THIS IS REAL, THIS IS MINE ... FOR NOW. SOON I GIVE IT TO THE UNIVERSE.
I have to set this down now, NOW, while it is hot in my mind. English, Spanish, whatever comes first to mind. Forgive me …. Maybe something more coherent will come out later …
I am listening to the pre-master of this first disc of Canto de la Monarca and I want to tell you all that I was right, I was not crazy, this music is MAGNIFICENT, it is magnificent all together, IT WORKS.
Other interpreters -many others I hope— will play this music … because it is SO good, so fruitful, so rewarding, so exciting. But right now, right this minute, it is mine, because I helped to inspire it, I have been la partera, the midwife, the one who helped to bring it into the world; and right now as at all births I suppose, I am crying tears of mingled joy and exhaustion and pride.
I was Right to start with Cruz de Castro’s María Sabina, it is a beckoning finger into the mystery and the exhilaration of all these women, of all this music inspired in them. And in their DIGNITY. At the end, María Sabina walks away with a firm step into the misty Oaxaca mountains of her homeland –still mysterious in the México of 2013— and some part of me believes that she is still alive up there, or her spirit is.
That is my imagining. My imagining which has a huge amount to do with how I prepared the interpretation of all these pieces. Anyone who says that one shouldn’t imagine colours, waves, personalities, rage, delight, sensuality, a thousand different kinds of light, countless ways to fly, fifty-seven words for snow, when one plays music … is just crazy, or has never loved.
And it is right to follow with Jack Fortner’s Retrato de Malintzin because it beckons further into the mystery, but centuries ago. But maybe now too? This is México, in so many ways we are a non-Western country. Some people didn’t like this piece of Jack’s –at least at first— I think partly because they remembered the drama of Vine a Comala (I Came to Comala) the heart-stopping mini-opera he wrote for Rumor de Páramo. This piece is completely different: it is slow, mysterious; it takes its own sweet time to reveal itself, it is operating on another sort of time. It’s critically important to remember what he says in his note on the piece: that it’s a portrait of Malintzin seen through the eyes of Cortés. I take a minute to imagine this, and I realize that it’s almost impossible to imagine. I mean, think about it: what would that man have made of that woman?? The music beckons, it yearns, it hints at menace and suddenly withdraws into the shadows, becomes ardent and then in a split second moves away again.
The complex connection between Europe, particularly Spain, and México –grosso modo, the connection between the Old World and the New—will become a persistent theme in this album. Wait and see …
The menace implicit --or at least imagined-- in Fortner’s piece becomes real violence in Marcela Rodríguez’ El silencio, en fin, todo lo ocupaba (Silence, in the end, filled everything). Huge clusters made by my forearms and palms, of which the grandest and most enormous is the final one which ends the piece, a giant sound like that of an organ which makes the iPod, the iPad, the stereo system, your very bones as you listen, vibrate like the cathedral organ which, centuries ago, the devout thought was the very Voice of God. But then the clusters become delicate too, responding to some other impulse than that of raw power and the force of violence. There are moments of great lyricism; but they are, in the end, fleeting. This piece is full of turmoil and doubt and menace. Is that great cluster at the end the triumph of Sor Juana’s luminous intellect and spirit, or the ever more present menace of the heretics’ bonfire which the malefic Aguiar y Seijas so desired for her? I don’t know: maybe both.
I am right also to follow this densest of pieces with Alba Potes’ Desde el aire: Seis instantes (From the Air: Six Instants). Anything but dense, such fragile textures which still manage to be brutal and also tremendously evocative. I listen to these six micro-pieces now –finished, done, somehow it is all REAL now, made more permanent by the regal Yamaha C5 and the astonishing recording of Roberto and Kenji— and it’s like looking at those photos of the Tsunami in Japan or of Hurricane Sandy in the US a few months ago. The titles are things like Certainty-Uncertainty, The games are over, Aprisa (hurried) … The haunting end of the second is the upbeat –in fact, the first and second both are the BIG upbeat-- to the third (The Games are over), oh Jesus, the terrible regret after that precipitous fall, like the fall of Lucifer, like the fall of a million dead butterflies, Jesus, what do we do to the innocent of our world? And the first note of the last piece is like the knell of doom. All done, all finished … and We have Done This. Such terrible sadness in so few notes.
