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Daniel Rojas: Bliss of Heaven, Music of the New World

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  • Artist(s): Baldini Quartet, Daniel Rojas, Stephen Cuttriss
  • Composer(s): Astor Piazzolla, Consuelo Velázquez, Daniel Rojas, Jesus “Chucho” Valdes, Miguel Angel Hurtado, Zequinha de Abreu
  • EAN Code: 7.46160912141
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Chamber
  • Instrumentation: Bandoneon, Ensemble, Piano
  • Period: Contemporary, Modern
  • Publication year: 2021
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Description

As a Chilean-born composer and pianist living in Australia, I have nurtured a penchant for bringing Latin American vernacular music into the classical concert hall. Both of these musical traditions are widespread and possess an immense canon fashioned by many an inspired composer. Just as significant, both have been greatly impacted by a myriad of interactions with vernacular music over several centuries. A brief survey of the Western tradition may identify composers such as Mozart and Beethoven engaging with Turkish music, Bartók with Eastern European folk music, or Bizet and Debussy with Spain.
In Latin America, the interaction of European, African and Amerindian musics have, for centuries, created a plethora of vibrant traditions across a vast and complex geographic and demographic landscape. Each region has a complex family tree of genres, which can vary significantly even from one town to the next. It is hardly surprising that Latin America has become a haven for musical expression; to conjure an arcane metaphor, it has become a heavenly alchemical laboratory, where old and new musical currents catalyse a profusion of spiritous harmonies, melodies, rhythms, textures and timbres.
My musical ideas for this album were forged by the conflation of two distinct lifelong creative pursuits: composing a substantial portfolio of solo, chamber, vocal and orchestral music; and arranging for, and performing in Afro-Caribbean and tango ensembles. Consequently, I have sought to develop and embrace a broad musical language, where classical and Latin American traditions intersect in an alluring cultural and sonic dance. From the earliest stages, the arrangements and original compositions in this album were intended to be accessible to lovers of both traditions.
To this end, I deemed it apposite to collaborate with classical musicians based in Latin America. I was incredibly fortunate to meet with Maestro Emmanuele Baldini, who at the time was the artistic director of the Orquesta de Cámara de Valdivia, Chile, and wanted to programme one of my compositions for an upcoming season. A remarkable friendship ensued that flourished into an enthusiastic and serendipitous collaboration. Maestro Baldini perspicaciously curated a bespoke quartet of Brazilian musicians, all of whom possessed great instrumental skill, musical acuity and experience with various forms of Latin American music. The studio recording sessions were veritably magical: the personal and musical chemistry was palpable, synergistic and inspirational. Heaven blew us a kiss and we bathed in its bliss!
I composed SalTango as creative experiment conflating two prominent dance forms, salsa and tango. SalTango begins with a brisk tango-milonga, a genre that deploys the habanera rhythm, made famous in the West by Bizet’s opera, Carmen. Also notable is the chicharra (translates as cicada), a rhythmic “scraping” effect produced by pressuring the bow near the bridge of the violin or viola. This section is followed by a salsa-guaracha, which derives from Afro-Cuban music and consists of layers of interacting rhythmic ostinatos. During this section an improvised piano solo is followed by a buoyant mambo section, giving way to a sentimental episode featuring duelling violins.
Among Astor Piazzolla’s (1921-1992) most ubiquitous compositions, Libertango stands as a defiant nod toward the “reinvention” and “liberation” of tango, releasing it from the genre’s archaic “golden age” while threading classical and jazz influences. My version of Libertango further consolidates this notion by featuring an unequivocally classical inference by way of an unapologetic citation of J. S. Bach’s Prelude in C minor from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, which in turn becomes the accompaniment to the restatement of the melodic theme of Libertango. Notwithstanding, this performance maintains noteworthy stylistic tango gestures: the variación, a brisk and climatic virtuosic passage; the yumbao (pronounced shoom-bao), where low clusters are used on the offbeat as part of a comping pattern; the arrastre, which consists of rapidly ascending chromatic notes in the bass; and a 3+3+2 rhythmic pattern.
Bésame Mucho, was composed by Mexican pianist and composer, Consuelo Velázquez (1916-2005). Amid her prolific contribution, Bésame Mucho has become a seminal part of the vernacular repertoire of Latin America. The present performance being an instrumental version, it draws its mood from the essence and character of the lyrics. A young lover begs for many kisses amid the fear that they may soon be estranged. The longing is palpable in the lyrics and I have sought to portray this through various forms of harmonic dissonances and subtle gestural references to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.
Composed by the seminal Cuban pianist and composer, Jesus “Chucho” Valdés (b. 1941), Mambo Influenciado is an iconic composition that draws from both, Afro-Cuban music and jazz. In standard jazz practice, the main melody and chords (or “head” in jazz parlance) are presented at the beginning and end, with opportunities in between for the musicians to improvise over the given harmony. I have conceived this version of Mambo Influenciado in a similar vein. Opening with the main melody, an episode of jazz-influenced material ensues. However, in the spirit of the title’s “influenciado”, this performance soon enters baroque territory, exploring a series of solo and ensemble contrapuntal passages, which flourish into a piano toccata that subtly references J. S. Bach’s Prelude in B-flat of Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier. A jubilant mambo section gives way to the reinstatement of the main melody.
I conceived Navegar during a study trip to Buenos Aires in 2016. Being away from home and acutely aware of the ample time I had to ponder human experience, I composed this poignant piece which draws metaphoric parallels between sailing vast unknown waters and the uncertainties of life. Beyond such ineffable existential poetics, Navegar is a contemplative milonga campera, a slower sub-genre of tango that typically subdivides the rhythm into arpeggiated 3+3+2 patterns. This composition features the Australian bandoneonist, Stephen Cuttriss.
Valicha was composed by Peruvian school teacher and composer, Miguel Angel Hurtado (1922-1951), and has become an Andean cultural icon. This composition was inspired by, and dedicated to Valeriana Huillca Condori (diminutively, Valicha), who was considered the most beautiful girl of the pueblo. Their romance, however, was furtive and subsequently estranged. The genre of this composition is the huayno, which is characterised by its lively simple duple time, rhythmic syncopation, and what I like to refer to as the Andean cadence: alternating tonalities, such as a passage of major harmonies ultimately resolving to a minor chord.
Brother was inexplicably composed in a matter of minutes, catalysed by news of a poignant episode in a close family member’s life. I recall shutting myself in a random practice studio at the University of Sydney, and swiftly notating the musical ideas that poured so abundantly from layers of overwhelming emotion. Composing and recording this piece has revealed to me the formidable powers of human empathy, which I trust is encompassed by the unhurried valse feel, tapestry of instrumental timbres, and an expertly executed bandoneon performance by Stephen Cuttriss. Entwined in the harmonic language and the melodic contours is perhaps embedded a modicum of hope: a reminder that amid any disappointment, beauty, time and probability remain constants.
Hanacpachap Cussicuinin in its original form was conceived as a religious composition for choir and accompanying early baroque instruments. This title can be translated as “The Joy of Heaven”, or as I prefer, “The Bliss of Heaven” from the original autochthonous tongue, Quechua. Composed and appearing in print during the early decades of the 1600s in Peru, the composer’s identity remains unknown. Some music historians have hypothesised that the composer may have been indigenous, in part due the allusions to syncretic Old and New World religious imagery in the text. Musically, the texture is consistent with adept early baroque polyphony. My arrangement of this historic piece opens and closes with the original printed composition. The intermediary sections feature music I constructed based on the original harmony and derived from baroque counterpoint, but taking some modern stylistic liberties.
Composed by Brazilian composer, Zequinha de Abreu (1880-1935), Tico Tico No Fuba (Sparrow on the Cornmeal) is widely regarded as one of the most famous choros. Inherently an instrumental form, any text associated with this choro was not conceived until years after the music was composed. The title is sufficiently evocative, however, and it is in this vein that the present version retains a virtuosic and jovial character. Moreover, it embraces elements of Brazilian music in a manner reminiscent of Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche, 3rd movement, where one can hear gestures not only of the choro, but also of samba and bossa nova.
The closing track of this album, Balada Idílica is an original composition reminiscent of the music of Italian film composer, Ennio Morricone, and of romantic works such as Franz Liszt’s Liebestraum and John Field’s Nocturnes. This composition undergoes various episodes of contrasting textures and harmonic realms, but are extracted from the undulating opening melody. Balada Idílica is a personal expression of unsettled sentiments, an enigmatic drama playing out between yearning, nostalgia and aspiration. The almost-resolved ending in this piece welcomes the opportunity for a new beginning.

