Concerto, Music, piano, Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized

Soloist Profile: Erica Mineo in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Erica Mineo will perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto as our soloist with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra on June 1 in a program that will also include Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, and a new piece by Daniel Godsil. Click here for more details.

Christian Baldini: Erica, first of all congratulations on winning the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition. There was a competitive pool of applicants, and the jury’s decision was unanimously in your favor. At your age, you have already quite a few important accomplishments behind you. Please tell us how you started with the piano. How and when did you first become interested in music? I understand you also play the violin. Please tell us about it too.

Erica Mineo: Thank you! This opportunity to perform with the symphony is a great honor and a dream come true, and I must give credit to Marilyn Swan, my wonderful piano teacher, and Claire Zheng, an excellent accompanist and an even better friend. I am indebted to them both for all their support and guidance through these months of learning and interpreting the Schumann.

I started piano when I was seven, rather late compared to most of my contemporaries. But I’m thankful I wasn’t ever forced to play an instrument. Cultivating my love for music has been a very organic process. When I was very young, I listened to plenty of Classical music—my parents still have the Mozart CD’s they played when I was a baby! I suppose you could say I’m from a musical family, too. On my father’s side, my grandmother is a jazz singer, and my great-uncle Paul Peek was a rockabilly musician and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee! On my mother’s side, my uncle is a classical music aficionado, and so was my grandfather.

I’ve got a funny story about how I ended up playing the violin. My elementary school had an orchestra program in which students chose any instrument they liked. When I was nine, I arbitrarily picked the violin, and it’s stuck with me ever since. With both instruments, I’ve been lucky to have teachers who instill a solid foundation in technique, artistry, and theory while still making music meaningful and ultimately, fun. And ever since my early days with those Mozart CD’s, Classical music has remained an integral part of my life and identity.

CB: Which other activities do you enjoy outside music?

EM: Just like music, I’ve been very passionate about animals, especially cats and horses, ever since I was young. I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian. Currently, I enjoy volunteering with Yolo County Animal Services (YCAS) and Therapeutic Riding and Off-Track Rehabilitation (TROTR), both in Woodland. I’m also a member of Foal Team—we help take care of the baby equines (and the occasional alpaca) that come through the UCD vet school’s large animal neonatal ICU. I’m an undergraduate volunteer with the Knights Landing One Health Veterinary Clinic as well—our monthly clinic provides in-town veterinary services to the rural community of Knights Landing.

I very much enjoy reading literary classics, especially Shakespeare, and writing poetry. Running and nature photography illustrate my ever-present affinity with the great outdoors. And ever since finding out I’m autistic, I’ve become keenly interested in disability rights and neurodiversity, why we need this variation of brains and minds more than ever in today’s world. As the buttons and pins on my violin case illustrate, I hope to channel this deep passion into promoting disability awareness and acceptance and empowering other autistic people. I’m the co-founder and Vice President of the Autism and Neurodiversity Community at UC Davis, a peer-support group for autistic students.

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CB: We look forward to featuring you as our soloist for the first movement of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. In your opinion, what is so beautiful and remarkable about this piece? Why did you choose to perform it?

EM: The Schumann is such a sensitive, intimate, and yet fiercely determined work, with so many mischievous moments and little conversations with the orchestra. I especially love the back-and-forth parts between the piano and the oboe solo. Here’s a fun fact: the oboist playing these solos, Rose—I mean Professor Baunach—is actually my Physics instructor this quarter! And Claire’s on timpani, and I’ve got several other friends in the strings, winds, and brass. Schumann really fosters collaboration in this concerto. I’ve never really believed the soloist is inherently “better” than the orchestra anyway—one musician does not make a concerto, after all—but here, the piano and orchestra make a true team.

I also can definitely relate to Schumann as a person. While he likely wasn’t autistic, the historical evidence shows he definitely was neurodivergent in some respect. I wonder if his music was like a different kind of language for him, much as it is for me. Music communicates so much more than mere words!

Ms. Swan suggested learning the Schumann about a year ago, since I performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto in high school. I understand Grieg composed his piano concerto after hearing the Schumann, and it’s quite fascinating to see the similarities between the two. Not only the key, A Minor, but also minutiae such as those mischievous oboe solos! These two pieces are quite like siblings, and I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to learn them both.

CB: What is a typical routine for you? How much do you practice your piano and your violin, and how do you balance your music with school activities, and everything else?

