On May 20, 2023, we will perform “Ecosystem” by Gabriel Bolaños with the UC Davis Sinfonietta at the Ann E. Pitzer Center. Gabriel completed his Ph.D. in Composition at UC Davis, and used to be our Teaching Assistant with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, including our tour of Spain. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Music Composition at Arizona State University, where he teaches courses in composition, analysis, music technology, and acoustics, and co-directs the PRISMS contemporary music festival. Below is an interview with Gabriel.
Christian Baldini: Dear Gabriel, what a pleasure it is to bring your music back to our campus! I have such fond memories of having you here as our TA many moons ago. Tell us, you are now a Professor, what are some of your fondest memories of your time in Davis, as you were working to complete your Ph.D. in composition?
Gabriel Bolaños: Thank you so much, Christian! It’s an honor for me to stay connected both personally and musically with you and with UC Davis.
I actually have only fond memories of grad school. It was stressful and challenging, but also a period of extensive creative and personal growth for me. Some of my best memories (and greatest learning experiences) were working with the Empyrean Ensemble and with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra. I learned so much about my craft and how to communicate my musical intentions to performers through these opportunities.
CB: How has life changed for you since becoming a Professor?
GB: It feels very strange to have some stability in life! Growing up, I moved every 2-3 years (often internationally), and after grad school I was bouncing all around the US and Nicaragua with my wife Megan. We have been living in Phoenix since 2019 and finally feel stable. We’re now about to start a family together- our first son, Gabriel, is due any day now!
CB: Your music is very special. It deals with sonic objects, it is related to color, texture, and also to perception. How would you explain your music to someone who is not familiar with it?
GB: My music often treats color (timbre) as a structural parameter equal to harmony. I like to collaborate with performers (or even get my hands on instruments I’m writing for) to explore new sounds and playing styles. Once I discover some interesting or unusual structures, I attempt to build a musical narrative around a tight economy of these ideas. These narratives often play with perception, ambiguity, recognizability/unrecognizability, and processes of sudden changes vs. gradual transitions.
CB: Can you talk a little bit about “Ecosystem”?
GB: I wrote this piece in 2014 for AMF- a summer music festival. I spent a long time experimenting ways to create a highly unrecognizable timbre with just the acoustic instruments. In the end, I settled on this relatively unknown technique where you tie magnetic tape to a piano string, and gently pull on/rub the tape. This produces a very complex tone with rich, unpredictable partials that sounds like an electronically synthesized sound. This timbre is central to the piece, and is a “seed” from which many of the harmonies and textures were developed. At the time I was also very interested in exploring the intersections of music and language, and I incorporated lots of whispering of various tongue-twisters in the piece to add an additional palette of unpitched colors and textures.
CB: What are some of your strongest influences as a composer and performer, and why?
GB: I love composers that focus on timbre: Grisey, Murail, Saariaho, Harvey, Vivier, Cerha, Maiguashca, and Romitelli. I greatly admire Ligeti, not just for his impeccable craft, but also because he was non-dogmatic in the way he incorporated different styles into his music and made them his own.
I grew up playing guitar and studying flamenco music and Latin American folk music. I love Sabicas, Sanlucar, Peña, Yamandú Costa, Yupanqui, Os Mutantes, and Quinteto Contrapunto.
At ASU I also teach many electronic-music classes, and have grown to like Trevor Wishart, Suzanne Ciani and Morton Subotnick. I find lots of inspiration in their electroacoustic thinking.
CB: What is your advice for young composers? How can someone find their own individual voice?
GB: I always remember the advice that my old composition professor, Fabien Lévy, gave to me: “it is better not to study composition than to study with the wrong person.”
Composition lessons are very personal and can have a deep, sustained impact on your outlook. It’s important that the student trust the instructor’s intentions and also like the instructor’s music, or it could be very damaging. Studying with the wrong person is like learning an incorrect technique on an instrument: to correct this, you have to un-learn a bad habit, and then start all over with the correct way.
