It is dark, it is mysterious; it is filled with fury, it is filled with light. There are moments like birdsong –a memory from her childhood? I can’t help thinking of Mónica Lavín’s lyrical descriptions of the grandfather’s library;- there are moments of tenderness. Indicated that way in the score: con ternura, with tenderness. Drama, movement. Restlessness. My mind which so loves a story feels that this is her restless curiosity, her endlessly seeking mind. I am talking about Sor Juana’s mind. She is the muse of Pilar Jurado’s work Primero Sueño, the first piece on the second Monarca disc.
All through learning and preparing and memorising Jurado’s piece since mid-2010 (yikes!), off and on I would be struck by how operatic it is; I would think about characters both physical and metaphorical, think about how that meant the music must be. I annotated my score in terms of the organization of an opera: Overture, Act I, Act II, etc. Sometime in May of this year I wrote on a post-it in the score, “Might it be that this entire piece is the Overture to an opera which has yet to be written?”
I believe it is. I believe that is why it works so magnificently as the first piece of this second Monarca disc. It is an Overture. In one way or another it prefigures almost every other piece on this recording.
It is followed by Wallach’s Lágrimas y Locuras: Mapping the Mind of a Madwoman. The piece, in effect a Fantasy on the Mexican folktune La Llorona, staggers along, raving and stumbling on the edge of disaster. I realized that I must be willing to dance on the precipice when I play it, there’s no being safe with this piece: the minute I do it’s Sleepy-time.
The composer is emphatic that she does not seek to tell the story of La llorona, but rather to explore the emotional landscape of this woman “at war with her own history” who wanders eternally along the rivers of all Mexico, searching for her lost, drowned children. Not much light here, in spite of the pianistic brilliance of the piece, and in spite of the beautiful and –here in Mexico- universally-known melody. The memory of happiness, or of its illusion. Fury, indeed; and the loneliness with which it goes hand in hand.
That fury finds an echo in certain parts of McNeff’s extraordinary Evening with doña Eduviges (una Fantasia). This is a far more complex woman than the one of whom McNeff paints a portrait in the gorgeous Pavane (in the old way) for doña Susanita which he composed for Rumor de Páramo. She is capable of anger –and indeed, there are moments of crazy brutality in this piece, fury here too, out of control. At the same time, like every human I suppose, she longs for the warmth of the sun, for love and for beauty. She is quite willing to accept cheap substitutes --that drop-dead gorgeous melody to which McNeff give the indication “cheaply” … oh Cervantes, here is where you have to be a real Interpreter-- ; so I decided that the first time I would play it almost Liberace-style, very manneristic and overdone, like cheap perfume. But the second time, when it returns almost at the very end – what then? No, here is where for just a moment we glimpse her true and unarmoured heart; here it’s no longer meretricious but utterly open. A couple of measures to make you weep for everything that’s been lost or denied, to all people everywhere.
And then YES, the palate-cleanser: Georgina Derbez’ piece whose muse is, I confess with due modesty but great honour, Ana Cervantes. Direct and urgent as an arrow, it calls us up into the heavens. It clears away the rage, it clears away the memories of brutality and silence, lies and loss.
Lavista … what do I say? This piece GLISTENS, it turns slowly in the light and --like all of Lavista’s music-- lures our ears and our imagination ineluctably into its world.
I feel that Mujer pintando … is far more complex in terms of affekt than Páramos de Rulfo which Lavista wrote for Rumor. Its muse is Joy Laville, the British painter who has lived for years in Mexico and is the widow of the great Mexican writer Jorge Ibargüengoitia.
The piece for me has a Byzantine opulence. I say Byzantine not in the sense of unnecessary complications but rather to evoke something which springs from more than one world, as in something from both East and West, for example. There are moments in which to my ears it turns openly voluptuous, there are moments in which it has all the determination and boldness of those intrepid late-19th-century English adventurer-women who, disguised as men and risking death, penetrated the sacred and men-only city of Mecca .
I suppose it’s important to know that I received this piece on 20 June, when I was three days away from the end of that little tour in my home state of Guanajuato. I had very little time and energy for entering into the whole new world which is learning a piece by Mario Lavista. I have said for some years that the creative process is not like going to the corner store for a quart of milk. This time my conviction was tested to the limits.
I left it open. Various people said I had every right to not record it. The composer himself left it open. But JIMINY, this is Mario Lavista, one of our greatest living composers, who has done me the honour of composing not one but TWO pieces for my commissioning projects. How could I not find a way to record this piece?!
Hard to believe that we did all of this in slightly more than one week. But we did.
Several people said to me, But that’s so little time! I suppose so … but it’s important to remember three things. First, I arrived ready to record. Hard to pin this down exactly, but I felt that I arrived ready to record not only musically and technically but also spiritually and emotionally. Does that sound really pyramids-and-crystals? … but that is how it was.
