sábado, 18 de diciembre de 2010


First stop: CalArts, Friday 25 September. Dehydrated, groggy from dawn-patrol flight; but full of adrenaline and anticipation! Much-needed time with extraordinary composer Anne LeBaron before my two-day teaching residency. Classes marvelous, students’ interest and enthusiasm palpable. Amazing to realize that with Rumor de Páramo I’ve done something really inspiring. Some 130 students attend, between Composers Colloquium led by LeBaron and Piano Forum led by wonderful pianist Vicky Ray of California E.A.R. Unit.

Wednesday 30 September, concert in the REDCAT. Deservedly one of the most renowned small black-box theaters on the West Coast. Iron and ironing board in dressing room, yoga mat also produced on request! Concert wonderful, warmth of audience response comparable only to world premiere of the first 18 pieces in Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato October 2006 and to Brazil March’09. Wonderful also that Anne is there, first time she’s heard her riveting Los Murmullos live since its WP almost three years ago. First half closes with Silvia Berg’s splendid Dobles del Páramo, and I play it for memory now. That resonating E-flat at the end, fundament of the entire piece, rings out like redemption.

To top it all off Anne treats me to amazing post-concert Chinese food -- scallops in black-bean sauce: YUMM! Frosting on cake is that I’ve been reviewed in LA Times and in LA Opus, both beautiful reviews of considerable understanding.
Joseph Mailander, LAOpus:
Mark Swed, LA TIMES:

Also find out next day that advance ticket sales were $700 and $600 day of concert … so REDCAT management happy with me: Cervantes is a DRAW!

Day after REDCAT head north to Fresno for master class and concert, invited by CSU-Fresno Composers’ Guild. Mexican Consulate in Fresno contributes plane ticket L.A.-Fresno. Fresno may not have stellar reputation of CalArts, nevertheless extraordinary process underway there. With tutelage of composers Jack Fortner, Bill Boone, and Ken Froelich, two young composers there –David van Gilluwe and Bryce Cannell– in 2007 established Composers’ Guild of Fresno State, to support efforts of student composers.

Van Gilluwe and Cannell both impressive young men, deeply proud to be composers and musicians. They converse cogently with me about music and process of composing -- over morning coffee, since they put me up in their bachelor pad for three of my four nights in Fresno! Solidarity and constructive criticism: two essentials for any young musician.

Friday, master class with composers. As at CalArts, we talk about Rumor music and commissioning process: less-glamorous nuts and bolts as well as exhilarating moments. I play, we talk: Márquez’ lovely Solo Rumores (Solo Murmurs); Derbez’ Del viento, la esperanza (From the Wind, Hope), which has so much to say about persistence; Lavista’s formidable and enchanting Páramos de Rulfo (Wastelands of Rulfo). Jack Fortner indeed an emeritus, elder statesman: how much these young composers respect and love him!

WATER INTERLUDE 1: Tho’ two of the three places where I go are desert, water is a thread connecting all of them. In hotel near CalArts, there is a swimming pool, o bliss: so every one of my six mornings there I swim laps before delicious breakfast. In Fresno, only place which is not naturally desert, great fast 2K walk before pre-concert yoga, along what used to be railroad tracks and is now canal made by town. Starving for exercise after half-day at CalArts before bus to LAX, flight to Fresno and master-class next day.

Saturday concert in Fresno. New Mexican Consul makes opening remarks. Wonderful that Fortner is there, like Anne LeBaron at CalArts first time he’s heard his Vine a Comala live in almost three years. Another lovely connection: it was Jack who first introduced me to music of Silvia Berg.

Monday David comes at 8:30 to drive me to LAX. Eight hours R/T out of his life but a blessing for me; and we had excellent, thoughtful conversation about music, about commitment, about each of our roots and determinations.

ALBUQUERQUE/University of New Mexico:
Next and final stop: Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I am received by Fred Sturm –fine pianist who’s really a Villa-Lobos expert, with recently-discovered passion for Federico Ibarra– also superb piano technician. Concert will be second on new series at Outpost Performance Space, focusing on music of México and Latin America and curated by Fred.

The Outpost: effectively one of the few independent concert spaces left, ANYWHERE, goodness me; right there in Albuquerque, NM, offering varied & high-quality programming from jazz to contemporary concert music to renowned singer-songwriters like Chris Smither (the night after me!), exuding a loving spirit to all musicians whatever label one might put on the music they interpret. When I told Tom Guralnick, valiant and ever-enthusiastic guiding spirit behind Outpost, that I’d given classes at UNM, he offered a special price for students. And YES! a number of them came to my concert.

In Albuquerque I reconnect with Patrice Repar and with Antoinette Sedillo López. Repar: gifted composer who feels her true calling lies outside the academic model, who has constructed splendid program at UNM shared between medicine and music composition, surely one of the few in the US. Sedillo López: eminent member of UNM Law School faculty, committed to justice for all without dumbing down the system. Incredible to share energy with these splendid women whose work makes a genuine difference in the world; and to meet yet another: Dawn Chambers, Englishwoman who’s lived for years in New Mexico and surely one of the most committed teachers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. PAUL LOMBARDI (Form & Analysis class)

As in classes in California, exchanges with students fascinating and moving; here particularly because I interact with non-music students. Wednesday 7 October, with fourth-year Spanish class of Dr Miguel López. I begin as I have begun practically every concert of this Rumor music: I say that I believe the act of listening to music, like that of reading, or experiencing any work of art, is not a passive act. Each and every one of us has an absolutely singular response to that work of art, and thus in a sense, the work is incomplete without that response. It was with this idea in mind, I go on to say, that I asked each of these 23 composers for his or her unique response to the creation of Juan Rulfo. So when I finish playing the first piece, I ask the students for THEIR responses to the music.

Could sense students feeling their way towards how to talk about these issues, which even for music students are not easy subjects for discourse. I’d challenged them to respond, and some of them accepted the challenge even when they may not always have felt completely ready for it. I encouraged them to let their own responses help them find the language with which to express that response, so that it be authentic and not collection of academic buzzwords. It was brave of them to try to meet this challenge, I felt, and certainly moving for me. Hope I sowed some seeds here and/or helped to nourish something already in process.

WATER INTERLUDE 2: In Albuquerque an asequia –an irrigation canal– which runs for several km right behind the house of my hosts. Three wonderful fast one-hour 2K walks there, one of them with Repar. Curiously, this one much greener and wilder than well-tended canal in Fresno; although more water in Fresno than in Albuquerque. The afternoon after my class with the Composition and Theory / Form and Analysis students I walked about halfway up and then cut back to meet Patrice Repar; the two of us then walked the full 2 km, talking enthusiastically the entire way.

Other connecting thread: the various spaces in which I did yoga, a little most every day but a good 40 minutes before every concert. At CalArts, space in living room area of hotel suite if I moved coffee table. Evening of concert, in the commodious dressing room at the REDCAT, sticky mat provided by that wonderful tech staff. In Fresno, in cozy little bedroom loaned to me by van Gilluwe’s brother, out of town that weekend. Just room enough, length and breadth, for sun salutations – what more do I need? And in Albuquerque, in equally cozy room, using mat lent to me by my hosts, thickest yoga mat I’ve ever used. Thus do I measure spaces where I’m housed on tour!

Ridiculous to feel that this was anything but a little tour, especially by comparison with what I saw on Chris Smithers’ poster. At the same time, I have to recognize that I did a lot of teaching along with three concerts. In any case it feels complete by the time I am done.

The two remaining Rumor de Páramo CDs sell out at the Outpost concert. Young composer from class comes backstage afterwards, asking for autograph on CD Rumor de Páramo that he’s bought. Says to me, with an unerasable gentle smile, I’ve never heard so many colors come out of a piano ever before.

Next morning get most of the sleep I need and –bonus!-- some time conversing with my hosts in the sun before customary last-minute dash to Post Office. Even time to visit Boca Negra part of Petroglyph National Monument on way to airport! By 6:30pm winging my way to Phoenix and thence to Los Ángeles; some four hours in LAX before 1am departure for México. Home with my piano and my dogs some 12 hours after leaving Albuquerque.

Ana Cervantes gratefully acknowledges the support of …
• The Consulate-General of México in Los Ángeles, California
• The Consulate of México in Fresno, CA
• The Consulate of México in Albuquerque, New Mexico



I have an unexpected Day Off: singers need time to work with composer McNeff and conductor Domenic Wheeler, stage director John Lloyd Davies and production assistant Matthias Janser need to make all ready for Friday afternoon’s concert.

I decide to do what I didn’t have time for on Monday: Tate Britain (the original Tate Museum), (www.tate.org.uk/britain )Westminster, whatever else there’s time for before meeting Stephen at the ROH-Covent Garden for a Rambert Dance concert.

I don’t make an early start. Tuesday late afternoon a Cold Wave arrived: suddenly, around 5PM, it was clear that we were in some New and Brutal Weather System. Until then, the climate had been more or less normal for London at this time of year, and I was quite comfy in my second-hand Patagonia fleece jacket with thick cotton turtleneck underneath; with hat, gloves, and rebozo. But from that point onwards, the highs during the day were some three degrees Centigrade, and the lows something like minus six or seven. Ouch! The air was an assault on one’s skin!