Tomás Marco’s amazing Nymphalidae follows, and yes, it is the palate-cleanser. There is a kind of affectionate good humour about the first one, which incorporates, says Marco in his note, an old folksong from Castilla-La Mancha. But the second one, Sor Juana’s Butterfly, says everything about persistence, about the occasional doubting heart, the voice cut off or silenced, about tenacity and fragility. The third --Adelita-- is the first micro-rondo I have ever seen in my life, and it Really Works! With even references to the most Classical Rondo you can imagine. Some people may dismiss this music, but Oh Come On! It is witty, it is moving, it convinces me. This is the beautiful palate-cleansing triptych of the album, and boy do we need it.
Because next comes Griffin, Charlie Griffin’s formidable Like water dashed from flowers. Maybe it’s here that the connection between México and Spain hits hardest. So complex. The hurting heart, the rage of refusal. The evocation of water that runs through a vital vein through this piece. The hieratic opening, the water that brings us into the dream –or the reality—the force of the foot on the earth or on the tablao, the force of the voice. The piece formally comes close to the structure of the fandango and the part where the zapateado begins is heart-stopping. If I do say so myself. Now the feet are all evoked by the piano, the impact of the heel on the wood of the improvised platform-stage, the arrogant in-your-face gesture, the energy that overwhelms us like a huge wave; all of this is now in the piano. No more sound-effects. And at the end, after all the rage and all the craziness, the water comes back. We are in the water. Ductile, mobile, somehow neutral. Where we cleanse ourselves, where our heart is broken and where, we hope, it may be mended.
Am I right to end this disc with what I think of as the Ecstatic Pieces –first Uribe, then Barker, then Berg? I’ve known for six months that this first Monarca album must end with Berg: it is the incarnation of terrible loss, heartbreak, love and redemption. It is in some way the alchemy of all creation. Life breaks our heart; music and art and dance transform that trip into the abyss into wings which bear us into the sky.
Uribe IS The Flight: the Night Voyage of Quetzañpapálotl. The thunder of wings, the urgency of that irrepressible desire to take flight. The tenderness and joy of floating , planing on the thermals in the midnight sky. And at the end that impossibly long phrase, the one that goes on forever and that took me forever to learn how to sustain, that always brings tears of joy to my eyes. And how does he end, my dearest Horacio? With a perfect Chorale: at once grave, thoughtful, still yearning upward, tender, with hints of delight, and at the very end, the very very end … that seventh chord that makes us realize this is a continuum. That there is, really, no end.
Barker’s Malinche is the last portrait of Malintzin on this album. Hard to think of a more extraordinary evocation of triumph and beauty and, at the end, loneliness. The echoing bells-rattles-vibrating branches, the trumpets, the song, gradually crescendoing into the use of the entire instrument, every register, in every volume from the softest most distant bass –what I think of EVERY time I play this piece, as THE DEPTHS OF TIME- to a shimmering treble which also metamorphoses into a rumbling bass of distant thunder which becomes, yes, the enormous, technicolour moment of this piece, the moment in which lightning cracks over the mountains and illuminates everything. This is no humble submissive woman given as a gift to assuage the possible tantrums of the conqueror: NO. This is incredible strength and resourcefulness, this is tenderness, this is the loneliness too. Because at the end, with that unison E-flat dying away into silence, she is alone. Ay dios mío.
And yes, Berg’s El sueño … el vuelo (The Dream … the Flight) has to end this album. At the beginning you might think this is the balm after so much emotional mayhem. And in a way it is. But there is a whole lot more than that. This is the piece, of all the pieces on this album, that breaks your heart and then repairs it. That first hint of wings at the beginning of the second section, that becomes almost angry and then dies away. And then the first faint fluttering, of wings that barely dare to imagine that they could be powerful enough to fly; that yes! then explore almost the entire keyboard, uniting it and bringing it together, first with hesitance and delicacy and then with absolute certainty and authority … only to have it all fly away into the air, gone, with the barest hint of regret or a premonition of loss. But then the wings are back … at first we’re not sure, but YES, they are back, they are here, they bear us once again almost into the stratosphere and then … and then, dear God, comes that One Sad Chord that also makes me cry every time I play it, that really does break my heart. The very last part is, yes again, a comforting voice, long slow movement, no more fluttering now or beating of wings; but even then, EVEN THEN, those wings appear once more to show us the way into the sky. That is why Berg must end this recording.
That’s it, that’s all. It is now, only now, finally now, that this is all real. All this work, all this faith, all this looking for those wings showing me the way into the sky. The dream … the flight. This is why I am crying right now, people, because before all flight comes a dream, and this dream is finally flying.