More practically, I think it’s important to sketch extensively, to take all of your ideas to the extreme while sketching, and to mercilessly discard something if it is not serving the piece. For every minute of music I write, there are probably 3 minutes of discarded music that didn’t make the cut. Composing is very difficult!
CB: Thank you for your time Gabriel, and welcome back to UC Davis, this will always be your home!
GB: Thank you, Christian! I really appreciate it.
Gabriel José Bolaños Chamorro (b. 1984 Bogotá, Colombia) is a Nicaraguan/American composer of solo, chamber, orchestral and electroacoustic music. He frequently collaborates closely with performers, and enjoys writing music that explores unusual techniques, structures, and timbres. He is interested in computer-assisted-composition, auditory perception, linguistics, graphic notation, improvisation, and modular synthesizers.
Bolaños is currently an Assistant Professor of Music Composition at Arizona State University, where he teaches courses in composition, analysis, music technology, and acoustics, and co- directs the PRISMS contemporary music festival. He received a BA in music from Columbia University and a PhD in Composition and Theory from UC Davis. His music is published by BabelScores.
Bolaños has received numerous awards and grants for his work, including a Fulbright US Scholar Grant, the Suzanne & Lee Ettelson Composer’s Award, a Research & Development Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, a residency at CMMAS in Morelia, Mexico, a commission from Vertixe Sonora and Hong Kong Baptist University, and a commission from CIRM and Festival Manca in Nice, France.
Beyond his work as a composer and teacher, Bolaños has also written music for film, theater, and dance, has experience performing as a flamenco dance accompanist, and enjoys swimming, gardening, and playing folk music with his wife, Megan.
Ecosystem Program Notes – Ecosystem, as the title suggests, explores interactions between various acoustic objects within a closed system, and how these interact with each other and their environment (the performance/listening space). Perceptual ambiguity and “source recognition” - how easily a listener identifies the origins of a particular sound - play a very important structural role in the piece.
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, 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.
Christian Baldini:Daniel, congratulations on having your work Cathedral Grove selected to be performed by the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra at our upcoming concert on June 1, as part of the UCDSO Composition Award/Readings. Tell us about your piece, its title, its genesis, and anything else that you’d like to add.
Daniel Godsil: Thank you, Christian! It’s an honor to have been chosen for this, and to get the opportunity to work with you and the UC Davis Symphony!
For me, an orchestra is a very special thing: I love the beautiful concert halls, I love the rituals, I love the great masterworks that have been written for it. I especially love how so many people assemble together, both onstage and off, to present and hear this music. As I was deciding what to do with this piece, I thought about how much an orchestra, and all its accompanying social structure, is similar to “America’s Best Idea”: its national parks. We take time out of our busy days to go experience something out of the ordinary; we’ve decided as a culture how much certain extraordinary places mean to us, and how important it is to preserve them for future generations. The Muir Woods–of which the “Cathedral Grove” is a part– is one such place for me. And there’s immediate beauty, yes, but these ancient trees have been around long before us and will hopefully still be there long after we’re gone: this evokes a very sublime feeling. John Steinbeck said in his book Travels With Charley that “No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree;” this piece is my humble attempt to, instead, make a painting in sound. I tried to capture some of that sublime feeling, and also vitality, majesty, tenderness, silence, light or color filtering through the tops of trees, etc.
CB: What do you try to achieve with every new piece that you write? What are your main goals?
DG: After finishing my undergraduate work in composition, I spent a long time working as a composer for film and other visual media. When I returned to composing art music, it took me a long time to come to terms with why I was doing it; it didn’t feel like there was a tangible end product like a movie or a video game. What has really helped me is the idea of making music as a community. With so much music out there nowadays, I think it’s important to cultivate music groups or communities–people that you work with, live with, study with, meet at a festival, have coffee with. I’m always most excited to hear music that my friends make or perform. I try as much as I can to write music that will be appropriate for the performer or event I’m composing for, and I love collaborating with performers while I compose. Hopefully, this all helps to communicate with the audience, too.
CB: You’ve now lived in California for quite a few years. Has being a UC Davis graduate student influenced you much professionally and/or personally, and if so, in which ways?
