20th and 21st centuries are not well known in North America. While the music of Carlos Chavez, Alberto Ginastera, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Astor Piazzolla has penetrated our repertoire in North America, the extensiveness of their output is not emphasized or they are composers about which we know little when compared to those of the United States and of Europe. Other composers of a younger generation are also worth noting such as: Marlos Nobre, Gerardo Gandini, Celso Darrido-Lecca, and Mario Lavista. Through these composers one can find a rich array of music that utilizes the experienced environment of the composer. These two generations of composers also represent at least two general aesthetics in compositional techniques that were influenced by trends occurring in Europe and the United States. Basically, what occurred in European and United States music history had its parallel in Latin America. However, Latin American composers were also influenced by native, folk, and popular musics of their homeland. Some composers were more affected by one or the other, but all in all, in their music there is a unique blend of European styles and techniques with Latin American influences.
Nearly all the composers mentioned above studied abroad in Europe or the United States at one point or another and learned the current trends that were occurring in art music of their respective times. Generally, the composers then took these new ideas and utilized them in their own compositions when they returned to their countries. On a superficial level, it can be assumed that these composers were merely copying European and American techniques and ideas, but were they? What use was it to them that they learned these techniques? Did they form any uniquely ideas on their own, such as Boulez and Babbitt with total serialism? What is different about Latin American composers? music than from Europe and the United States? Is it distinctively "Latin" or mere copies of their European and American counterparts? Or are these questions of any relevance at all? These questions are more relevant to some composers than others, but the idea of what is "Latin American" art music is still evident. These questions will be explored below as biographical accounts and thoughts on selected composer's works will be given.
The Older Generation, Nationalism and Neo-Classicism
It can be said without regret that Villa Lobos, Chavez, Revueltas, Piazzolla, and Ginastera were all great composers. Each composer's music is different from one another but still have similar influences. The idea of nationalist music was en vogue in Europe at the end of the 19th century in Europe with Dvorak, Smetana, Rimsky-Korsakov and others, and later to some extent in the United States in the first half of the 20th century with Copland. The same occurred in Latin America in the first half of the 20th century when counties were looking to identify themselves. Again, this is a generalization as some composers were more "nationalistic" than others. Also with the influence that Copland and Nadia Boulanger had on Latin America composers, "neo-classicism" made its way to Latin America.
Nationalist music and neo-classicism can mean many different things. Either description is neither a style nor an aesthetic but an idea. Some may argue with me, but I say this since there are varying styles within each term. Dvorak's music is different from Smetana's, as it is from Alexander Borodin's. Stravinsky's neo-classical music is different from Copland's as it is different from Prokofiev. What pervades in their music is the idea of nationalism and neo-classicism. Nationalistic music is art music that is influenced by nationalistic themes and ideas that can range from folk tunes (as in Smetana's case) to political propaganda (as in Shostakovich's case). Neo-classicism is music that is influenced by the idea of classicism in music, or music from the 17th-19th centuries. Perfection, symmetry, consonant harmonies, hierarchy, the music of Mozart, Pergolesi, and Bach all have influenced the "neo-classical" composers in some way or another. However, the neo-classical music of Stranvinsky is different from that of Copland. It can even be said that Copland was not an intentional neo-classicist, but in the idea of neo-classicism it can be seen, due to the fact that he chose not to write music that was "avant garde" but tonal and tradional-in an "American" way with his open harmonies. Copland can also be considered a nationalistic composer as well and through that we can see that both these terms can be applied to one composer instead of one idea applied to one composer.
These ideas ring true with the composers of Latin America. Nationalistic and neo-classical movements were ideas rather than styles in the art music of Latin America during the first half of the 20th century. Now we will turn to take a closer look at how these musical movements and ideas affected the aforementioned composers.
Carlos Chavez was a Mexican composer of importance and arguable the most well-known. Born in 1899, he went on to write music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, ballets, chorus, and solo piano (Radice, 2003). His career was multi-faceted as he was not only a composer, but a conductor and lecturer (Behague, 1979). Chavez directed the Orquestra Sinfonica de Mexico until 1949 as well as the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes until 1953 (Behague, 1979; Radice, 2003). After that phase of his career, he dedicated his time to composition, won the Guggenheim in 1956 and delivered the Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard from 1958-1959 (Behague, 1979). Those accomplishments are life time awards given to composers and great musicians which signify their importance and relevance to art music.
Two important works written for orchestra were Sinfonia de Antigona and Sinfonia India. Sinfonia de Antigona is said to have been influenced by Stravinsky's neo-classical "style" (Behague, 1979). This was considered to be one of the non-nationalistic pieces which utilize European techniques (246). Other works reflected that characteristic as well. Sinfonia India incorporates Native America (Mexican) stylistic elements (Radice, 2003). Pentatonic scales, modes, quartel harmonies, meter changes, repetitive motifs were used to depict native elements (Radice, 2003). The 1930s-1940s was a time in which Mexican art music saw the rise and fall of nationalism in Mexico with the assimilation of different techniques and styles such as neo-classicism and polytonality (Behague, 1979). These two works mentioned reflect all three of those trends and ideas.
Upon hearing Sinfonia de Antigona one can be struck by the colors Chavez uses from the orchestra. Another thing that is striking about this work is the fact that he hardly writes for a full texture. Only certain sections or groups of instruments play at a time, which give way to its thin texture. For example, the violins usually play without the rest of the strings but with woodwinds and brass. The piece incorporates heavy use of woodwinds in a dark manner by using the lower pitched woodwind instruments. Also, the quality of the chords, give the music its dark character. Through this the texture is still thin but sounds full; the mix of dark colors and thin texture give the piece a unique sound. The writing is mainly vertical, in that chords and harmony play an important role, but there are some melodic occurrences apart from the chordal writing. The harmony prevalent in this piece is of modal nature. The rhythmic drive is slow and intense but still contains drive. By listening to this I do not hear Stravinskian neo-classicism at all. I hear a unique and highly personal composer's music with a clear aesthetic all his own.
Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) was a self-proclaimed nationalistic composer. He "came of age" during the peak of musical nationalism in Argentina and gained his reputation as a national composer in 1937 with Danzas Argentinas for piano and his ballet Panambi (Behague, 1979). In 1941, he established himself as the leader of the nationalistic movement in Argentina with another ballet, Estancia in 1941 (Behague, 1979). However, those two ballets were problematic to some in its reception due to its extra-musical content (Radice, 2003). Ginastera defined three periods in his compositional life: objective nationalism, subjective nationalism, and neo-expressionist (Schulz). It is interesting that a composer would define periods of his work, usually periods in a composers work occur naturally and unintentionally as with Beethoven. Nothing is ever said that Beethoven set out to create three distinct periods in his music. Nevertheless, these distinctive periods show Ginastera's variety and capability as a composer.
Panambi and Estancia reflect the objective national period in Ginastera's output. This period (1937-1949) is defined by the inclusion of the gauchesco (Argentinean cowboy) tradition, strong local color, conscious treatment of indigenous themes, a clear tonal idiom with inclusion of some extremely dissonant passages (Behague, 1979). However, Ginastera rarely directly borrowed actual folk materials (Behague, 1979). His second period can be understood from its given term. Subjective nationalism (1948-1958) encompasses nationalism not in a direct way but by implication (Behague, 1979). The "Argentine accent" is what is said to be prevalent in this period as it does not employ folklore material (Behague, 1979). His third period does not contain nationalism in its being, but compositional techniques of the 20th century are used, such as: twelve tone, serialization of other elements in music, micro-tonality, polyrhythms, and atonality in a non-serialist manner (Behague, 1979). His last period, obviously, does not reflect the ideas of neo-classicism and nationalism, but again shows his varied talents and interests as a composer. For that reason, this later period will be looked at in the next section of this paper.
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was a very prolific and significant composer of Brazil. His musical training consisted of instruction on the piano and cello but was also compelled with the music of Brazil (Radice, 2003). After receiving classical training in music, as a young man, Villa-Lobos ventured on his own to explore Brazil and its native musics (Radice, 2003). He also collaborated with musicians in popular music idioms at the beginning of the 20th century, such as the Choros (Behague, 1979). Villa-Lobos also met Milhaud and through him, developed a liking of the music of Debussy and the French composers of Le Six (Behague, 1979). With his trip to Europe, Villa-Lobos began to obtain international acclaim, and especially with the promotion of his music by pianist Artur Rubinstein (Behague, 1979).
It is safe to say that Villa-Lobos was no doubt a nationalistic composer. With his varied influences and experiences, it is no wonder that his music has an innate blend of European techniques and nativistic elements. Villa-Lobos was a nationalist of a folkloric sort, in which nationalism was inescapable (Behague, 1979). Through use of native music, Villa-Lobos aimed to evoke a "total vision" of Brazil (Behague, 1979). His approach to the incorporation of folk elements in his music, were intuitive and not scientific (Behague, 1979).
Nonetto for flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, harp, celesta, battery, and mixed chorus was influenced by urban popular music through its rhythm and woodwind colors (Behague, 1979). Other elements are evident such as use of tone clusters, quartal/quintal harmonies, parallel harmonic movement, and "altered" chords (Behague, 1979). There is a strong rhythmic drive and element to this piece. The uncommon mix of this ensemble creates very unique colors and sounds not usually heard together and the inclusion of a chorus further adds to that claim. His melodic lines are clearly passionate with short-lived motivic and rhythmic patterns. The gestural and melodic ideas "jump around" throughout the music that then goes into another groove or short-lived idea. This creates a very intuitive and improvisatory sense to the music. The music is fresh, alive, and exciting, the listener does not know what to expect next while there is a constant rhythmic pulsating drive.
The other two composers, Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) and Astor Piazzolla are also notable composers of their respective countries: Mexico and Argentina. Due to the limited extent of this paper, these composers will briefly be explored. Revueltas career is similar to Chavez's in that he taught, composed, and conducted, but Revueltas studied abroad and became familiar with European and United States currents in music of his time (Radice, 2003). He was able to hear music by Schonberg, Stravinsky and Les Six in Europe and met Henry Cowell, Roy Harris, Edgard Varese and Copland in America (Radice, 2003). Revueltas was a nationalist composer of international reputation who made the popular and folk music in Mexico of his time a source of his style (Behague, 1979). When those who know of Piazzolla hear his name, one word can immediately come to mind: tango. Piazzolla studied with Ginastera and Boulanger and composed in a variety of genres (Behague, 1979). As a young composer, he utilized Western European genres, such as sonata form, but later as a more experienced composer, he elevated the tango with striking dissonances, chromaticism, jazz, inclusion of counterpoint, and virtuosic writing (Behague, 1979). Through the progression of the tango brought forth by Piazzolla, he can be considered a nationalistic composer...
It is hardly ever safe to classify one composer or another as being a part of one compositional school of thought. As with the case with the composers mentioned above, it can be seen that for the most part, their output is varied. Each of these composers delved into different processes of writing and have created different results within their own outputs and when compared to each other. But by using these techniques, are these composers copiers of composers of the Untied States and Europe? By using the ideas and methods, the answer is yes, but in the larger picture, I would say no. Their music reflects a different aesthetic, different ears, and tastes. Beauty and elegance was found in all the composers' music to which I listened. An innate sense of rhythmic drive clearly persists in the music of the older generation as well, which is influenced by non-European elements. These composers used these techniques in their own way and through it, their personal voice spoke. Some of Chavez does sound like Copland, such as Sinfonia India, but Sinfonia de Antigona contains a different character that is distinctively Chavez. In Nobre's Mosaico, aleatoric writing is used but does not sound the same as say Stockhausen. While utilizing these European and United States techniques, these composers used according to their personal taste and ear to create distinctively personal music.
It was not found that any of these composers created an original idea apart from European and United States thought. However, the apparent inclusion of indigenous musical influence and a different ear for music than their counterparts creates different sounding art music. It can be assumed that beauty and elegance are more of a concern for these composers than their other western colleagues. That is an overgeneralization of course, but those two adjectives come to mind immediately upon hearing each of these composers' music. The music, in general, also seems more paced; the music is patient and lives and absorbs the sound. This music should be regarded on equal footing with music of Europe and the United States when taught in other parts of the western world. This music has validity, conviction, and a voice of its own different from what our education as classical musicians in the United States brings us. When one thinks of western art music, Latin American art music should also come to mind.
with Manuel Barrueco and Cuarteto Latinoamericano at premiere of BOLIVIANA
with Yue Deng at premiere of SILENCE
Artículo escrito por Freddy Russo, Musicólogo ecuatoriano
publicado 2015 - El Telégrafo
¿Y para cuándo la integración musical de América Latina?
El sueño de Simón Bolívar por alcanzar la integración de “Nuestra América” como la denominó José Martí, sigue más vivo que nunca. Los gobernantes se reúnen en la Celac, Unasur y Alba para conseguir la soberanía sobre nuestros territorios, nuestros recursos y nuestra integridad cultural.
Sin embargo, con nuestra música académica no pasa lo mismo, porque el colonialismo cultural —como hoy se lo conoce— consiste básicamente en la imposición a los países dependientes de escuelas, patrones y modas de las metrópolis. Es decir, en la exportación de los productos culturales de las potencias neocolonialistas para su consumo por los países “dependientes”. Este colonialismo cultural (artístico, tecnológico y pedagógico) constituye el vehículo idóneo para la penetración ideológica, cultural y, en este caso, musical. Y digo esto, porque nuestras orquestas sinfónicas no toman en cuenta en sus programaciones a grandes compositores latinoamericanos. ¿Será porque aún no los consideran “universales” o “clásicos”, o porque simplemente son parte de nuestro folclore?
Pregunto: ¿Quién puede reconocerlos si aún no han sido difundidos, conocidos o interpretados por nuestras propias orquestas? ¿O a la hora de programar, hay un aberrante menosprecio por el pensamiento y sentimiento musical latinoamericano? ¿Qué tienen las obras de los compositores europeos que no tengan las obras de los compositores latinoamericanos? Veamos:
1. ¿Cuál es la diferencia en cuanto al valor estético entre el concierto para violín y orquesta del europeo Félix Mendelssohn y el concierto para violín y orquesta del compositor panameño Roque Cordero (ganador del Premio Koussevitzky de 1974)? No podemos emitir ningún criterio porque aún no ha sido interpretado el concierto del panameño Roque Cordero por nuestras orquestas sinfónicas, ¿verdad?
2. ¿Qué tiene la sinfonía ‘Nuevo Mundo’ del europeo Antonin Dvorak (inspirada en canciones primitivas de indios y blues de negros americanos), que no tenga ‘La Sinfonía India N°.2’ (1935) del latinoamericano Carlos Chávez?
3. ¿Cuál es la diferencia entre ‘La Consagración de la Primavera’ del ruso Igor Stravinsky y la ‘Cantata para América Mágica’ Opus 27 (1960) del argentino Alberto Ginastera? No podemos comparar si solo se ha interpretado la obra del ruso y no conocemos la del latinoamericano.
4. ¿Cuál es la diferencia entre el concierto para guitarra y orquesta del italiano Antonio Vivaldi y el concierto para guitarra y orquesta del brasileño Heitor Villa-Lobos? Lamentablemente no podemos comparar, valorizar, ni siquiera comentar porque aún no conocemos a este último por nuestras orquestas sinfónicas.
Y podríamos seguir comparando largamente, sin embargo, lo que existe esencialmente a la hora de programar es un neocolonialismo cultural, una dominación ideológica que pesa como una montaña sobre el cerebro de los presidentes del directorio, directores de las orquestas sinfónicas y músicos académicos ecuatorianos. Continúan repitiendo las mismas obras de los llamados “universales” y “clásicos” compositores europeos: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler y demás; dejando de lado a los compositores latinoamericanos que han sido olvidados y menospreciados en el más terrible anonimato.
Si nuestros estudiantes de música no conocen el sentimiento musical latinoamericano a un nivel académico, no pueden tener inspiración propia, no pueden continuar con nuestra trayectoria. Si no conocemos lo que han dejado como legado los compositores mexicanos, cubanos, colombianos y demás, están negando la fuente de inspiración propia. La música académica europea —con todo respeto— no es nuestra, la podemos conocer como europea, pero no es obligatorio que se imponga como molde “universal”, es simplemente música clásica de Europa. Al negar la difusión de la música académica latinoamericana, están negando al más alto nivel de composición, nuestra música popular. Están negando nuestro sentimiento y pensamiento musical en su expresión más elevada y esto es lo más condenable porque no han difundido su conocimiento durante décadas, a pesar de que los integrantes de las orquestas sinfónicas viven, comen y ganan sus salarios de nuestros impuestos, en nuestro territorio latinoamericano... No podemos seguir haciendo el papel de locos autodestructivos, de extranjeros nacionalizados que no quieren asumir el sentimiento musical latinoamericano. En otras palabras, no cuestionar en estos momentos que se habla de la unión latinoamericana, que se practica el fortalecimiento de nuestra unificación como naciones; no hacerlo sería negar la posibilidad de conocer a los grandes compositores latinoamericanos que por décadas han sido olvidados por nuestros músicos académicos; no criticar esa sumisión de colonizados sería como correr detrás de lo concreto y quedarnos inmóviles en el esquema de colonos. Aún hay tiempo para rectificar semejante olvido por lo nuestro...
Anexo 1. Durante el siglo XX un grupo significativo de compositores de América Latina alcanzó el reconocimiento internacional. Alberto Ginastera, Carlos López Buchardo, Carlos Guastavino, Luis Gianneo, y Astor Piazzolla de Argentina; Heitor Villa-Lobos, Camargo Guarnieri, Luciano Gallet y Francisco Mignone, Ricardo Santoro y Osvaldo Lacerda de Brazil; Luis Humberto Salgado de Ecuador; Antonio Lauro, Juan Bautista Plaza, Antonio Estévez e Inocente Carreño de Venezuela; Manuel Ponce, Carlos Chávez, y Silvestre Revueltas de México; Domingo Santa Cruz, Pedro Humberto Allende, Carlos Isamitt y Juan Orrego-Salas de Chile; Guillermo Uribe-Holguín, Luis Antonio Escobar, Roberto Pineda Duque, Antonio María Valencia, Francisco Zumaqué, Blás Emilio Atehortúa, Jesús Pinzón Urrea de Colombia; Teodoro Valcárcel de Perú; Ernesto Cordero de Panamá, Eduardo Caba de Bolivia, Ernesto Lecuona de Cuba y Héctor Tosar y Eduardo Fabini de Uruguay. Mientras que durante el último tercio de siglo los compositores destacados se acrecentaron destacando además: Mario Davidosky y Osvaldo Golijov de Argentina; Leo Brouwer, Aurelio de la Vega y Tania León de Cuba; Gabriela Ortiz y Mario Lavista de México; Héctor Campos-Parsi y Roberto Sierra de Puerto Rico; Paul Desene de Venezuela; Gustavo Becerra Schmidt de Chile; José Serebrier y Miguel del Aguila de Uruguay; Edino Krieger, Egberto Gismonti y Marlos Nobre de Brasil, quienes son reconocidos a escala mundial por su calidad artística.
with Dionne Warwick at the Grammys
with Engelbert Humperdinck at Chautauqua, NY
Latin American Composers, Hispanic American Music and its place in modern contemporary concert music.
The music of composers from Latin America has added countless exceptional works to the classical music repertoire of the 20th. and 21th. Centuries, but a greater part of this music still remains unperformed as the classical establishment seems to resists its full inclusion and acceptance into the standard, contemporary music repertoire. While Latin American composers like Alberto Ginastera, Heitor Villa-Lobos or Silvestre Revueltas occasionally make it to the concert halls, a great part of Latin American concert music remains unknown. Other more often performed, Hispanic and South American composers are at times denied - at home and abroad - full classical status as is the case with Piazzolla, Agustin Barrios and Ernesto Nazareth. The music of some of these great composers shares qualities which are still frown upon in the conservative contemporary music circles. Its folk inspired language and unabashed use of rhythm, harmony and melody; its colorful percussion, romantic sensuality and drama and it's lack of theatrical experimentations are just a few of these qualities. Add to this the composer’s individualism and often disregard for prevalent style trends and you can begin to understand why.
Latin America never had a strong concert music tradition. The richness and variety of its folk culture has dominated all musical life for centuries. Concert music here remains an art for the elites and its main purpose is still to recreate European models. Even today, many Hispanic composers still mirror the Avant-garde of Darmstadt, Paris or New York which they view as a requisite for international acceptance. In this climate of cultural colonialism these are the few local composers who receive some official support. In this way, many Argentines only thought of young Piazzolla as a bad composer of Tangos, and Paraguay ignored Agustin Barrios altogether. Only their international recognition triggered a slow validation process at home. This, in reverse, happens to Hispanic composers living in the US and Europe where local institutions favor the flattery and recognition implied by Latin Americans joining their music idiosyncrasies. Hispanic composers who sound too Latin, are often seen with suspicion and as less serious or non-classical. A few pragmatic composers, like Piazzolla or Barrios bypassed this prejudice by focusing exclusively on popular audiences without ever claiming their well deserved concert music inclusion, recognition or funding.
The huge wealth of Latin American folk music has also led to misunderstandings abroad as works by some Latin American composers were mistaken for anonymous raw material, copied and appropriated. While Darius Milhaud's two most popular works, Le Beuf sur le toit and Scaramouche incorporate pages of Nazareth’ music, his name or his Brejeiro, remain un- acknowledged, and Peruvian composer Daniel Robles never collected from his 1913 work El Condor Pasa, later copyrighted by Paul Simon.
The schism between the Avant-garde and the post-experimental folk-inspired-neoclassicism is most polarized in Latin America. While their differences and values are still being debated in the conservative rooms of contemporary music academia, audiences and History made up their minds long ago… time and time again, in favor of the latter. The experimental schools have changed little in a century and produced no popular works or composers, while the folk-inspired post-experimental neo-nationalist schools of Latin America (and the world), have produced the most beloved composers and works of our times. For any Hispanic American young musician the choice seems clear: as the experiments of Argentine Mauricio Kagel remain unconvincing imitations of post-war German modernism, the works of his contemporary compatriots Ginastera or Piazzolla increasingly become the universal sound-track of our times and Latin America’s greater exports. So it seems that the future of Hispanic American - and the world’s - concert music, rests on a more fair inclusion and acknowledgement of geographies and cultures. Today’s audiences favor music that is intelligible, evocative, enjoyable and memorable. When we want to listen to music we seldom think of inventors or experiments. We think rather of music that touches our soul and moves us, of music that we can sing to and feel empty space with, music that reminds us of our individuality as it bonds us together in a common experience; music that makes us feel and be better. Many of these qualities are found in Latin American and Hispanic American music and this explains its immediate appeal when given a chance to be heard. We all need to help recognize, promote, perform and fund more of it! Miguel del Aguila - 2016
Miguel Del Aguila: "write the music that comes from your heart without caring about what's fashionable or what the rest of the world thinks you should be writing"...about this and many other things we talked with the outstanding composer, nominated for Grammy Awards, Miguel Del Aguila.
- The Bible says that no one is a prophet in their own land. How do you understand the meaning of this statement?
-I think this is very true. The term “local artist” has an almost pejorative connotation, while all it should mean is that the artist’s geographical location is near. Very often a classical musician’s careers happens internationally and this also means that sometimes we leave our hometowns and neglect our original audiences and they forget us a bit. So it goes both ways. In general, however, I think it's human nature to idealize what's far and unknown and underestimate what next to you and familiar.
-If I am not mistaken, you were 20 years old when you left Uruguay and moved for California. Do you think that your career as a musician might have been different if you had remained in the homeland?
-Ah, if we could only know what it all could have been…! Yes, my career would have been very different without my years in Vienna and the USA. As I left Uruguay, escaping a fascist militaristic dictatorship, it's hard to speculate on what my life would have been there, I could very well have been dead for 35 years now as the government killed thousands during the infamous "Dirty War". I think having assimilated many different cultures as I emigrated helped me learn more about myself and who I really am and gave me a wider perspective of my music and my goal in life and as a composer. Politically it made me very vigilant of governments and their power over people.
-This is not an easy matter to survive and achieve success in a foreign country. Does music help you to overcome life obstacles in your way?
-Music is sometimes the escape that helps you overcome adversity and sometimes it’s the obstacle itself as people in your new country will sometimes see you and your music as foreign or just don't understand it. The world is much more cosmopolitan and pluralistic now than it was forty years ago, I think things are easier now.
-You spent 10 years in Europe and studied at the Hochschule für Musik and the Konservatorioum in Vienna. What things do you remember most of all during the studies?
-I paid my studies there working at the Vienna State Opera, first as an extra and then accompanying singers privately. Here I met the greatest singers, dancers, musicians and directors of our times …every night! I learned more by observing these people than by writing fugues at the Hochschule. I had a few good teachers there who inspired me, but in general the curriculum was boring and outdated. Learning to write second species counterpoint, and to copy Palestrina has absolutely nothing to do with learning to be a composer.
- After a while you received the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award, and performed in Zurich, Vienna, Tokyo, Rome, in Moscow, other world capitals. Could you tell us about your impressions of visit to Russia?
-My longest stay in Russia was in the early 90’s as Odessa Philharmonic and conductor Hobart Earle took the orchestra (and two of my works), on a tour that also included Kiev, Moscow and St. Petersburg I believe. I traveled with the orchestra and shared rooms with musicians or stayed in private houses that would host us. I could get a closer look at Russian culture and its people. At that time they idealized Western Capitalism and they were starting to consider that perhaps there was a way out of their imposed isolation. Musically and historically, there was so much to learn and see in this tour that I couldn’t soak it all in. I remember getting lost in Moscow, spending hours in absolute bedazzlement on red square and buying an overcoat on GUM which I used in Vienna for years… then getting lost on the way to the rehearsal at Dom Compositor which I almost missed. I also got lost again at the airport and the orchestra almost left without me. I'm sure I must have been a nightmare for the poor KGB agent in charge keeping up with me. I would love to come back and spend more time and get to know better this beautiful country an culture. I still day-dream of taking the Orient Express from Moscow to Vladivostok and spend months totally "lost". If only my schedule allowed it…
- Several years ago you were nominated for a Latin Grammy for your “Salon Buenos Aires”. What were your feelings at the moment when you saw your name in the list of nominees?
-I was very surprised. I don’t keep up with awards or competitions. I think art is a very subjective thing and it is impossible to judge its quality in absolute terms. I was however very moved and honored that my colleagues voted for the Salon Buenos Aires CD and for my composition Clocks, and thought they were deserving of the Grammy distinction. It was this recognition from my fellow artists what meant most to me in this nomination.
-You are the founder and director of the young musicians group Voices. What are the difficulties you have come across in your work?
-My group VOICES has been dormant for a few years now but it was very active for a long time and helped discover many young talented musicians, send them to good schools all over the world. I think one of our main obstacles we faced was the mind-set up of some parents, administrators and even teachers who were not receptive to new ideas and wanted to apply the rules of academia to the arts and to our group. We did crazy things and that was precisely what set us apart from others and got us final recognition and larger audiences.
-What can you advise young beginner composers who dream of a Grammy nomination after reading this article about you?
-My advice is: Don't dream of it! Do your work as if nobody is watching and write the music that comes from your heart without caring about what's fashionable or what the rest of the world thinks you should be writing.
with Gunther Schuller at Chautauqua, NY
with Placido Domingo at the Grammys
Copyright Miguel del Aguila. All rights reserved.