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Concerto, Conductor, Experimental, Music, Soloist, Symphony Orchestra, violin

Miguel Farías in Conversation with Christian Baldini

[to read the original version of this interview, in Spanish, click here]

Christian Baldini: On March 5 I will have the pleasure of conducting the world première of the Violin Concerto “Kuyén” by Chilean composer Miguel Farías, featuring the wonderful violinist Rachel Lee Priday. Miguel Farías is a superb Chilean composer, and we have been colleagues and friends for about fifteen years, when we met in France at a festival where we both had our works for orchestra performed by the excellent Orchestra National de Lorraine. I was immediately captivated by his music because of his great use of the orchestral palette, his imagination and his expressiveness, and his great ability to write motifs that are very memorable without trying to be. It is a pleasure to present this world premiere that was our commission and that received the prestigious support of Ibermúsicas. Miguel, tell us, how was the genesis of this piece? What could you share with us about how you started writing it, what plan you originally had and what changed in the process (if that did happen)? Are you happy with the final results?

Miguel Farías: First of all, thank you very much dear Christian for your words, and I would also like to tell you that it is a great pleasure to be able to collaborate with UCDSO and with you, especially after fifteen years of friendship!

Composing Kuyén was somehow quite intuitive. I like to write narrative (fiction), and during the last year I wrote a book that contains stories that speak of the night, from different perspectives. One of these is one that has to do with mythology. Perhaps that is why I had in mind some sonorities that were related not only to the night, but also to beings that inhabit it. This is how it occurred to me to “ground” this sound speech that was haunting my head, basing it on the narrative of the Kuyén myth. The idea, in addition to having a soloist and an orchestra, reinforced the discourse based on dialogue, which ended up being essential to give shape to the piece.

CB: How were your beginnings with music?

MF: Initially, when I was about 10 years old, I taught myself to play the piano. Then I really liked rock and jazz and I studied electric guitar. I quickly realized that more than playing other people’s music, I liked inventing music on the guitar. So at fourteen I went to find out how to study composition at the conservatory, and at fifteen I was already in my first formal year.

CB: Who were some of the people in your life that have most positively influenced you to be the composer you are today?

MF: It may sound cliché, but first of all my family. In general, I am interested in a type of music that does not question itself, but dialogues with its surroundings. In my family there are no musicians, so they have been an influence not only emotionally, but also creatively and thoughtfully. In the art world, I have generally been much more influenced by literary narratives than by composers. The speech and thought of Raul Ruiz has been important in my way of thinking about the discourse and the musical form. In the construction (or attempted construction) of my own musical discourse, I believe that several writers have influenced me, some examples are the Cubans Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Pedro Juan Gutierrez, the Chileans Christian Geisse and Hernán Rivera Letelier, or the Mexican Juan Rulfo, among several others. Honestly, without literature in my life, it would be difficult for me to continue growing artistically.

CB: Being a young composer is not easy. Opportunities for your works to be commissioned by or performed by an orchestra don’t come very often (or at all). What advice would you give to young composers who are looking for opportunities?

MF: Go forward with a lot of work and confidence. It is difficult to have commissions or works performed by orchestras these days, but my experience has shown me that if one is capable of presenting artistically interesting ideas and projects, there is interest from the institutions.

First of all, in order to present interesting projects, I think you have to work hard to develop a correct and personal way of orchestral writing. You have to understand the sonorities of the orchestra as well as its relationship with musical time. Then, the exercise of the trade itself provides the tools to bring ideas to the score.

On the other hand, composition contests and courses are very useful, not only to have visibility, but also to be able to hear what is written above all. In competitions, the most common thing is not to win, but to keep trying; on the one hand, it serves to develop a high-level orchestral writing, tolerance to frustration, and above all a handling of writing and ease in bringing abstract ideas to life on the music sheet. Contests serve as a kind of exercise in this.

CB: You are also an opera composer. In your opinion, are there any (or many) differences between writing chamber music, symphonic music, vocal music, and dramatic music for the stage, such as opera?

MF: Very much so, in my opinion. The starting point in dramatic and instrumental music is very different. In the first we start from quite tangible and literary narrative resources. In the second, at least in my case, one starts from a blank sheet of paper, where we have to build the sound objects with which the ideas we have in mind will be represented. Both worlds are exciting, and difficult to master.

On the other hand, in dramatic music for the stage, at the time of writing there are many factors to consider that influence each note we write. The narrative, the visual, the temporal; and other more complex factors that have to do with the context of the text being worked on. I’m not saying that instrumental music doesn’t contain these riches and difficulties, but I do say that opera, for example, begins from a space heavily charged by a tradition that has these factors as its starting point. In the opera, our blank page at the beginning is quite lined.

CB: For someone who has never heard your music before, what advice would you give them? What is important in your music? What should they try to hear in your works? (and in this Concerto for violin and orchestra, specifically?)