Wednesday night I’d stayed up way too late reading Harry Potter (which I’ve just been discovering – of this more later) and so it was not hard to have a leisurely morning with coffee and email and laundry, and the adorable McNeff family cats, Bea and Lupin. So I took a bus –YES!, a double-decker, and of course I rode on top!— just across the Vauxhall Bridge and walked a bit along the Thames to the Tate Britain.

I went, of course, to see Turner. It would have been wonderful to see Muybridge –goodness, it would have been wonderful to see the Diaghilev expo at the Victoria & Albert!—but there was only so much time. And I fervently hate the kind of tourism that says you must cram impossible amounts of experience into very small time spans. I seem to have a rather low threshold for museums and such: after a while I am just looking and not really SEEING, and it becomes exhausting and empty.

So here goes … In the Tate Britain they have mounted a new exhibition titled Romantics which is Turner together with Blake, Constable, and others: to give context to the work of all of them. I am a great lover of context so this was really fascinating for me. Highlights: Constable wrote, “painting is another word for feeling”. I actually LIKE Constable, I have friends who don’t. What do I know (this is only my first ever visit to England!), but somehow Constable for me does conjure up a sort of peculiarly ENGLISH countryside together with the activities that went on in it; as distinct from a Spanish or French (or Irish!) countryside, I mean. I actually don’t see Constable only as an avatar of some illusionary and quintessentially pre-Industrial Revolution English countryside … although from today’s perspective it’s hard to NOT see his work that way, even if only as some sort of historical record. I was tempted to write, “a romanticized view” but this exhibition made me remember that we really have to re-examine what Romanticism was, and not loosely throw around those adjectives.

This is clearly yet another of those things about which I need to write more extensively: for now, suffice it to say that I think we sometimes forget that Romanticism also had profoundly to do with issues of social justice and with the importance of the individual and what he (and increasingly she) has to offer. I think these are ideas which have surfaced and gained traction at various times through our chequered human history: hard to point to any one moment in which they surfaced to triumph once and for all. (“Chequered”, OK, I was writing this, or at least experiencing it, in England … so British Spelling Prevails!!)

Two earlier paintings of Turner which trapped my eyes and soul: Waterloo, which is not the triumphal battle painting one might expect but no, something more like my very personal picture of the sixth Brahms Intermezzo Opus 118. It is the battlefield at night: relatives of soldiers have come to seek them among the fallen and scavengers to do their grisly work of seeking booty. Haunting and terrible. Then there is “War”, one of a group of paintings about war and peace, if I remember correctly. It is Napoleon on Elba and its subtitle is “The exile and the Rock Limpet”. Indeed it is an almost ghostly figure which seems to be contemplating the small creature (the rock limpet) a little to his foreground. A few metres to his rear is his guard. The light of the setting sun makes it seem as though the entire scene is bathed in blood.

As all great art can do, it gives us the opportunity to feel horror –and, redemptively, compassion. Or the reverse … We feel –how can we not?—pity for the lone figure lost in contemplation. If we think about it, we realize that few if any of his activities go unobserved. He seems so terribly lonely. At the same time, we are aware that this same lonely figure caused terrible bloodshed. As is the case with Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, who is as you can imagine much on my mind as I see these paintings with my soul alive and vibrating.

In another room close to the end of the Romantics exhibition, an inspired small collection of works by CONTEMPORARY British photographers. They are related to the Romantics because do many of them are about landscape. I find them all haunting and thought-provoking in one way or another:

• Raymond Moore: small B/W, particularly “Pothguin” (I jot down “boy on bike”) and “Maryport”.
• Keith Arnatt: Also B/W; landscapes like those which Constable and Turner painted but with modern elements -- like garbage, mostly, and telephone cables and such. His work makes me think about what we think is garbage, and what garbage might there have been in Turner’s or Blake’s or Constable’s epoch – or would they even have included it? Hmmm. No time to go back and search for garbage in their paintings, I’m starving.
• Jem Southam: color, larger photographs, in that sense more like paintings but clearly photos. Remind me a bit of Canadian Joh Bladen Bentley’s work.
• John Riddy: ditto Southam but very abstract-looking and quite dark.

Fascinating for me to see through modern eyes those same rural or seaside landscapes which so engaged Blake, Constable, Turner. These “seeings” seem to me to be all quite affectionate, not critical as such of the work that went before -- if anything, critical rather of how things are now, although perhaps that is reading something into the work. I suppose in a sense this is like Constable, if we choose to see Constable that way: a kind of record of what is or was happening.

In spite of growling stomach I go finally to the room where there are some ten of Turner’s last paintings: indeed, some of them are unfinished canvasses. I saved this for last because I knew it would spoil me for anything else. This is rhapsodic, ecstatic work so completely sure of its own compelling voice and vision that it’s impossible to confuse them with any other.

Is it firmly of its own time? At that stage of the game, as Turner is close to leaving this world and, I get the feeling, is aware of it, maybe art transcends time and that category of stuff becomes close to meaningless. Whatever the case, I feel this late work of Turner’s dances on the bridge to Impressionism as CPE Bach does on the one to Romanticism. Visionary. As always, and increasingly, makes me question those labels which are so handy for Music (and Art) Appreciation classes, record labels, and the like. Again, more on this elsewhere (look in my new THOUGHTS ON MUSIC AND INTERPRETATION theme) … Meanwhile, I do think yet again that it’s small wonder that Turner is so often associated with Debussy, although Turner’s dates are 1775 to 1851 and Debussy’s 1862-1918.

I jot in my notebook “passion and precision”. For years I’ve felt it’s a combination that characterises great music -- although they’re often conceived of as mutually exclusive. So silly, that confusion! The greatest passion practically dictates precision, exactly because it is so clear about what it wants. Arrau said it very well: “Es un error asociar la velocidad con la passion” (“It is a mistake to associate velocity with passion”). Velocity so often implies imprecision. Is this perhaps why we feel so exhilarated when we listen to someone play at dazzling speed with complete coherence?

I have lunch at the Tate Britain. I know they charge rather a lot by some standards; but what the heck, it’s too effing cold outside to wander about in search of that apocryphal warm pub with its Ploughman’s Lunch or Shepherd’s Pie, so I gladly pay the money for a very tasty salmon cake with mesclun salad attached, some bread with more of that simply amazing British butter, and jiminy, I think I even had an espresso to finish up.

Warmed by good food, I walk along the Thames –towards, I hope with my geographically-challenged mind- Trafalgar Square. Houses of Parliament with Rodin Burghers of Calais. Big Ben: indeed quite imposing. Westminster with monument to Women of WWII. This I found extraordinarily moving. There it is in the middle of a busy street. It is, effectively, a bunch of empty uniforms hung on a base. The fact that they are empty makes them somehow universal. They’re hung any which way, some of them crumpled as though the wearer had barely enough energy to hang up her uniform before crashing into too few hours’ sleep; others neater-looking. For some reason –perhaps the resonance with those two war paintings of JMW Turner in the Tate— I practically start weeping right there on Westminster Avenue or whatever it is. It seems very noble to me to have such a monument, right in a very public space.

And by jiminy, here I am at Trafalgar Square, bless that map! It’s not getting late but it IS getting dark: I am still unaccustomed to these latitudes. I have time to stop by the British Council in Spring Garden and leave some CDs for the person there with whom I was hoping to meet; but oh well, business is business and that person is not available even for a quick saludo: I’m in a different culture here.

So I go to the National Gallery for more nourishment. I have afternoon coffee and spend a couple of hours in the the 16th and 17th-century exhibition. Why did I never know about RUBENS’ landscape painting? So wonderful to see this after my time with Turner and Constable at the Tate Britain. Then, just as the National Gallery closes, it’s time to saunter over to Covent Garden for the Rambert Dance concert.

Which is wonderful. Seems Rambert have been doing this for several years now: a special concert in which Company dancers present their own choreography. Surely this is a way to attract and keep dancers. AND they have Live Music (hard not to use ALL CAPS here … )!! Not only that, they are commissioning music from composers! How cool is that? I am so impressed that just before the second half I comment to Stephen about how wonderful I find this. He responds, with only the slightest touch of irony and sounding very British, “This IS the Royal Opera House, after all”. I am so happy that Rambert have commissioned a piece from Stephen for 2011-2012. Dammit, he is such a fine and adventurous composer, he deserves all the best, sympathetic collaborators and interpreters and everything.

Tomorrow the concert, the ROH presentation: the fruit of these four days of concentrated work at the development session of Stephen’s opera.

SATURDAY I had a really wonderful meeting with a British music writer whom I greatly respect. Wonderful to meet in person someone whose writing I so like. Check out my new section, of various ONGOING THOUGHTS ABOUT MUSIC & INTERPRETATION, for more material like this …

Lots of stuff during our conversation but one issue in particular came up: I was asked, What about this business of composers writing –and being commissioned to write—new music for old instruments?? Hmmm … This is another of those disquisitions which I clearly need to write, but for now these are my thoughts: There should be no limit to what a composer’s sonic imagination can engage with. I suppose one could say that this is just a trend, but really we don’t have the perspective, right now –see, THIS is why I think context is so valuable!— to be able to judge that. And in any case, it may not be, I think, just a passing fancy: Horacio Franco, here in México, has commissioned significant quantities of music for all the recorders (flauta de pico, flute à bec), as has Anna Margules in Spain. Last year Stockhausen’s daughter commissioned a piece for basset-horn (how ‘bout THEM Haydn-apples?!) and orchestra from Ana Lara of México, and has commissioned other works from numerous living composers. So yes, if the idea is interesting to a composer and to an interpreter, then let the good times roll, as they say.