Album notes by Daniel Rojas

Artist(s)

Baldini Quartet: Emmanuele Baldini (Violin I) is a violinist, conductor and educator. Concertmaster of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) and founder of the OSESP Quartet, he is also the artistic director and Sphaera Mundi, and between 2017 and 2020 directed the Orquesta de Cámara de Valdivia, Chile. He has a formidable discography as a soloist, ensemble and orchestral musician. Violin model: Luiz Amorim

Amanda Martins (Violin II) is a member of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra (OSESP), the Percorso Ensemble and Escualo Ensemble, performing across diverse musical genres. In Brazil, she studied with Professor Elisa Fukuda and subsequently graduated from the Mozarteum Universität in Salzburg, under the guidance of Klara Flieder. Violin model: Luiz Amorim

Elisa Monteiro (Viola) holds a bachelor’s degree in viola from the Universidade de São Paulo.
She has participated in numerous national and international festivals. She was the section leader of the Orquestra de Câmara Da Eca (OCAM) in 2002 and has played in several orchestras in Brazil. She is the violist of the Quadril String Quartet, the Original Quartet and the Lyric Ensemble. Viola model: J. T. Lamy

Rafael Cesário (Cello) holds a master’s degree from the Universidade de São Paulo. He obtained the Diploma de Perfectionnement by the Jury at the Conservatoire départemental du Val de Biévre, Paris. An active chamber musician, he has also performed as a soloist with the Orquestra do Theatro São Pedro - São Paulo, Orquestra Sinfônica de São José dos Campos, Camerata Fukuda, Orquestra Acadêmica de São Paulo, Orquestra Sinfônica de Paraná, among others. He is a member of the String Quartet of the City of São Paulo and teaches at the Baccarelli Institute. Cello: F. B. Fischer, 1890