EM: You’re absolutely right—fitting music, schoolwork, and pre-vet activities all together is a delicate balancing act. A consistent routine is essential. I usually get up very early in the morning and try to go to bed at a decent hour if I’ve not got a late-night Foal Team shift. Social media does not exist in my vocabulary. Ironically, the academic rigor is not the most difficult aspect of the school day—it’s pacing myself through all the sensory stimuli that accumulates when I’m walking to class and interacting with others. The music building and the Pitzer center are two of my refuges when it gets overwhelming—the little red bench on the second floor of the music building is one of my favorite spots.

As a busy pre-vet, I do admit I ought to practice music more than I do—usually I snatch an hour or two in between classes, or—as Claire is apt to tell you—occasionally even before lessons. But with such limited time, one learns to make the most of every minute, to focus on those key measures while not losing sight of the entire work. And when I’m not practicing, I’ll get creative—perhaps think about interpretation and intent while walking to class, play some pieces I’m working on to the cats in the YCAS shelter, or have a playlist of passages running (excuse the pun) in my head while I’m on a run.

CB: Is music very important to you? (I imagine it is, when I hear you play!) And why?

EM: The eminent French piano teacher Nadia Boulanger once said, “Do not take up music unless you would rather die than not do so.” This sentiment resonates deeply with me. Classical music is the oxygen for my soul. It’s been the portal to forming meaningful, long-lasting friendships—virtually all my close friends play an instrument or sing. Ultimately, it’s allowed me to feel such profound emotion and expression I never previously thought possible.

And while being autistic does have its challenges as an invisible disability, you can especially see its great strengths in music. My sensitivity to sound becomes an asset in noting the little details, in pieces from my chamber group’s piano quintet to Bach fugues. When I play or hear a piece, I see and feel sparks, waves, and ripples of color in addition to the notes themselves. Thanks to this intersection of autism and musical perception, I not only hear but also experience music as a living, tangible entity.

CB: What are your dreams? Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?

EM: After finishing my undergraduate studies, I plan to attend veterinary school, most likely along the companion animal/equine track. I hope to keep advocating for acceptance of autism and neurodiversity in society, including in music and the veterinary field. And I very much hope to keep playing the piano and violin and sharing these musical masterpieces with others—both humans and non-humans—throughout these years and beyond.  

CB: Thank you very much for your time, and for your very inspiring answers. We look forward to sharing your beautiful musicality with our audience soon!

EM: You’re very welcome! I very much look forward to rehearsing and performing with you and the symphony!

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Erica Mineo, a second-year undergraduate majoring in Biological Sciences and minoring in Music and Animal Science (Equine), currently studies piano with Marilyn Swan at UC Davis. Erica began her piano studies at age seven with Soh-Ra Kim and Dr. Linda Mazich-Govel in Rancho Palos Verdes. In high school, she studied with Hans Boepple, music professor and former department chair at Santa Clara University. She has enjoyed master classes and sessions with composer Dr. David Ward-Steinman, Bernadene Blaha, Lucille Straub, Nina Scolnik, and Dr. Louise Earhart. Erica performed Mozart’s 9th Piano Concerto as a soloist with the Southwestern Music Festival and Beach Cities Symphony orchestras, and the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Monta Vista High School Chamber Orchestra and the Winchester Orchestra of San Jose. She was a three-time state finalist in the Celia Mendez Beethoven Competition at San Jose State University, and has also earned recognition for performances of Mozart, Bach, Chopin, and Grieg. In 2017, Erica was a Music Teachers’ Association of California (MTAC) Young Artist Guild finalist, and in 2015 earned MTAC Panel Honors for piano and violin. She began studying violin from age nine with Gail Gerding-Mellert, and in high school with Julliard faculty member Li Lin as well as Robin Sharp, SF Chamber Orchestra concertmaster and Stanford faculty member. Erica was the Monta Vista High School Chamber Orchestra concertmaster, and now studies violin with Jolán Friedhoff at UC Davis. As a violinist, Erica enjoys performing chamber music in a piano quintet.

A passionate pre-vet, Erica is keenly interested in pursuing the companion animal/equine track. She is a member of the UC Davis vet school’s Foal Team and the Knights Landing One Health Veterinary Clinic. She also volunteers with Yolo County Animal Services (YCAS) and Therapeutic Riding and Off-Track Rehabilitation (TROTR), both in Woodland. Her other passions include classic literature (especially Shakespeare), writing poetry, running, nature photography, and disability studies.

Erica is also a proudly autistic disability rights advocate, and the co-founder and Vice President of the Autism and Neurodiversity Community at UC Davis, a peer-support group for autistic students. She was invited as a panelist to speak about her experiences as an autistic university student at the UC Davis MIND Institute’s May 31st Neurodiversity Summit.

