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

UC Davis Sinfonietta Debut: Ligeti, Wald, Catalan, Shirazi.

On Friday, May 13, 2022 I will finally have the pleasure of conducting the first public performance of the UC Davis Sinfonietta, a wonderful large ensemble comprised of some of the most advanced musicians at UC Davis. We will be performing an iconic work of the “large ensemble” repertoire: Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto. We will pair the Ligeti with three short works that were written for the exact same instrumentation by Aida Shirazi, Josiah Catalan and Sarah Wald. I asked these three excellent young composers if they’d like to write a companion piece for the Ligeti, and each of them came up with their own beautifulproposal and very distinctive style, which I find fascinating.

PROGRAM

Sarah Wald, Lavava y Suspirava: Fantasy on a Sephardic Romance (world première)

Aida Shirazi, Lament (world premiére)

Josiah Catalan, Cloudburst (world première)

György Ligeti, Chamber Concerto

UC Davis Sinfonietta

Christian Baldini, music director & conductor

Ann E. Pitzer Center, UC Davis

May 13, 2022, 7pm

UC Davis Sinfonietta rehearsing at the Pitzer Center

This performance was actually meant to take place in 2020, but of course we all know that the world was shut down, and this public debut the Sinfonietta was then canceled and it had to be postponed. The existence of this Sinfonietta is very important to me. I am a firm believer in the power of performing chamber music with friends and colleagues. The members of this Sinfonietta are almost exclusively leaders of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, which is in itself a powerhouse among University orchestras in the world. Offering our members a deeper dive into this repertoire is a very symbiotic experience, which promotes artistic growth of its individual members, and also of the whole orchestra. Promoting fluid communication, better understanding and even a closer familiarity among our members is very positive in every way. Seeing their commitment, their joy and their excitement in bringing these four works to life has been a real delight, and I look forward to sharing these premieres with our audience.

György Ligeti’s music always feels to me like visiting a dear old friend. I have been very fortunate to conduct several works by him such as Lontano, Atmosphéres, Mysteries of the Macabre, selections from his Requiem, his Violin Concerto (with the wonderful Miranda Cuckson, which was released on Centaur Records), and also chamber works of his. He was probably the most original musician of his generation (and this is not a minor accomplishment having been a contemporary of Luciano Berio). He was not only a perfectionist and a tremendous innovator, but he was very independent, never quite associated with any “schools” of composition per se. He clearly did not need to associate himself with any of them aesthetically in order to succeed: “I hate all these pseudo-philosophical over-simplifications. I hate all ideologies,” Ligeti said in a 1986 interview. “I have certain musical imaginations and ideas. I don’t write music naively. But I imagine music as it sounds, very concretely. I listen to it in my inner ear. Then I look for a certain system, for a certain construction. It’s important for me, the construction. But I always know it’s a second thing, it’s not a primary factor. And I never think in philosophical terms, or never in extra-musical terms.”

Composed between 1969 and 1970, the Chamber Concerto work utilizes Ligeti’s fascination with micropolyphony, creating textures that arise from many lines of gradually denser canons that move at different speeds or rhythms, and which result in complex sonorities, as described by Ligeti himself: “One clearly discernible interval combination is gradually blurred, and from this cloudiness it is possible to discern a new interval combination taking shape.” “This four-movement piece is a concerto inasmuch as all 13 players are virtuoso soloists and are all treated as equals,” Ligeti says. “In other words, we are not dealing with the usual type of concerto in which soli and tutti alternate, but with a piece for 13 concertante soloists. The voices always develop simultaneously, but in varying rhythmic configurations and generally at differing speeds.”

Here is also some very helpful information from Sarah Wald, Josiah Catalan and Aida Shirazi about their own works:

Notes by Sarah Wald:

I composed “Lavava y Suspirava”: Fantasy on a Sephardic Romance as part of my dissertation, which was a collection of seven pieces, for a variety of different ensembles, based on Sephardic folk songs. I was very excited to write this piece because the combination of instruments is really wonderful, and it was a lot of fun to write a companion piece to Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto. This piece was also an important precursor to my current, post-PhD work with Sephardic folk songs. It is one of only two in my dissertation collection that is based on a romance specifically. Romances—also known as narrative ballads—are a really special genre within the Sephardic folk repertoire. As my program notes mention, traditionally, they were very much a women’s genre: Sephardic women would sing romances to instill and reinforce important Jewish values. In my current work, I’ve pivoted towards focusing on the romances almost exclusively.

I’m very much looking forward to the premiere. I had originally planned and timed everything to have all of my dissertation pieces performed and recorded before receiving my PhD, but COVID threw a wrench into the works. While I was lucky to have some of my dissertation pieces recorded prior to graduation, it was a little disappointing to have a few performances/recordings still outstanding. So this upcoming premiere is highly anticipated and even cathartic, in a way.

My piece is based on the Sephardic romance “Lavava y Suspirava” (“Washing and Sighing”). Romances in Sephardic culture were traditionally associated with women and the domestic sphere: For example, mothers would often sing them to their children as lullabies. This romance is based on the tale of Don Bueso. At the beginning of the song, a captive woman washing clothes in a river spots a knight returning from war. The knight invites the woman to leave her washing behind and come with him. As the song progresses, the two recognize each other as long-lost brother and sister and are subsequently reunited with their parents.

In my piece, melodic fragments from the original song are altered and recombined constantly throughout the ensemble. I preserve the overall structure of the original song, including the surprising modal shift toward the end. The convergence on one note (Ab) during the last third of the piece serves to emphasize that modal shift and to represent a sense of suspended time, as the long-lost siblings’ realization sinks in that their family will be made whole again.

Sarah Wald holds degrees from Columbia University (BA in music), the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (MM in composition), and the University of California, Davis (PhD in composition and theory). Sarah’s music has been featured at festivals in the US and Europe and on WFMT’s Relevant Tones. Over the last several years, her pieces were selected from calls for scores for New Music on the Bayou (2016), women’s choir Vox Musica (2017), chamber group North/South Consonance (2018), and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival (2020). Sarah has also received a number of grants and commissions from organizations such as the Illinois Arts Council Agency, Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Saint Xavier University Flute Choir, the University of Tennessee Martin’s Contemporary Music Group, Keyed Kontraptions, and Access Contemporary Music.

Sarah Wald (courtesy photo)

Lament Program Notes (by Aida Shirazi)

Lament is based on the aria, Dido’s Lament from Henry Purcell’s opera, Dido and Aeneas. It revolves around the concepts of longing, death, and sorrow. I have tried to reimagine these concepts according to my personal experience of loss and the burden and darkness caused by it.

The core idea of my piece is a descending chromatic bass line which represents the traditional lament bass line and borrowed from the aria. The chord progression built on this bass line moves slowly and the bass line is mostly embedded in the overall texture of the piece. In time, the harmonic rhythm becomes faster and the bass line more recognizable. Towards the end of the piece, I have incorporated a melodic fragment of the aria, which is an homage to this heart-wrenching opera and Purcell.

I am thrilled about the premiere of Lament by the UC Davis Sinfonietta under the direction of Maestro Baldini. While working on the piece, I anticipated to be present at the rehearsals and premiere, like all other performances of my works at UC Davis since 2016. The idea of working with Maestro Baldini on yet another occasion and sharing the program with my dear friends, Sarah Wald and Josiah Catalan, for the inaugural concert of our Sinfonietta would give me enormous joy. However, the pandemic changed the course of everyone’s lives and sent all of us into a limbo. Thanks to science and, of course, the perseverance of our artists, we are finally able to get back to the halls and savor the beauty of live music-making. It is a pity that I cannot be present for this concert. I wish I could be there to celebrate the gift of my fellow composers and performers, but I thank all of them from the bottom of my heart and cheer them with a standing ovation all the way from Paris. Writing Lament was a rich and, at times, intense emotional journey for me. I hope I have succeeded in creating a similar experience for the audience

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Aida Shirazi (1987) is a composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music. Shirazi’s music is described as ”unfolding with deliberation” by The New York Times, “well-made” and “affecting” by The New Yorker, and “unusually creative” by San Francisco Classical Voice.

