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.”