MF: I find it difficult to answer something like that, since I would like to say that they can hear what they want and how they want when listening to my music. But if we think specifically about Kuyén, I would like them to try to feel the colors and nuances of light with which I tried to impregnate the sonorities, both of the solo violin and of the orchestra. Kuyén for me is a dialogue between colors, lights, brightness and darkness, and I would like to suggest that in this work, they start by letting themselves be carried away by intuition to hear it as an abstract conversation between these elements.

CB: Thank you very much for writing this beautiful work for the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and Rachel Lee Priday. I am very happy to be able to share your music with our public and our community.

MF: Thanks to you dear Christian, to the UCDSO and to Rachel. It has been amazing working with you and Rachel. I have learned a lot, and I have enjoyed it even more. Rachel has given an impressive voice to each of the notes I wrote. I am very excited and grateful. And of course, I hope that this first collaboration after fifteen years of friendship is not the last.

Miguel Farías (Photo by Max Sotomayor)

Composer and PhD in Latin American Studies, Miguel Farías (b. 1983) studied in Chile, Switzerland, and France.

He is the winner of several international prizes and beneficiary of commissions and residences in Chile and Europe, including Injuve, 2007 (Spain); Luis Advis, 2007 (Chile); Frederic Mompou (Barcelona, Spain); Joan Guinjoan, 2013 (Barcelona, Spain); Manuel Valcarcel, 2013 (Santander, Spain); the sponsorship prize at the BMW Musica Viva competition of the Bavarian Radio (Munich, Germany); and he was a laureate of the Isang Yun Music Prize, 2007 (Korea); Tactus, 2008 (Belgium); the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition, 2009 (Belgium); and the Reina Sofía (Spain), among others. He was a finalist in the “Composer Project” and “Roche Commissions” programs of the Lucerne Festival, with Pierre Boulez as a member of the jury.

In June 2012, Farías won the 2012 “Art Critics” Prize in the National Opera category and the National Arts Prize “Altazor” in 2013, for his opera Renca, París y Liendres, premiered by the Chilean Symphony Orchestra. In 2018, his second opera, El Cristo de Elqui, was premiered by the Chilean National Opera at the Municipal de Santiago, directed for the stage by Jorge Lavelli. In 2019, he won the Beaux-Arts Chilean Academy prize for the premiere of this opera.

Beauty, California, Christian Baldini, composer, Concerto, Conductor, Experimental, folklore, Music, violin

Miguel Farías en diálogo con Christian Baldini

[to read this interview translated into English, click here]

Christian Baldini: El 5 de Marzo tendré el placer de dirigir el estreno mundial del Concierto para Violín y Orquesta de Miguel Farías, que lleva el título “Kuyén” junto a la gran violinista Rachel Lee Priday. Miguel es un gran compositor chileno, y hemos sido colegas y amigos por unos 15 años, cuando nos conocimos en Francia en un festival donde ambos teníamos nuestras obras para orquesta interpretadas por la excelente Orchestre National de Lorraine. Inmediatamente su música me cautivó por su gran manejo de la paleta orquestal, su imaginación y su expresividad, y por su gran habilidad de escribir motivos que resultan muy memorables sin intentar serlo. Es un placer presentar este estreno mundial que fue nuestro encargo y que recibió el prestigioso apoyo de Ibermúsicas. Miguel, contanos, ¿cómo fue la génesis de esta pieza? Que podrías compartir con nosotros acerca de cómo comenzaste a escribirla, que plan tuviste originalmente y que cambió en el proceso (si eso pasó)? ¿Estás feliz con los resultados finales?

Miguel Farías: Primero que todo, muchas gracias querido Christian por tus palabras, y también me gustaría decirte que es un enorme placer poder colaborar con la UCDSO y contigo, sobre todo después de 15 años de amistad!

Componer Kuyén fue de alguna manera bastante intuitivo. Me gusta escribir narrativa, y durante el último año escribí un libro que contiene cuentos que hablan de la noche, desde distintas miradas. Una de estas es la que tiene que ver con lo mitológico. Quizás por eso es que tenía en la mente algunas sonoridades que se relacionaban no solo con la noche, si que con seres que la habitan. Es así que se me ocurrió aterrizar este discurso sonoro que rondaba mi cabeza, basándolo en lo narrativo del mito de Kuyén. La idea además de tener un solista y una orquesta, reforzaron el discurso basado en el diálogo, lo que terminó siendo esencial para darle forma a la pieza.

CB: ¿Cómo fueron tus comienzos con la música?

MF: En un comienzo, cuando tenía unos 10 años, aprendí a tocar piano de manera autodidacta. Luego me gustó mucho el rock y el jazz y estudié guitarra eléctrica. Me di cuenta rápidamente que más que tocar música de otros, me gustaba inventar música en la guitarra. Así que a los 14 años fui a averiguar como estudiar composición en el conservatorio, y a los 15 años ya estaba en mi primer año formal.

