Concerto, Experimental, folklore, Music, Symphony Orchestra, Tango, Uncategorized, violin

Composer Profile: Esteban Benzecry in Conversation with Christian Baldini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EB: I thank you for your comment. 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Concerto, Dance, Experimental, Music, Symphony Orchestra, Tango

Composer Profile: Ann Cleare in Conversation with Christian Baldini

In preparation for our performance of her orchestral work phôsphors (… of ether) at the Mondavi Center (UC Davis), I had the pleasure of asking composer Ann Cleare a few questions about her music. Below are the answers:
Christian Baldini: First of all, congratulations on the recently announced success of your Ernst von Siemens Prize! This is such exciting news, and so very richly deserved for someone with your sense of imagination, refined sonic creations and unusual sensitivity. And thank you very much for agreeing to answer some questions for us. Do you consider yourself a quintessentially Irish composer? And if so, can you tell us more about how this might have influenced your upbringing, and your music in particular?
Ann Cleare: I’m not sure that I know what a quintessential Irish composer is! Being a composer in Ireland is a relatively new profession – Ireland didn’t have a Bach or Beethoven or Brahms. The country has a history of being the land of Saints and Scholars, and has produced some incredibly talented writers of words, but the writing of music is a much newer activity. In this sense, I don’t carry the weight of tradition that composers of other countries often do. I have always thought of composing as a place where I must define the territory and create my own rules, which then govern the structure of a piece. Unlike many people, the distinction between music, sound, silence, and noise has never been so great for me. I grew up playing tonal music but always felt confined by the limits of its language and thought that there was so much timbral and structural potential to be explored in the everyday sonorities around me, whether mechanical or natural. I don’t see any of this as being a particularly Irish approach, but somehow, being at a distance from the overbearing tradition that composers of other countries have to contend with, has allowed me to create my own sense of what music is or can be.
  
 
CB: You talk about 3 islands and a “composite” in your piece phôsphors (… of ether) – the timber, register and harmonic qualities of each of these groups affects the way you structure the piece. Can you tell us more about this?
AC: Yes, the differing timbre, registers, and harmonic qualities are in aid of distinguishing these three instrumental “islands” from each other – these are technical approaches to creating a sense of individual layers or places within a piece, and then a fourth ‘floating’ island navigates these three and draws out elements or matter that bring the islands into dialogue or exchange.
 
CB: Who would you say are some of the composers (in music history, or living ones) that have had a deep impact on your own music, and why?
AC: Probably the work of Iannis Xenakis. One of the most fiercely original musical minds of the 20th century, Xenakis held a multifaceted career as a composer, architect, and mathematician, and from these influences imagined and created sound in a way that no one else ever has. Particularly his piece Dämmerschein, which is like a ferocious natural force unleashed on the orchestral stage.
 
 
CB: Who are some important people that have inspired you in your education and training? Are there any people that you think you will will always be grateful to, and why?
AC: I love the W.B. Yeats quote that “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. There are a lot of people that I have studied with who have helped light lasting fires with me! In particular, Chaya Czernowin, one of my teachers at Harvard, who showed me the unseen depths of the worlds that I was exploring and how much further I could dig in to make them even more vivid. She also taught me to never rest on my laurels – that once a piece is written, it’s written, and it’s then necessary to move on and find new territory and new challenges.
 
CB: In your opinion, what is the role of art, and music more specifically in society nowadays? 
AC: I think that art should both challenge and reflect the world we live in – I believe that’s what it’s for. It saddens me when my work or work that I admire is described as high brow or inaccessible, when from my point of view, it’s dealing with the most universal of ideas and attempting to communicate them in a sincere way. When asked if my music is too challenging or harrowing for a listener, which it is often described as, I suggest that if you want to pretend the world is a lovely, comfortable place, then stay at home and find something mind-numbing to watch on TV (which, of course, there’s a time and place for…). I work and think hard about how I can make my ideas clear to a listener, to invite them into the experience, but not in a way that compromises or simplifies the complexity of the situation in question, and life is difficult and complex, art isn’t the place to escape from this.
 
CB: Sometimes we read or hear dooming comments that classical/symphonic music audiences are getting smaller and smaller or that only old people listen to concerts. Do you believe in this, and if so, what should or could be done to reverse this trend and invigorate our audiences?
AC: I sway between thinking that the concert hall is a wonderful thing, a unique place of concentration and community, to feeling straight-jacketed and claustrophobic by its expectations of an audience, who it often seems aren’t really considered in the experience. I would love to see more music happen outside of concert hall practices. I can imagine audiences still being capable of actively listening but without the confinement of concert hall behaviour. Programming needs attention too, as often, particularly with programmes of contemporary music, pieces that are programmed together that have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and contradict, rather than compliment each other. Would you go to see three or four different plays in a night? How confusing and overwhelming would this be? Yet several pieces of music are often squeezed into a few hours at a concert hall – making for a very confused experience for an audience. If we want audiences to be interested in the concert hall, we need to reconsider the many antiquated practices that don’t serve it well anymore.
 
CB: What do you seek to achieve with every new piece that you write? What is your main motivation for writing music?
AC: the music I write feels like a type of first language to me – I can express in sound what I often fail to express in words. Composing is where my fullest form of expression finds its outlet. Each piece encourages a listener to contemplate the complexity of the lives we exist within, exploring ideas of communication, transformation, and perception.
 
 
CB: Thank you very much for your time and for answering these questions in such a candid manner. We very much look forward to sharing your captivating music with our audiences here in Davis!
ann_miller_highres2-e1529570225165

Ann Cleare is an Irish composer working in the areas of concert music, opera, extended sonic environments, and hybrid instrumental design. Her work explores the static and sculptural nature of sound, probing the extremities of timbre, texture, colour, and form. She creates highly psychological and corporeal sonic spaces that encourage a listener to contemplate the complexity of the lives we exist within, exploring poetries of communication, transformation, and perception.

A recipient of a 2019 Ernst von Siemens Composer Prize, her work has been commissioned and presented by major broadcasters such as the BBC, NPR, ORF, RTÉ, SWR, WDR for festivals such as Gaudeamus Week, The Wittenertage fur Neue Kammermusik, International Music Institute Darmstadt, Bludenzer Tage zeitgemäßer Musik, IMATRONIC Festival of Electronic Music at ZKM, MATA Festival, Taschenopernfestival, Sound Reasons Festival in India, Shanghai New Music Week, Transit Belgium, GAIDA, Totally Huge New Music in Perth, Trattorie Parma, Rainy Days in Luxembourg, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Ultraschall. Through working with some of the most progressive musicians of our time, she has established a reputation for creating innovative forms of music, both in its presentation, and within the music itself. She has worked with groups such as Ensemble SurPlus, 175 East, The Crash Ensemble, The Callithumpian Consort, Quatuor Diotima, The International Contemporary Ensemble, The Chiara String Quartet, Collegium Novum Zürich, ELISION, The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Divertimento Ensemble, JACK Quartet, Ensemble Apparat, Ensemble Nikel, The Curious Chamber Players, Yarn/Wire, ensemble mosaik, The Experimental Ensemble of the SWR Studios, Talea Ensemble, österreichisches ensemble für neue music, The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, ensemble recherche, TAK, Vertixe Sonore, Ensemble Garage, Argento Chamber Ensemble, The Fidelio Trio, oh ton-ensemble, Distractfold, Longleash Trio, and soloists such as Carol McGonnell, Richard Craig, Heather Roche, Bill Schimmel, Benjamin Marks, Patrick Stadler, Carlos Cordeiro, Ryan Muncy, Richard Haynes, William Lang, Laura Cocks, Lina Andonovska, Samuel Stoll, and Callum G’Froerer.

Recent projects have focused on creating experiential environments where sound is given a visual as well as sonic dimension, such works include eyam i-v, a series of five attacca pieces, centred around clarinet and flute writing in various solo, ensemble, electronic, and orchestral settings, spanning just over two hours of music that is continuously transformed in shape, time, and motion around the listener; rinn, a time travel chamber opera involving a multichannel sonic sculpture that the singers and actors wear, interact with, and are amplified by; spatially choreographed chamber pieces such as I should live in wires for leaving you behindanchor me to the land, and on magnetic fields; a newly-designed instrument that a musician simultaneously wears and plays in eölsurface stations, multi-layered theatre involving the staging of extended brass instruments, vocal ensemble, and visuals.

Current and future projects include new works for Ekmeles and solo trombonist William Lang, Liminalities – a collaboration with ensemble mosaik and visual artist Anna Rún Tryggvadottir in Reykjavik and Berlin, a chamber orchestra piece for Ensemblekollektiv Berlin, a series of songs for voice and piano for The Irish Art Song Project, an evening-length work for ELISION, a video opera version of her opera rinn, and the creation of an outdoor musical playground for children with sculptor Brian Byrne.

Ann studied at University College Cork, IRCAM, and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Her scores are published by Project Schott New York and she is represented by the Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland (CMC).  She is Assistant Professor of Music and Media Technologies at Trinity College Dublin. As an artistic collaborator with Dublin Sound Lab, she will work on developing their programming and production of electronic music over the coming years. Ann is Projects Officer with Sounding the Feminists (#STF), a collective championing principles of equality, fairness, inclusivity, and diversity in Irish musical life.

 

Cello, Concerto, Dance, Music, Tango, Uncategorized

Soloist Profile: Anssi Karttunen in conversation with Christian Baldini

In preparation for our performance of Peter Lieberson’s “The Six Realms” (for cello and orchestra), I had the occasion of asking our wonderful soloist Anssi Karttunen a few questions:

Christian Baldini: Anssi, what a treat to get to perform this piece with you as our soloist, thank you so much for joining us! This will be the first time that this piece will be performed without the cello being amplified, is that correct? You were very good friends with Peter Lieberson, so can you tell us the history behind the reason for this piece being published for amplified cello, despite the composer’s wishes?

Anssi Karttunen: I know exactly what must have happened at the first performance with Yo-Yo Ma because the same thing has happened to me with other first performances. There is no piece more difficult for balance than a cello concerto. Nowadays there is mostly very little time to rehearse for any orchestral piece and the one aspect that takes time to sort out is balance. So it sometimes happens that in order for the cello to be heard in the first performance one has to ask for a discreet amplification. Usually in the following performances the composer can work out the problematic passages. That is exactly what happened in Toronto, the only problem being that it was then published as a piece for amplified cello and orchestra which was not Peter’s original idea. When I suggested that we take a look at the dynamics together in order to make a version that can be performed and rehearsed in normal time he was delighted. We were both convinced that Six Realms would work very well with some small revisions which he was going to do himself. Unfortunately he got very ill and wrote to me some time later that he would not able to finish the work but that he trusted I would make the right decisions. A few months later he passed away, it has taken 8 years to find the right conditions for this performance.

CB: This work is based on some Buddhist principles, and the concept that (in Lieberson’s own words) “differing states of mind and emotions colour our view of the world and shape human experience”. We know Lieberson was a Buddhist, but can you develop on this and how it might have affected his compositional output?

AK: I don’t think Peter is trying to give us a lecture on the Buddhist idea of cycle of rebirths through six realms, but as it was for him a very concrete and deep belief it gave him a story thread to follow and to tell through his music. There is a universality in the message of the piece that does not require knowledge on Buddhism. The movement through different stages of existence and emotional states can be felt and received either concretely or as an abstraction. The sincerity of Peter’s relation to his own music and his beliefs is there for all of us to feel.

The Six Realms is structured as follows:

1. The Sorrow of the World (introduction)
2. The Hell Realm (aggression: acute, self-perpetuating anger at the world and ourselves)
3. The Hungry Ghost Realm (passion: the need to possess or continually consume; we are never satisfied because we can never get enough)
4. The Animal Realm (ignorance: an obsessive need to control or to find security)
5. The Human Realm (passion: the desire for something better, and a lessening of self-absorption, allows for the possibility of our becoming dignified humans who long for liberation from these six realms of existence. It is only from this realm that we are able to move on to achieve Enlightenment: the right way to view, and interact with, the world.)
6. The God Realm (ignorance: blissful self-absorption of our godlike powers, until doubt sets in and shatters our confidence) and The Jealous God Realm (aggression: extreme paranoia and competitive drive; we never trust anyone or their motives)

CB: What is so very special to you about this piece, and, are you hoping that now that we finally perform it without amplification (with some of the edits that you did with PL before he died), it will finally become a staple of the Cello Concerto repertoire?

AK: The important thing is not that we play it with or without amplification, it is simply that the piece gets heard again. It often happens even to masterpieces that for one reason or another they do not receive the success they deserve immediately and need to wait for their moment. I sincerely think that this is one of the great American concertos and there are not too many of those for any instrument. At the same time it is not merely American, it is a universal piece. Peter didn’t want his music to sound American or Buddhist, he followed the principle of « being brave enough to experience existence without dogma or belief of any kind ». I hope we can bring justice to this wonderful piece.

CB: You have given the world premiere of over 180 works (and counting), and have worked with some of the most celebrated composers of our time such as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Luca Francesconi, Kaija Saariaho, and Pascal Dusapin. Can you tell us why it is so important to actively promote the works of living composers?

AK:There are three main reasons why working with living composers is essential for us performers:

– Firstly: Music has changed a lot during history but the work of a composer has remained essentially the same, It still starts with an empty page and through their own individual battles composers manage to put down on paper the closest approximation of their music that notation allows. Knowing how different composers work today is the best way to imagine how composers worked earlier, how they all are different and have very different priorities for us performers.

– Secondly: There is nothing more exciting than being part of the creative process. The moment when a piece is born. Being the first messenger who allow an audience to discover a new creation is a priceless opportunity.

– Thirdly: The work of a performer is ephemeral. Nothing remains of a concert, sometimes a recording, but often not event that. CDs exist, but recordings often fall out of fashion and our work is eventually forgotten. The only legacy we can leave behind are the pieces that we were able to inspire composers to compose. So through these pieces which will survive in the hands of other performers a little bit of my happy moments will survive for future generations.

CB: Can you share with us some interesting, amusing or charming anecdotes of your life as a touring musician, traveling around the world working with wonderful musicians from all walks of life?

AK: Friends are what is the most interesting, charming and amusing thing about the life of a traveling musician. And coming back to places to meet the friends again. Sometimes one meets a person that marks your life and never meet them again. Sometimes a surprising place or friend accompanies you throughout the rest of your life. One such place is Davis; when I first came here 20 years ago I had no idea that a recording Pablo Ortiz played for me of Piazzolla and Troilo led us to a collaboration that has produced now already two CDs and countless pieces and concerts. And Davis itself became a place were I am now coming for my fourth visit, each time with a completely different project. Another such person was Peter Lieberson, I only met him on two occasions, but our bond was so strong that we became very close and he and his music has accompanied me far beyond his passing.

CB: Wow, that is amazing to hear. Now changing completely the subject, and dreaming big, tell us, if you were appointed Artistic Director of a Music Festival with unlimited resources, and you had to choose the programming for 3 symphonic programs (with unlimited choices of soloists, orchestras, choirs, conductors), who would you invite, and to perform what?

AK: If you offer me unlimited resources, then I can take the liberty of traveling in time. The first concert I would program is the one that I in fact programmed four years ago in Helsinki when I directed the Musica nova Festival. This was such a happy moment of being with and listening to friends that I would love to offer it to more people to enjoy. My closest friend Olly Knussen sadly passed away last summer so the only way this concert could happen is with these unlimited resources.

1:
Peter Lieberson: Shing Kham, percussion concerto (orchestrated by Oliver Knussen)
Mark-Anthony Turnage: On Open Ground, viola concerto
Reinbert de Leeuw: Der nächtlige Wanderer
Finnish Radio Orchestra, conducted by Oliver Knussen (1952-2018), soloists: Pedro Carneiro, percussion and Steven Dann, viola

2:
The second concert would be a trip into history. To meet and hear two of my heroes and to understand how they performed themselves. Schumann’s cello concerto I would have to offer to play myself, because no cellist in his lifetime wanted to play it and he never heard it. Hearing Brahms and his friends perform the Double Concerto would be the ultimate way of understanding his music and the way he performed it himself. So much has changed since those days and there are no records to listen to, we can only guess how it may have been.

Schumann: Cello Concerto, Schumann conducting and myself as soloist
Brahms: Double Concerto, Brahms conducting, Joseph Joachim, violin and Robert Hausmann cello

3:
Arnold Schönberg: Gurrelieder conducted by Schönberg.

I would want to sit in the audience for this concert that was one of the most important moments in the history of music. Plus I would be sitting next to so many incredible people, Berg, Webern, Zemlinsky and many others. And if I had organised the concert I would have the chance to take them all out for dinner afterwards.

CB: That was very illuminating, and it speaks very much about the great breadth of repertoire that is so important to you. Once again, Anssi, thank you very much for coming to Davis to perform this wonderful music with us, and for sharing your very interesting insights with us!

Continue reading “Soloist Profile: Anssi Karttunen in conversation with Christian Baldini”

Concerto, Dance, Music, Tango

Christian Baldini in conversation with Composer Pablo Ortiz

In preparation for the performance of his Concerto for Bandoneon and Orchestra, I had the pleasure of asking composer Pablo Ortiz a few questions about his music, his training, and more.

Christian Baldini: Pablo, it is a real pleasure to feature your music with our orchestra, especially on a concert which showcases the wide aesthetic range that can be found in an entire “Argentina music” program. You studied in Buenos Aires at the Catholic University (just like me), with some of the most important composers of Latin America. Can you tell us about your training there, and how it formed you as the composer that you are today?

Pablo Ortiz: At the Catholic University I was able to work with Gerardo Gandini, who was the most well-known contemporary composer in Argentina, but also, at some point he became the pianist for the sextet of Astor Piazzolla. He has a series of recordings called Postangos, where he improvises on well known standards, just as a jazz pianist would. He was tremendously influential.

CB: Tango has been a source of inspiration for you for a long time. How did this love for this genre start for you? And when did you decide that you would incorporate it into your own language?
PO: When one of my uncles divorced, he came to live with us in my parents’ house, and he brought with him his extensive collection of tango records. He would sit and reminisce, and I would keep him company, becoming acquainted with the great bands of the golden age: Troilo, D’Arienzo, Pugliese, Firpo among others.

CB: In your Concerto for Bandoneon and Orchestra you use a typical structure of a concerto: in three movements, fast, slow, and faster. But your concerto does not sound “typical” or “standard” in any way. How do you go about reinventing yourself for every piece, and creating new sounds with old forms that sound fresh and unconventional?
PO: I do tend to reinvent myself in every piece. I have several different “styles” that correspond to my musical passions: for instance, I love writing for the voices, and my vocal works are different from my instrumental works, or my tango-inflected works.

CB: You wrote this concerto for JP Jofre, who is a wonderful virtuoso. Can you tell us about your relationship with JP and what it is like to make music with him?
PO: JP Jofre is an amazing musician, and he can play everything technically, of course, but his musicality and warmth is off the charts. Essentially, you cannot remain indifferent when he plays. You cannot help but be moved.

CB: It has long been said that music education is suffering in the public school system (in many countries) and that unless we do something, the classical music audience will continue getting smaller and smaller. What are some of the most important things you would point out to a politician or administrator who might have the capacity to do something about this? Why is music still important and relevant nowadays?
PO: I think that people have to realize that there is a rich cultural patrimony that is worth keeping alive. We have treasures, in art, music, theatre, architecture, that we need to preserve for future generations. In Europe, the State is instrumental in keeping this legacy, in this country [the United States], we are more dependent on the kindness of private donors and Universities. Music is important because it makes you feel things, and understand things relying on your intuition.

CB: Many thanks again for sharing your time with us, and especially for sharing your beautiful music with us. It will be a pleasure to share it with our students and our audience!
PO: I am really happy, and honored to have my concert performed at Davis. Thank you!

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Dance, Music, Tango

Christian Baldini in conversation with Tango Virtuoso JP Jofre

One of the great virtuoso bandoneon players visit California to share his artistry with us

I had the pleasure of talking to bandoneon virtuoso and composer JP Jofre, in preparation for our upcoming concert together at UC Davis at the Mondavi Center performing his own Tangódromo, as well as the Bandoneón Concerto by Pablo Ortiz.

Christian Baldini: JP, what a treat to have you with us for this program, in which we are exclusively playing composers from Argentina, thank you for joining us!
JP Jofre: It is my pleasure to share new music with the beautiful people of Davis for the first time.

CB: Tell us about your piece Tangódromo. What is the “seed” for this piece, and what were the circumstances in which you wrote it?
JP: It is originally a suite for string quartet and bandoneon. I write it between 2012 and 2013 inspired by some of my favorites composers such as Piazzolla, Shostakovich and Stravinsky with the need of expanding the bandoneon repertoire. The world premiere was in NYC with the Attacca Quartet, latter on I made the oficial recording with the Catalyst Quartet on an album entitled Bandoneon y Cuerdas.

CB: You’ve been a wonderful champion of composers from Argentina. Can you name a few composers from Argentina that you’ve worked with, and tell us what was special about working with each of them?
JP: I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful Argentine composers such as Ortiz, Viñao, and Otero and Bruno Cavallaro. With Fernando Otero I made around 200 performances between 2010 and 2015. I learned so much playing his music and going on tour with him that I feel he was one of my main teachers without taking lessons with him.
With Ezequiel Viñao also was a wonderful experience, performing and recording his suite Sonetos de Amor, a very complex, yet gorgeous song cycle for mezzo and chamber ensemble. Collaborating with a living composer is one of the most amazing experiences.

CB: What was your path into music when you were growing up, what (or who) got you started?
JP: Unconsciously I started composing music since very little maybe around 4-5 years old. It was like playing games, for example, I would create a song to sing to my grandma so I would make her laugh. Later on, when I was 15 years old I started more seriously composing on the piano and guitar. First I was very much into rock and pop, I was playing drums on a heavy metal band, but as a teenager about 16-17 years old I fell in love with Dvorak, Leoncavallo (my mother used to play Pagliacci all the time and I loved it), and Albeniz too. Anyways, I have to say there was one composer who made me rethink everything and made me decide what I wanted for my life, that was Piazzolla.

CB: Tell us about the bandoneon. What makes this instrument so special?
JP: It’s basically a portable and expressive organ. I believe the sensitivity of the instrument and the range makes it very special.

CB: Have you ever danced the tango? One would imagine that specializing in this, you are probably a phenomenal dancer, but it’s that the case?
JP: I dance just a bit. It’s a beautiful dance.

CB: Well, it is thanks to wonderful players like you that this instrument and this genre live on, and the great tradition from the masters of the past is passed onto the next generations. Thank you for all that you do to preserve this great art, and for sharing it with us!
JP: Thank you and I can’t wait to play Ortiz’s bandoneon concerto. It’s a wonderful piece that’s deserves to be heard.

For a wonderful feature in the New York Times about Mr. Jofre, visit this link.

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