Second, I and audio engineer Roberto de Elías plus Second Engineer Kenji Calderón understand each other very well and have what I can only describe as a superb working relationship. I have total confidence in their ears and in their technical ability.
Third, having a magnificent concert instrument on which to record – and a magnificent piano technician on call for tuning touch-ups and for voicing hammers. In both January and July I felt incredibly and totally supported as regards the piano. Thank you MAESTRO Alejandro CUbillo, thank you Yamaha México!!
I want to mention again something I said here in January: this work of voicing hammers is something for which no mechanical substitute will ever be found, EVER. It is a joint effort between technician and pianist: a miracle of ears, touch, and intense concentration on the part of both.
Monday the 8th, as you know, the phenomenal Yamaha C7 arrived. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, we recorded, one by one, each of the six other pieces of this second disc, starting with Wallach and finishing with Ortiz.
Except Lavista …
That Thursday, together with my fabulous engineering team I made two decisions:
First, that on Friday and Saturday 2nd Engineer Kenji and I would do all the editing for the pieces we’d recorded so far; and second, that I’d come on Monday 15 to the studio and practice Lavista. If I had energy after all the editing on Saturday, I’d stay on and practice a bit. If not, I would study the piece away from the piano on Sunday. I badly wanted for us all to have Sunday to rest ears, mind, concentration, soul.
And so it was. By Saturday afternoon we’d finished all the edits. And, of course, to nobody’s surprise, I hadn’t the slightest energy to stay and practice. It would have been a slap in the face to that piece. Kenji gave me a ride, as always, to the Coyoacán metro station. On Sunday, as I’d wished, we all rested. I made a loin of pork cooked in orange juice and white wine with garlic and finished at the very last minute with chunks of fresh mango. YUMMM, B*** and I enjoyed it with new potatoes and salad and a lovely Argentinean Sauvignon Blanc. Later, after the coffee, I spent some time looking at the Lavista score. Everything in me just wanted to look and think, listen inside me and think about sound and gesture and rhythm, make a map of architecture and affekts.
Monday I went and practiced, the first time I’d been alone in the studio. So lovely, a good four hours there just with that piece. Very restorative, I think as I go out for comida at the Sushi Itto, to go back to that disciplined, elemental process of getting inside a piece. I wrote in my notebook,
What a pleasure to practice, really practice, as one practices when entering the space of a new piece! Today it’s as though I’d rested for days on end instead of just yesterday. I feel that I’m seeing tons of things and I am falling totally in love with this piece.
So Tuesday we did it. We recorded Mujer pintando en cuarto azul (Woman Painting in a Blue Room), of Mario Lavista. It is not what it will be in six months and it is not perfect (as though anyone really cared about that). But I believe I communicate --with the help of that wonderful Yamaha C7-- the opulence and the gleam or the top, the velvet of the bass; most of the sonic, gestural, and rhythmic qualities which I wanted to make real. And I think I did a reasonable job of the architecture. A lot of different spaces in that piece!
And I recorded Uribe again. It was like dessert after the long rich meal of recording.
Those of you who read this Blog back in January when I finished recording the first disc will remember how sure I was about the order … well, this is why we often need to take time and listen, and reflect, and feel, and listen again. So it was that sometime in mid-March, after listening to the pre-master of the first disc a number of times just me and also with people whose ears I enormously respect, I decided that it should open with Horacio Uribe’s El viaje nocturno de Quetzalpapálotl / The Night Voyage of Quetzalpapálotl.
I am listening to the master of this disc as I write and I am realizing: after that arrow-straight piece of Derbez, there is no more pain shut away and silenced, there is no more fury. How is it that all that gets left behind? But it does.
Now all that is left is patience, ecstasy, energy, and joy.
Anne LeBaron chose Remedios Varo for her muse; and in particular, Varo's painting Creación de las Aves (Creation of the Birds). For me this piece says it all about the essential tension between that rhapsodic moment of ideation and imagination; and the discipline and patience required to make the idea real.
In her note on the piece, LeBaron says “The origin of life is … transformed … into a warm-blooded miracle, a song taking flight.” This piece also has –for me- moments of absolutely earthy hip-revolving voluptuousness. And also humour: I am quite positive that there are two measures which refer specifically to the Creation of the Pelican!
And we end with Gabriela Ortiz’ Preludio y Estudio No 3 Jesusa Palancares. The Prelude is the early-morning mist on the Isthmus of Tehuántepec, shot through with brief gleams of sunlight; the Study is the indomitable energy of this woman. It is, at moments, coquettish or playful, it has delicacy and also sensuality, but more than anything else it is irruptive, volcanic, triumphant.
And that is how we end, after so much patience: with ecstasy and energy. Triumphant!!