CB: ¿Quienes fueron algunas de las personalidades en tu vida que más te han influido de manera positiva para ser el compositor que sos hoy en día?

MF: Puede sonar cliché, pero en primer lugar mi familia. En general me interesa una música que no se cuestiona a sí misma, sino que dialogue con su entorno. En mi familia no hay músicos, así que han sido una influencia no solo desde lo emotivo, sino que también desde lo creativo y reflexivo. En el mundo del arte, en general me he influenciado mucho más por narrativas literarias que por compositores. El discurso y pensamiento de Raul Ruiz ha sido importante en mi manera de pensar lo discursivo y la forma musical. En la construcción, o intento de construcción, de mi propio discurso musical, creo que me han influenciado varios escritores, algunos ejemplos son los cubanos Guillermo Cabrera Infante y Pedro Juan Gutierrez, los chilenos Christian Geisse y Hernán Rivera Letelier, o el mexicano Juan Rulfo, entre varios otros. Sinceramente sin la literatura en mi vida, me costaría seguir creciendo artísticamente.

CB: Ser un joven compositor no es fácil. Las oportunidades de que una orquesta te encarguen o toquen tus obras no llegan siempre ni muy frecuentemente. ¿Qué consejos le darías a jóvenes compositores que están buscando oportunidades?

MF: Seguir adelante con mucho trabajo y confianza. Es difícil tener encargos u obras interpretadas por orquestas actualmente, pero mi experiencia me ha mostrado que si uno es capaz de presentar ideas y proyectos artísticamente interesantes, hay interés de parte de las instituciones.

Antes que todo, para presentar proyectos interesantes, creo que hay que trabajar mucho en desarrollar una escritura orquestal correcta y personal. Hay que entender las sonoridades de la orquesta así como la relación de esta con el tiempo musical. Luego, el ejercicio del oficio mismo entrega las herramientas para llevar ideas a partitura.

Por otro lado, los concursos y cursos de composición sirven mucho, no solo para tener visibilización, si no que para poder oír lo que se escribe por sobre todo. En los concursos lo más común es no ganar, pero seguir intentándolo, por un lado, sirve para desarrollar una escritura orquestal de alto nivel, la tolerancia a la frustración, y sobre todo un manejo de la escritura y la soltura en llevar ideas abstractas a partitura. Los concursos sirven como una especie de ejercitación de esto.  

CB: Sos también un compositor de ópera. En tu opinión, hay alguna (o muchas) diferencias entre escribir música de cámara, sinfónica, vocal, y música dramática para el escenario, como la ópera? 

MF: Muchísima para mí. El punto de partida discursivo en la música dramática y en la instrumental es muy diferente. En la primera partimos de recursos narrativos bastante tangibles y literarios. En el segundo, al menos en mi caso, uno parte desde una hoja en blanco, en que hay que construir los objetos sonoros con los que se representarán las ideas que tengamos en mente. Ambos mundos son apasionantes, y difíciles de dominar.

Por otro lado, en la música dramática para escenario, al momento de escribir hay que considerar muchos factores que influyen en cada nota que escribamos. Lo narrativo, lo visual, lo temporal; y otros factores más complejos que tienen que ver con lo contextual del texto que se trabaja. No digo que la música instrumental no contenga estas riquezas y dificultades, pero sí que, la ópera por ejemplo, comienza desde un espacio muy cargado por una tradición que tiene estos factores como punto de partida. En la ópera nuestra hoja en blanco del inicio viene bastante rayada.

CB: Para alguien que nunca ha escuchado tu música antes, que consejo les darías? ¿Qué es lo importante en tu música? Que deberían intentar oír en tus obras? (y en este Concierto para violín y orquesta, puntualmente?)

MF: Me cuesta responder algo así, ya que me gustaría decir que oigan lo que quieran y como quieran al escuchar mi música. Pero si pensamos específicamente en Kuyén, me gustaría que intentaran sentir los colores y los matices de luz con los que intenté impregnar las sonoridades, tanto del violín solista como de la orquesta. Kuyén para mi es un diálogo entre colores, luces, brillos y oscuridades, y me gustaría sugerir que en esta obra, partan por dejarse llevar por la intuición para oírla como una conversación, abstracta, entre estos elementos.

CB: Muchas gracias por haber escrito esta hermosa obra para la UC Davis Symphony Orchestra y Rachel Lee Priday. Estoy muy feliz de poder compartir tu música con nuestro público y nuestra comunidad.

MF: Gracias a ti querido Christian, a la UCDSO y a Rachel. Ha sido increíble el trabajo contigo y con Rachel. He aprendido muchísimo, y lo he disfrutado más aún. Rachel ha dado una voz impresionante a cada una de las notas que escribí. Estoy muy emocionado y agradecido. Y claro, espero que esta primera colaboración después de 15 años de amistad, no sea la última.

