There is no bigger excitement for a composer than to receive a commission. Some would say than is better to get a premiere or a piece performed many times but, in my case, I love to compose so getting the opportunity to write new music its always a delight. I prefer this because it involves a process I strongly respect. When a composer receives a commission its because a musician(s) or ensemble have esteem and trust in the composer’s artistic craftsmanship. For this reason, I find great joy and enthusiasm when I receive such opportunity.
In this particular case, Puerto Rico’s most talented and respected harpist, Elisa Torres, entrusted me to create a piece of music for Guitar, Cello and Harp. Any musician would definitely agree that this is not only a peculiar combination but also a very complex and risky one to compose to. The cello and harp combination is rather common and their tone colors combine in a cohesive and balancing manner. Now, adding the guitar, that’s a whole different story…
Guitar and harp are both plucked strings instruments, and although they are radically different, they could sound very alike. Besides the sounding similarities, there is an obvious projection problem. You have instruments like the harp and cello that have evolved through years to be able to coexist-in and act-as orchestral instrument and even to be main stars in big concertos like the ferocious Ginastera’s Harp Concerto or the elegant Gliere’s Harp Concerto and the emotional Elgar’s Cello Concerto or the bewildering Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto. In the case of the guitar, yes we have the famous Rodrigo’s Concierto de Arajuez for guitar and orchestra and a bunch of other beautiful guitar concertos from Luigi Boccherini to Villa-Lobos, Leo Brower and even from dear friend and fellow Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero. But when you study all these compositions the approach is basically the same; the guitar must play alone or with very little accompaniment so its beauty and finesse can shine. This distinct challenges in composing a chamber work for guitar, cello and harp totally fueled my intentions to make serious and noteworthy piece. I mean, if you are having such a mix, you should make something interesting and worthwhile out of it, right?!
When I received this commission I went back to one particular visit I had to the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico’s National Museum of Art) a couple of years ago, I vividly remembered one of the paintings in their permanent collection, Éxodo II by the prize-winning artist Rafael Trelles. And right then and there I knew I wanted to make a composition based on that painting. I decided to hastily call Rafael so I could get the insight of his creative process and the message he wanted to communicate with his painting, so I could do justice to his beautiful but yet imposing piece of art. When I finished the piece I received the great news that the museum was celebrating a special trajectory anniversary in association with the Sala de Exposición de Arte Fundación Ángel Ramos (SalaFAR) and one of the paintings representing the years of trajectory was Trelles’ Éxodo II. So some people might say the planets aligned in a funny way to make this happen.
Compared to the painting, the work is conceived from the bottom to the top. The construction of the piece consists of contrasting musical segments that attempt to describe the desolate city, the characters in the flying machine, their journey and the sky; four key elements represented in Trelles’ painting. Thus an atmosphere of a story is created, in which the characters represented in the painting leave the city to reach heaven.
La Urbe (The city) (first segment) aim to describe the desolate and even post-apocalyptic character that Trelles manifested in the bottom of the painting. The musical atmosphere suggests a severe sense of hopelessness and resignation.
Universales del Tiempo (Universals of Time) (second segment) try to describe not only the characters but their motivation to escape the city; materializing the exodus in the title. Trelles embodies his characters with time-based characteristics inconsistent with illustrated city. Taking this contradiction as a basis, the characters are described as entities of change and movement capable of recognizing the elements of need and operate for their consummation.
El Vuelo (The Flight) (third segment), with its high speed and great musical and sonorous contrast, this segment shows the movement of the flying machine on the ascent but also the critical decision the characters took to embark on this adventure. The decision to undertake an exodus comes saturated with exciting emotions as well as unexpected eventualities.
Primo Mobile (fourth segment). In the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, the Primo Mobile or Ninth Celestial Sphere is defined as the last sphere of the physical universe and home of the angels. God from the Empyrean, moves it directly and its motion causes all the spheres it encloses to move. Trelles represents the sky in his paintings, although very sympathetic in color to the city in the bottom, very contrasting in relation to the rest of the painting. Musically the characters finish their exodus in this sky symbolizing the hope and delight in which could end an adventure that with courage is commenced. But as the work closes, with a dissimilar atmosphere, the same musical theme from the begin is heard.
Have the characters really arrived at the transparent sanctity of hope and change or just the illusory beginning of what will be another “city”?