 

 

 

Concert Hall, Dance, Experimental, folklore, Music, Nature, Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized

Composer Profile: Daniel Godsil in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Christian Baldini: Daniel, congratulations on having your work Cathedral Grove selected to be performed by the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra at our upcoming concert on June 1, as part of the UCDSO Composition Award/Readings. Tell us about your piece, its title, its genesis, and anything else that you’d like to add.

Daniel Godsil: Thank you, Christian! It’s an honor to have been chosen for this, and to get the opportunity to work with you and the UC Davis Symphony!

For me, an orchestra is a very special thing: I love the beautiful concert halls, I love the rituals, I love the great masterworks that have been written for it. I especially love how so many people assemble together, both onstage and off, to present and hear this music. As I was deciding what to do with this piece, I thought about how much an orchestra, and all its accompanying social structure, is similar to “America’s Best Idea”: its national parks. We take time out of our busy days to go experience something out of the ordinary; we’ve decided as a culture how much certain extraordinary places mean to us, and how important it is to preserve them for future generations. The Muir Woods–of which the “Cathedral Grove” is a part– is one such place for me. And there’s immediate beauty, yes, but these ancient trees have been around long before us and will hopefully still be there long after we’re gone: this evokes a very sublime feeling. John Steinbeck said in his book Travels With Charley that “No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree;” this piece is my humble attempt to, instead, make a painting in sound. I tried to capture some of that sublime feeling, and also vitality, majesty, tenderness, silence, light or color filtering through the tops of trees, etc.  

CB: What do you try to achieve with every new piece that you write? What are your main goals?

DG: After finishing my undergraduate work in composition, I spent a long time working as a composer for film and other visual media. When I returned to composing art music, it took me a long time to come to terms with why I was doing it; it didn’t feel like there was a tangible end product like a movie or a video game. What has really helped me is the idea of making music as a community. With so much music out there nowadays, I think it’s important to cultivate music groups or communities–people that you work with, live with, study with, meet at a festival, have coffee with. I’m always most excited to hear music that my friends make or perform. I try as much as I can to write music that will be appropriate for the performer or event I’m composing for, and I love collaborating with performers while I compose. Hopefully, this all helps to communicate with the audience, too.

CB: You’ve now lived in California for quite a few years. Has being a UC Davis graduate student influenced you much professionally and/or personally, and if so, in which ways?

DG: California is a very special place for me: for one, my wife Sara grew up here, and has deep ties to the Bay Area, and her family lives here. And now, my daughter Betsy (who is already 18 months old!) was born here. I grew up in Illinois, in the hometown of poet Carl Sandburg. Illinois has its own kind of beauty, but I have to admit that it’s nothing quite like what I experience in California on a daily basis. A lot of this comes out in my recent music, too. I’ve been influenced profoundly by the natural beauty of my new home state. As an added bonus, the music department at UC Davis is fantastic! We grad students get to compose for and collaborate with world-class performers, and study with musicians and scholars at the tops of their field. What more could you ask for? I’ve also become a very avid cyclist, and I absolutely love that I can bicycle all year round in California. Living in Davis has taught me that time on the bike is almost as important as studying or composing!

CB: Is there anything that you’d like to see change in the usual concert platform, or in the way that symphony concerts are presented?

DG: As I mentioned earlier, I’m someone who really loves the modern orchestra and how it’s presented now. Even though it may seem stuffy, there’s a reverence built into the ritual that I think should be preserved. Just like you wouldn’t go into the Muir Woods with a boombox (hopefully), there’s a level of respect that goes with an orchestral performance. That said, I really think that orchestras need to have a significant “laboratory” component, where new music is given equal standing with established repertoire. When you go to a good museum, the contemporary works aren’t presented in some back room…they’re in a fantastic, new, climate-controlled space, right next door to the masterworks of the past. I’m not a fan of having new orchestral works presented as filler, or blamed for lost ticket sales. The audiences should be given more credit! Look at what the Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil are doing, for instance, and thriving, at that! Championing new music should be a major part of preserving our beautiful orchestral tradition; like the slogan says for the American Composers Forum, “all music was once new.” And by taking chances on new local music! I love going to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, for instance: they have a great collection of local California art, and it’s fantastically diverse. I love it when orchestras do the same kind of thing, it strengthens community bonds very simply and effectively.

CB: What would be your advice for anyone trying to become a composer? (and/or for anyone applying for graduate school in composition)?

