My latest album was reviewed in the Rehearsal Studio by Stephen Smoliar. The reviewer did a very good job of describing the works and my aesthetic concerns citing the fact that listening to these pieces was “a listening experience that can be likened to viewing the music through a microscope.” The entire review is available here
The performance of my work oscurecimiento gradual by pianist Larry Axelrod as part of the New Music Chicago Festival concerts held on October 10 received a nice mention in Chicago Classical Review. The review by John von Rhein excerpted below can be found here.
“A different sort of musical progression—in this case, a slow evolution from light to darkly decaying sounds—forms the expressive parameters of Orlando Jacinto Garcia’s haunting piano piece Oscurecimiento gradual. The work’s eight minutes posit a kind of spectral fluidity from the interplay of timbres, textures and tempos”.
Journalist Nevena Stanic Kovacevic reviewed the opening New Music Miami ISCM Festival concert in the Artsburst Miami January 29, 2020 issue touting the merits of the festival and commenting on my work
“Multiple Voices” brought a new clarinet timbre but led the audience even deeper into a meditative and fully concentrated state of attention of each tone. With the high focus on the execution of every multiphonic in the piece, clarinetist Jesse Gilday conveyed an excellent command over the many notes of FIU composer-in-residence Orlando Garcia’s collage. In a hall full of incidental sounds and quiet noise, every tone had a sense of exclusiveness. The full review can be found here
Reviewer John Kurokawa reviewed Orchestral Music Volume 2 as part of the College Music Society’s Symposium Journal published in October 2019. To read the review visit the link here
INSPICIO an online magazine about the arts in South Florida published by The College of Communication, Architecture, and the Arts featured me and my work in the latest issue. More here
Newspaper “Málaga Hoy” published an article about “Orchestral Music #2” with Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga, Jennifer Choi, Cristina Valdés, and Fernando Dominguez. Read full article by visiting the link below:
I’m pretty familar with electronic/electroacoustic albums that demand to be “played at maximum volume”, or at very least “played loud”, but this one’s a nice oddity in its direction that “This compact disc should be played softly”. It’s a recommendation that works just fine for these two vocal works and two percussive/tape works by Orlando Jacinto Garcia, born 1954 in Havana (emigrated to the US 1961).
First up is a choral tribute to Garcia’s early mentor, On The Eve Of The Second Year Anniversary Of Morton’s Death (1989). The sole text is ‘la belleza del silencio es mi inspiracion’ – the beauty of silence is my inspiration – sung and whispered in little fragments. Definitely a worthy tribute to Feldman. In the following Improvisation With Metallic Materials (1990), the tape part is composed from piano timbres and then overlaid with sounds from a Yamaha WX7, a digital MIDI wind instrument. As per the ‘Improvisation’ indication, there’s a nice, almost wind-chime-like formlessness to the piece, and not always mellow – it does clang around a fair bit, even at the suggested low volume.
Avant-garde vocal legend Joan La Barbara is the performer for Sitio Sin Nombre (1990), with her synthesized voice slowed down to an eerie groan before moving on to more plaintive and meditative cooing, and a little more out-there weirdness later on. I’d go for that piece as a really lovely highlight of this collection. Lastly, Metallic Images (1991) samples and manipulates bells and vibraphone tones for its tape part, and has a similar ambient drift to the Metallic Materials piece, but in an overall much more gentle vein. All in all, this is a really nice collection of Garcia’s work, at any volume.
Alan Burns, slow goes the goose
“Second Inversion” has published an interview with Gabriela Tedeschi titled “Timbre, Sound, and Subjective Time: Seattle Modern Orchestra plays Orlando Jacinto García.” Follow the link below to read the full article:
Review and Interview in Fanfare of Orlando Jacinto Garcia Orchestral Music Volume Two on Toccata Classics
Below is a copy of the review and interview that appeared in Fanfare in August 2018 reprinted with their permission.
ORLANDO JACINTO GARCÍA a rising tide 1 . from darkness to luminosity 2 . The distant wind II 3 . of wind, sea and light • Orlando Jacinto García, cond; 1 Jennifer Choi (vn); 3 Fernando Domínguez (cl); 2 Cristina Valdés (pn); Málaga PO • TOCCATA 0435 (60:30)
A clutch of first recordings has come from the unstoppable Toccata Classics. Volume One of this García series featured José Serebrier conducting the Málaga Philharmonic; although I have not heard that particular disc, the basic tenets of the music seem constant. García’s music speaks deeply, and its strength is that it can say so much in such relatively short spaces of time, given its Feldman-like demeanor (García actually worked with that composer). There is a notion that music that is slow-moving with Minimalist tendencies is expected to last for huge spans of time; García confounds this expectation while evoking deeply emotional responses.