I have to note as well that I think it’s really important for us as interpreters to have very present the sounds of other instruments. Axiomatic, of course, that a pianist should have the sound of an oboe (including a BASS oboe! – quite different from that of a bassoon) and of a ’cello, for example, present in her or his inner ear … but I think it’s also essential to keep in mind what Brahms’ preferred Érard piano must have sounded like. You look at the denseness of Brahms’ left hand writing and you have to imagine –so as to reproduce!– the clarity of that piano’s lower register, unless you want the result to be mud. Even French pianos of more recent vintage give us ample clues to what that must have been like. I remember playing in Cuba (¡in Cuba!) a Gavot. Another pianist who’d played the piano a day or two before complained bitterly that if you just breathed on the damned thing, it made a sound. OK, difficult; but as I’ve written before, that’s part of what we itinerant piano-players do, unless we are prepared to lead the kind of life necessitated by bringing our own instrument with us. And what an opportunity to experience the unearthly sensitivity of such an instrument, such a conception of piano sound.

I also wonder about the opportunity to bring to an audience the experience of such small but expressive sound, in our daily sonic context of assault-sound. And I definitely do NOT mean in the too-often exquisitely precious context of an "original-instrument" concert -- unless such a concert is performed with the idea of magically and inclusively recreating the context in which that music was originally shared with listeners whatever their walk of life: no airplanes, automobiles, televisions, sound-reproduction systems. Does this sound a bit Luddite? no matter, I'm prepared to say that anything which stimulates our imaginative faculty is healthy.

Which brings me full circle: if a composer wants to write for that sonic universe … well, why not? And perhaps even more important, for me at least: why not be able to conjure up, on a modern Yamaha or Steinway, the ILLUSION of the sound of that Gavot or Érard, or even of a clavichord? We interpreters are, among other things, illusionists, ilusionistas, conjurers of illusions and dreams and yearnings. For people who molest me with original instrument dogma, I remind them that Emmanuel Bach knew the harpsichord, organs of various types, and the earliest versions of the pianoforte as well as, of course, the fortepiano; and that on consideration, his favourite instrument was still the clavichord – because in spite of its tiny sound, its expressiveness was unexcelled among the other keyboard instruments. In other words, and he himself says it, the clavichord was capable of the most VOCAL sound.




I came to London because I had been told me that … in the Royal Opera House (ROH) there would be a development session for Stephen McNeff’s (http://www.stephenmcneff.co.uk/ ) opera-in-progress of Pedro Páramo. As I’ve already mentioned in these pages, I was invited as artistic advisor. And before I go any further, a fervent Thank -you to the Anglo-Mexican Foundation, whose support made my trip possible!

In four days of rehearsal with a stage director and orchestra conductor, five singers put together seven scenes of this new opera of McNeff. The first three days are just with piano reduction; the third day a guitarist, a cellist and a young woman who astonishingly triples on clarinet, bass clarinet and soprano sax join the group. A workshop like this is a kind of hothouse, in which the essential elements –apart from the good earth of a great score— commitment, love, skill, and a pinch of luck. I continue to be astonished by how much can be accomplished in so little time.

And hey – we’re not talking about yet another production of Don Giovanni or Bohème here, but about completely new music. Gorgeous, to be sure, but COMPLETELY NEW.

The seed from which this tree has blossomed took root some five years ago, when I asked Stephen McNeff for a piece for Rumor de Páramo / Murmurs from the Wasteland, an international commissioning and recording project of which I am the commissioning artist. At that time, McNeff knew nothing of Rulfo or of his iconic novel Pedro Páramo. In the course of composing his beautiful Pavane –in the old way— for doña Susanita, he fell deeply in love with Rulfo, and decided he wanted to compose a chamber opera on Pedro Páramo. Something like two years ago came the word that his publishers, Peters Editions, had been granted the preliminary permission by Balcells in Barcelona. This past May Stephen wrote to me with the wonderful news that the ROH had granted him the development session, together with the invitation for me to come as artistic advisor.

During these four days of rehearsal, I see each of the participants tangibly connecting with these seven scenes, so that even before the presentation on Friday they start to acquire an emotional force that takes my breath away and often brings me to the brink of tears. McNeff says numerous times how fortunate he is to have singers of this calibre in the Workshop. This is true: but it’s also true that his score fully deserves them!

The conductor is Domenic Wheeler, a marvel of good humour, patience, and clarity. And he even sings, really well! No idle commentary, because it means he understands the voice and what it means to write for it, which astoundingly not everyone in Music-World does … http://www.operauk.com/wheeler.html

The stage director is John Lloyd Davies, who is also ROH Director of Opera Development. He is a total professional, completely committed and full of energy, plus good humour.

They’ve brought over Matthias Janser from Barcelona as project assistant, really tech director. Like all the best of his tribe he radiates astonishing tranquillity. He moves almost invisibly among the cast, arranging a light here and a stone there, jotting in his notebook. For Friday’s presentation he’s in the control booth at the light board and everything happens just as it’s supposed to.

It’s Wednesday when I start to feel it, while they’re rehearsing the scene between Eduviges Dyada and Juan Preciado. There’s a moment whenClaire McCaldin, suddenly going high, sings “We were the best of friends”, with that burnished color that the mezzo voice can have in its upper register … and I realize we’ve entered a different territory, that in which you can let yourself be filled with passion for the music you’re interpreting, you can let it all loose. Before, it was all woodshedding, with the almost total coldness that this implies: “all channels set to Receive”, as I think of it. You must enter into the music with all the openness and skill of which you’re capable and with the neutrality necessary to have the score very present. And then you begin to make it your own, after you enter extensively into the music, the music starts to enter you; and you feel the beginning of that extraordinary alchemy which is interpretation. Which is how music reveals itself to us.

MY PARTICIPATION … I came with no fixed idea of what might be useful or inspiring: in fact it seemed to me a bit arrogant to arrive with the idea of instructing. I tried, rather, to give some context to the efforts already underway; in the same sense that Lettvin once showed me Goyas’s “Black Paintings” to help me get into the slow movement of a sonata of CPE Bach.

So I speak a little of the historical context: of the years of conflict in Mexico after Independence, and of the additional years of bloody and fratricidal conflict after the Revolution; and of how Rulfo experienced that directly. Also, briefly, of the literary context: in my time with Rumor I have done my share of reading on the subject. I described how at the beginning, right after Pedro Páramo was published in 1955, there were those who wanted to label Rulfo as just another “regionalist”. Very shortly it became quite clear that he writes of themes which are fundamental to human beings: hunger, the hunger for power, the search for the father, love, death. He does it in such a way that what begins firmly rooted in that Jalisco soil becomes something universal.

I also say that for me, part of what confers universality on this novel is that within the pitiless portrait which Rulfo paints of Pedro Páramo, he also paints Pedro’s love for Susana San Juan, the only person in his life he’s truly loved – and the only one he can never possess.

THOSE IMAGES … From Mexico to London I schlepped that great book of Rulfo’s photography, as eloquent as his words. ( Juan Rulfo’s México: Published in English by Smithsonian Institution Press; in Spanish [El México de Juan Rulfo] by Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona … Thanks AJ and Jenny!). I showed those images, as Lettvin showed me Goya.

If you do not know Mexico how can you know those landscapes, those faces, those ghost towns? All you know will necessarily come from the daily news: heads rolling down the streets, drug cartels, corruption, mendacity, ineptitude. I suppose that if I came with any particular idea, it was that I wanted to communicate compellingly that what we DO have in Mexico is our two thousand-year history and culture, from the abomination of caciquismo (corrupt power-hungry government) to the glory of our musical and literary patrimony, of the past and especially of today.

THOSE WORDS … I read the beginning of Pedro Páramo, in Rulfo’s words and then in Margaret Sayers Peden’s wonderful English translation.
I don’t know why –except that they are for me emblematic of Rulfo and of his raw material, and that they always move me deeply— I then read the first two paragraphs of Nos han dado la tierra (They have given us the land) of El llano en llamas (The Burning Plain); and then my own translation.

There is no music like these words.

… AND THOSE SINGERS! … Mary Plazas, distinguished soprano based in England but of Spanish-Portuguese background: Dolores Preciado http://www.owenwhitemanagement.com/sopranos/Mary-Plazas/

Claire McCaldin, mezzosoprano: Eduviges Dyada http://www.claremccaldin.com/

Nicholas Sharratt, tenor: Juan Preciado. http://www.nicholas-sharratt.com/

Michael Burke, baritone: Abundio y Fulgor Sedano http://oclassical.com/artist/6943

Owen Gilhooly, baritone: Pedro Páramo http://www.owengilhooly.com/

All of them with impeccable diction and tuning, not to mention their just astounding sight-reading. They’re all experienced performers of new music, as well as of the traditional rep. All of them regularly perform with the ENO (English National Opera), among other companies. Despite all this fame, they’re all notable for their intuition, curiosity, and openness.

And all, let me not forget to mention, with magnificent acting ability and stage presence. It’s very moving for me to see how, over these few days, each of them really BECOMES the character he or she is representing. Stephen comments to me that this must be due to the great English theatre tradition – in addition to top-notch training, naturally. Young Irishman Owen Gilhooly BECOMES Pedro Páramo, radiating menace, brutality, cynicism.


The set: in the center of a little labyrinth made of thick cord, some houses made of painted shoe-boxes. Scattered throughout the labyrinth, some small white stones. The house in the centre faintly illuminated with a lightbulb inside. Here and there two or three trunks. Hung above, some yellowing old papers, and two ornamental bird-cages. Costumes very simple: for the men just trousers and shirts, and for the women long homespun skirts and some fabric which serves as rebozos (Mexican shawls).

The presentation of the seven scenes is a resounding success. There’s no mistaking the vibe: the audience is gripped and enchanted by both text and music, as well as by the extraordinary interpretation which made of this new opera in process something real and tangible.

After the presentation, Stephen Spears briefly of the genesis of his opera. In the question-and-answer session that follows, someone asks me if there is anything particularly MEXICAN about Pedro Páramo. I think for a moment and then say, Well yes, there are a number of elements – but one which for me is very significant is a concept very particular to Mexico: that death is part of life.

Just a few weeks ago, I point out, in every town in Mexico and the majority of its homes, altars and offerings to the dead were placed placed with great love and care. In public spaces there are enormous altars which can occupy most of an entire plaza; with flower-petals, seeds and sand of various colours all of which signify a whole complex iconography. The home altars generally are more homely, and very personal. If the dead person liked Tecate beer, well there you will see his or her can of that brew, together, perhaps, with a bit of a favourite dish. And this is not at all morbid, I say: rather, it is a celebration.

They all look at me jaws dropping with wonder.

After the presentation I have a little conversation with the young woman who plays clarinets and soprano sax. She comments about how cool it is that I am there, and I compliment her on her playing. And then she says how much she likes the music! “You know, especially if you play quite a lot of new music, sometimes you play a piece and you feel, ‘Ah well, that was just a one-off, I’ve no desire to play that music again, ever.’ But THIS music, I want to play it lots of times, what a pleasure!” I say, “Well, you should tell McNeff, don’t you think?” Blushing, she says Goodness, he’s so famous, why would he want to hear from me? So I say to her, Look, even for a famous composer it can be really nice to get positive feedback – especially from a young musician. It’s kind of like the future of his music, no? That night I mention the conversation to Stephen, and he chuckles. It turns out she didn’t up the nerve to say anything to him; and he IS pleased to hear her comments!

After my return a few days ago, I’m describing some of this amazing trip to a dear friend -- who besides being a fine poet is someone with whom I’ve collaborated extensively. I comment, somewhat ironically, “So it was I, the Half-Mexican, who went to London in representation of México”. She thought for a moment and then said, forcefully and yet with great tenderness, “Don’t talk like that anymore, being half and half. You are whole. Wholly of there because of your mother and wholly Mexican because of your father.”

ROH WORKSHOP (esp): 22-26 NOV 2010, LONDRES



Vine a Londres porque me dijeron que acá … habría en la Royal Opera House (ROH) una sesión de desarrollo (development session) de la ópera en proceso de Stephen McNeff (http://www.stephenmcneff.co.uk/ ) sobre Pedro Páramo. Como ya comenté en estas páginas, me invitaron como asesora artística. Primera que nada, un enorme agradecimiento a la Anglo-Mexican Foundation, cuyo apoyo hizo posible mi viaje.

En cuatro días de ensayos con directores escénico y de orquesta, cinco cantantes montaron siete escenas de esta nueva ópera de McNeff. Los primeros tres días son sólo con reducción de piano y repetiteur; el tercer día llegan guitarrista, violonchelista y una joven que asombrosamente triplica en clarinete, clarinete bajo y saxofón soprano. Helo aquí una especie de invernadero, en que los elementos esenciales son –aparte del suelo primordial de una buena partitura– compromiso, cariño, destreza y una pizca de suerte. Sigo maravillada por cuánto se puede hacer en tan poco tiempo. Y fíjese que no estamos hablando de otro montaje de Don Giovanni o de Bohème sino de música completamente nueva --hermosísima, claro está, pero completamente nueva.

La semilla de que ha brotado este árbol se arraigó hace cinco años, cuando yo pedí a McNeff una pieza para Rumor de Páramo, proyecto de encargos en homenaje al magno escritor –y fotógrafo– mexicano Juan Rulfo; de que yo soy la intérprete y titular. En aquel entonces, McNeff nada sabía ni de Rulfo ni de su icónica novela Pedro Páramo. En el transcurso de componer la hermosa Pavana –a la usanza antigua– para doña Susanita, quedó perdidamente fascinado por Rulfo, y decidió que quisiera componer una ópera de cámara sobre Pedro Páramo. Hace eso de año y medio su editorial –Peters Editions– consiguió el permiso preliminar de Balcells en Barcelona … y luego silencio. En mayo de este año Stephen me escribió con la excelente noticia de que la ROH le había otorgado una sesión de desarrollo, y me invita a venir como asesora artística.

Durante estos cuatro días de ensayos, veo cada uno de los participantes tangiblemente encariñándose con estas siete escenas, hasta tal grado que aún antes de la presentación la tarde del viernes tiene una fuerza emocional que me quita el aliento, me lleva al borde de las lágrimas. McNeff habla numerosas veces de lo afortunado que es, de tener músicos de este nivel para el Taller. Para mí lo cierto es que su partitura ampliamente merece el nivel de estos intérpretes.

El director de escena es John Lloyd Davies, el jefe de desarrollo de ópera (director of Opera Development) de la ROH, con notable compromiso y entrega además de buen humor; un sumo profesional.

Se ha traído a Matthias Janser desde Barcelona, como director técnico. Como los mejores de su tribu desprende una asombrosa tranquilidad. Se mueve casi invisiblemente entre los participantes, arreglando una lámpara aquí y una piedra allá, tomando notas en su cuaderno. A la hora de la presentación está a la mesa de control de iluminación y todo marcha perfectamente a tiempo.

Es el miércoles cuando empiezo a sentirlo, cuando ensayan la escena entre Eduviges Dyada y Juan Preciado. Hay un momento en que Dolores, repentinamente muy agudo, canta “We were the best of friends (eramos muy amigas)”, con ese color bruñido que la mezzo puede tener en su región aguda … y me doy cuenta de que ya hemos entrado en otro territorio, lo de estar apasionada por la música que estás cantando y de poder soltarlo todo. Antes hubo el talachear, con la frialdad casi total que éste te exige: “todos los canales puestos en recibir” como yo lo suelo pensar. Tienes que adentrarte en la música con toda la abertura y destreza de que eres capaz y con cierta neutralidad, necesaria para tener muy presente la partitura. Y después lo empiezas a hacer tuya, después de entrar tanto en la música tú, la música empieza a entrar en ti y comienza esa extraordinaria alquimia que es la interpretación. Que es cómo se nos revela la música.

MI PARTICIPACIÓN … No vengo con una idea fija de lo que sería útil o inspirador: me pareció incluso un poco arrogante llegar en plan de instruir. Intenté, más bien, dar contexto a los esfuerzos ya encaminados, en el mismo sentido que Lettvin alguna vez me mostró los “Cuadros negros” de Goya para ayudarme a profundizar en el movimiento lento de una sonata de Emmanuel Bach.

Hablo, pues, un poco de los años de conflicto en México desde la Independencia y de los otros años más de conflicto sangriento y fratricida después de la Revolución; y de cómo Rulfo había experimentado éste en carne propia. Y brevemente del contexto literario. En mi tiempo con Rumor me adentré más que un poco en ese aspecto. Describo como al inicio hubo algunos que quisieron etiquetar a Rulfo como otro autor “regionalista”. Al poco rato quedó muy claro que escribe de temas fundamentales del ser humano –el hambre y el hambre del poder, la búsqueda del padre, el amor y la muerte. Lo hace de tal manera que lo que empieza firmemente arraigado en esa tierra jalisciense se convierte en algo universal.

Y digo que para mí, parte de lo que le otorga universalidad a esta novela es que, dentro de este despiadado retrato de Pedro Páramo, se pinta el amor que Pedro tiene para Susana San Juan, la única cosa que en su vida ha amado, la única que no puede poseer.

ESAS IMÁGENES … Cargué, de México a Londres, con ese gran libro de la fotografía de Rulfo, igual de elocuente como su escritura. ( Juan Rulfo’s México: Editado en inglés por Smithsonian Institution Press; en español [El México de Juan Rulfo] por Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona … ¡Gracias AJ y Jenny!). Les mostré esas imágenes, tal como Lettvin me enseñó Goya.

¿Si no conoces a México cómo vas a saber de esos paisajes, de esas caras, de esos pueblos abandonados? Todo lo que sabes vendrá de los noticieros: cabezas rodando por las calles, narco, corrupción, mendacidad, ineptitud. Supongo que si viniera con alguna idea fija, fue que quisiera comunicar contundentemente que lo que sí tenemos en México es nuestra historia y cultura milenarias, desde el caciquismo hasta lo sublime de nuestro patrimonio musical y literario – incluyendo lo actual.

ESAS PALABRAS … Leo el inicio de Pedro Páramo, en palabras de Rulfo; y después en inglés, en la maravillosa traducción de Margaret Sayers Peden.

No sé por qué razón –salvo que me parece muy emblemático de Rulfo y de su materia prima, y que siempre me conmueven mucho– leo también los primeres dos párrafos de Nos han dado la tierra de El llano en llamas; y los traduzco yo.

No hay música como la de estas palabras.

¡… Y ESOS CANTANTES! Mary Plazas, reconocida soprano radicada en Inglaterra de ascendencia español-portuguesa: Dolores Preciado http://www.owenwhitemanagement.com/sopranos/Mary-Plazas/
Claire McCaldin, mezzosoprano: Eduviges Dyada http://www.claremccaldin.com/
Nicholas Sharratt, tenor: Juan Preciado http://www.nicholas-sharratt.com/
Michael Burke, barítono: Abundio y Fulgor Sedano http://oclassical.com/artist/6943
Owen Gilhooly, barítono: Pedro Páramo http://www.owengilhooly.com/

El director de orquesta Domenic Wheeler, una maravilla de buen humor, paciencia y claridad. http://www.operauk.com/wheeler.html

Todos con una afinación y dicción impecables, de no mencionar su lectura a primera vista, que es asombrosa. Son experimentados intérpretes de música nueva, amén del repertorio tradicional. Interpretan con regularidad con la ENO (English National Opera), entre otras compañías. No obstante, todos se caracterizan por su intuición, curiosidad y abertura.

Y todos, no quiero olvidarlo, con una magnífica presencia escénica. Me conmueve ver cómo, en el transcurso de estos pocos días, cada uno se convierte verdaderamente en el personaje que representa. Stephen me comenta que esto ha de deberse a la riquísima tradición teatral inglesa; además, claro, de una formación de altísimo nivel. El joven irlandés Gilhooly ES el cacique Pedro Páramo, irradiando espantosa brutalidad y cinismo.


Escenificación: al centro de un pequeño laberinto de cuerda gruesa, unas casas hechas de cajas de zapato pintadas. Esparramadas entre el laberinto, unas piedras blancas. La casita del centro tenuemente iluminada por un foquito dentro. Uno que otro baúl. Colgados arriba, unos viejos y amarillentos papeles, y dos jaulitas de pájaros. Vestuario de lo más sencillo: para los tres hombres, efectivamente pantalón y camisa, y para las dos mujeres faldas largas de manta más unas telas que hicieron las veces de rebozos.

La presentación de las siete escenas es un rotundo éxito. De la vibra no se puede equivocar: el público queda hechizado tanto por letra y música como por el altísimo nivel de interpretación que hace de esta nueva ópera en proceso una realidad tangible. La carga emotiva de estos 35 minutos es simplemente enorme.

Después de la presentación el viernes, Stephen habla brevemente de la génesis de su ópera. En la sesión de preguntas y repuestas que sigue, alguien me pregunta si hay algo particularmente mexicano en Pedro Páramo. Pienso un momento y respondo, Pues sí, hay muchos elementos – pero uno que a mi ver es muy significativo es un concepto absolutamente peculiar a México: que la muerte es parte de la vida. Hace un par de semanas todos los pueblos de México, y la mayoría de las casas, tenían puestos sus altares y ofrendas. En los espacios públicos hay altares enormes, que pueden ocupar buena parte de una plaza entera; con pétalos de flores, semillas y arena de varios colores que significan toda una compleja iconografía. Los altares hogareños suelen ser más caseros, y muy personales. Si al difunto le gustó la Tecate, allí se encontrará su lata de esa chela, junto con un poco de su antojo favorito, por ejemplo. Nada de morboso: es más bien una celebración.

Me miran todos con la boca abierta.

Después de la presentación sucede que cambio unas palabras con la joven que toca clarinetes y saxofón soprano. Me dice algo de qué chido que estoy ahí y yo le felicito por cómo tocó. Y luego comenta cuánto le ha gustado la música. “Me fascina, dice. Sabes cómo hay algunas obras de música nueva y dices ‘Bueno, será una sola vez que lo toco y no tengo nada de ganas de volverla a tocar.’ Pero ÉSTA, me da ganas de tocarla muchas veces. ¡Qué placer!” Yo le digo, “Pues lo debes decir al compositor, ¿no?” y me responde, ruborizando, “’Nombre, es alguien muy famoso y no lo quiero molestar con mi pobre opinión” – o algo por el estilo. Le animo a que lo haga, diciendo, “Hazte cuenta que incluso a un compositor famoso le resulta muy placentero recibir este tipo de retroalimentación positiva, sobre todo cuando viene de un joven músico – en cierto sentido significa que su música tiene futuro, ¿no crees?” Esa noche comento esta conversación con Stephen y sonríe … en los hechos la joven no se armó de agallas para decirle algo ¡y de veras él estuvo muy complacido!

Después de mi regreso, hace dos días, estuve describiendo este viaje a una muy querida amiga –quien además de gran poeta, es alguien con quien he colaborado extensamente. Comenté, con algo de ironía, “Así que fui yo allá, la media mexicana, en representación de México”. Pensó un momento y luego me dijo, con mucha fuerza y mucha ternura, “Ya no hables de ser mitad y mitad. Eres entera. Enteramente de allá por tu madre y enteramente mexicana por tu padre.”

martes, 23 de noviembre de 2010


Monday 22 November
Today is my last day of being a tourist here. From tomorrow through Friday I will be devoting most of my time to the Royal Opera House development session for Stephen McNeff’s chamber opera on Pedro Páramo. So today I set forth prepared to be a gawking tourist in this great city of London, for as long as I could stay on my feet, or until the sun set, whichever came first.
Arriving at London Bridge on the train from where I’m staying, I walked up the Thames to Tower Bridge and crossed over to see the Tower itself. I suppose I’m quite idiosyncratic about being a tourist: more than once I’ve found that the standard attractions attract me not a bit, and that sometimes all I want to do is wander and soak up the feeling of various places. Often I prefer to do that wandering without benefit of tour guide, just with a guidebook and my own sense alert and listening to the place itself.
So today I just walked around most of the perimeter of the Tower without going in. I’ve been around buildings of that approximate age before, in France and Spain; and around buildings quite a lot older, in México. But there is something about seeing that “Traitor’s” Gate, where supposedly both Anne Boleyn and Thomas More were brought into the Tower, which sends a shiver up my spine. The arrogance of power has something to do with that shiver, I suppose; and how power –and the fear of losing it– can erase all trace of human empathy and compassion from a human soul. Brrr.
Brr also because it is COLD down there by the River Tamesis, at least by comparison with what these now Mexicanized bones are used to. Never mind: I have my cozy sweater and hat and gloves and rebozo all piled on.
I cross back over the river and head back toward whence I came, to the Southwark Cathedral. Old, old; tho’ not so old as the temples and observatories the Maya built. Still it is the oldest Gothic cathedral in England. In the oldest part there are various effigies. Interestingly with reference to the merchants –and artists– who were instrumental in the prospering of London, I see only one which is a knight. Among the others which I find interesting are one of a man who is almost-skeleton, flesh partly eaten away, ribs and other bones visible. All white. The sign is at pains to point out that, in the time when it was made –12th or 13th century– this was not considered a sign of disrespect. Rather, it was saying that death is part of life … just as we believe in México. An interesting change of focus: for many northern Europeans now it is a little hard to wrap one’s mind around the idea that to show a dead person as a corpse half-eaten by worms, by the earth, by time, might actually be respectful. I think about this particularly, in this moment, because of what I’ve been thinking I’ll say to the ROH group tomorrow as I explain a little about the historical and cultural background of Juan Rulfo and of Pedro Páramo.
I was also struck by struck by the effigy of one John Gower, who died in 1408 and was Poet Laureate to Richard II and Henry IV. He was called “the first English poet” because he wrote in English –really the vulgate then– as well as in French and Latin. The head of the effigy rests on three books of his authorship: “Vox Clamantis” in Latin; “Speculum Meditantis” in French; and “Confessio Amantis”, in English. I have a fanciful moment of wondering if the spiritual or religious thoughts seemed most appropriate in Latin, the philosophical reflections most fitting in French; but for enunciating the intimate confessions of the heart, only his real mother tongue would do.
From this beautiful cathedral I continue walking along the Thames to the Globe Theatre: the Globe Theatre as it was quite faithfully reproduced and rebuilt by Sam Wanamaker in a noble effort that apparently spanned some four decades. I spend ten pounds fifty on the half-hour tour because it’s the only way you can get into the actual theatre, which I feel I must do. And it is certainly worth it. The space, as you might think, is astonishingly intimate – so much so that I was surprised to learn that it can accommodate up to three thousand spectators. I imagine experiencing Shakespeare here, in this space where he undoubtedly must have walked when it was just a tavern or a bear-baiting dive, where maybe he tried out lines of dialogue in his inner ear; and once again feel tears welling up. The excellent guide points out that the theatre was effectively the first place where different strata of society mixed, where a noble, a merchant, and a poor person might all be in the same place at the same time. Theatre as democratizer. A striking parallel with modern times is how the Puritans dedicated considerable energy to crushing the theatre, feeling passionately that it was immoral and encouraged immoral behavior. This was why it was only feasible to build the Rose and the Globe theatres on the South Bank of London, in Shakespeare’s time outside the city walls. I’ve always felt that culture is dangerous – it certainly is for people of that repressive stripe, and they keep on proving it, all through history and throughout the world. The Globe is one of the many reasons I want to return to London.
And onward: to the Tate Modern, barely a hop and a skip away. ¡¡The TATE MODERN!! On Sunday when I was trying to decide what to do with my last day as a tourist, Stephen and Charlotte described the ground floor to me as a “cathedral-like” space; and Charlotte talked a bit about the Ay Wei-Wei installation –a commission– which is there through February. You can read more about this at the Tate internet site. Too much to talk about quickly here. My usual problem with blogging: most times I am not a knee-jerk responder and so it’s hard for me to get stuff posted promptly. Half the time I end up chewing on it for weeks and then it never gets posted because other stuff comes along.
The Ay Wei-Wei installation was thought-provoking for me in a number of areas. It’s millions –yes, MILLIONS– of sunflower seeds in an enormous space. Except that they are sunflower seeds made of porcelain, each one hand-made by Chinese ceramic artisans. This makes one think –me in particular, in México whose thousand-year artisan traditions are right now threatened by mass-manufactured Chinese goods. It makes me think about how the Chinese artisans themselves are threatened by their own country’s mass-produced goods, as well as how the Chinese people are threatened by their own country’s political choices … and a bunch of other issues. Among them, the sheer mass of people in China: the vast extension of that field of sunflower seeds for me became a kind of representation of the vast extension of that country and of its people. “Life is cheap in China”, more than one person (mostly Western) has said to me; and the fragility and uniqueness of every one of these millions of sunflower seeds made me think about how much of a stereotype that expression surely must be, just as much as saying that Mexicans are constitutionally lazy or mendacious.
I cruised through only one more floor of the Tate Modern because eyes, brain, and emotions were starting to tire. I saw an expo of artists principally of the “Arte Povera” school, Italy post WWII when the idea took hold –perhaps a little like what happened in music– that it behoved visual artists to abandon the “fine arts” traditions and in their art make use of common and sometimes industrial materials, in recognition of the devastation left after the war. Piero Manzoni wanted, according to the blurb by one of his “Achrome” paintings, to “banish narrative content from painting”; sought nothingness. So for this picture he soaked the canvas in kaolin (clay) and rid it of all colour. The blurb goes on to say that the weight of the clay, soaked into to canvas, caused it to sag. My own take on this is that it IS a kind of narrative: the enormously subtle narrative of an infinitude of textures and lines formed by the canvas itself, not to mention the various ways the light hits it and causes it to respond. Like it or not, I think, we are a story-telling race, and it’s something integral to who we are. There’s no question that the rhythm and nature of our diverse stories come out of our multiplicity of cultures, but the love of story, I’ve come to feel, is something completely human. Then there was Giuseppe Penone, who in a room full of pieces using industrial materials makes two sculptures (or maybe one, my notes are incomplete) out of TREE TRUNKS, good four metres’ worth of them. His process involved closely following and carving out around the knots in the wood, resulting in something which for me looked like a sort of skeleton of a tree, if you can imagine such a thing, with the very beginning of each knot like a branch but naked somehow, without bark or anything else to cover it, shield it. These two very tall sculptures had a terrible vulnerability about them but at the same time they were very comforting in a room full of wire and metal.
I had visions of an apocryphal lunch in a warm and comforting pub, but somehow it never happened. There was always one more thing to see, not to mention the damp chill which made me want to keep moving. So I never did really stop.
I end up walking back to London Bridge to the train station to go home. On the way there I bump into one of those small spaces whose intimacy is made far more intense by the size of its surroundings: a tiny park with a sweet and lovely alabaster fountain, all voluptuous curves with a base of river stones set together and the water washing gently over them. I look beyond to the building –a small chapel, Georgian perhaps– and in the near-dusk see that it is the Mission to Seafarers. As one who has various times sailed out of sight of shore, I salute this mission and those to whom it ministers. Then, as I turn around to keep walking, I see the sign with the name of the tiny park: Whittington Park. This is really the final touch: this lovely little space named after Richard Whittington, another who went bravely off in search of his destiny and –with the help of his cat– found both fame and fortune, among them becoming Lord Mayor of London. By all accounts he was a fine man.

domingo, 21 de noviembre de 2010


Es otro posting, creo, en que alternaré entre los dos idiomas, quizás sin traducir … sólo un aviso.

Tantas impresiones, y más bien desorganizadas … no obstante intento concretarlas, algo; para que después, con el tiempo, se cuajen mejor.

I had only two weeks between the US premiere of those ten pieces of Monarca and my departure for London. I had to move my head, soul, fingers, intellect –everything! – back into Rumor de Páramo. Since I’ve been invited to London as artistic advisor to a development session at the Royal Opera House of Stephen McNeff’s new chamber opera on Pedro Páramo, my way of moving back in was through Stephen McNeff’s Pavane (in the old way) for doña Susanita.

It’s the third or fourth time I’ve picked up this piece after giving it a rest. This time I go back to the score, listening to and questioning everything from articulation and colour to large architecture and how I want to define it. This is what convinces me that the great majority of these Rumor pieces are “keepers”: when I go back to them after a time they are still rich, there are still things to discover, I still deeply enjoy playing them. So much new music gets commissioned, premiered, and then forgotten. So much never truly becomes repertoire, and there’s a lot that surely deserves it. One reason why I so respect my colleagues like Tambuco and the Cuarteto Latinoamericano: they not only commission new music, they make it part of their repertoire, and record it.

Inglaterra. Mi otra Madre Patria. Desde niña he querido venir acá. Es un poco como mi primera visita a España, que es también mi Madre Patria, una generación más allá de México. Mi bisabuelo paterno, zapatero, vino a México desde Murcia ha de ser en 1890; mis tatarabuelos maternos vinieron a EU un poco antes, quizás una generación, huyendo de una de esas periódicas hambrunas en Irlanda. Algunos de ellos originalmente de Inglaterra: un ir y venir casi constante entre una isla y la otra, desde el año del caldo.

Asomándome de la ventana del avión al amanecer cuando nos acercábamos vi el contorno de una costa, tierra en media del agua; e inesperadamente me sentí al borde de las lágrimas. Como cuando llegué a Madrid, en vísperas del Año Nuevo, al mero final del 2005.

En el avión pensé, por la madrugada, Es la primera vez que viajo a Inglaterra, es la primera vez que viajo en British Airways, es la primera vez que voy a un sitio invitada como asesora artística a un proyecto de un muy querido compositor -- ¿qué chido es eso, tener 50 años y hacer cosas por primera vez? Requete chido, sí.

OK, this I WILL translate …

So many impressions, and rather disorganized … nevertheless I will try to set them down so that later, with time, they will set better.

England. My other Mother Country. Since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to come here. It’s a little like that first visit of mine to Spain, which is also my Mother Country, beyond Mexico. My paternal great-grandfather, shoemaker, came to Mexico from the Spanish province of Murcia around 1890 it must have been; my maternal great-grandparents came to the US a little before, fleeing from one of those periodic famines in Ireland. Some of them originally from England: there was a constant back and forth between those two islands, since God was a little boy, as they say.

Peering out of the airplane window around dawn when we were getting close I saw the outline of a coast, land in the middle of water; and unexpectedly felt as though I might burst into tears. As when I arrived in Madrid, at the very end of 2005, on the eve of the New Year.

In the airplane in the middle of the night, I think, This is the first time that I travel to England, it’s the first time I fly on British Airways, the first time that I go somewhere invited as artistic advisor to an exciting project of a very valued composer colleague; to be 50-something years old and be doing something completely new, how cool is that? Really, really very cool indeed.

domingo, 5 de septiembre de 2010


En la entrada del domingo olvidé mencionar que más rato en la tarde empecé a tener ganas del café de la tarde. El hotel en que me tienen esta vez, aunque muchísimo más mono que el de la anterior visita, no tiene el servicio de café a toda hora del día. Y cuando pregunto en la recepción me dicen que ya no, es la tarde del domingo, sólo en el parque cerca de la catedral. Bueno, pienso yo, voy a caminar tantito y a ver qué hay. Pues helo aquí que en el parque alrededor de la catedral cuyo campanero veo de mi balconcito, ¡hay otro tianguis! Juro que quiero visitar a toda América Latina e ir a puros tianguis.

Y sí, helo aquí una señora, bendita sea, que en su puesto vende panes y postres caseros, junto con el famoso cafezinho (pronúnciese algo así como cafedsiño). Pido uno, con leche; y después otro. ¡Mmmaaahh! No hay igual.



El martes 31, mi concierto. Hay que decir que este foro, el Teatro Pedro II de Ribeirao Preto, tiene fama de la mejor acústica de este inmenso país. Yo no sé si es la mejor del país entero pero sí que es fenomenal: cálida, íntima, responsiva. Además de un Steinway de cola completa en esplendorosa condición. Todo el teatro en bellísimamente restaurado y mantenido. Butacas, camerinos, TODO.

De entrada estuve en un estado un poco esquizofrénico, con el estreno absoluto de nueve de las piezas Monarca en el Cervantino a apenas seis semanas. Supongo que pudiera haber escogido un programa fácil … pero parece que a estas alturas poco talento tengo para eso. Además, la obra de Silvia Cabrera Berg, Autumn [Otoño] es una obra grande, de mucha envergadura, de arquitectura y de virtuosismo: no pareció justo rodearla con piezas de menor estatura. Este Coloquio a que soy invitada se llama Submodernidades y tiene por tema central la cuestión de la música contemporánea erudita (no me encanta el término pero ahora no es el momento para esa discusión) y su futuro. Desde el inicio decidí armar un programa mixto, otro de Generaciones, trazando líneas de conexión entre música de hoy y algunos de sus antepasados. La música de hoy: Autumn de Cabrera Berg y de compositores de México.

¿Y la música de México? En este año bicentenario muchos de mis colegas se están enfocando en música de Manuel M. Ponce, de Ricardo Castro, de otros compositores del siglo entre 1810 (Independencia) y 1910 (Revolución) y tantito más. Admiro esta labor, de que mucha sigue siendo una de rescate y por lo tanto más importante aún.

Al mismo tiempo la programación de la música de grandes creadores con vida es escasísima, sobre todo en el exterior. Y es música que a mí me encanta, igual como la de CPE o de Brahms … y que a todas luces amplísimamente merece la mayor difusión posible. Con que resulta imprescindible tocar el estreno en Brasil de Días de Mar y Río de Arturo Márquez; y de la Flor Robada #2 (Arabesco) de Marcela Rodríguez. Silvia me pide que incluyera unas piezas de Rumor de Páramo de las que interpreté aquí en marzo del 2009 –en particular Ibarra y Derbez– así que añado a éstas Ecos del llano de nuestro querido Ramón Montes de Oca, que también sería estreno en Brasil. Quedó así, y doy los detalles porque dos días después en mi conferencia volví a precisamente este tema, de la selección de repertorio y la lógica detrás de este programa:

CPE Bach Sonata Kenner und Liebhaber en re menor, W.57/4 (III, 4)

Marcela Rodríguez Flor Robada #2 (Arabesco) (estreno en Brasil)

Silvia Cabrera Berg Autumn (estreno absoluto)


Tres piezas de Rumor de Páramo:

Georgina Derbez Del viento, la esperanza

Federico Ibarra Páramo pétreo

Ramón Montes de Oca Ecos del llano (estreno en Brasil)

Joh. Brahms Klavierstücke Opus 118 I, II y VI

Arturo Márquez Días de mar y Río (estreno en Brasil)

La respuesta del público fue extraordinariamente cálida. Mientras tocaba sentí aquella singular energía que surge sólo de la más completa concentración por parte de los escuchas. Y cuando toqué esa última nota de Márquez –el do más grave del piano, apenas un susurro, juro que es la nota más difícil de toda la obra– ESPERARON a que se esfumara a que irrumpieron en aplausos. Se pararon. Salí del escenario después de muchas caravanas. Y no quisieron. Me llamaron de vuelta. Así que no me quedó más remedio: toqué el bis que tenía conmigo, y sí es de Ponce: Plenilunio. De su inagotable veta más popular, y hermosísima. Y así fue que cumplí también con la labor de rescate además de tocar música de hoy.

Después, una caipirinha rapsódicamente deliciosa en el famoso Pinguim, archi-bien situado al mero lado del Teatro, un también delicioso sandwich … y al hotel, a dormir como bebé.

English …


Tuesday 31 was my concert. I have to mention that the Theatro Pedro II of Ribeirao Preto is said to have the best acoustic in this whole immense country. I don’t know if it’s the best in all of Brasil, but it is just phenomenal: warm, intimate, responsive. And then there is the nine-foot Steinway in wondrous condition. And apart from that, the entire theatre is beautifully restored and maintained. And I mean EVERYTHING: from the dressing rooms to the seats in the hall. Just wonderful.

Going in, I was in a somewhat schizophrenic condition, with the world premiere of nine of the Monarca pieces in the Cervantino barely six weeks away. I suppose I could have chosen an “easy” program … but at this point in my life it seems I have little talent for that. Besides, Silvia Cabrera Berg’s Autumn is a big piece, of great breadth and reach, architecture and virtuosity: it didn’t seem fair to surround it with lesser music. This Colloquium to which I am invited is titled Submodernidades, and its theme is the question of contemporary “erudite” (classical or concert) music and its future. From the beginning, I decided I wanted to put together a mixed program, another Generations one, tracing lines of connection between yesterday’s music and today’s. Today’s would be represented by Cabrera Berg’s piece, and by music of México.

And the music of México? In this double-centenary year many of my colleagues are focussing on music of composers like Manuel M. Ponce (18 - 1949), Ricardo Castro (18 … 1907), and other composers of the century between Independence (1810) and Revolution (1910). I admire this work --of which much is still consists of digging out worthwhile repertoire from dusty libraries, preparing new editions, recording: making it even more important work.

At the same time, the music of great living composers of México is scantily programmed, especially OUTSIDE of the country. I deeply love this music, as much as that of CPE Bach or Johannes Brahms … and moreover it amply deserves the widest possible diffusion. Thus for this concert it is absolutely natural to play the Brazilian premiere of Arturo Márquez’ memorably passionate and beautiful Días de Mar y Río and of Marcela Rodríguez’ Flor Robada (Stolen Flower) #2: Arabesco, a piece which for me has a haunting Mediterranean flavour, always supple and vocal, sometimes plaintive and sometimes almost operatic in its reach and amplitude. Silvia Berg asks me to include a small group of the Rumor de Páramo pieces which I premiered here in 2009 –particularly Ibarra and Derbez– so I include those two pieces and add our dear Ramón Montes de Oca’s Ecos del llano, also a premiere in Brasil. So here is the program, and I give the details because my talk on Thursday turned significantly on the logic behind my selection of this repertoire:

CPE Bach Sonata Kenner und Liebhaber in d-minor, W.57/4 (III, 4)

Marcela Rodríguez Flor Robada #2 (Arabesco) (premiere in Brasil)

Silvia Cabrera Berg Autumn (World Premiere)


Three pieces from Rumor de Páramo:

Georgina Derbez Del viento, la esperanza (From the wind, hope)

Federico Ibarra Páramo pétreo (Páramo unyielding)

Ramón Montes de Oca Ecos del llano (Echoes of the Plain) (premiere in Brasil)

Joh. Brahms Klavierstücke Opus 118 I, II y VI

Arturo Márquez Días de mar y Río (premiere in Brasil)

The audience response was extraordinarily warm. While I was playing I felt that singular energy from the listeners that comes only from their complete concentration. And when I played the last note of Márquez –the lowest C on the piano, barely a whisper, I swear it’s the most difficult note of the entire piece– they WAITED until its last vibration had completely disappeared before erupting into applause. Standing O. I left the stage after many bows. And they wanted me back; so back I came. No way out: I played the encore I’d planned … and yes, it was Ponce: Plenilunio (Full Moon). From his inexhaustible vein of more popular music, and just lovely. So in fact I did fulfil my responsibilities towards the older music, as well as the more recent, of México.

Afterwards an unspeakably delicious caipirinha and sandwich at famous Pinguim, SO conveniently right next door to the Pedro II … and home to sleep like a baby.

jueves, 2 de septiembre de 2010


English below ...

Renovada, en la mañana acompaño a Silvia en su visita dominical a … ¡un mercado! Lo que en México llamamos “tianguis” – y exactamente igual. Asombrosa variedad de lechugas y papas (aquí batatas), mucho más que en México, al menos que en Guanajuato. Hay tamales aquí, sólo que se llaman pamoñas. Yo compro unas guayabas (en portugués brasileiro, goiabas) para tener en mi habitación en el hotel. Mucho más grandes y mucho más rosas por dentro que los que ahora hay en Guanajuato.
Después vamos a un restaurante de kilos: escoges lo que quieres comer, te pesan el plato y cobran de acuerdo al peso. Tailandés, pero más japonés según yo. Pura comida vegetariana, deliciosa. Una de las cosas que quiero comer aquí es comida japonesa, fue deliciosa cuando estuve aquí el año anterior. En la noche vamos a un lugar libanés: igual como en México DF, hay mucha presencia libanesa pero en Brasil es en todo el país. Me doy cuenta de que necesitaré mañana lunes para poner en forma tanto cerebro como cuerpo, para mi concierto el martes: primero que nada, porque mañana será mi primera oportunidad para estudiar desde inició este viaje el jueves pasado.

Renewed, I accompany Silvia on her Sunday-morning trip to the market! What in México we call a tianguis, and in many parts of the US, a farmers’ market. Astounding variety of lettuces and potatoes, much more than in México, at least more than in Guanajuato. I buy some lovely guayabas to have in my hotel room, much larger and pinker inside than the ones in Guanajuato in this season.
Then we go to a “kilo place” restaurant, where you choose your food, they weigh the plate, and then charge you accordingly. Supposedly Thai, but I found it more Japanese. One of the things I really want to do here is have Japanese food: my memory of it from my visit last year is that it was just delicious. In the evening we go to a Lebanese place: just as in the DF in Mexico there is a big Lebanese presence here, but in Brazil it is in the entire country. I am realizing that I need Monday to get my brain and body in shape for Tuesday’s concert – primordially because tomorrow will be my first chance to have time with a piano since this trip began last Thursday.


English below ...

Casi saliendo de la puerta en el aeropuerto del DF, el viernes 27, y no puedo dejar de sonreír, no sé porqué. No puedo zafarme de esta sensación de bienestar. Seguro que es el cambio de aire, que como siempre cuando viajo a tocar me doy permiso de zafarme, eso sí, de responsabilidades y obligaciones administrativas. Esta mañana incluso pude correr a Relaciones para firmar de recibido el boleto, y correr es casi literalmente lo que hice, saltando las escaleras del metro, pies y cuerpo llenos de energía. Antes fui a caminar y a correr en ese parque genial (cuyo nombre siempre olvido) en Adolfo Prieto con Portales en la del Valle donde me hospedé.