DG: California is a very special place for me: for one, my wife Sara grew up here, and has deep ties to the Bay Area, and her family lives here. And now, my daughter Betsy (who is already 18 months old!) was born here. I grew up in Illinois, in the hometown of poet Carl Sandburg. Illinois has its own kind of beauty, but I have to admit that it’s nothing quite like what I experience in California on a daily basis. A lot of this comes out in my recent music, too. I’ve been influenced profoundly by the natural beauty of my new home state. As an added bonus, the music department at UC Davis is fantastic! We grad students get to compose for and collaborate with world-class performers, and study with musicians and scholars at the tops of their field. What more could you ask for? I’ve also become a very avid cyclist, and I absolutely love that I can bicycle all year round in California. Living in Davis has taught me that time on the bike is almost as important as studying or composing!
CB: Is there anything that you’d like to see change in the usual concert platform, or in the way that symphony concerts are presented?
DG: As I mentioned earlier, I’m someone who really loves the modern orchestra and how it’s presented now. Even though it may seem stuffy, there’s a reverence built into the ritual that I think should be preserved. Just like you wouldn’t go into the Muir Woods with a boombox (hopefully), there’s a level of respect that goes with an orchestral performance. That said, I really think that orchestras need to have a significant “laboratory” component, where new music is given equal standing with established repertoire. When you go to a good museum, the contemporary works aren’t presented in some back room…they’re in a fantastic, new, climate-controlled space, right next door to the masterworks of the past. I’m not a fan of having new orchestral works presented as filler, or blamed for lost ticket sales. The audiences should be given more credit! Look at what the Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil are doing, for instance, and thriving, at that! Championing new music should be a major part of preserving our beautiful orchestral tradition; like the slogan says for the American Composers Forum, “all music was once new.” And by taking chances on new local music! I love going to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, for instance: they have a great collection of local California art, and it’s fantastically diverse. I love it when orchestras do the same kind of thing, it strengthens community bonds very simply and effectively.
CB: What would be your advice for anyone trying to become a composer? (and/or for anyone applying for graduate school in composition)?
DG: Again, I think it’s really important to cultivate musical community. If you’re not a skilled instrumentalist or performer, start by working on that! Get out and start playing music with other people. Write something for a cellist friend, for instance, and see what works. You can learn so much more in one rehearsal than by reading books for that same amount of time. That’s not to say that reading or studying is a bad thing: it’s important to learn your craft through whatever means possible, and doubly important if you want to pursue composition at the graduate level. But I think it’s good to frame everything by actually doing music.
CB: Thank you for your time, Daniel, we look forward to performing your piece and sharing it with our audience soon!
DG: Thank you, Christian, I’m really excited to work with you and the orchestra, and I hope people who hear it will let me know what they think!
Daniel Godsil‘s music, which has been described by the San Francisco Classical Voice as having an “intense dramatic narrative”, draws from such eclectic influences as rock and heavy metal, science-fiction, and Brutalist architecture.
Born and raised in central Illinois, Godsil (b.1982) is currently pursuing his PhD. in Composition and Theory at the University of California, Davis, studying with Mika Pelo, Laurie San Martin, and Sam Nichols. He holds an MFA in Music Composition from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he studied with John Fitz Rogers, John Mallia, and Jonathan Bailey Holland. He also holds a BM in Music Composition from Webster University.
Godsil was selected to participate in the 2017 Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP) in Boston, where he had master classes with composers Nicholas Vines and Georg Friedrich Haas.
Godsil has also been active as an educator, conductor, and performer in the central Illinois area, Knox College, Monmouth College, and Carl Sandburg College. At Knox College, he directed the New Music Ensemble, Wind Ensemble, Chamber Ensemble, and Men’s Chorus. He has also held posts as choral accompanist and collaborative pianist, and served as Music Director and Organist at Grace Episcopal Church in Galesburg, IL.