In her works for solo instruments, voice, ensemble, orchestra, and electronics, she mainly focuses on timbre for organizing structures inspired by Persian or English languages and literature.

Shirazi’s music has been featured at festivals and concert series including Manifeste, Mostly Mozart, OutHear New Music Week, MATA, New Music Gathering, Direct Current, Taproot, and Tehran Contemporary Music Festival in venues such as Maison de la Radio France, Lincoln Center, and Kennedy Center. Her works are performed by Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Miranda Cuckson, International Contemporary Ensemble, Oerknal, Quince Ensemble, Ensemble Dal Niente, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Empyrean Ensemble, and Bilkent Symphony Orchestra among others.

Shirazi has earned her Ph.D. in composition and music theory from the University of California, Davis. She has studied with Mika Pelo, Pablo Ortiz, Kurt Rohde, Yiğit Aydın, Tolga Yayalar, Onur Türkmen, and Hooshyar Khayam as well as participating in workshops and masterclasses by Mark Andre, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Riccardo Piacentini, and Füsun Köksal, among others. Shirazi holds her B.A. in classical piano from Tehran University of Art (Iran), and her B.M. in music composition and theory from Bilkent University (Ankara, Turkey). She has studied santoor (traditional Iranian hammered dulcimer) with Parissa Khosravi Samani. Shirazi is a class 2021-22 participant in IRCAM’s “Cursus Program in Composition and Computer Music.”

Aida Shirazi (courtesy photo)

Catalan: Cloudburst

For flute, oboe, clarinet in B♭, bass clarinet, horn in F, trombone, piano, celesta, and strings
Composed 2022

Duration about 6 minutes

Cloudburst explores a couple simple ideas throughout this piece: the accumulation and release of movement and energy. Over time, the keyboard instruments with ostinato lines become slowly distorted through countering waves of sound that cause subtle to intense degrees of rhythmic and harmonic dissonance. Eventually, this progressive accumulation of energy reaches a breaking point where all that momentum is released, leaving the aftermath of incessant ostinatos behind to slower-moving masses and trickling of sounds. I would like to thank Christian Baldini and the players of the UC Davis Sinfonietta for their work in performing this piece. 

Josiah Tayag Catalan (he/him) is a Filipino-American composer born in New York City and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Recently, his compositional interests have become centered around the intersects of merging alternative modes of temporality and harmony by fusing elements that stem from influences in traditional, avant-garde, popular, and Southeast Asian musics. He has been awarded prizes from NACUSA, the Sacramento State Festival of New American Music, the Megalopolis Saxophone Orchestra, and the American Prize, has been a finalist in the Thailand International Competition Festival and ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer’s Awards, and has served as a Fromm Foundation Composer Fellow in the Composer’s Conference. Josiah’s music has been commissioned and performed internationally by individuals and groups such as the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Earplay, Empyrean Ensemble, Lydian and Arditti String Quartets, the MANA saxophone quartet, The Megalopolis Saxophone Orchestra, violinist Miranda Cuckson, percussionist Chris Froh, and soprano Helena Sorokina. His music is published by BabelScores.

Currently, Josiah is a Bilinski Fellow at the University of California, Davis researching the music of composers in the Philippine avant-garde movement and teaching as a lecturer in Music Theory and Composition at Sacramento State. He is a tennis and baseball nerd who plays competitively, enjoys riding road bikes on scenic California highways, and often hikes around Northern California with his partner and adopted mutt. 

Josiah Catalan (courtesy photo)
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.