Composer-conductor Juan Pablo Contreras is a younger artist to observe. His compositions are rooted in Mexican folks musical traditions and myths expressed inside a Western classical framework — a posh and gracefully woven expression of his identification and conservatory coaching. The result’s a physique of labor that’s fascinating and singular.
Winner of the 2023 Vilcek Prize for Inventive Promise in Music and founding father of the Orquesta Latino Mexicana, an ensemble devoted to performing and recording new music by Latinx composers, Contreras is embarking on a mission to diversify programming in classical music. “By writing music that brings Latinx tradition to the fore, I search to encourage orchestras to diversify their programming and turn out to be extra inclusive establishments,” he says. On December 11, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) will current the world premiere of Contreras’ Lucha Libre!, which pays tribute to the distinctive sport of Mexican masked wrestling. Lucha Libre! is a musical battle between good and evil that can characteristic six soloists carrying luchador masks.
You have been a violinist at age 6, an electrical guitarist by 13, and ended up finding out composition with Daniel Catán, Richard Danielpour, Nils Vigeland, Andrew Norman, Donald Crockett, and others. What drove you to pursue composition?
After I was 16 years outdated, I joined a metallic band in my hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, as bass participant and lead vocalist. The precise style they performed was known as “symphonic progressive metallic,” so an enormous part of the band’s sound consisted of incorporating orchestral preparations to their unique compositions. I had by no means written for orchestra, however I had fairly a little bit of expertise taking part in violin in youth orchestras. Along with my bandmates, we bought a bunch of Tchaikovsky scores and downloaded a duplicate of the notation software program Sibelius — and these turned the “instruments” that we used to strive to determine how orchestral composition labored. I rapidly fell in love with this artwork kind and determined to maneuver to Los Angeles after graduating from highschool, with the dream of changing into a movie composer, since I assumed that motion pictures have been the one medium the place you may write new music for orchestra.
After I began my undergraduate diploma in composition at CalArts, I heard that there was a Mexican composer who was well-known for writing operas and taught on the School of the Canyons simply down the road. That’s how I met Daniel Catán, a composer who turned a vital mentor to me, and who impressed to mix classical and Mexican music in my music. Earlier than assembly Catán, I didn’t know that dwelling composers who wrote orchestral music for the live performance stage existed! So, my expertise at CalArts, and finding out beneath Catán, derailed my curiosity in movie music, and began my journey as a classical music composer.
Your music combines the wealthy sounds of conventional Mexican music with the varieties and conventions of Western classical music. Have you ever all the time strived to showcase each components in your compositions?
After finding out at CalArts, I moved to New York to pursue a grasp’s diploma in composition on the Manhattan College of Music. At this level, I began to comprehend that many of the repertoire that music faculties educate is European. As I studied this classical “canon,” to search out inspiration for my very own compositions, I felt that one thing was lacking. Digging deeper into among the repertoire that I loved listening to — the music of Copland, Bartók, and Villa-Lobos — I seen that the way in which they blended classical passages with sounds from their native nations actually spoke to me. I concluded that the lacking piece of my compositional puzzle was Mexico.
I began to write down works that have been influenced by the sounds of my homeland and that instructed tales about trendy Mexico. The primary orchestral work the place I proudly achieved this synthesis of classical and Mexican music was El Laberinto de la Soledad. This piece gained the BMI William Schuman Prize in 2013, which gave me the arrogance to proceed this stylistic path. I haven’t regarded again since.
What fascinates you most about lucha libre wrestling, and what ought to the viewers look out for when experiencing your new work for LACO?
I’ve all the time thought that classical musicians are like superheroes. After I attend a classical live performance, I am going to see the “unattainable” occur on stage — virtuoso musicians magically making intricate music collectively. I get the identical feeling once I go to a lucha libre match in Mexico (or in Los Angeles!). A lot of the strikes are choreographed, and these luchadores should work carefully with one another in order that they’re not injured and in order that they will dazzle the gang with their strikes. When LACO commissioned me to write down an orchestral work for them, I instantly considered writing Lucha Libre!, a bit that might characteristic six of their musicians as ‘soloists’ and recreate a lucha libre match with music.
Following the lucha libre custom, I selected three rudos (villains) and three técnicos (good guys) to “face off” and be highlighted as soloists within the orchestra. I invented new luchadores for this piece and my spouse Marisa designed their masks, which have been then made by a masks maker in San Diego. The six orchestral soloists will put on these masks throughout efficiency. Every luchador has their very own theme (melody), and these themes will battle in opposition to one another: 1 vs. 1; 2 vs. 2; and finally 3 vs. 3, on the climax of the composition. Earlier than the piece is carried out, the orchestra will play every of the luchador themes individually, in order that the viewers can familiarize themselves with every character. Then they’ll have the ability to take pleasure in Lucha Libre! in its entirety and be transported to an genuine Mexican lucha.
In your opinion, what are some clear methods for organizations to forge new collaborations and diversify their repertoire in a sustainable and alluring manner?
I encourage organizations to ascertain significant and long-lasting relationships with dwelling composers. In my view, a composer shouldn’t solely write music that’s tailored for the orchestra, however she or he must also construct a robust relationship with the orchestra’s viewers and serve their neighborhood. LACO’s Sound Funding program is an excellent instance of easy methods to obtain this. Annually, the orchestra selects one composer that can work carefully with the orchestra’s workers, musicians, and viewers, and compose a 12-minute orchestral work. Through the season, which can culminate in a live performance that includes the premiere, the composer shares his or her artistic course of in a collection of ‘salon’ occasions, the place the viewers will get to study in regards to the inspiration behind the piece, hear the primary sketches, and observe how the composer collaborates with among the orchestra’s musicians to check out new concepts. The collaboration even contains an orchestral studying of a primary draft of the piece, after which lastly the viewers will get to hitch the composer for the gown rehearsal and premiere of the piece.
LACO’s Sound Funding platform is a novel commissioning mannequin that enables composers to really turn out to be part of the material of an orchestra. The year-long relationship makes the collaboration extra significant, and it permits for viewers members to expertise new music in a brand new mild.
What different tasks are you trying ahead to following the December 11 premiere of Lucha Libre!?
I’ll proceed to “tour” with my orchestral work MeChicano which was co-commissioned by Las Vegas Philharmonic, California Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, Tucson Symphony, Fresno Philharmonic, and Richmond Symphony, in partnership with New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices Program. I’m additionally trying ahead to the upcoming launch of my second album with Common Music, the place I shall be making by conducting debut, which can embody a recording of Lucha Libre!
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