DG: Again, I think it’s really important to cultivate musical community. If you’re not a skilled instrumentalist or performer, start by working on that! Get out and start playing music with other people. Write something for a cellist friend, for instance, and see what works. You can learn so much more in one rehearsal than by reading books for that same amount of time. That’s not to say that reading or studying is a bad thing: it’s important to learn your craft through whatever means possible, and doubly important if you want to pursue composition at the graduate level. But I think it’s good to frame everything by actually doing music.

CB: Thank you for your time, Daniel, we look forward to performing your piece and sharing it with our audience soon!

DG: Thank you, Christian, I’m really excited to work with you and the orchestra, and I hope people who hear it will let me know what they think!

 

 

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Daniel Godsil‘s music, which has been described by the San Francisco Classical Voice as having an “intense dramatic narrative”, draws from such eclectic influences as rock and heavy metal, science-fiction, and Brutalist architecture.

Winner of the 2017 Earplay Donald Aird Composition Competition (for his quartet Aeropittura), Godsil’s music has been played by Ensemble Dal Niente, Talujon Percussion, the Lydian String Quartet, the Empyrean Ensemble, the Metropolitan Orchestra of Saint Louis, the University Symphony Orchestra at California State University, Fullerton, the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, the Daedalus String Quartet, and the Nova Singers, among many others. Recent film scores include the PBS documentary Boxcar People, Man Ray’s 1926 silent film Emak-Bakia and the feature film H.G. Welles’ The First Men In The Moon. Godsil was a finalist in the 2018 Lake George Music Festival chamber composition competition, the 2018 Reno Pops Orchestra competition, as well as the 2014 & 2018 Red Note New Music Festival Composition Competitions. His choral works are published by Alliance Music Publishing and NoteNova Publishing.

Born and raised in central Illinois, Godsil (b.1982) is currently pursuing his PhD. in Composition and Theory at the University of California, Davis, studying with Mika Pelo, Laurie San Martin, and Sam Nichols. He holds an MFA in Music Composition from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he studied with John Fitz Rogers, John Mallia, and Jonathan Bailey Holland. He also holds a BM in Music Composition from Webster University.

Godsil was selected to participate in the 2017 Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP) in Boston, where he had master classes with composers Nicholas Vines and Georg Friedrich Haas.

Godsil has also been active as an educator, conductor, and performer in the central Illinois area, Knox College, Monmouth College, and Carl Sandburg College. At Knox College, he directed the New Music Ensemble, Wind Ensemble, Chamber Ensemble, and Men’s Chorus. He has also held posts as choral accompanist and collaborative pianist, and served as Music Director and Organist at Grace Episcopal Church in Galesburg, IL.

Uncategorized

UC Davis Symphony Orchestra 2019-20 (SEASON 61)

Below is the complete listing for the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, entering its 61st Season (2019-20). The UCDSO is one of the most forward looking and advanced University orchestras in the US, having performed major works by Ligeti, Varèse, Luciano Berio, dozens of world premières, in addition to cycles by Sibelius, Schumann, Beethoven, and multiple works in the core symphonic repertoire. The UC Davis Symphony Orchestra has collaborated with many great artists of our time, such as violinist Miranda Cuckson, and conductors David Robertson and Dennis Russell Davies (and in side-by-side settings with the Saint Louis Symphony, and with members of the Bruckner Orchester Linz and the San Francisco Symphony). The orchestra has performed international tours to France, Australia, the Polynesia, and Spain. Our 61st season will be the 11th season under the leadership of music director and conductor Christian Baldini.
Ashley Dixon
Ashley Dixon
Rising Stars of Opera
October 5
Ashley Dixon, mezzo; Christopher Colmenero, tenor; and Christopher Oglesby, tenor
Mark Morash, Guest Conductor
leyla kabuli
Leyla Kabuli

 

November 23
UC Davis Symphony Orchestra
Christian Baldini, music director and conductor
Dialogues and Poetry
Strauss, Don Juan
Lutoslawski, Chain 2, with Maximilian Haft
Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto No. 2, with Leyla Kabuli
Soo-Yeon-320x240
Soo Yeon Lyuh
February 1
UC Davis Symphony Orchestra
Christian Baldini, music director and conductor
Korean Virtuosity, Immortal Dances
Ravel, Pavane pour une infante défunte
Jean Ahn, The Woven Silk, for haegeum and orchestra, with Soo Yeon Lyuh
Christian Baldini, NEW WORK for haegeum and orchestra, with Soo Yeon Lyuh
Ravel, La Valse

 

