Questionnaire Hilda Paredes
ABOUT YOU AND YOUR CAREER
Please introduce yourself briefly. What is important for you, musically and otherwise?
I was born in Mexico where I spent the first 21 years of my life. I started studying music in Mexico but I can probably say that I became a composer while living in London. Therefore my music reflects a strong influence of the European musical tradition, although the diverse cultural life of Mexico, has also given me a strong creative impulse. While living in London I became acquainted with Indian music and dance, so many of my decisions concerning ways of manipulating rhythm and structure have been influenced by my interest in the music of India. I have found that many Indian rhythmic procedures can be applied to Western music. However, I do not attempt to quote any traditional music of any country nor to recreate it.
The longer I live away from my country, the more I become aware of my roots. Part of my family is from Yucatan, the Southeast part of Mexico where the Maya culture flourished. My Grandfather spoke fluently the Mayan language and I learnt from him some words and sayings. Through the years I have become more interested and fascinated by the traditions and culture (old and actual) of the Mayan people. These have often been a source of inspiration for my music.
Can one make a living these days solely from composing?
Only if you can live very frugally and if you don't have anybody depending economically from you.
Or if you are extremly successful and can get high commission fees.
How do you compose (approach, duration)?
I always start by trying to imagine the whole piece as it could be when it is finished. Sometimes I can find visual images or poetic metaphors or textures which can help me to conceive the landscape and character of a piece. For me it is important to know what the piece is going to be about. The answer to this question becomes the motor which keeps the creative impulse alive throughout the compositional process.
Often I try to think of all possibilities and limitations that the instruments can offer and I then create a palette of textures. Structure is very important for me and I try to plan it in general terms, from the beginning. Although when it comes to working out details, structure is closely linked to rhythm and harmony in my music, so I often have to make adjustments and change things that I planned in the first draft. I then need to start working out detailed pitch and harmonic material.
To what extent do you use traditional forms?
I don't use traditional forms. By integrating new sounds and creating a new harmonic language, a new syntax opens possibilities for new forms and structures.
How often do you receive commissions, and how do these come about? Do you wait for a commission and then compose the work to fit the criteria, or do you submit a work you have already completed?
I have been very lucky in the past 12 years, most of the music I have written has been commissioned or sponsored in one way or another. I don't know how they come about. I think just musicians have been interested in me writing music for them and I am always happy when this happens.
I have not had to wait for a commission. It usually is the other way around: I have to ask the musicians to give me more time because I am still trying to finish a piece when another one needs to be written.
I like writing a piece for a specific person or group. This gives me encouragement and more personal contact with the players (writing music is a rather lonely job). Therefore I never have submitted a previously written piece when I have been commissioned.
In your opinion what is the lot of a composer today compared with that of one 50 or 150 years ago?
Today there is a great diversity of musical languages, all with new proposals and ideas. I think this makes our time a rather exciting time to be living in. Technology makes many different kinds of music, many from far off cultures very accessible, something that was impossible 50 or 100 years ago. This is also fascinating.
However, we are also living the phenomena of globalization and its attempt to create a market for culture by changing true artistic values for numbers. Before, 50 or 150 years ago there was still talk about how good was a piece of music or what innovations this or that composer was creating. How often do we now hear people talking just about how successful an artist is or how many people went to hear a concert? This is worrying.
What music do you listen to in your free time?
I listen to a cross-section of new music, in particular composers I don't know. I also listen to traditional Indian Music, and also traditional music from different parts of the world and classical music. I often listen to the radio. The BBC plays mostly classical music, but sometimes there is the possibility to hear new things.
What is important in a composer's formal training years?
I think it is important to be able to hear a lot of music and to always be curious about how this music is put together through the study or scores. It is also important to hear your own music, and as well as the confirmation that things work aurally to also be able to learn from your mistakes.
As a composer do you need to continue your education, if so, how?
A composer never ceases to learn. Every piece I write is a new exploration of possibilities and I learn from each one of them. It works like this: you try something new maybe that you are not sure will work. If it does, it's a wonderful surprise and then maybe you can use it again in a different context or develop it further.
It is also possible to continue to learn from other music if your curiosity draws you to it.
What is your opinion of the training offered by the conservatiores or universities?
In my experience, it's what you make of it. I was always very happy to be in an environment where music was in the making all the time, one way or another. At the Guildhall school of Music in London, where I studied, there was a good library with lots of recordings and scores. With the possibility of having my pieces performed, I had the chance of hearing everything I wrote and also have it recorded (no digital techniques in those days, but still, a recording).This enabled me to begin to get my work known. In Mexico the music schools do not have the facilities and resources that their European counterparts have, so for me it was fantastic to have access to all this. I enjoyed being a student in London.
