Publication of ¡Oh Guitarra!



This autumn saw the publication of my second piece for solo guitar, ¡Oh Guitarra! The publishers are Tre Media of Karlsruhe, the same company that released my first guitar work, Nana del insomne, a few years ago.


¡Oh Guitarra! was composed at the request of the Swiss guitarist Christoph Jäggin. Its broad theme is carnival, and the various meanings and associations it carries for somebody with my background. 


To mention first the associations my piece does not concern itself with, carnival is, of course, a time of lavishness, abandon and extravagant fun. In its religious connotations it is the season of wanton recklessness preceding the austerity of Lent. 


Although these generic meanings are, no doubt, somewhere in the background, this guitar piece is more specific in that it explores two instances of music associated with carnival. One is the taquipayanacus, a tradition of my native Cochabamba, where groups from the surrounding valleys come down on the city to compete in dexterity and wit on one genre. A pithy musical phrase in lively tempo and triple rhythm is repeated for as long as the singer has inspiration to improvise couplets to go with it. The irreverent piquancy of the lyrics makes up for the repetitiveness of the melody. The words are in Quechua, but somehow one line in Spanish passed down to me from my father: estos carnavales quién inventaría. In my experience, although the sound of taquipayanacus pervaded the atmosphere during carnival time, my ignorance of Quechua gave these four words the value of an emblem. In my piece I subject the classic four-bar phrase to intervallic manipulation that probably renders it unrecognisable, and there is no repetition. 


The other specific nod is in the direction of eastern Bolivia, where a popular genre bears the name of carnaval, or sometimes carnavalito. The tempo and metre are the same as in the western taquipayanacus, but the character and style are a world away. In ¡Oh Guitarra! I extract and distil some of the elements - especially rhythmic ones - that make up this style. I do not expect the average reader of this blog to be interested in the technicalities, so I leave it at that. 


Although I had not intended it that way, the resulting piece of music is something of an east-meets-west specimen. So am I, born in the Andes but brought up, at least for part of my childhood, in the lowlands. By rights the piece should have been titled Estos carnavales, but at days before I sent it off I changed my mind. Completing the work had been an exhausting experience, because I find it hard to write for a solo instrument and because the guitar, in particular, has so many technical variables that progress had been excruciatingly slow. I remembered García Lorca's poem La guitarra and its final words:


¡Oh guitarra!
corazón malherido por cinco espadas.


The line that for the poet conveys mesmeric reverence seemed just as good to express my feeling of exhaustion. 


¡Oh Guitarra! can be obtained from Tre Media, who are contactable by email or by telephone +49(0)721/26023 or by post at the address below.


TRE MEDIA Musikverlage 
0700 TREMEDIA 
Amalienstr. 40
D-76133 Karlsruhe 




  

Distant Episodes

This is a newly available composition for two pianos. I wrote it over the last year or so, in response to an expression of interest from duoDort in a little piece named Portrait, listed in my catalogue as dating back to 1989, for two pianos, duration three minutes.

Not only did such a miniature seem an embarrassingly small offering to hand anybody, but when I searched for the old manuscript I could not find the final page. After spending hours looking for it I decided it would be easier to rewrite the final page than to search on. How wrong I was. Did I not know, after so many root-and-branch revisions of past efforts, that it is impossible - for me at least - to go back to an old piece without changing it? And change it I did, but to an unsuspected degree.

The experience of trying to transport myself to the old 'me' of 1989 called to mind one of my teenage readings, Herman Hesse's Knulp: Three Tales from the Life of Knulp, known to me in the 1970s by its Spanish title, Tres momentos de una vida. In it Hesse returns to the same character, Knulp, to show us snapshots of three very different periods of his life.

Here I was, in 2008, working hard to replicate the musical logic that must have ruled my thinking twenty years earlier. The experience felt so much like a dialogue between the then and the now that the idea grew in my mind that I could make a virtue of this time dislocation, and frame the little Portrait with something even earlier to come before it and something of the present to follow it.

The idea would have not gone anywhere if I had not remembered that my Cantata de Navidad y Epifanía of 1978, for baritone, children's choir and two pianos, contained an interlude for two pianos. I went back to it and found that it could work, with the necessary adjustments, as a movement in a longer instrumental work. This provided the very early past, Portrait being the distant, but not quite so early past.

For the finale I resorted to my then most recently completed work, the String Quartet No. 1, 'Montes'. For this, remember, is not me looking at myself as I was long ago, then not so long ago and then now, but me looking at the music I composed in these three moments of my life. A form of meta-composition, you might call it.

The finale, then, is a second look at the movement out of the string quartet I find most intriguing, least completed, leaving the most to be said: the third, 'Music and Land'. From a purely compositional angle, I was curious to see how the rhythmic instabilities would work between two players rather than four, and to what extent the sharper definition of the piano's mechanism would enhance the clarity of the rhythmic contradictions and juxtapositions. I am thrilled with the result.

Although I took so long to complete the work, and I came up with fifteen minutes of music when they were only asking for three, it seems that a première by duoDorT is still a possibility. Meanwhile, I have posted up a computer demo version on MySpace and on last.fm.

Grabación de Trío

Los miembros del Trío Apolo, destinatarios de mi Trío, han emprendido la grabación de esta obra. Ellos la estrenaron en 2003 en el Teatro Achá de Cochabamba, y hace algunos años produjeron una grabación que por razones técnicas acordamos no publicar. El que estos músicos excelentes - Emilio Aliss, Eduardo Rodríguez y Ariana Stambuk - estén ahora realizando una segunda grabación es testimonio de su compromiso profesional infatigable. Les agradezco, les deseo éxito y espero con impaciencia los resultados de este fin de semana de trabajo.

El Trío Apolo encargó mi obra con el apoyo de la Fundación Arnoldo Schwimmer, y desde su estreno en 2003 la ha mantenido en su repertorio a lo largo de sucesivos cambios de personal. Existe en una versión para orquesta de cuerdas y piano, re-titulada Una música escondida, que fue presentada en Newcastle por Northern Sinfonia en 2004 y en La Paz por la Orquesta del Conservatorio Nacional de Música en 2007.

Danza de la loma en Zaragoza


Jaime Martín y su equipo de virtuosos


El Ensemble de Vientos de la Orquesta de Cadaqués presentó Danza de la loma en el Auditorio de Zaragoza el domingo 8 de marzo de 2009, bajo la dirección de Jaime Martín. Estuve allí para presenciar el momento. 

Lo primero que me impresionó fue el auditorio mismo, de proporciones generosas, una arquitectura sorprendente y una acústica de gran claridad. El interior está diseñado en distinto niveles y orientaciones, con grandes paneles de madera que suavizan la modernidad de los ángulos y le dan un ambiente acogedor al interior. 

Lo segundo - por orden de aparición y no de jerarquía - fue la personalidad del director, una especie de dínamo con batuta, lleno de entusiasmo por la música y por la tarea que tenía delante. Su buena relación con los músicos era evidente y el ambiente de trabajo de los mejores. 

Seguidamente, todavía en orden estrictamente cronológico, me llamaron la atención los músicos, su alto nivel técnico, y el mucho carácter y musicalidad que desplegaban aun con una pieza para ellos del todo nueva como era mi Danza de la loma. El ensayo iba a ser una prueba de sonido breve, probando sólo secciones de las distintas obras y de la mía sólo la sección inicial, pero una vez que atacaron con Danza de la loma Jaime Martín siguió dirigiendo y los músicos siguieron tocando hasta el final, dándome así el lujo de oír la obra dos veces en la misma mañana. 

Por último, fue de admirar el público, que casi llenó la espaciosa sala y se comportó como se comporta un público habituado a los conciertos. El programa no hacía concesiones al espacio familiar de domingo por la mañana, y es posible que a muchos mi Danza les haya resultado desconcertante, o inclusive el Concierto para Violín de Kurt Weill; pero allí estaban los abonados en pleno, escuchando con atención y dándole al evento el carácter que necesita la música para ser un acto de comunicación. Felicidades a Zaragoza, a la Orquesta de Cadaqués y a Jaime Martín por el espíritu emprendedor de esta serie. 

Fue una experiencia muy grata y lamenté no poder pasarme más tiempo con ese grupo estupendo. Muchos se iban y yo mismo tenía que tomar el Ave de retorno a Barcelona, de donde vuelo a Newcastle el lunes. Menudo viajecito para once minutos de música, pero los participantes mencionados hicieron que valiera la pena. 

A belated but but very welcome première

 Darragh rehearsing
Munirando II for violin and piano was written in 1998 for a virtuoso player based in New York; it may be kinder not to name them, even though I have great respect and fondness for them. In the late 1990s I had a happy association with New York's Juilliard School. Their orchestra performed my Fuego in 1995 and the New Juilliard Ensemble commissioned my Peregrine and gave its première in 1996. They even revived it later, once at the Museum of Modern Art and again in 2005, for which occasion I revised it extensively. 


Coming into contact with the vibrant community of advanced student performers at Juilliard was a galvanising experience. They were players for whom technique appeared to have ceased to be an obstacle. They relished challenge and were not only not daunted by difficulty or elaboration or novelty, but they relished it. It was invigorating. After attending several concerts of Joel Sachs’s excellent Focus Festival I felt something akin to intoxication. There was so much talent there, such a gold mine on which to work, if only there were the opportunity.

The opportunity offered itself to me when one of the postgraduate violinists asked me to write a piece for their masters recital. This felt exactly right: it was a logical next step after Fuego and Peregrine, and it would enable me to work more closely with one of these outstanding young virtuosi. I set out to write a piece that would deploy the virtuosity that clearly was on offer, and I also wanted to challenge and extend the young player’s musicality, stretching their capabilities and generating a tension that, on its release towards the end, would provide a rewarding experience for player and audience alike. And, of course, I wanted to explore a particular idea I had had in mind for some time. I took time to produce the result I aspired to, taking, I think, around a year to complete the work.

When the piece was ready and shipped to New York, the player informed me politely that they would not be able to do justice to it in the time given. Aside from the disappointment this caused me, it meant the consignment of Munirando II to a long period of languishment on my shelves. Over the years I offered it to various players, but always had the same reply: sorry, too difficult. In frustration, I revised it in 2002 to make it more accessible, while still preserving its character of challenging virtuosity. In this revised form, breaking a long-held principle, I submitted the piece to a composer’s competition, the UK and Eire Violin and Piano Competition. Although sceptical of competitions in such a personal field as the creation of music, I harboured the hope that a lucky outcome might finally secure a performance for Munirando II. The piece was shortlisted but not chosen for the prize. Intriguingly, I received a communication to the effect that the chairman of the jury, the late Yfrah Nieman, would be interested in performing the piece if I would find a pianist and a venue. Although vaguely flattering, this seemed a strange idea in the circumstances and I was unsure how to take it. After thinking about it for some time I wrote declining the offer.

It would be another six years before the brave person came up expressing a serious intention to perform Munirando II: the young virtuoso Darragh Morgan, whom I had known in the early 1990s when he was a schoolboy in Belfast and I was composer in residence at Queen’s University. Even in those early days Darragh was showing impressive flair and accomplished technique. He left Belfast for music college and since then I heard about him through third parties, with news of how well he was doing. I sent him the piece and a couple of years later he said he would do it, with his official pianist Mary Dullea. I am delighted, and full of anticipation to hear what Darragh and Mary will do with Munirando II on 5 February at 7.30 PM in the Schott Recital Room, London.


As the title suggests, the piece is part of a series, the first of which was Munirando for clarinet and piano, commissioned by the Park Lane Group in 1995. In both cases the intention is to explore ideas of virtuosity and continuous flow, that maddeningly enviable quality of Bach’s music, taking it into the area of relentlessness.

 
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