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Andrei Baumann
March 6
UC Davis Symphony Orchestra
University Chorus, Caleb Lewis (director of choirs)
Christian Baldini, music director and conductor
Celebrating Beethoven
Laurie San Martin, New Work
Beethoven, Piano Concerto No. 4, with Andrei Baumann
Beethoven, Christ on the Mount of Olives, Op. 85
mercedes gomez benet
Mercedes Gómez Benet
May 2
UC Davis Symphony Orchestra
Christian Baldini, music director and conductor
Spirits and Dances
Brahms, Hungarian Dance No. 5
María Granillo, Danzas de los espíritus animales (World Première, Harp Concerto) – with Mercedes Gómez Benet
Dvorak, Symphony No. 8 in G major
JuanDiegoDiazPhoto.jpg
Juan Diego Díaz

May 30
UC Davis Symphony Orchestra
Christian Baldini, music director and conductor
Boundless Humor and Vitality
Juan Diego Diaz, Se fue Mendoza
Winner of the UCDSO Concerto Competition
Beethoven, Symphony No. 2
Concerto, Experimental, folklore, Music, Symphony Orchestra, Tango, Uncategorized, violin

Composer Profile: Esteban Benzecry in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On May 4, 2019, I will have the pleasure of conducting the symphonic triptych “Rituales Amerindios” by Argentinean composer Esteban Benzecry, with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra in the beautiful Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. On the same program we will include the Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, with violinist Stephanie Zyzak and cellist Eunghee Cho, and the work “phôsphors (. . . of ether)” by Irish composer Ann Cleare.

Christian Baldini: Esteban, first of all, it is a pleasure for me as an Argentine to be conducting your beautiful and captivating music in the US. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. Tell me, how were your first few steps in music? You have been living in Paris for many, many years, but your path started in Argentina. How was your childhood, and when did you first feel attracted to music composition? 

Esteban Benzecry: I am the one who is grateful, and I am delighted to know that my music will be heard in Davis, and that it is in such great hands. 

I became close to music when I was already a teenager. Before then, I was always more attracted to painting. When I was 10 I had an attempt to learn the piano, but I quit after a few months because I found it boring, perhaps because I was not mature enough for it at the time.

While I was attending elementary school and high school, I also went to the Fine Arts Institute Manuel José de Labardén (Instituto Vocacional de Arte Manuel José de Labardén) in Buenos Aires, where we were taught fine arts, theatre, photography, theatre, indigenous instruments and folkloric dances.  It was then that in a self-taught fashion, and kind of ‘playing’ I became closer to music. When I was 15 I started playing the guitar and learning songs. My first private teacher was María Concepción Patrón. I loved improvising and I wanted to learn to write what I improvised. 

After a few months she urged me to learn the piano and composition, so I continued my studies with Sergio Hualpa and with Haydee Gerardi, all of this simultaneously while I was studying Fine Arts at University, at the Prilidiano Pueyrredón.

There was a very important moment in my life which was when the Argentine violinist Alberto Lysy listened to a piece that I had written for violin and piano. He got very excited and encouraged me to write a piece for solo violin, a capriccio. He told me that if he liked it, upon his return from Switzerland he would play it as an encore in one of his concerts for the youth. My big surprise came when, upon his return, he got so excited and liked it so much that he decided it to include it on a concert but not as an encore, but as part of the program, and in no other place than in the Main Hall of the Teatro Colón. This was in May 1991, when I was 21. 

My piece received very good reviews and other musicians and orchestras started to ask me for new works. It was all rather strange, but it seemed very natural, because I was not looking for musicians, they were rather looking for me for new works. 

That is how specific projects made me spend more and more time with music and I then felt that I no longer needed to express myself through painting. On the other hand, in 1994 the National Symphony Orchestra of Argentina premiered my first symphony “El compendio de la vida” under the leadership of their Music Director Pedro Ignacio Calderón. In this piece I tried to fuse these two worlds: each of the four movements was inspired in paintings of mine that were exhibited in the foyer of the Auditorio de Belgrano.

My becoming close to music was very intuitive, and something that took place as a necessity. I started writing for orchestra without having received lessons in music theory or orchestration, I loved looking at scores and following them with recordings, and that was a big learning moment for me. 

After the first few works of mine had been premiered, when my career choice was already defined by music, I went to Paris, in 1997, to study composition with Jacques Charpentier and “musical civilization” at the National Conservatory of the Paris Region, and I received my degree “Premier prix à l’unanimité”, then I continued my studies in courses with Paul Mefano, and although I was older than the age limit, he encouraged me to attend his classes at the National Conservatory of Paris as an auditing student. 