Miguel Farías – Foto por Max Sotomayor

Miguel Farías, compositor y Doctor en Estudios Latinoamericanos, chileno, nacido en  Venezuela en 1983.

Es ganador de varios premios internacionales y beneficiario de encargos y residencias en Chile y el extranjero. El 2011 y 2013 fue finalista en los programas “Composer Project” y “Roche Commissions” del Festival de Lucerne, con Pierre Boulez como jurado.

En junio de 2012, fue ganador del premio del círculo de críticos de arte 2012, en categoría ópera nacional y del Premio a las Artes Nacionales “Altazor” 2013, gracias a su ópera “Renca, París y Liendres”. En 2019 recibió el premio «Domingo Santa Cruz» de la Academia Chilena de Bellas Artes.

En 2018 estrenó su segunda ópera, «El Cristo de Elqui», encargo del Municipal de Santiago, Ópera Nacional de Chile. Y en 2021 estrenó su monodrama «La Compuerta nº12, con libreto propio sobre el cuento homónimo de Baldomero Lillo.

Es profesor asociado de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Sus obras son editadas y publicadas por Universal Edition.

Beauty, California, Christian Baldini, composer, Experimental, Soloist, Uncategorized

Rachel Lee Priday in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Christian Baldini: On March 5 I will have the pleasure of collaborating with the wonderful violinist Rachel Lee Priday on the world premiere of the Violin Concerto “Kuyén” by Chilean composer Miguel Farías at UC Davis. This piece was commissioned by our orchestra, with funds from Ibermúsicas. Rachel, welcome, and let’s start by sharing your thoughts about this piece by Miguel. What should people listen for? What is unique about it? [NB: at the time of this interview, we have not had a rehearsal with the orchestra yet, only zoom meetings between the composer, the soloist and the conductor, so Rachel has not heard how the concerto sounds with the orchestra yet]

Rachel Lee Priday: Kuyén is a continuous drama that unfolds over the course of twenty minutes between the orchestra and solo violin. My role as the violinist is to symbolize and give voice to the Moon in this personification of the ancient Mapuche tale of Kuyén‘s marriage to the deity Antu (the Sun), revolt among the jealous stars, and their punishment, leaving Kuyén the brightest light in the sky.

Miguel brilliantly creates a sense of light and shadow in the way he colors the violin line through various harmonics and oscillating rhythms. There is also a rhetorical quality to the music, and a glowing energy. Knowing the story this piece depicts, it will be fun for listeners to imagine and follow along with the action in the music. I am very curious and excited to hear and create the full drama with you and the UC Davis Symphony.

CB: You are a wonderfully eclectic performer, with a lot of experience under your belt. You have performed as a soloist with several major orchestras around the world, including the National Symphony, as well as the Chicago and Seattle symphonies and the Staatskapelle Berlin. Tell me about your beginnings with music. How did it all start for you? When did you realize music was going to be your life?

RLP: I started playing the violin soon after I turned four years old. I had asked my mother for a violin for my fourth birthday, but there was a delay in getting the violin. So when my birthday came and there was no violin, I threw a tantrum. My mom got the message, and I started Suzuki lessons in Chicago a few months later.

I was very serious about music from the beginning, and I wanted to be a violinist, considering it my life, from the start. After I began playing the violin, I almost don’t remember a time I didn’t think of myself as a musician. It’s now a little strange to think about.

CB: Let’s talk about programming. How do you choose the works that you perform? Do you see a responsibility or a role in society for those of us who are making decisions about which composers and/or which works to promote and perform?

RLP: There is definitely a great responsibility that organizations and performers carry in deciding which works to promote and perform. We have an active role in giving exposure to new music especially, and in building together an inclusive musical world. Whenever I decide what to play, whether it’s a new commission or a warhorse standard, I think about whether I will love it, whether I feel I can do justice to it, and whether there is something intriguing about it that will expand me and audiences artistically. 

CB: What (or who) are some unforgettable experiences and/or people in your life, and why?

RLP: My teachers, including Itzhak Perlman, Dorothy DeLay and Miriam Fried, have been huge influences in my life. It can’t be overstated how they have shaped me as a violinist, musician, person, and now as a teacher.

CB: Which advice would you give to young musicians? We know it is sometimes hard to be constant, to continue growing, improving and not losing focus or getting distracted or deflated by failure, by an audition that doesn’t go well, or by a harsh teacher that might seem discouraging. How have you dealt with adversity in the past?

RLP: Over the years and especially during the pandemic, I have come to realize that the more I fill my cup with gratitude and connection to others in doing the work, the more freedom I experience from self-doubt and other discouraging feelings. It is relieving to remember that it’s not about me, it’s about the music and being of service. I have always lived by the motto of simply “do your best,” and have added in a lot lately, “it will be okay.” Just showing up and doing things consistently can be the most important part. If you can be curious about something in the midst of a challenge, it can stop negative thoughts in their tracks and redirect you to a positive, creative and engaged mode of thought.