Daniel Rojas: Daniel Rojas is an award-winning composer specialising in the rich and vibrant Latin American aesthetic, and as a performer, widely recognised as Australia’s tango piano specialist, with stunning improvisations at the keyboard. Rojas graduated with the University Medal and subsequently earned a doctoral degree in composition from the University of Sydney where he currently leads the composition program. He has received several prizes including the Fellowship of Australian Composers Award, Frank Albert Prize, and Miriam Hyde Memorial Award. He has led an active career as composer-in-residence with various orchestras and educational organisations, and has received commissions and performances from numerous soloists, ensembles and orchestras, including the Kammer Ensemble, Ars Musica Australis, Omega Ensemble, Hourglass Ensemble, percussionist Claire Edwardes, pianist Zubin Kanga, soprano Jane Sheldon, guitarist Andrew Blanch, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellows. Rojas has performed extensively across numerous festivals and stages, such as the Sydney Festival, Adelaide Festival, Melbourne Recital Centre, and Sydney Opera House. Rojas performs his concertante works as soloist, including his Piano Concerto No. 1, “The Latin”, and, most recently his Libertango Suite premiered with The Metropolitan Orchestra, Sydney.
http://www.danielrojas.com.au/

Stephen Cuttriss: Stephen Cuttriss is both performer and ethnomusicologist, entangled in the tradition of Argentinian tango. Mastering the enigmatic instrument - the bandoneón, he has become a leading exponent of tango music in Australia. He has performed and recorded with prominent classical musicians, and is the co-founder and director of the Mendoza Tango Quartet and the Melbourne Tango Orchestra. Bandoneón model: Premier

Composer(s)

Astor Piazzolla: (b Mar del Plata, 11 March 1921; d Buenos Aires, 5 July 1992). Argentine composer, bandleader and bandoneón player. A child prodigy on the bandoneón, Piazzolla and his family emigrated to New York in 1924; in his teens he became acquainted with Gardel, for whom he worked as a tour guide, translator and occasional performer. Piazzolla returned to Buenos Aires in 1937 where he gave concerts and made tango arrangements for Aníbal Troilo, a leading bandleader; he also studied classical music with Ginastera. In 1944 Piazzolla left Troilo’s band to form the Orquesta del 46 as a vehicle for his own compositions. A symphony composed in 1954 for the Buenos Aires PO won him a scholarship to study in Paris with Boulanger, who encouraged him in the composition of tangos; the following year he resettled in Argentina and formed the Octeto Buenos Aires and, later, the Quinteto Nuevo Tango, which performed at his own club, Jamaica. Piazzolla left Argentina in 1974, settling in Paris, where he composed a concerto for bandoneón and a cello sonata for Rostropovich, among other works.
Piazzolla’s distinctive brand of tango, later called ‘nuevo tango’, initially met with resistance. Including fugue, extreme chromaticism, dissonance, elements of jazz and, at times, expanded instrumentation, it was condemned by the old-guard, including not only most tango composers and bandleaders but also Borges, whose short story El hombre de la Esquina Rosada was the basis for Piazzolla’s El tango (1969); like tango itself, Piazzolla’s work first found general approval outside Argentina, principally in France and the USA. By the 1980s, however, Piazzolla’s music was widely accepted even in his native country, where he was now seen as the saviour of tango, which during the 1950s and 60s had declined in popularity and appeal. In the late 1980s Piazzolla’s works began to be taken up by classical performers, in particular the Kronos Quartet, who commissioned Five Tango Sensations (1989). In all he composed about 750 works, including film scores for Tangos: the Exile of Gardel (1985) and Sur (1987). Shortly before his death, he was commissioned to write an opera on the life of Gardel.

Daniel Rojas: Daniel Rojas is an award-winning composer specialising in the rich and vibrant Latin American aesthetic, and as a performer, widely recognised as Australia’s tango piano specialist, with stunning improvisations at the keyboard. Rojas graduated with the University Medal and subsequently earned a doctoral degree in composition from the University of Sydney where he currently leads the composition program. He has received several prizes including the Fellowship of Australian Composers Award, Frank Albert Prize, and Miriam Hyde Memorial Award. He has led an active career as composer-in-residence with various orchestras and educational organisations, and has received commissions and performances from numerous soloists, ensembles and orchestras, including the Kammer Ensemble, Ars Musica Australis, Omega Ensemble, Hourglass Ensemble, percussionist Claire Edwardes, pianist Zubin Kanga, soprano Jane Sheldon, guitarist Andrew Blanch, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellows. Rojas has performed extensively across numerous festivals and stages, such as the Sydney Festival, Adelaide Festival, Melbourne Recital Centre, and Sydney Opera House. Rojas performs his concertante works as soloist, including his Piano Concerto No. 1, “The Latin”, and, most recently his Libertango Suite premiered with The Metropolitan Orchestra, Sydney.
http://www.danielrojas.com.au/

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