CB: Your father is one of the most influential orchestra conductors of Argentina. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but I know that he has taught and educated many generations of conductors and orchestra musicians through his wonderful (which he founded) National Youth Orchestra of Argentina (Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Nacional José de San Martín), which has been an incredible “barn of talent” in Buenos Aires. How was it for you growing up in such a musical family? Did you ever consider following your father’s footsteps as a conductor?

EB: Musical interpretation is a different world from the creation. I was fortunate enough to be born with a family that loves art, and who always supported me and stimulated me with a blind faith in everything that I was set out to do. The pressure of having a father that is renowned in the musical environment in the country where I grew up could have nullified me due to the high expectations that some people might have had, to see if it is true that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, and the pressure to have to develop my own merits regardless of those expectations…. but luckily it was not like that: I continue to do what I love the most and I am very grateful of the childhood I had where I was never pressured into becoming a musician, but rather I alone, like in a game, chose it.

As a little boy it was very common for me to come to rehearsals and concerts, so I absorbed a lot of things like a sponge. 

Curiously so far I am not interested in being a performer, I don’t know if I have the charisma, the capacity to communicate something that I do in such an intuitive manner as a creator. 

CB: Which are the composers that have influenced you the most? Stravinsky seems to have had an obvious influence on you, but perhaps there are others that have equally had a great influence in your music? 

EB: Also the music by Latin American composers that have integrated into their musical language folklore, such as Ginastera, Villalobos, Revueltas.

The colorful orchestral palette of French composers, as much the impressionists as that by Dutilleux and Messiaen, and the timbres in contemporary spectral French music, my brief passage with electroacoustic music as a student in Paris were very influential. Even if I ended up as a symphonist, electroacoustic music opened my ears to look for other sonorities with the orchestra. 

My past with fine arts, somehow left a mark in my music in the sense that it is very visual and based in colors, it is as if I was coloring with my music, like building sonic sceneries. 

CB: What is the most important goal for you as a composer? What do you try to communicate with every new piece? 

EB: I suppose with my musical language I exteriorize my internal world. I don’t know if I attempt to do anything, it simply flows without being able to explain why I do it, I don’t know if it belongs to me. 

One can theorize about the musical grammar but once can’t have the answer about where that image came from (that image that covered the empty canvas), or where those notes came from within the silence. 

There is no autopsy or scientist who could give an explanation about where the art we create comes from, or whether we simply communicate it, or whether it already existed in a different dimension of the universe. 

Michelangelo Buonarroti said something like “The sculpture already existed, I only took the excess out of the block of marble.”

CB: In your opinion, what is the role of symphonic music (and/or art in general) in the world we live in nowadays?

EB: Art is like a force of nature that must be allowed to flow, we are only a vehicle of its transmission, it contributes to the universal collective memory, it is the hieroglyphs which will live on as opposed to our physical body, which will disappear; it is the “black box” which will reflect in the future what the human of the past felt. 

There is a role of current entertainment and also that of eternity. 

I always have the impression of that I am planting trees that will remain here for the future generations, as opposed to the performers that live in them now. 

There is much art that is created with new technologies, which contributes to its evolution, but with time it turns obsolete or not very practical, while symphonic music is a classic that will last just like oil on a canvas, where what evolves is the language itself, the image, the sound that one stamps on it, but using the same matter.  

The symphony orchestra is also the highest expression of the result of collective work, an example of a society. 

With these topics nobody “owns the truth”, it is just a viewpoint. 

CB: Please tell me, what was the initial seed behind the genesis of your work “Rituales Amerindios”? Was it your own initiative, or due to the commission that you received? Is the musical material ever influenced by commissions that you receive?

EB: Very few times I have received commissions in which a theme had been imposed upon me, normally it is me who chooses a theme. 

This piece was a commission by the Gothenburg Symphony (National Symphony of Sweden), whose music director was Gustavo Dudamel. It was premiered by this orchestra in Gothenburg in January 2010, and that same week it was taken on a tour to the Festival Internacional de Música de las Islas Canarias in Las Palmas de Gran Canarias and in Tenerife. This symphonic triptych is dedicated to Gustavo Dudamel, which motivated me to write a work that, in my humble way, could be a musical homage to Latin America through its three main pre-columbian cultures, which are the Aztecs (Mexico), Mayas (south of Mexico and central America), and Incas (South America, primarily in Peru).  

Each of the movements, then, carries the name of a divinity from each of those cultures:  I  – Ehécatl (Aztec God of Wind) II  – Chaac (Maya God of Water) III – Illapa (Inca God of Thunder)

Gustavo Dudamel has subsequently programmed it with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in subscriptions at Walt Disney Concert Hall and on tour to San Francisco in Davies Symphony Hall on the Centennial of the San Francisco Symphony. He also conducted it in Carnegie Hall in New York with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra from Venezuela, and he took it on tour to Berkeley, Royal Festival Hall in Londo y the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Other orchestras such as the Philharmonique de Radio France and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic (Teatro Colon) have programmed this work as well.