The first piece, a rising tide (una marea creciente), was composed in 2014 and is for solo violin and string orchestra, supplemented by wind chimes and wine glasses activated by running fingertips around the rims. Violinist Jennifer Choi seems to specialize in contemporary music—previous discs by her feature works by John Zorn and Anthony Coleman—and she performs a rising tide with perfect intonation and a hushed sense of loss. An ascending figure permeates the score, extending itself as if organically growing; in the final portion, the violin is accompanied by the wind chimes and wine glasses (the latter played by the orchestra members).
Written for the excellent and clearly sensitive pianist Cristina Valdés, the present performer, from darkness to luminosity (2015) holds a piano part that is far from overtly soloistic. Capitalizing on alternative ways of producing sound from a piano (plucking strings, both with the fingernail and with the flesh of the finger, for instance) as well as playing in the traditional way, the piece is beautifully static initially but holds a more active (“virtuoso” is stretching it) central panel. There are some beautiful conventionally played passages of ascending gestures; this time they turn in on themselves at the end.
Silence, active within itself rather than a space between sounds, is a prime component of the distant wind II (el viento distante II, 2013) for clarinet and strings. Violins imitating white noise, the silvery sound of wind chimes, and a clarinetist who is asked to breathe air through his instrument as well as play in the traditional manner are all sonic components of this mysterious soundscape. The piece is based on the distant wind I of nine months earlier. Crucial to the success of this piece is the ability of not only the soloist but also of the orchestral strings to play sonorities quietly and with perfect control, something in which the Málaga Philharmonic completely succeeds. The piece ends with the interesting sound of the string players humming quietly against a final suspended note on the clarinet.
Composed specifically for the present recording project, of wind, sea and light is the only work here without a named soloist. The grouping of the elements in the title rightly places it as a synthesis of the three other works on the disc, actually quoting from their materials. While there are passages of movement, the core elements of García’s voice shine through; perhaps his more Minimalistic side comes through most overtly in this piece.
This is fascinating, stimulating fare, excellently recorded in Málaga’s Sala Beethoven and provided with a booklet essay by Sarah Cahill that is a model of its kind. Bravo! Colin Clarke
Transcending Time with Orlando Jacinto García
By Robert Schulslaper
In music, as in physics, the perception of time is relative, a phenomenon that composer Orlando Jacinto García has made the cornerstone of his aesthetic. Combining in most instances a slowly evolving musical panorama with an acute tonal sensitivity, his compositions subtly extend and enhance a listener’s sense of time. It’s not necessary, however, to be aware of García’s philosophical preoccupations to enjoy his music. In contrast to the somber reflections occasioned by his previous release, Auschwitz (they will never be forgotten), Volume Two of his orchestral music contemplates the “gentle forces of nature” (Sarah Cahill). To learn more about García and his highly individual sound world, read on.
What part did music play in your childhood?
My grandmother was a classically trained pianist, having studied in the conservatory in Havana. I remember as a young child of five or six listening to her play everything from Cuban composers, like Lecuona, Cervantes, and Saumell, to Chopin and themes from operas and zarzuelas. We spent most weekends visiting her and my grandfather at their house in Varadero, so I was continually hearing this as a young child. This continued when we came to the U.S., as shortly after we all finally arrived my grandfather passed away and she moved in with us, so of course we acquired a piano. In addition to her piano playing, at around the same time she would also play LP recordings for me of much of the same type of music.
My own formal musical training began when I was eight years old and in third grade. By then we had moved after a brief time in Miami to Baltimore, and it was in elementary school that I began to play the clarinet. Beyond my grandmother’s influence, my early interest in music was stimulated by a concert presented at my grade school by a woodwind trio from the Baltimore Symphony. I remember signing up for oboe lessons, as I was fascinated by the sound of the instrument, but of course most schools didn’t (and still don’t) have oboes so I wound up with a metal clarinet. A few years later I added the alto saxophone, since that’s what they needed in the wind group at the school. Around the same time, I began to teach myself to play the electric guitar, as that was the instrument of the times (the late 1960s early 1970s); later I added the flute. But I was always very interested in how instruments worked, even borrowing my brother’s trombone while in high school and trying to play it, as well and spending hours in my high school’s music room trying to teach myself to play the contrabass.
