sat 02/07/2022

‘Let me be your main course’: composer Jimmy López on why new music needs time and space | reviews, news & interviews

‘Let me be your main course’: composer Jimmy López on why new music needs time and space

‘Let me be your main course’: composer Jimmy López on why new music needs time and space

Thoughts from a brilliant Peruvian, whose Piano Concerto is premiered on Wednesday

Jimmy López: 'stop living in the past'Igor Studios. Photos in text by Franciel Braga

No, not your aperitif – and certainly not your digestif; your bona fide main dish, the one your audience yearns for, dresses up for, and looks forward to.

It’s 2022; time for arts leaders to show the way into the future and to not underestimate the public’s thirst for what is new. Stop living in the past. You have heard that phrase before. Composers have been uttering it for over a century, ever since some mysterious force made time freeze around the premiere of Turandot. The exact date is irrelevant; what matters is that most opera companies worldwide rely on their warhorses (while relegating new operas to small theatres) and most symphony halls repeat the same symphonies ad nauseam. Want to listen to Haydn’s 100th for the 100th time? There are probably over 100 recordings out there to choose from. Problem solved.

You might think I despise the past; quite the contrary – I love it and breathe it, and like all other living composers, not only do I admire my deceased colleagues, I study and listen to their works adamantly, precisely because there is so much to learn from them. What is also true, however, is that I am alive right now and will not be forever. Now is the moment to commission works from me; and by me I don’t mean Jimmy López Bellido specifically, I speak for the hundreds, thousands of composers worldwide who are eager to share their music with the world. Not everybody is Mozart? Indeed, he was unique, but so is every other voice, and they deserve to be heard.

Jimmy LopezHere is another important fact: we composers do not live forever. Look at Wolfgang himself – he left us at the tender age of 35. I am stating the obvious, but it needs to be said, and before we go, it would be really nice to spend as much of our time doing what we do best: writing music. Yes, not correcting exams, delivering food, or applying for a thousand grants; just writing actual music. Also, do you know what we need in order to write music? Time. And as the old adage says: time is money. The conundrum is that we composers spend so much of our lives trying to make money by engaging in activities other than writing music, that in the end, once the money finally arrives, we have run out of time.

Writing a symphony takes a lot of time and effort but there are very few musical experiences that can compare to the electrifying feeling of following the journey of a symphony from its initial motifs till its very end. That is why most concerts end with a symphony or a large symphonic work, because only they can offer the grand arch that brings the audience true satisfaction and catharsis. Unfortunately, not many modern symphonies are being commissioned, and if it were left to the commissioners alone to decide the repertoire makeup, the 21st century would look like an endless collection of 10-minute overtures. Future generations will be baffled trying to understand why 21st century composers were so obsessed with this short form. Treatises shall be written, and dissertations shall be given on the topic of why composers chose to write mostly overtures not exceeding 10 minutes.

Well, dear future scholars, it turns out we didn’t! We were asked for it! Why? Because we are considered the warm-up act, the one that prepares the audience’s palette so it can find the next piece in the programme (which most likely was written by a long-deceased colleague) even more delectable. Jimmy Lpoez conductingIt might sound like I am bitter, but nothing would be farther from the truth. I am truly grateful because I, personally, have had the chance to write three symphonies, several concertos, an oratorio and an opera, but that is not the case for most of my living colleagues. True, I also had to produce my share of 10-minute, neck-breakingly intense overtures, but the reason I was able to write large-scale works is due, in part, to my hopeless idealism. Composer Kalevi Aho recently said in an interview that his symphonies “represent the idealist side of my personality, because in realistic terms it does not make very much sense to write such things these days.” I share his sentiments and, like him, I am also a hopeless idealist.

So, I will continue to write symphonies and large-scale concertos even if they are not played much, because it is only in them that I feel that I can transcend; that I push my own boundaries and reach for the heights. They are my way of meditating, elevating my thoughts, and reaching toward the divine, and I will not stop doing that, or being a composer will simply lose all meaning to me. Great works of art take time to be created and need time to be listened to. All of which can seldom be achieved in under 10 minutes. There is something special about the physical effort of nearly a hundred musicians powering through a composition that asks everything from them, mentally, physically and spiritually, and there is something magic about being able to share that journey from our seats and partake in the pain, joy and laughter that such a work can provide us with.

So, composers, keep writing large works!... and arts organisations: please keep commissioning them. The future lies in our mutual trust. We need to create the next canon of great symphonies and operas and we need to do it hand in hand. There are great composers living amongst us, but they won’t be on this plane of existence forever. We all have our days numbered, and we all need to get to work right now.

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