On May 4, 2019, I will have the pleasure of conducting the symphonic triptych “Rituales Amerindios” by Argentinean composer Esteban Benzecry, with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra in the beautiful Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. On the same program we will include the Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, with violinist Stephanie Zyzak and cellist Eunghee Cho, and the work “phôsphors (. . . of ether)” by Irish composer Ann Cleare.
Christian Baldini: Esteban, first of all, it is a pleasure for me as an Argentine to be conducting your beautiful and captivating music in the US. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. Tell me, how were your first few steps in music? You have been living in Paris for many, many years, but your path started in Argentina. How was your childhood, and when did you first feel attracted to music composition?
Esteban Benzecry: I am the one who is grateful, and I am delighted to know that my music will be heard in Davis, and that it is in such great hands.
I became close to music when I was already a teenager. Before then, I was always more attracted to painting. When I was 10 I had an attempt to learn the piano, but I quit after a few months because I found it boring, perhaps because I was not mature enough for it at the time.
While I was attending elementary school and high school, I also went to the Fine Arts Institute Manuel José de Labardén (Instituto Vocacional de Arte Manuel José de Labardén) in Buenos Aires, where we were taught fine arts, theatre, photography, theatre, indigenous instruments and folkloric dances. It was then that in a self-taught fashion, and kind of ‘playing’ I became closer to music. When I was 15 I started playing the guitar and learning songs. My first private teacher was María Concepción Patrón. I loved improvising and I wanted to learn to write what I improvised.
After a few months she urged me to learn the piano and composition, so I continued my studies with Sergio Hualpa and with Haydee Gerardi, all of this simultaneously while I was studying Fine Arts at University, at the Prilidiano Pueyrredón.
There was a very important moment in my life which was when the Argentine violinist Alberto Lysy listened to a piece that I had written for violin and piano. He got very excited and encouraged me to write a piece for solo violin, a capriccio. He told me that if he liked it, upon his return from Switzerland he would play it as an encore in one of his concerts for the youth. My big surprise came when, upon his return, he got so excited and liked it so much that he decided it to include it on a concert but not as an encore, but as part of the program, and in no other place than in the Main Hall of the Teatro Colón. This was in May 1991, when I was 21.
My piece received very good reviews and other musicians and orchestras started to ask me for new works. It was all rather strange, but it seemed very natural, because I was not looking for musicians, they were rather looking for me for new works.
That is how specific projects made me spend more and more time with music and I then felt that I no longer needed to express myself through painting. On the other hand, in 1994 the National Symphony Orchestra of Argentina premiered my first symphony “El compendio de la vida” under the leadership of their Music Director Pedro Ignacio Calderón. In this piece I tried to fuse these two worlds: each of the four movements was inspired in paintings of mine that were exhibited in the foyer of the Auditorio de Belgrano.
My becoming close to music was very intuitive, and something that took place as a necessity. I started writing for orchestra without having received lessons in music theory or orchestration, I loved looking at scores and following them with recordings, and that was a big learning moment for me.
After the first few works of mine had been premiered, when my career choice was already defined by music, I went to Paris, in 1997, to study composition with Jacques Charpentier and “musical civilization” at the National Conservatory of the Paris Region, and I received my degree “Premier prix à l’unanimité”, then I continued my studies in courses with Paul Mefano, and although I was older than the age limit, he encouraged me to attend his classes at the National Conservatory of Paris as an auditing student.
CB: Your father is one of the most influential orchestra conductors of Argentina. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but I know that he has taught and educated many generations of conductors and orchestra musicians through his wonderful (which he founded) National Youth Orchestra of Argentina (Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Nacional José de San Martín), which has been an incredible “barn of talent” in Buenos Aires. How was it for you growing up in such a musical family? Did you ever consider following your father’s footsteps as a conductor?
EB: Musical interpretation is a different world from the creation. I was fortunate enough to be born with a family that loves art, and who always supported me and stimulated me with a blind faith in everything that I was set out to do. The pressure of having a father that is renowned in the musical environment in the country where I grew up could have nullified me due to the high expectations that some people might have had, to see if it is true that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, and the pressure to have to develop my own merits regardless of those expectations…. but luckily it was not like that: I continue to do what I love the most and I am very grateful of the childhood I had where I was never pressured into becoming a musician, but rather I alone, like in a game, chose it.
As a little boy it was very common for me to come to rehearsals and concerts, so I absorbed a lot of things like a sponge.
Curiously so far I am not interested in being a performer, I don’t know if I have the charisma, the capacity to communicate something that I do in such an intuitive manner as a creator.
CB: Which are the composers that have influenced you the most? Stravinsky seems to have had an obvious influence on you, but perhaps there are others that have equally had a great influence in your music?
EB: Also the music by Latin American composers that have integrated into their musical language folklore, such as Ginastera, Villalobos, Revueltas.
The colorful orchestral palette of French composers, as much the impressionists as that by Dutilleux and Messiaen, and the timbres in contemporary spectral French music, my brief passage with electroacoustic music as a student in Paris were very influential. Even if I ended up as a symphonist, electroacoustic music opened my ears to look for other sonorities with the orchestra.
My past with fine arts, somehow left a mark in my music in the sense that it is very visual and based in colors, it is as if I was coloring with my music, like building sonic sceneries.
CB: What is the most important goal for you as a composer? What do you try to communicate with every new piece?
EB: I suppose with my musical language I exteriorize my internal world. I don’t know if I attempt to do anything, it simply flows without being able to explain why I do it, I don’t know if it belongs to me.
One can theorize about the musical grammar but once can’t have the answer about where that image came from (that image that covered the empty canvas), or where those notes came from within the silence.
There is no autopsy or scientist who could give an explanation about where the art we create comes from, or whether we simply communicate it, or whether it already existed in a different dimension of the universe.
Michelangelo Buonarroti said something like “The sculpture already existed, I only took the excess out of the block of marble.”
CB: In your opinion, what is the role of symphonic music (and/or art in general) in the world we live in nowadays?
EB: Art is like a force of nature that must be allowed to flow, we are only a vehicle of its transmission, it contributes to the universal collective memory, it is the hieroglyphs which will live on as opposed to our physical body, which will disappear; it is the “black box” which will reflect in the future what the human of the past felt.
There is a role of current entertainment and also that of eternity.
I always have the impression of that I am planting trees that will remain here for the future generations, as opposed to the performers that live in them now.
There is much art that is created with new technologies, which contributes to its evolution, but with time it turns obsolete or not very practical, while symphonic music is a classic that will last just like oil on a canvas, where what evolves is the language itself, the image, the sound that one stamps on it, but using the same matter.
The symphony orchestra is also the highest expression of the result of collective work, an example of a society.
With these topics nobody “owns the truth”, it is just a viewpoint.
CB: Please tell me, what was the initial seed behind the genesis of your work “Rituales Amerindios”? Was it your own initiative, or due to the commission that you received? Is the musical material ever influenced by commissions that you receive?
EB: Very few times I have received commissions in which a theme had been imposed upon me, normally it is me who chooses a theme.
This piece was a commission by the Gothenburg Symphony (National Symphony of Sweden), whose music director was Gustavo Dudamel. It was premiered by this orchestra in Gothenburg in January 2010, and that same week it was taken on a tour to the Festival Internacional de Música de las Islas Canarias in Las Palmas de Gran Canarias and in Tenerife. This symphonic triptych is dedicated to Gustavo Dudamel, which motivated me to write a work that, in my humble way, could be a musical homage to Latin America through its three main pre-columbian cultures, which are the Aztecs (Mexico), Mayas (south of Mexico and central America), and Incas (South America, primarily in Peru).
Each of the movements, then, carries the name of a divinity from each of those cultures: I – Ehécatl (Aztec God of Wind) II – Chaac (Maya God of Water) III – Illapa (Inca God of Thunder)
Gustavo Dudamel has subsequently programmed it with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in subscriptions at Walt Disney Concert Hall and on tour to San Francisco in Davies Symphony Hall on the Centennial of the San Francisco Symphony. He also conducted it in Carnegie Hall in New York with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra from Venezuela, and he took it on tour to Berkeley, Royal Festival Hall in Londo y the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Other orchestras such as the Philharmonique de Radio France and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic (Teatro Colon) have programmed this work as well.
CB: With regards to the musical materials, it is incredible how you can accomplish such memorable and simple motives like that one that starts “Rituales Amerindios.” How do you find such a subtle balance between complex elements (of which there is a lot in your work as well) and simple elements? Do you have a constant quest to find something memorable and transcendent?
EB: If I said I’m on a constant quest to create something memorable and transcendent it would sound too pretentious. How does one find that?
I thank you for your point of view about my music, and it is very difficult to describe with words what I do with my music in a very intuitive way.
When I compose I like to create themes that can be melodic or rhythmic motives which pop up in my music like characters that come in and out of a musical scenery. My music is very pictorial, as if it was about sonic sceneries that serve as a background to those characters which at different moments reappear with variations, thus giving unity to the work.
Rituales amerindios is a symphonic “mural” (a large painting that has been painted onto a wall, like a fresco) which is loaded with simple and recognizable elements that call your attention, on top of complex textures that serve as background.
CB: Rhythmic force, evocations to nature, moments of a very beautiful lyricism are a very natural part of “Rituales Amerindios” (and maybe a signature of you as a composer). Have you looked for inspiration in the concept of a neo-nationalism or a sort of imaginary folklore, to call it by some name? (I personally imagine that Alberto Ginastera would have liked your music very much)
EB: I thank you for your comment.
Defining my music is very difficult because I would run the risk of labeling myself with the description that I might do and I do not have any strict dogmas.
In works like “Rituales Amerindios” I feel a bit in line with Latin American composers such as Revueltas, Villa-Lobos and Ginastera of the “imaginary folklore”, what I mean is that I do not attempt to do ethnomusicology, but rather, in many of my works I have taken roots, rhythms, mythology or melodic turns of our continent as the source of inspiration, but in order to develop my own language, which could be described as a fusion of these roots and the new techniques of the contemporary western music.
Even if I have things in common with the aforementioned composers (we use these same roots as a source of inspiration), since I am a composer of the 21st Century my aesthetic influences are different.
In my first few works this happened unconsciously, maybe due to the contact that I had since a young age with folklore and indigenous instruments in the arts institute “Labarden” in Buenos Aires, and also due to my passion for certain South American composers. Today, I think that this has been vindicated and I do it more consciously with a very exploratory attitude, even though not all the works in my catalogue have this thematic material.
In my works I like to recreate the sonorities of indigenous instruments such as the “quena” or the “sikus” but utilizing instruments from the traditional orchestra, through contemporary procedures such as the use of multiphonics, harmonics, different kinds of air blows, extended techniques in the wind instruments, and I try to recreate the sound of the strummed “charango” through the use of pizzicato with arpeggios in the violins, etc.
I also love sounds of nature, the singing of imaginary birds, the sounds of mineral elements, vegetables, woods, water ambiences, the fauna: “Rituales Amerindios” is also a chant to nature in the Americas.
CB: Esteban, I thank you so very much for your time and wonderful answers. We are truly honored to share your beautiful music with your audience.
EB: I am the one who is grateful, to count on performers as enthusiastic as you who bring life to my music. The work that you are doing with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra making so much music of our time known through your concerts is truly remarkable.
Argentinean composer born in 1970. Esteban Benzecry is one of South America’s most renowned young composers. His music is programmed by the world’s leading conductors, performing organisations and festivals. Interpreters and commissions include the Carnegie Hall, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Gothenburg Symphony, Hamburg Philharmoniker Orchester, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Sydney Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Tampere Philharmonic, Stavanger Symfoniorkester, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orquestra Gulbenkian, Orquesta Nacional de España, ORCAM Orquesta y Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfonica de RTVE. His most recent works attempt a fusion between rhythms with Latin American roots and the diverse aesthetic currents of European contemporary music creating, a personal language, an imaginary folklore. Benzecry lives in Paris since 1997.