Why did your family leave Cuba?
We arrived in Miami from Havana in January of 1961 as my parents were fleeing what they strongly felt was an oppressive and dictatorial communist government. I was just a month shy of my seventh birthday and it was quite an experience, but that’s for another interview.
What sort of progression did your musical education follow once you were living here?
My musical education began, as I mentioned earlier, by being very influenced by my grandmother and with my studies in the public schools in Baltimore. After that I wound up at Frostburg State University in far-western Maryland, not because it was the preferred choice but because I wanted to desperately get out of the house and my parents would not support my studies outside of the state (I was definitely a rebellious teen). So, I found a university where I could not live at home but still attend. My time at FSU was where I grew up, as after the first two years as a music major I flunked out. After coming to my senses, I returned as a Philosophy and Spanish Literature major, winding up with close to a 4.0, while keeping my foot in the music program, playing guitar in the jazz band most semesters and taking a few music courses.
After graduating from Frostburg, I found myself returning to Miami, a place that we often visited given that we had relatives living there, and there I saw what was going on at the University of Miami. At that time, it had added a new, young, up-and-coming composer to the faculty, Dennis Kam, who eventually wound up being an important mentor. To make a longer story short, Dennis eventually accepted me as a graduate student and I would up completing my Masters and Doctorate under his mentorship.
When did it first dawn on you that you were a composer?
That’s a very good question. I was always improvising musical ideas from the start, even in third grade while learning the clarinet, without knowing that it was improvisation. As I got older and the improvisations became more structured and I was able to repeat previous material and ideas, they became “works.” Some of this occurred while I was in the ensembles at secondary school, and some when I began playing in commercial music groups. My earliest “compositions” where probably the instrumental works I wrote with a blues/rock/pop Baltimore-based group called Grain that I was in during my teens, in which I played saxophone and guitar. My more “classical” musical works were probably some very Debussy/Gershwin-like piano pieces that I wrote while at Frostburg State University. The few theory courses and the music and Western Man history course I took probably had a lot to do with that. Upon my move to Miami after the BA, I began even more formal training at Florida International University, where I wound up briefly to finish the credits I needed for an undergraduate degree in music composition so that I could begin graduate studies in composition at the University of Miami. While at FIU and the U of M, I composed well over 60 compositions and wound up tossing the vast majority of them, since I saw them as etudes or exercises. It wasn’t until after I worked with Feldman just after finishing my doctorate that I felt I had Opus 1 in my catalog; that was in the spring of 1985. Since then I have created over 200 works. So I guess that at some point during my formal composition training I decided that I was a composer, although the exact moment is hard to pin down. Frankly, it just feels like something I have been involved with most of my life.
In addition to playing with Grain, you were in a salsa band some time later. Salsa is usually a rather frenetic music that couldn’t be more different from your current orientation. What sort of evolution led from one to the other? Kyle Gann writes that “It is uncommon for García’s music to evince his Cuban background.” What would be the discernable traces of South and Central American music that have “migrated” into your current aesthetic? Perhaps well hidden but subtly felt?
It was when I was in my early 20s and had returned to Miami that I was in a salsa band (there was no salsa in Baltimore at that time). Although it was a very entertaining and positive experience and helped pay some of the bills, it definitely was not something I was planning on pursuing at the professional level. And I guess that what Kyle was referring to is the fact that I in no way try to consciously reference Cuban or any other folk or vernacular music in my work. That doesn’t mean that I avoid sound sources, etc., that might evoke that music (e.g. Latin percussion instruments, texts and titles in Spanish, etc.) or that there may be some subtle subconscious references that appear from time to time, but it’s definitely not something that I do intentionally.
Besides Dennis Kam, have there been other notable teachers who helped you on your way?
As a young composer, I was very fortunate to work with some fantastic mentors, some directly as teachers, others in master class situations, and others less formally. Some of these include the aforementioned Dennis Kam, who brought me into the second half of the 20th century and continued to introduce me to musical stasis, a world that to this day is the focal point of my aesthetics; David Del Tredici, who taught me the possibilities of orchestration and to trust my instincts; John Corigliano, who further taught me the possibilities of orchestration and about the real world and what it meant to be a professional composer; Donald Erb, who taught me to trust my abilities to write melodies; Bernard Rands, who also taught me about orchestration and the possibilities of instruments and the beauty of melodies; Earle Brown, who taught me the possibilities of notation and the exploration of sound; and Morton Feldman, who taught me a great deal about all of the above.
