As a guest of Bolivia’s National Conservatoire I was in La Paz from 5 to 12 October. My visit was part of an Encounter of Bolivian Musicians called by the Conservatoire to mark its first centenary. Other guests included the guitarists Piraí Vaca and Javier Calderón and the violinists Luis Ibáñez and Javier Pinell. My hosts were the Conservatoire’s director Esperanza Téllez, the independent arts promoter and animateur extraordinaire Luz Bolivia Sánchez, and the talented journalist and media figure María Angélica Kirigin.
At the heart of my visit was the performance of Una música escondida offered by Orquesta del Centenario del Conservatorio conducted by Ramiro Soriano, with Grace Rodríguez on the piano. The concert was on 6 October and it took place in the auditorium of the Bolivian Central Bank, to a numerous, warm and appreciative audience.
The piece was a challenge to an orchestra that had got together specially for the occasion, that is, who were not used to playing together, let alone to playing contemporary music. This orchestra included several musicians with whom I had worked in my years as an orchestral player in La Paz, back in the 1970s: Fredy Céspedes, the leader, who is now also the successful conductor of Orquesta Sinfónica de El Alto; his wife the cellist María Eugenia; beside her Willy Velarde; the violinist Luis Ibáñez, who returned from his base in Boston for the occasion; another violinist, Berthin Ibáñez; the cellist Miguel Salazar and the double bassist René Saavedra. Their presence at the rehearsals and the concert made this project all the more special. Ramiro Soriano and I had last worked together in 1984 for an orchestral-choral concert featuring his creation the excellent chamber choir Coral Nova, whereas Grace Rodríguez and I had last worked together when she was a student in my harmony class at the Consevatoire. They all did a splendid job and deserve nothing but praise.
The visit also gave me the opportunity to interact with current staff and students at the Conservatoire. I offered two sessions, one on my own Mystical Dances and the other on general topics of contemporary music requested by the composition teacher, Oldrich Halas. It was also my pleasure to meet Oldrich and our colleague Juan Siles, for an informal meeting where they presented their work. I had heard their music before, but this was a valuable chance to refresh my knowledge of the development and achievements of these highly talented figures of Bolivian music.
The Conservatoire is a transformed place. When I worked there in the 1970s it had a single site on Avenida 6 de Agosto, characterised by a bohemian dinginess. Nowadays they enjoy a newer locale, a tastefully restored colonial building on Calle Reyes Ortiz, off El Prado. The standard of the work has changed too. I attended some debates on the curricular reforms now being planned, and was impressed by the level of the debate, intelligently led by Esperanza Téllez and one of the lights of the institution, the multi-instrumentalist Álvaro Montenegro.