… Y qué bien. Más tarde necesitaría toda esa energía. Distaba de ser un viaje horroroso pero sí que larguísimo. Estuve muy emocionada por pisar tierra peruana por vez primera y en los hechos pude pisar más de lo anticipado, al menos en el aeropuerto. Cuando nuestro vuelo llegó a Lima, a eso de las 2300h, el vuelo a Sao Paulo que iba a salir a la 0100, se había cambiado a las 0300h. Sin explicación. De repente me vinieron a la mente varias historias de colegas de gira en América Latina, de vuelos cancelados y cambiados …

Aún así no pude dejar de sonreír, porque de por sí casi toda la experiencia fue chidísima. Del DF a Lima es con Aeroméxico y caramba, cada vez que vuelo con ellos quedo muy a gusto. Llegas a los 10 mil metros y ¡abracadabra! allí están con el carrito de bebidas y, poco después, con una comida caliente y buena.

En la casa de B la noche anterior conocí a una joven argentina que me platicó de un barcito en el aeropuerto de Lima donde se puede conseguir un buen pisco y algo que comer. Y así resultó –justo como ella dijo, ahí está el barcito, buena comida y café, sección de fumar y el arriba mencionado pisco. Además de mucha gente esperando sus vuelos a tiempo o cambiados. Genial. Compartí mesa (hay pocas) con un joven chileno regresando a Santiago de unas andanzas en Amazonas, una señora creo que también de Chile, un porteño-miamiano de vuelta a Miami. Éste último y yo, al estar informados que el barcito queda abierto todas las 24 horas, acordamos que esto no existe en EU: un aeropuerto que sigue abierto toda la noche. Allá los aeropuertos, a eso de las 2 de la madrugada, se ponen muy tétricos. ¡Aquí no! Aquí los viajeros son muy resistentes, pensé. Nada de berrinches, toda la gente tranquila.

Llegué a Ribeirao Preto unas 8 horas más tarde de lo anticipado: en la madrugada el aeropuerto de SP permaneció cerrado unas 3 horas por densa neblina. Guarulhos en el pandemonio total con cientos de personas intentando reagendar vuelos. No hubo manera de comunicarme con mi querida Silvia Berg, para avisarla que no iba a llegar en el vuelo acordado. No por primera vez maldecía la telefonía celular en distintos países. Pude hablar o enviar un mensajito de texto a México como si estuviera ahí; ¡pero no pude adivinar la configuración correcta para Brasil! No quise tomar el tiempo para ir a un lugar de telefonía porque no querría quitarme del mostrador por miedo de que me olvidaran a mí y a mi vuelito de una hora.

Así que en ese lapso sí que dejé de sonreír, principalmente por estar muy deshidratada, terriblemente urgida de un café y, con el tiempo, famélica; y para colmo asqueada por humo de diesel, guácala, que a menudo olfateaba DENTRO del aeropuerto.

Feliz final: después de estar pegada a la aerolínea como sanguijuela durante unas cuatro horas, logro que me den ¡un pase de abordar, qué milagro! para un vuelo que saldrá a las 1930h del otro aeropuerto de Sao Paulo. Y ¡qué cambio! Guarulhos, manicomio. Congolha, tranquilidad total. Toda la gente sonriente. Voy directamente al mostrador de TAM y no hay ningún pasajero. Aunque falten cuatro horas para el vuelo alegremente documentan mis maletas y no me dan lata respecto al peso. Cuando comento, en mi fracturado portuñol, que todo aquí parece muito mais relaxado que en Guarulhos el señor que me atiende rompe en una sonrisa enorme y me dice que SIM, aquí muito mais agradável. Como un sandwich, mucha agua, dos expressos doble, y salgo fuera. De repente recuerdo que Sao Paulo es una ciudad portuaria, que estamos cerca al mar – esa deliciosa brisa sólo puede venir del mar. Aquí el aire parece infinitamente más limpio que en Guarulhos.

Por eso llego a Ribeirao a las 2030h en lugar de a las 1200, válgame. Silvia me recoge y vamos a su depa que es casi como una casa de árboles, rodeado por palmeras. Pedimos deliciosa pizza; ella hace un jugo de mil frutas y me sirve cachaça del pueblo de su padre, igual como el moonshine que tengo en Guanajuato en una botella sin etiqueta y fenomenal, con un sutil sabor a melaza. Hablamos de Emmanuel Bach y de su propia música y de muchas cosas más: mucho agua bajo el puente desde nos vimos la última vez. Al rato me lleva al hotel y yo duermo como lirón durante unas nueve horas, bendito sueño, medicina más barata del mundo. ¡He vuelto a Brasil!


Almost pulling out of the gate in the DF, Friday the 27th, and I can’t stop smiling, don’t know why. Can’t get rid of this sensation of wellbeing. It must be the impending change of scenery, that --as always when I travel to perform—I give myself permission to let go of administrative responsibilities and obligations. This morning I even had time to run over to Relaciones to sign the paperwork in connection with the ticket, and run is almost literally what I did, bounding up and down the stairs of the Metro, feet and body just full of energy! Before, I was able to walk and run in that lovely park on Adolfo Prieto and Portales in the Colonia del Valle where I was staying with a friend.

… And what a good thing too. Later on I would need all that energy. It was certainly far from a horrible trip, but LONG it most certainly was. I was SO excited about stepping on Peruvian soil for the first time and as it turned out I walked on quite a lot more than I’d anticipated – at least in the airport! When our flight arrived in Lima, around 11pm, I found that the flight to Sao Paulo which was scheduled to leave at 1am, had been changed to 3am. No explanation. Suddenly come flooding into my mind all the stories I’d heard from colleagues on tour in Latin América of flights changed and cancelled … I found out the next day that the entire airport in SP was closed during some three hours because of dense fog.

Even so, I can’t stop smiling because almost the entire experience was so fun. From the DF to Lima was with Aeroméxico and jiminy, every time I fly with them I feel so well-treated. You get up to 35,000 feet and Abracadabra! they are right there with the drinks cart and a meal, hot and quite tasty.

In B’s apartment the night before, I met a young Argentinean woman who told me about a little bar in the Lima airport where you can get a good pisco sour and a bite to eat. And just as she said, there is the little bar, good snacks and coffee as well as the abovementioned pisco. Nice. I shared a table (there are only a few) with a young Chilean returning to Santiago from some wandering around the Amazon, a lady from (I think) another part of Chile, and an Argentinean-Miamian returning to the US from Buenos Aires. The latter and I agreed, upon being told that the bar is open TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY, that this does not exist in the US: an airport which truly stays open all night long. There, by around 2am the airports are pretty sad and spooky places. Not here! Here the travellers are made of tougher stuff, I thought. No temper tantrums, no road rage; every one is quite calm.

I arrived in RP some 8 hours later than scheduled: the entire Guarulhos airport in SP had been closed for some three hours early in the morning due to dense fog; and so I missed my connection. Guarulhos is a pandemonium, hundreds of people waiting to reschedule flights. No way to get in touch with my dear Silvia Berg, to let her know that I wasn’t on the originally-scheduled flight. Not for the first time, I cursed the different cellphone configurations in different countries. I could call or send a text-message to México but couldn’t figure out the proper code to call Silvia in Brazil! I didn’t want to take the time to go to a telefónica place: felt I couldn’t stop being present at the ticket counter because I was afraid I and my little one-hour flight would get lost in the general madness.

So it is true that for a little while in there I stopped smiling, mostly because I was becoming quite dehydrated and really wanting coffee, and, as time went on, HUNGRY; and to top it all off the area inside near the counter every 15 minutes or so would start to reek of diesel smog, yuck.

But happy ending. After sticking to the airline like a leech for some four hours, I am given a BOARDING PASS! – for a flight that will leave at 7:30pm from the other SP airport. And what a change! Guarulhos, a madhouse. Congolha, total peace and tranquillity. Everyone smiling … just like me, now. I go right to the TAM counter and there is nobody there! Altho there are four hours to go until my flight the people at the counter cheerfully check my bags, and give me no trouble about the weight. When I comment, in my fractured portuñol, that here everything seems much more relaxed. The young man at the counter breaks into a big smile and says, YES, much more pleasant here. I eat a sandwich, drink large quantities of water, two double expressos, and go outside. Suddenly I remember that Sao Paulo is a port city – this delicious breeze could come only from the ocean. Here the air seems infinitely cleaner than in Guarulhos.

So I arrive in Ribeirao Preto at 8:30pm instead of at noon, jiminy. Silvia picks me up and we go to her apartment which is like a tree-house, surrounded by palm trees. We order out delicious pizza; she makes a juice from many fruits and serves me cachaça from a bottle with no label, just like the moonshine I get in Guanajuato – and wonderful it is, with a delicate aftertaste of very dark brown sugar or almost of molasses. We talk of Emmanuel Bach and of her own music and of many other things: it’s been a lot of water under the bridge since last we saw each other. A little later she takes me to my hotel and I sleep like a baby for some nine hours. Blessed sleep, the cheapest medicine in the world. I’m back in Brazil!