That’s quite an impressive list. Of those cited I would guess that it was Morton Feldman who most closely shared your interest in writing music that would extend a listener’s sense of time, even if he might have come at it from a slight different direction. When did you first become acquainted?
I met Morton Feldman at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, located on the east coast of Florida, as part of a residency for which I had applied and been accepted. I was interested in his music although I only knew a few of his works. At the time (the mid-1980s) I was trying to find a way to write a music that froze time without employing what Reich, Glass, et al. were utilizing in their works. So, a different type of static music that was in between categories. My work up to that point was somewhat eclectic, and I was very much searching for a way to create this static music without references to other music. The three-week residency with Feldman was intense, as I spent most days with him and his then much younger graduate student Barbara Monk (whom he later married) and one other older composer, David Maves, who came by periodically as he was on sabbatical and working on other projects. The days would start in the mornings and go into the evenings, with Feldman playing recordings of his works and showing us the scores. In addition, on most days I brought him scores of my music, which he would listen to after I left and would give me his critiques of the next day. It wasn’t until near the end of the residency that he finally had something positive to say about one of my works, so when he finally did it was very rewarding. I found that his music did just what I was looking for, and so I was very drawn to his aesthetics. Oddly enough he spoke very little about freezing time or stasis, and instead was very interested in “liberating sound.” For him it was about focusing on sound and the rest would take care of itself.
What was it about the concept of time extension that so captivated you?
I have always felt that art—whether visual art, poetry, music, etc.—should somehow change the perception of reality for the person coming into contact with it. When I first came across music that evolved slowly, whether it was the minimalist composers in the late 1970s, music from Asia like that of the gamelan or Korean Aak court music, which I experienced just slightly later, I was fascinated by the sensation that it created of a completely different time world. As a result, I continue to explore this aesthetic today in a variety of ways.
One of the tracks on your previous CD [Auschwitz (they will never be forgotten)] is “In memoriam Earle Brown.” We’ve learned that he was one of your teachers but what else would you like to tell us about him?
I first met Earle in June in Buffalo in the late 1980s. He was probably one of the nicest and most approachable persons you could ever meet. I found his interest in notation and improvisation fascinating, as he had a background in jazz and wanted to bring that somehow to his work. As he described it to me, his hope was to bring the same improvisatory nature of jazz, where a soloist improvises over chord changes, to contemporary art music (in his case a somewhat pointillistic, gestural, atonal music), and he did this with his notation. Earle was also very supportive of young composers, myself included, writing letters of recommendation and speaking on behalf of me and many others.
In memoriam Earle Brown came about when Eduardo Marturet, the conductor of the Miami Symphony Orchestra, approached me for a new work as part of my role as one of his orchestra’s associated composers. I knew that Eduardo was also a fan of Brown’s music, and so I proposed that my new work be dedicated to Earle. Eduardo was of course on board. Although the work pays homage to Earle, the approach was not to compose a work that sounded like him. Instead, I included sections that incorporated the notation he used in Available Forms, where the musical material is in boxes that the conductor cues in and out as he or she wishes. The result is that every time these sections are heard they are in a different order, mimicking the Calder mobiles where hanging material is rearranged every time you see it, depending upon where you are standing. As is widely known Calder’s work had a big impact on Earle’s thinking, and Calder’s sculptures are some of my favorite works.
When I first started to listen to Volume Two of your orchestral music, I didn’t know anything about you or your aesthetic, but my impression was that your music had a seductive dream-like quality, perhaps because of its slow, sustained pace. I could easily see how peoples’ extra-musical fantasies could be led in a certain direction by the nature-inspired titles.
While I’m not someone who regularly fantasizes while listening, I don’t deny music’s programmatic possibilities. How do you conceive of your music in this regard? Sarah Cahill’s booklet notes explain that although it would be logical to assume that your titles refer to natural occurrences, in the end to draw such parallels would be misleading. For example, the “rise” in a rising tide refers to a musical process and not a natural one, even if that might be the first association that springs to mind because of our world’s obsession with rising sea levels.