CB: With regards to the musical materials, it is incredible how you can accomplish such memorable and simple motives like that one that starts “Rituales Amerindios.” How do you find such a subtle balance between complex elements (of which there is a lot in your work as well) and simple elements? Do you have a constant quest to find something memorable and transcendent? 

EB: If I said I’m on a constant quest to create something memorable and transcendent it would sound too pretentious. How does one find that? 

I thank you for your point of view about my music, and it is very difficult to describe with words what I do with my music in a very intuitive way.

When I compose I like to create themes that can be melodic or rhythmic motives which pop up in my music like characters that come in and out of a musical scenery. My music is very pictorial, as if it was about sonic sceneries that serve as a background to those characters which at different moments reappear with variations, thus giving unity to the work. 

Rituales amerindios is a symphonic “mural” (a large painting that has been painted onto a wall, like a fresco) which is loaded with simple and recognizable elements that call your attention, on top of complex textures that serve as background. 

CB: Rhythmic force, evocations to nature, moments of a very beautiful lyricism are a very natural part of “Rituales Amerindios” (and maybe a signature of you as a composer). Have you looked for inspiration in the concept of a neo-nationalism or a sort of imaginary folklore, to call it by some name? (I personally imagine that Alberto Ginastera would have liked your music very much) 

EB: I thank you for your comment. 

Defining my music is very difficult because I would run the risk of labeling myself with the description that I might do and I do not have any strict dogmas.
In works like “Rituales Amerindios” I feel a bit in line with Latin American composers such as Revueltas, Villa-Lobos and Ginastera of the “imaginary folklore”, what I mean is that I do not attempt to do ethnomusicology, but rather, in many of my works I have taken roots, rhythms, mythology or melodic turns of our continent as the source of inspiration, but in order to develop my own language, which could be described as a fusion of these roots and the new techniques of the contemporary western music.
Even if I have things in common with the aforementioned composers (we use these same roots as a source of inspiration), since I am a composer of the 21st Century my aesthetic influences are different.
In my first few works this happened unconsciously, maybe due to the contact that I had since a young age with folklore and indigenous instruments in the arts institute “Labarden” in Buenos Aires, and also due to my passion for certain South American composers. Today, I think that this has been vindicated and I do it more consciously with a very exploratory attitude, even though not all the works in my catalogue have this thematic material.
In my works I like to recreate the sonorities of indigenous instruments such as the “quena” or the “sikus” but utilizing instruments from the traditional orchestra, through contemporary procedures such as the use of multiphonics, harmonics, different kinds of air blows, extended techniques in the wind instruments, and I try to recreate the sound of the strummed “charango” through the use of pizzicato with arpeggios in the violins, etc.

 

I also love sounds of nature, the singing of imaginary birds, the sounds of mineral elements, vegetables, woods, water ambiences, the fauna: “Rituales Amerindios” is also a chant to nature in the Americas. 

CB: Esteban, I thank you so very much for your time and wonderful answers. We are truly honored to share your beautiful music with your audience. 

EB: I am the one who is grateful, to count on performers as enthusiastic as you who bring life to my music. The work that you are doing with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra making so much music of our time known through your concerts is truly remarkable. 

Esteban Benzecry 2019 Alita Baldi 12
Esteban Benzecry – Photo by Alita Baldi (2019)

 

Argentinean composer born in 1970. Esteban Benzecry is one of South America’s most renowned young composers. His music is programmed by the world’s leading conductors, performing organisations and festivals. Interpreters and commissions include the Carnegie Hall, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Gothenburg Symphony, Hamburg Philharmoniker Orchester, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Sydney Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Tampere Philharmonic, Stavanger Symfoniorkester, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orquestra Gulbenkian, Orquesta Nacional de España, ORCAM Orquesta y Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfonica de RTVE. His most recent works attempt a fusion between rhythms with Latin American roots and the diverse aesthetic currents of European contemporary music creating, a personal language, an imaginary folklore. Benzecry lives in Paris since 1997.

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Soloist Profile: Stephanie Zyzak in conversation with Christian Baldini

Stephanie Zyzak is our violin soloist for the May 4 performance of the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra by Brahms. The cello soloist will be Eunghee Cho. In the same program, we’ll also include Esteban Benzecry’s Rituales Amerindios, and Ann Cleare’s phôsphors (… of ether).