CB: Thank you very much for your time dear Rachel, we very much look forward to showcasing your wonderful musicianship with our audiences!

RLP: I’m so grateful to work with you and for this exciting premiere! Thank you, Christian!

Rachel Lee Priday (Courtesy Photo)

About Rachel Lee Priday

A consistently exciting artist, renowned globally for her spectacular technique, sumptuous sound, deeply probing musicianship, and “irresistible panache” (Chicago Tribune), violinist RACHEL LEE PRIDAY has appeared as soloist with major international orchestras, among them the Chicago, Houston, National, Pacific, St. Louis and Seattle Symphony Orchestras, Boston Pops Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Germany’s Staatskapelle Berlin. Her distinguished recital appearances have brought her to eminent venues, including Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Mostly Mozart Festival, Chicago’s Ravinia Festival and Dame Myra Hess Memorial Series, Paris’s Musée du Louvre, Germany’s Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival and Switzerland’s Verbier Festival.

Passionately committed to new music and creating enriching community and global connections, Rachel Lee Priday’s wide-ranging repertoire and multidisciplinary collaborations reflect a deep fascination with literary and cultural narratives. Recent seasons have seen a new Violin Sonata commissioned from Pulitzer Prize Finalist Christopher Cerrone and the world premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s The Orphic Moment in an innovative staging that mixed poetry, drama, visuals and music. She has collaborated often with Ballet San Jose, and was lead performer in “Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart”, theatrical concerts with the Ensemble for the Romantic Century at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Her work as soloist with the Asia America New Music Institute promoted cultural exchange between Asia and the Americas, combining premiere performances with educational outreach in the US, China, Korea and Vietnam.

This season Rachel performs in duo recital with composer/pianist Timo Andres in Seattle and Washington, DC at the Phillips Collection. Upcoming concerto engagements include the Portland Symphony, Roanoke Symphony and UC Davis Symphony at the Mondavi Center, while recent engagements have included the Pacific Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Johannesburg Philharmonic, Kwazulu-Natal Philharmonic, Stamford Symphony, and Bangor Symphony.

Since making her orchestral debut at the Aspen Music Festival in 1997, Rachel has performed with numerous orchestras across the United States, including those of Colorado, Alabama, Knoxville, Rockford, and Springfield (MA), as well as the New York Youth Symphony. Her In Europe and in Asia, she has appeared at the Moritzburg Festival in Germany and with orchestras in Graz, Austria, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea, where she performed with the KBS Symphony, Seoul Philharmonic and Russian State Symphony Orchestra on tour. She has also toured South Africa and the United Kingdom, appearing in recital at the Universities of Birmingham and Cambridge.

Rachel Lee Priday began her violin studies at the age of four in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, she moved to New York City to study with the iconic pedagogue Dorothy DeLay; she continued her studies at The Juilliard School Pre-College Division with Itzhak Perlman. She holds a B.A. degree in English from Harvard University and an M.M. from the New England Conservatory, where she worked with Miriam Fried. In the fall of 2019, she joined the faculty of the University of Washington School of Music as Assistant Professor of Violin.

Rachel Lee Priday has been profiled in The New YorkerThe StradLos Angeles Times and Family Circle. Her performance have been broadcast on major media outlets in the United States, Germany, Korea, South Africa and Brazil, including a televised concert in Rio de Janeiro, numerous appearances on Chicago’s WFMT and American Public Media’s “Performance Today.” She has also been featured on BBC Radio 3, the Disney Channel, “Fiddling for the Future” and “American Masters” on PBS, and the Grammy Awards.

She performs on a Nicolo Gagliano violin (Naples, 1760), double-purfled with fleurs-de-lis, named Alejandro.

Beauty, California, Christian Baldini, composer, Concert Hall, Conductor, Experimental

Composer Mathilde Wantenaar in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Shortly before the world stopped turning around as usual, in December 2019, I had the pleasure of conducting again at the beautiful Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, one of my favorite concert halls in the world. While I was there, I reached out to Carine Alders, who coordinates the Leo Smit Stichting. Whenever I travel for work somewhere I like to immerse myself with the local culture, and to recognize gems that I could do research about share with audiences back home. The purpose for me was simple: to become acquainted with some of the most important (forgotten, neglected and also new) voices of female composers in the Netherlands. Our meeting was very helpful, and Carine shared with me recordings, scores, and much information. Mathilde Wantenaar‘s name came up, and when I researched on it a little bit I found her music fascinating, refreshing and very original. This is how I decided to program it for our upcoming concert with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, on November 20, 2021.

Christian Baldini: Mathilde, it will be a pleasure to conduct the US premiere of your orchestral work “Prélude à une nuit américaine”. I find this work extremely fascinating, beautiful, with very subtle orchestration and also particularly reminiscent of Bartók and Debussy. Tell me, what is the genesis of this piece? How did you approach writing it? How would you explain your compositional process, and does it change much from piece to piece? 

Mathilde Wantenaar: I improvise a lot on the piano, this is also how I started composing as a child – I was supposed to be studying pieces for my piano lessons, but would wander off in my imagination and start playing around with the notes, inventing little melodies and pieces. As I improvise, or play an existing piece, I might find something which draws me in, a chord or a melody or a little motive and I start playing around with it. Once I have some material I might look for some more contrasting material perhaps and also think about the form. Sometimes the form comes first, though, or I have an atmosphere in mind while I start improvising or if the starting point is a text, everything changes and I start by reciting the text, learning it by heart and trying to hear the music that is hidden in it. So it does change from piece to piece.

CB: What would you say to someone who has not listened to your music yet? What should they listen for? Ultimately, what do you hope listeners will take with them home after experiencing one of your pieces?

MW: For me music is about beauty, but I mean this in the broadest sense (so not just pleasant music, although there is nothing wrong with pleasant music either in my opinion). I think that artists all over the world are making a collective effort to look for and bring forth beauty just like scientists all over the world are making a collective effort to discover truth. But every artist has their own approach and highlights different aspects, which makes the musical landscape so rich and diverse. I try to capture and present the musical aspects that I myself find thrilling or touching and offer them to the musicians and listeners in the hope that it might touch them the same way that the music I love touches me. Some of my favourite musical aspects are lyricism, I love it when the music sings, long lines and a sense of direction, the building of tension, unabashed dramatic gestures, playing with different textures and atmospheres which can be far-away, misty and magical or golden, shimmering and triumphant and anything in between. 


CB: What are some of the things you care about the most when it comes to music (both new and old)?

MW: You are asking some pretty intense questions haha. Let me think… I think I should refer back to my previous answer. Music is about beauty and communicating beauty, first with the performer who is to interpret and add their own musicality to the piece, and via the performer the piece is communicated to the listener, whose imagination is also unleashed, hopefully.  


CB: You are still very young, and you’ve developed a remarkable career already. Can you tell us about some of the most important or inspiring experiences and/or people that you’ve had so far? What has helped you or inspired you to continue growing and excelling as an artist?

MW: When I was still in high school, there was a project with the renowned ASKO|Schönberg ensemble, for whom we got to write a piece which was then performed in the beautiful small hall of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. This was such a great experience that I decided to go for it and study composition at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. I have had many more inspiring experiences after that, because writing a new piece and working all kinds of musicians is always an adventure, but one of my most recent important experiences was the première of my second orchestral piece ‘Meander’, performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Lahav Shani. Lahav is a brilliant conductor and I was quite nervous to be working with him to be honest, because I looked up to him so much, but he was so kind and warmhearted and also gave me some very useful feedback to further improve my orchestral writing. I greatly appreciate it when the people who perform my work, not just the conductor but also individual musicians, share their experience and thoughts with me. It means they find it worthwhile and it allows me to grow.

CB: Is there anything that you would change in the so called “classical music” world? Are you at all interested in other genres, in crossover, or other variants of possible collaborations? (Are you also interested in composing an opera, perhaps?)

MW: I really like the classical music world. It is such a wonderful tradition with immense beauty to offer. Of course a bit more new music on the program never hurts, but perhaps I am not completely unbiased on that front haha. But seriously, I do think it is important to focus also on programming new works so that the classical music tradition really stays alive, instead of a beautiful but ancient piece of art in a museum. And as for ‘other genres’, I think new music is new music, you never know what it will sound like and what it will sound like is up to the composer. It can be crossover like you mentioned, if the composer feels that is an interesting path to explore, but in any case it is good to give many different people the opportunity to write and be performed, so we musicians, listeners and composers alike can be inspired and the music continues to grow and live on.


CB: I’d like to ask you to dream of a music festival for which you’d be the artistic director. What would you program? Which guests would you invite? Which orchestras and/or ensembles would be featured? (to make it even more difficult: you’d have unlimited funds!) – if possible, please provide two or three sample programs.

MW: Christian, what a question! I feel like my head might explode, I would need weeks or months even to think about that question! And I am still trying occasionally to write some notes also… I am sorry I cannot come up with something right on the spot. In any case, referring to your previous question, I think it is always nice to combine ‘old’ and ‘new’ music in a program. When I go to a concert I want to hear the treasures form the past as well as experience something new and fresh and anything in between. It’s no revolutionary stance I think, but I strongly believe in it. 


CB: Thank you very much for your time Mathilde, I look forward to performing your music and to sharing it with our audiences!

MW: Thank you and all the musicians for performing my piece! And the audience for listening of course. I wish I could be there, but Davis is a little far from home (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) for me. I just looked it up and read it is the most popular city in Yolo county, which sounds like a place worth visiting, so who knows one day… In any case good luck and fun with the performance! I hope you and the listeners will enjoy it 🙂

Mathilde Wantenaar (Photo by Karen van Gilst)

Amsterdam born composer Mathilde Wantenaar (1993) started her studies at  the Amsterdam Conservatory, where she studied classical composition with Willem Jeths and Wim Henderickx and subsidiary subjects including piano, cello, classical voice and advanced rhythm. 

   Wantenaar’s music has been described as lyrical, enchanting and eclectic yet authentic. The combination of her craftsmanship and openness to a broad array of genres make Wantenaar a very versatile composer. She works with individual musicians, both vocalists and instrumentalists, as well as small ensembles, large orchestras and everything in between, and is especially interested in creating opera. 

   After her first chamber opera premiered during the Opera Forward Festival 2016 of the Dutch National Opera Wantenaar completed her composition studies and was admitted to the Royal Conservatory of The Hague to study classical voice with Rita Dams and Noa Frenkel where the goal was to further develop her musicality, explore the art of singing in depth and learn more about drama. This proved to be an invaluable experience with regards to her vocal writing in particular, but also her compositional approach in general.

   For three years Wantenaar divided her time between her composition practice and vocal studies, until she got her first orchestral commission (Prélude à une nuit américaine for the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra) as well as an opera commission (Een lied voor de maan for the Dutch National Opera) in 2019 and decided it was time to focus solely on composition from now on. 

   Wantenaar has written for, and collaborated with, the Dutch National Opera, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Radio Choir, the Dutch Wind EnsembleAmsterdam SinfoniettaWishful Singing, Liza Ferschtman, Ralph van Raat, Johannette Zomer and many others.

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Jennifer Reason in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 20, 2021, we are featuring the very unusual work “Tabuh-Tabuhan” by Colin McPhee (subtitled as Toccata for Orchestra and 2 Pianos). For it, we will present two outstanding pianists that are in different stages of their lives. Jennifer Reason is much beloved in our region as a pianist, cultural leader,  artistic director, and also much admired classical music host at CapRadio (the local NPR Station). She is an incredibly versatile, all-round artist. She directs RSVP, a choir with a very important social justice mission, she plays lots of new music, lots of old music, she collaborates with the Rogue Music Project as Music Director, presenting new and/or unusual operas to local audiences. She’s a complete omnivore (I feel very identified with this!) and she comes with a lot of experience working with different kinds of orchestras, ensembles, and as a solo artist with recordings under her belt. For the McPhee we also feature an extremely talented Davis High School student, Adrián Zaragoza, as our second piano soloist. I have known Adrian’s family for a number of years and I’ve followed with great pleasure his ascending trajectory and growth as a musician. I am very glad that we can create these opportunities to foster our extraordinary, and very talented youngsters. They deserve these opportunities and we are here to help them.

In preparation for our performance I had the opportunity to ask Jen a few questions, and below are her answers:

Christian Baldini: Jen, first of all, what a pleasure it will be to feature you as our soloist at the Mondavi Center. This is a brilliant piece by a visionary composer. Without his music, it would have probably taken a lot longer for the music by John Adams, Steve Reich or Phillip Glass to come into existence. The clear inspiration he received during his time in Bali is what marked his path and musical development. What can you share with people who know nothing about this music? What can they expect from your performance of Tabuh-Tabuhan? What is very special about this piece?

Jennifer Reason: They can expect to get a bit of EVERYTHING. You will get the virtuosic fireworks you already expect from a piano concerto, only times two with the double grand pianos on stage! You will also get to have an out of the box experience, with churning rhythms and the glorious harmonic flavors of Bali, some deliciously subtle and some ferocious. This piece is a fascinating tour de force and an absolute joy to play. 

CB: Tell me about your musical upbringing. How did you start? What were your first steps?

JR: Well my mother was a piano teacher, so I was always clambering up onto her piano bench pretty much as soon as I could walk! She noticed how much I loved to move my fingers on the keys even as that tiny toddler, so she had me in formal lessons by the time I turned four. I will be forever grateful for that. 

CB: Who have been some of the most inspiring people in your life? And experiences? What are some of those essential before and after moments that made you realize you needed to change course?

JR: Oh, I could write a novel here. Life has such a way of bringing you just what you need, and it hardly is ever what you expect, right? My teacher Richard Cionco certainly ranks among the very top most inspiring people in my life. I started studying with him in high school, when I was on the fence about whether I loved music enough to devote myself to it or not. (Sports and a potential career in science among two of the things calling my attention away..) It was through him that I found my Yes: my own musical voice and my own passion for this special art form. If I hadn’t found him when I did, I wonder if I would have made a career in this business. I’ve gone with him now many times to festivals in Europe, but that first time he took me to Italy as a young college student changed my life forever. There was no turning back from a life in music, and music combined with travel, after that.

CB: You do a lot of social justice work through your RSVP Choir. Could you explain how you started with this wonderful project, what it means to you, and what you hope to accomplish in the coming years with them?

JR: Yes, I went to hear RSVP in a concert many years ago and was so blown away by their blend, versatility and musicality that I decided on the spot I had to sing with them. I auditioned and was lucky enough to be accepted by Julie Adams, the founder and former Artistic Director (and also my mentor) back in 2008. When it was Julie’s decision to retire, I was offered the directorship, which I have held now for coming up on 8 years. This project means the world to me: it is how I give back to our community, and how I use music to make a difference for the less fortunate among us. We have supported over 35 amazing local charities through our concert programs so far, and I hope to add as many groups to that number as possible! 

CB: You are an incredibly versatile musician. You are Music Director of the Rogue Music Project with other beloved musicians in our community (Carrie Hennessey, Kevin Doherty, Omari Tau and Sarah Fitch). How does this fit within all your other work? What are some of the exciting things coming up with this remarkable group?

JR: It fits like a glove! One of my primary goals in all my musical endeavors is to expand the canon, to create diverse and culturally relevant space for art making. (Much like the concerto we are performing together!) RMP does just that in its adventurous and boundary pushing theater experiences. Upcoming we are prepping “small bites” of collaborative works that include the music of Darius Milhaud, Boris Vian, William Mayer and more with dance! Some live and some via short film format!

CB: On top of all those hats you wear, you are also a much admired classical music host at CapRadio in Sacramento. Can you tell me what you like the most about this position? How does it fit within your life as a busy musician that performs in so many places and in so many capacities?

JR: I couldn’t ask for a more ideal position than hosting classical music for CapRadio. Most shows and rehearsals take place in the evening, so on air hosting during the midday is just perfect. But past that, and so much more importantly, I get to talk about music, hopefully in a way that educates, inspires and uplifts this community. It’s also a singular opportunity for connecting the greater community with local artists, as well as introducing people to neglected/ under-represented voices and music makers. 

CB: Imagine you have unlimited funds to put together a week-long festival. You could invite any orchestras, soloists, directors that you like. You can program any music that you’d like. What would you do? (if possible give 2 or 3 sample programs)

JR: What a fabulous question. I think I would combine everything I love: new music, education, and FOOD. We would invite all sorts of living modern classical composers and ensembles, with as great a focus as possible on diversity. In addition to multiple formal concerts a day, we’d have jam sessions or sightreading parties where people could sit around and make music together in casual spaces, (with free flowing drink of course!) the way it used to be done. We’d incorporate a mentorship component where young and particularly economically disadvantaged players could sit in with the pros. And then of course we would have all sorts of fine dining experiences incorporated as well! Perhaps every night a wonderful dinner show, or perhaps guest chefs or mixologists to create food/cocktails inspired by the music being performed! 

Jennifer Reason

Hailed as a pianist “in the league of Carnegie Hall,” a “rising star” whose playing is “lush, sensual and colorful: like a painting” (Sulzbach-Rosenberger, Germany), a “powerhouse” (Victor Forman, CPR), and one who possesses an “extraordinary skill” (D. Frantztreb, SCC), Jennifer Reason is a vibrant young performer in consistent demand, and the recipient of Sacramento Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 Award for 2016. She gave her first solo recital at the age of 5, and had acquired her first Staff Pianist position by the age of 12. She has since gone on to appear in solo and ensemble performances across 15 states and 11 countries, including such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, the Vatican, and the Liszt Academy in Prague. Festival appearances include the Festival of Peace and Brotherhood in Italy, the Interharmony International festival in Germany, the Schlern International Festival in Italy, and the Orfeo International Festival in Italy.
Dearest to Ms. Reason’s heart is collaborative work, and as such she is the Artistic Director of the Emmy-nominated ensemble RSVP, an acapella group that sings to raise money for local charities (www.rsvpchoir.org). She is also a founding member of the 15 year old contemporary sextet Citywater, currently Ensemble-in-Residence at CSU Sacramento (www.citywatermusic.com). Finally, she is the recently appointed Music Director of the Rogue Music Project, a music collective formed to challenge current perceptions of opera through unpredictable, adventurous, and socially conscious performances. (www.roguemusicproject.com).

She has shared the stage with such noteworthy artists/personalities as John Rutter, members of Journey, Tower of Power, Santana, and Sly and the Family Stone, Governor Jerry Brown and Billy Bob Thornton. When not personally performing, Ms. Reason enjoys working as Music Director for staged productions-including the world premiere of Max Understood in San Francisco and the Bay Area premiere/adaption of Shakespeare In Love-as well as maintaining a private piano studio. Her students have been accepted on scholarship to collegiate music programs such as the Hartt School of Music, University of North Texas, CSU Long Beach, CSU – Sacramento, William Jessup University and Cosumnes River College. Away from the concert hall, Ms. Reason is the Midday Classical Host for Capital Public Radio (www.capradio.org/music) and a Voting Member of the Recording Academy for the Grammys.


www.jennifer-reason.com