I am very open to people having different interpretations and associations to my work. I am also very cognizant of the power of the references that titles and text often evoke. A good example is my prior CD on Toccata Classics, and the titled work Auschwitz (nunca se olvidaran) for choir and orchestra. The only text in the work is nunca se olvidaran (“they will never be forgotten” in Spanish), which is whispered at different points but is barely intelligible. Yet the work has been received as a very powerful statement in remembrance of those who perished in the Holocaust, especially by survivors who associated the sounds in the piece with what they experienced in the concentration camps. This of course was not something that I could replicate even if I wanted to. Yet, as a test a few years after the premiere, I played the work for my students in a different context, changing the title to a mathematical equation and re-contextualizing the whispered text, explaining it was about memory. Of course, there were no perception/references whatsoever to the Holocaust, just comments about the beauty of the sonorities, melodic writing, etc.—in other words the musical material. This basically informed me that titles have a very important role to play in musical works, and while I never expect the listener to hear specific references I can make suggestions based on the titles.
Another first impression was that you were something of a minimalist (a genre you’ve already mentioned in passing), not in its original sense but as someone who favors a sparse musical landscape dotted with sufficient sonic landmarks to sustain interest.
Like most composers, I prefer not to deal with labels or to have my work labeled, since labels mean so many different things to different people. My work has been called minimalist, which given the restricted material might make some sense, although as you mention I don’t employ the techniques you find in most minimalist works (especially the earlier minimal works). It has also been called Post-Feldman, which given that he had quite an impact in my thinking I guess might make some sense, although my music is in many ways very different than my mentor’s. This is especially the case in my more recent works, where there are sections that include quite a bit of musical activity and material. Often this material has a repetitive rhythmic nature, hencve the more recent label of West Coast minimalism. Frankly, since the labels are not up to me, I try not to pay too much attention to them and just compose what I find of interest.
You seem to me to be a very painterly composer, or as Kyle Gann puts it, “one of the most ‘imagistic’ composers around,” someone who “[composes] directly in sonorities, subjectively placing them next to one another without concern for musical logic.”
Well, there is a certain amount of truth to that, especially when you consider that Debussy’s Jeux is a work that has had quite a bit of impact on my thinking. And if you know it, it’s probably is one of the more kaleidoscopic pieces ever written, certainly for the time it was created. The result is that I can pretty much present sections of diverse material next to each other, so long as some of it continues to return at different points throughout the work. In addition, my emphasis on sound and timbre certainly can suggest a painterly world.
Although Kyle Gann posits a lack of “concern for musical logic” on your part, it seems to me that all forms of music have an internal logic, even if it departs from the accepted traditions or expectations. I don’t know that people are capable of writing a truly random music in which no patterns or “meaningful” juxtapositions could be discerned. I seem to remember that there were experiments in the 1960s to write computer music that was totally random but that they didn’t succeed.
While “randomness” is an interesting concept, there is certainly nothing random about my work. It’s actually rather tightly knit. Notwithstanding that, I usually use an organic process when I compose (meaning that material grows organically in some ways from previous material). This organic approach often leads to sectional development that occurs rather intuitively, as opposed to any pre-compositional plan.
When you write in the booklet of “changing the perception of time in the listener and creating a static world,” it seems to me that, reduced to its ultimate, it would result in having one note or group of notes sounding endlessly. And yet music by its very nature, being composed of waves and frequencies, can’t be completely static.
I believe that for “static” music to be effective there has to be enough to draw in the listener. In my case, I try to create what I hope are beautiful sonorities and melodies, and while they may be evolving slowly and restricted insofar as the amount of material is concerned, they are hopefully attractive enough to capture the listener. If someone tells me my music is very strange but very beautiful, I have done my job. In the final analysis, technically and conceptually, so long as a sound exists in time there is no such thing as total stasis, just varying degrees of stasis, and this is something I try to explore.
Do you ever think you will depart significantly from your current style?
Although it really depends on how much of my work one knows, I definitely see my music as having evolved from what I was writing in 1985, just after my working with Feldman, to what I am doing today—not a radical departure, but definitely a noticeable difference. My earlier works from that time featured a very dissonant harmonic palette, were full of silences, very static, and rarely included extended techniques. That has gradually changed over time, and extended techniques and everything from very consonant harmonies to tonal implications and works with few if any silences are all now in my catalog. In addition, recent works seem to include more material, and although still somewhat static they are more directional at times than was my earlier music. Of course, all of this is always at the service of liberating sound, creating a relatively slowly unfolding sound world, and changing the perception of time in the listener.