Christian Baldini: First of all, thank you for taking the time to respond to these questions. We very much look forward to featuring you as our soloist at UC Davis. Tell us about your childhood and early musical education. How did you start? You were obviously a prodigy, playing the violin since age 4 and performing as a soloist with an orchestra at 7. Did that have much of an impact in your daily life? Did you still attend school? Did you play with other children? Tell us anything you’d like about your childhood, routine, and things that you enjoyed the most.

Stephanie Zyzak: I’m not sure if I ever viewed myself as a prodigy of any sort – I was just fortunate to have had the right people at the right time in my life. My childhood was fairly normal and I was able to attend school through the 8th grade while traveling and playing concerts. Music was just something that I felt an affinity to and I really can’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing the violin.

CB: Who are your favorite composers, and why?

SZ: Because there are so many incredible composers, my favorites are the ones whose works I’m playing at the time. In this case it’s Brahms, Debussy, Dvorak, and Beethoven. But I’m certain in a couple weeks I will have a different answer to this question.

At the same time, the great composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms (to name a few) are favorites of everyone because their music speaks to our souls. In the end, I think we all strive for human connection and commonalities in one another and their music resonates and speaks emotionally to us because they (and their experiences) were after all, human. Humans with the extraordinary ability to translate these emotions and experiences into the incredible music that we are privileged to play.

CB: Are there any particular teachers or mentors, and/or inspirational figures in your life that you will always be grateful to? Why?

SZ: Miriam Fried who was my teacher at New England Conservatory where I completed my Bachelor and Masters degrees. She really opened my eyes to the meaning and message of the music and how to communicate this through sound. Without a doubt, she has had the most influence on the way I think about music. I’ve also been extremely fortunate to have had Miriam and her husband Paul Biss as a mentor and I will always be grateful to them for their patience and guidance.

CB: Are you curious about different kinds of repertoire? What are some pieces you haven’t played or explored yet, but that you’d like to discover in the next few years?

SZ: The Brahms Double was a work I had wanted to play for a couple years, so I’m absolutely thrilled to have gotten the chance to really study and learn this incredible piece! Other repertoire I would like to play are the Schumann piano trios, Strauss violin sonata, Brahms piano quartets, Stravinsky violin concerto… and many others!

CB: Have you played many world premieres? And do you consider this to be something important that we do as performers?

SZ: I have played some premieres, but I would love to play more. I think commissioned pieces are so important and it’s also such a great experience for us as performers to get to work with living composers!

CB: Once again, thank you for the time and for the beautiful answers. We look forward to this gorgeous Brahms with you and Eunghee!

SZ: Thank you! I’m looking forward and am excited to play with all of you very soon!

 

stephanie zyzak

Born in 1994, Stephanie Zyzak began playing the violin at 4 years old. She studied with Miriam Fried at New England Conservatory where she received her Bachelors and Masters degrees, and is currently completing her doctorate degree at City University of New York, The Graduate Center with Mark Steinberg. At the age seven, Stephanie made her first solo appearance with the Starling Chamber Orchestra in the Aspen Music School and became the youngest recipient ever to be awarded the Aspen Music School New Horizon Fellowship. The following year, she performed in Germany as an invited guest of the Internationale Kunst – Akademie Liechtenstein (IKAL). Over the years, she has had the opportunity to solo and tour with orchestras and various groups in Germany, Russia, Austria, Sweden, Spain, Italy, and France. In 2004, Stephanie made her debut with the Louisville Orchestra, and has performed with orchestras such as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Dayton Philharmonic, and Southeast Missouri Symphony. Other notable performances include an appearance on Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor and an invitation to perform as an honored guest at the Lotus Festival for His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

Stephanie has received top prizes in various competitions and was most recently named a finalist at the 2018 Naumburg International Violin Competition. She has been invited to participate in renowned international competitions including: the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (2018), Joseph Joachim Hannover International Violin Competition (2018), Shanghai International Isaac Stern Competition (2016), International Ima Hogg Competition (2016 semifinalist), Seoul International Music Competition (2015), and Zhuhai International Mozart Competition (2015 semifinalist).
A passionate chamber musician, she has collaborated with Ralph Kirshbaum, Steven
Tenenbom, Hsin-Yun Huang, Colin Carr, Michael Kannen, and Robert McDonald. She has performed at festivals such as the Taos School of Music, Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival, and has also been invited to the Marlboro Music Festival this coming summer.
Stephanie performs on a 1778 Joseph and Antonio Gagliano violin, generously on loan from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute.