Signum Records has just released a double CD of seven orchestral works by Gustavo Díaz-Jerez inspired by the Canary Islands, performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the baton of Eduardo Portal. Composers Edition’s Késia Decoté talks with composer and conductor about the project, collaborations and creative processes.
Késia Decoté: First of all, what a great recording. I listened to the album in one go, and it was like a musical journey through landscape colours and imagery. Bravi! Gustavo, we know that you were born in the Canary Islands, then I imagine that this album has a special significance to you. How did this idea of writing music inspired by the Canary Islands start?
Gustavo Díaz-Jerez: The project started in 2008 when I was commissioned to write an orchestral piece for the Hungarian Chamber Symphony Orchestra, which was premiered during a European tour that year. The piece in question was Aranfaybo, which is inspired by the island of El Hierro (the smallest of the Canary Islands). A few years later, in 2012, I was commissioned to compose another piece for the Canary Islands Music Festival. On that occasion I wrote Ymarxa, which is inspired by Tenerife (my home island). The work was premiered by the Royal Phiharmonic Orchestra with Charles Dutoit conducting. Two of the remaining five pieces were premiered by the Symphonic Orchestra of Tenerife. The last three works (Erbane, Azaenegue, and Guanapay) were composed last. In all, Maghek is the result of ten years of my compositional work. I am very excited about this album, as a composer I could not be happier with the result.
KD: I would love to hear more about your composer-conductor collaboration. How it started, and the work you’ve done together?
GDJ: I met maestro Eduardo Portal in 2012 during a concert with the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Comunidad de Madrid where I played the solo piano part in Poulenc’s Aubade. I gave Eduardo the score and the recording of the premiere of Ymarxa. A few months later I received an email from him me how much he liked the piece, and that he would like, in the future, to record my music. In 2014 we tried to make a recording of the pieces I had already composed but unfortunately we could not find the necessary funding. In 2018 Eduardo was awarded one of the “Leonardo” grants from the Spanish Fundación BBVA, one of the most important in Spain. Thanks to this and with the collaboration of the Cabildos (Councils) of Tenerife and Gran Canaria and Gobierno de Canarias we could finally make the recording. I feel very lucky to have worked with Eduardo. He’s a wonderful conductor who is truly committed to contemporary music. We have spent many months of preparation, with literally hundreds of emails and WhatsApps resolving doubts and debating the musical intricacies of the works.
KD: Gustavo, your compositional language merges elements from the spectralist movement with mathematical processes. However, the music of Maghek is inspired by the landscape and stories of a specific place, and sounded both greatly evocative and emotional. How did you combine your compositional processes with such subjective source of inspiration?
GDJ: The main idea behind Maghek is to portray, to musically evoke, the natural beauty of the Canary Islands, from a metaphorical, poetic perspective. I’ve been fascinated by science since I was a child. In my compositional language I use mathematics and computation to generate structures that I later translate into musical notation to create raw musical “prime matter”. I am especially fond of fractal geometry and fluid dynamics, branches of mathematics which can be used to describe many natural phenomena: self-similar structures (like plants), fluids and gasses, granular flow, etc. This musical prime matter undergoes a very elaborate (and creative) process in order to adapt it to the orchestral texture and instrumental possibilities, often employing extended techniques and micro-tonality. In addition, the narrative flow of the pieces draws inspiration from the mythology and culture of the islands.
KD: Eduardo, you are particularly committed to contemporary music. Tell me what attracts you in this repertoire, and the experience of linking new music and historical masterpieces.
Eduardo Portal: I find that contemporary music is at least as thrilling as the music written in any other period. The bonus of contemporary music is that it has been written recently, and you have the unique opportunity of bringing it to life. In the particular case of Maghek, written by Gustavo Diaz-Jerez, I feel that there is a high artistic value combined with a strong connection between the music and the listener. From the first time I approached this music, I noticed a genuine search for beauty, masterful orchestration and a really moving musical depiction of nature.
There is a tendency to believe that new music is for a specialised audience, probably because listeners often find difficulties to understand new music. However when a contemporary piece connects with an audience its style becomes secondary and is overpowered by the music itself, just like in any other period of music writing.
KD: I am intrigued about the process of recording this album with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra album itself. How did that collaboration come about? How was the experience of evoking the landscapes of the subtropical Canary Island with an orchestra based up-north in Glasgow?
EP: It is important to realise that Maghek does not include any folk elements. This means that the performers do not need to know the Canaries culture in order to perform the piece adequately. The large amount of images related to the Canary Islands included in Maghek refer to nature. In Maghek we hear the sea, seagulls, wind, volcanic eruptions, lava falling and its solidification, laurel forests, lagoons, and many other elements. The musical representation of each one of these elements is superb and the RSNO sounds spectacular. It is a fabulous orchestra for this repertoire and I am so delighted we did this recording together. From the beginning I was convinced that a first class orchestra was necessary for this album, and also an orchestra for which recording in studio was a common thing to do. The RSNO was the orchestra that ticked all the boxes and so we came to an agreement. The result speaks for itself.
Maghek is available as physical CD and as online streaming on all major platforms. Composers Edition is proud to present all music scores from Maghek available through our website.
Tags: Aranfaybo (El Hierro), Ayssuragan (La Palma), Azaenegue (Gran Canaria), Chigaday (La Gomera), Cristo Barrios, Eduardo Portal, Erbane (Fuerteventura), Guanapay (Lanzarote), Gustavo Díaz-Jerez, Ricardo Descalzo, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Ymarxa (Tenerife)