How would you compare Volume Two to your first CD, Auschwitz (they will never be forgotten)?
For me the second Toccata Classics CD includes more recent works with soloists that feature more motion than the earlier works in the Auschwitz CD. Part of this was dictated by the addition of the soloists; although still somewhat restricted by the nature of the instrumentation, there is more material. Beyond that the new CD is also an example of my exploration of creating larger “moves” or interruptions that change the pacing of a work, and in that the perception of time in the listener. Whereas these “moves” or “interruptions” were very short in earlier works, in my more recent music these “moves,” as Morty used to call them, take more prominence. In addition, the more recent music in some ways is more eclectic than my works from the past, in that more incongruous material is presented side by side, but always within a relatively slowly evolving sound world and (going back to the Jeux example) returning in a kaleidoscopic fashion.
Fanfare readers know Toccata Classics as the brainchild of critic Martin Anderson. How did the two of your meet?
I came into contact with Martin Anderson and Toccata Classics thanks to the assistance of Jose Serebrier, who was the conductor on my first Toccata release. Jose knew Martin and his label and felt that it was a perfect fit for the Auschwitz CD so he introduced Martin to my work, which fortunately Martin found to be of interest. I was very attracted to Toccata since it had recently released a CD by my good friend and colleague, the outstanding Mexican composer Mario Lavista. When Jose recommended Toccata to me I spoke with Mario about his experience, and he was quite positive. As a result, I went forward and have been very pleased ever since.
Given the success of the earlier album in distribution, reviews, a Latin Grammy nomination, etc., I was more than happy to continue with Martin and Toccata for this new project. Although there isn’t a great deal of new music on the Toccata label the composers included, in my opinion, are excellent, with Mario and Beat Furrer among others represented. And, just as important, Martin has been fantastic to work with, so I very much see the probability of continued projects with Toccata in the future.
In many of your scores you change the metrical signatures from bar to bar. The execution on the CD sounded flawless, but I can’t help but wonder if that constantly fluctuating pulse is stressful for the musicians. I understand why you might do it to create a feeling of flux and fluidity, but I wonder if it would be possible to achieve the same results within a more stable metrical system.
Just after working with Feldman in February of 1985, I returned to Miami with the task of writing what I considered my Opus 1 for premiere at a concert that I was sharing with one of my former professors. The concert was being presented in Miami as part of a wonderful concert series run by an important cultural organization, Tigertail Productions, and its founder Mary Luft. I worked quite feverishly on this new work for flute, clarinet, and two percussionists. The new work, about twenty minutes long, was titled The German Archer and dedicated to Feldman; it was pretty much all changing meter, given what I had seen in Feldman’s music. I contacted a good composer/conductor friend, who like me had graduated from the University of Miami, to conduct the work since I was playing the clarinet part. Shortly after giving him the score he called me, offering to show me how to notate the work all in 4/4. To make a long story short, at some point I arranged the first several bars of the work in 4/4, and of course when it was rehearsed it sounded nothing like the version in changing meter (or what I was hearing in my head). So, no matter how many accent marks, ties over bar lines, etc, you employ it’s not the same, and that’s why Feldman used this approach and I followed after him. As it turned out, the work was premiered with my friend conducting all of the changing meters quite successfully. Frankly, most performers and conductors of contemporary music today are pretty accustomed to the approach. Even those involved in a more traditional world can navigate this notation if they are apt to do so.
In general, do you prefer to compose for the orchestra?
My catalog includes over 200 works, and so while I love writing for orchestra and have quite a number of orchestral works in my catalog I have composed for just about every combination of instruments/voices, not to mention solo works. I have written quite a few mixed media and interdisciplinary works, everything from a full evening-length collaborative work for dance, electronics, and video to fixed media works, to mixed works with acoustic instruments and fixed and/or interactive media, to installations (including a major site-specific work with dance, music, video, and text), to a non-narrative 90-minute video opera for five singers, chamber orchestra, video, and electronics.
Your website includes a section devoted to your teaching and details the curriculum you’ve developed for your students that’s intended to expose them to every sort of music, ancient, modern, and electronic.
In my teaching I stress the importance of being informed, which means basically knowing all music (from Palestrina and before to Lachenmann and beyond) and having the students’ works somehow reflect that, notwithstanding whatever aesthetics they ultimately prefer to work in. As for electronic music, I have quite a number of works in my catalog, mostly fixed media (or what was called tape) and acoustic instrument(s), some with video created in collaboration with visual artists [see above]. In addition, my electronic music is no different from my acoustic music. It’s still an exploration of the liberation of sound, so there is a definite link between my acoustic music and my electro-acoustic music. My electro-acoustic music is also very often centered on the manipulation of and interaction with samples of acoustic instruments. Feldman’s 3 voices for a live soprano, in which he combined a live solo part with two recorded parts sung by the same soprano, served as an important early model for my electro-acoustic works, which more often than not feature a live performer interacting with previously recorded samples of the same performer.
Another aspect of your rather innovative curriculum is that you want your students to be familiar with pop and other vernacular music: I found quite humorous your comment that this wasn’t something you had to make much effort to promote. Do you still listen to that sort of music (or even play it), or do you reside exclusively within your own artistic universe?
It’s not so much that I want them to be familiar with that type of music as much as it is that they just naturally are, just like I was with the pop music of the time when I was growing up. As a musician, I have more or less stayed abreast of the pop music being created today (Latin and otherwise), although not at the same level as when I was much younger. Why I think it’s important for my students has much more to do with the fact that many of them will go on to work as composers for hire in film, video, and TV, and those worlds definitely require that you can handle those styles. Even as avant-garde as I am supposed to be, last year I wrote the music for a documentary being created by a colleague at my university, a documentary that I had very strong feelings about and hence my interest in wanting to help and to be involved. The documentary, liberty square rising, dealt with a project in a disadvantaged part of Miami that was being renovated and the tenants’ trepidation with their future fate. In addition to my orchestral music, which the documentary filmmaker incorporated, I created and recorded short tracks of “funk,” “blues,” and “reggae” music (of course in my own different kind of world) as appropriate for the different segments he requested. The result was quite gratifying and, given that I also have designed a documentary film scoring class for my students, this gave me the tools to further prepare some of them for another part of the “real world.”
I don’t know much about composition curricula, but I wonder how many music departments around the world require aspiring composers to play recitals on their instruments. It sounds like a very original idea and perhaps not always one the students would appreciate!
It is extremely important for a composer to know what a performer must experience and endure. And while I rarely perform any longer, I do conduct. So, I very much instill the importance of being involved in the interpretation of music, whether it be as a performer with my undergraduates or as a conductor, in some cases with my graduate students. Ultimately it makes them better composers, and frankly I have heard very few complaints if any regarding this over the thirty-plus years I have been teaching.
If I may say one last thing about your teaching, I enjoyed your invoking Bartók’s dictum that it’s impossible to teach composition, even as you made a very good case for doing so.
I think the best I can offer readers who are interested in my views on this subject is to suggest that they go to my article, Teaching Composition: A Sign of Matooority, found on my web page under the teaching tab and also archived on The New Music Box website. In a short summation, my view is that you can’t really teach composition, only techniques and repertoire. From there, the hope is that the student has enough musicianship, musicality, motivation, and talent to absorb what you give them and take it forward. And as mentioned earlier, making sure that students are informed is extremely important.
Before we end our conversation, would you give our readers a brief overview of any interesting projects you’re planning for the future?
I am currently working on a new piece for piano and string quartet for an excellent pianist, Asiya Korepanova, and my good friends and colleagues, the Amernet String Quartet, to be premiered next month. After that I will be writing a new work for the Montreal-based Quasar Saxophone Quartet with fixed media electronics for premiere in the spring; then a work for two pianos and two percussionists for Ensemble Berlin Piano Percussion; a new work for viola and string orchestra for a good friend, violist Michael Klotz; and a new work for clarinet and fixed media for Mexico City-based virtuoso Fernando Dominguez, all for the following season. I have an ongoing large-scale project that I am very excited about, namely an interdisciplinary Virtual Reality opera, which at the moment is in its early stages but has the potential to be a very important part of my catalog. Lastly, I hope to release more albums of my works over the next two to three years, one featuring the Amernet string quartet and the other again with my friends in the Malaga Philharmonic. So I certainly can’t complain about not having enough to do; but then again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Article published on the Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga website about the release of “orchestral music vol. 2” with the OFM, with Jennifer Choi, Cristina Valdés, and Fernando Dominguez.
The article, in Spanish, may be found here:
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