Which particular composers did you concentrate on during your study?
The list is rather long! Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, Gesualdo, Victoria, Composers from the Ars Nova, Schumann, Haydn, Bach, Debussy, Liszt, Brahms, Webern, Schoenberg, Berg, Stavinsky, Ravel, Messiaen, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Stockhausen, Revueltas, Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle, Carter, etc.
Where do you think New Music stands today? What prospects does New Music have in the future?
The music of our time is a reflection of the times we are living in, as it has always been throughout the history of humanity. It's the music that reflects the creativity of today and it is a response to the society we live in. It is therefore very important to keep it alive by performance and re-performance. Music will continue to be written and hopefully performed as well, as long as there are still sensitive and imaginative people wanting to perform it. The industry of entertainment will not stop people who are truly creative. It might make life very difficult, but I believe there is an audience for our music, an audience of people who are not satisfied with the emptiness that the industry of entertainment often has to offer. There is an audience of people who want to listen to an interesting and challenging music which will also awaken their imagination and senses. I consider myself part of this audience.
In your opinion is New Music today defeated by the laws of the so-called Market?
We are living in a difficult time where often only profitable merchandise seems to have value. All artistic expressions have immeasurable value and this is precisely the problem. How many times have I been asked by people, how do you know when a piece of music is good? It has no label telling you what it is made of, there is no advertisement on the TV telling you how efficient it is....How do you justified investment in New Music when it is so hard to show in numbers how profitable it is?
Art and Music are some of the biggest treasures a culture has and must be kept alive.
Festivals, promoters, musicians and composers, all have a responsibility to keep this music alive. It is ultimately an alternative to the passiveness that the culture of masses' market offers. A society without creativity and imagination is a dead society, so now the big responsibility is to keep it alive.
Many composers state that they do not write for the listening public. What is your view?
I think an audience is made up of many individuals, all with different perceptions for likes and dislikes. It is impossible for me to think of pleasing the audience when I am writing music, but I have an "imaginary listener" who hears everything I write. This listener is often critical. It is for this listener for whom I write.
What happens afterwards, during a performance, is out of my control. I have had many surprises when people tell me they hear things in my music I never thought about before.
What role do the publishing houses and recording companies play in New Music today?
Writing music is a very intense , demanding and solitary experience. It is therefore difficult for a composer to go out and 'promote' what is so close to oneself. Some composers are able to do it, but the world we are living in demands a lot when it comes to promotion of ones own work. How do you make your recently created music known? This is when publishers and record companies can help.
What are your personal perspectives and projects for the future?
After this work I am now finishing for Ensemble Modern, I have to write a piano quintet to be premiered at the Melbourne Festival in October of this year. I also have a project for a music theatre piece based on a story by Isabel Allende, where I also want to include some ancient Mayan spells, which I have set to music before. (A piece I wrote last year for Neue Vocalsolisten, Stuttgart). It is about the way Indian culture has survived in Latin America through 500 years of colonisation and it makes a parallel to the way women have also preserved their identity. It is also about the weakness of power when confronted with love and beauty.
Please describe the piece which the City of Frankfurt and Ensemble Modern has commissioned from you, and your thoughts and reflections on the subject.
It is like a concerto for ensemble, where different instruments coming to the foreground in different sections of the piece. I wrote this piece very much with the players of Ensemble Modern in mind. I have heard the Ensemble often, and knowing some of the players, I wanted to write a piece for specifically for these players. In general this piece has eight distinctive sections with a short 'coda' at the end. In each of these sections, different instruments feature. Only the opening has the whole ensemble playing, which functions like an introduction. This leads to a section where the horn, strings, piano and percussion are the main characters in a rather expressive section. There is a short transition given to the two clarinets and percussion that has a rather humorous and playful idea to lead into the next section. Here the flute introduces the new material and gradually the clarinets and the rest of the ensemble joins in. The English horn, harp, muted strings, piano (inside the strings) and percussion are the main characters in a new expressive section. The trumpet introduces a new rather bright and rhythmic section, later joined by the trombone and horn. Here there are some contrasting ideas which interrupt each other. This resolves by the whole ensemble playing quite frantically before we reach the transition to the closing section of the piece. This transition is played by the bassoon, double bass and percussion made out of transformed material played before by the clarinets (also a transition). The last section is played by the trombone, timpani, strings and piano. I have applied some techniques I have developed over the years, some inspired in the rhythmic structures of the music of India. Whilst writing this piece I became acquainted with the ways the Mayas used to measured time. This gave me some ideas to apply to music, so in some of the metric and pitch decisions, the number 13 is quite important (13 is also a number in the fibonacci series). The Mayas had 13 days and 20 different names for them and overlapped them in cycles. In this work, I have explore new possibilities which I hope to continue working on in the future.