Miguel del AguilaCOMPOSER
Renowned as conductor, violinist, violist, and concertmaster, Guillermo Figueroa is Principal Conductor of the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the Music in the Mountains Festival in Colorado and of the Lynn Philharmonia in Florida. He was the Music Director of the New Mexico Symphony and the Puerto Rico Symphony. International appearances, among others, include the Toronto, Iceland Symphony orquestas, Sinfónica de Chile and the National Symphony of Mexico. In the US he has appeared with the orchestras of Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey, Memphis, Phoenix, Tucson and the New York City Ballet. As violinist, his recording of Ernesto Cordero’s violin concertos for the Naxos label received a Latin Grammy nomination in 2012. Figueroa was Concertmaster of the New York City Ballet, and a Founding Member and Concertmaster of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, making over 50 recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. He’s a regular guest with the Fine Arts, Emerson, American, and Orion string quartets and has given the world premieres of four violin concertos written for him such as Violin Concerto by del Aguila which he commissioned.
German conductor Dirk Meyer is Music Director of the Augusta Symphony, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, and the Lyric Opera of the North. Meyer has guest conducted orchestras across North America, as well as Europe. Assistantships have led him to the Deutsche Oper am Rhein (Germany), the Vienna State Opera (Austria) and the Teatro Real in Madrid. He has collaborated with some of the finest artists, including Jan Lisiecki, Peter Serkin and Lynn Harrell, and is first prize winner of The American Prize in conducting and recipient of the Arts & Culture Initiative Award in Minnesota. Meyer is also the author of Chamber Orchestra and Ensemble Repertoire. A Catalog of Modern Music (Rowman & Littlefield). You can visit him on the web at – www.DirkMeyer.com
Now in its 68th season, Augusta Symphony is the primary professional orchestra for Augusta’s River Region and pursues its mission through annual symphonic, Pops, and family concerts that reach approximately 20,000 people each year. Via Community Chords Music Education, Veterans Outreach, and Group Music Therapy programs, the Augusta Symphony further strives to foster broad accessibility to live classical music performance and a lifelong appreciation of the art form among people of all ages, backgrounds, and means. Community Chords currently serve approximately 27,000 youth and adults in communities within a 75-mile radius from Augusta. Founded in 1954 under the baton of Music Director Harry M. Jacobs, the Augusta Symphony has evolved from a small group of 15 musicians to an 85-member professional ensemble and leading regional orchestra. The Augusta Symphony has been led by four talented conductors: Harry Jacobs until 1991, Donald Portnoy from 1991-2009, Shizuo Z Kuwahara from 2009-2016, and Maestro Dirk Meyer, who is in his fifth season as Music Director
Written by Frank J. Oteri – Composer Advocate at New Music USA, Editor NewMusicBox, and Vice President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM).
The music of Miguel del Aguila exudes an exuberance that immediately grabs the ear upon first listening. Infectious Latin rhythms add a propulsive drive. Lush melodies, which though completely original, hint at recognizability – could I have possibly heard this somewhere before, in an old film, or perhaps in a dream? – and are instantly memorable. But listen again more closely, and a darker undercurrent is detected. While rooted in the joyous popular dances of his native Uruguay and neighboring South American countries, del Aguila’s creative aesthetics also spring from the tragedies that have plagued this part of the world since first contact was established between its indigenous inhabitants and the Europeans who “discovered” them. This disc containing five of his works, the first-ever disc devoted exclusively to his music for orchestra, is a perfect introduction to his highly personal yet globally resonant sound world.
The Giant Guitar
Was composed in 2006 on a commission from Buffalo’s public broadcasting station WNED and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for its music director JoAnn Falletta’s International Guitar Music Competition. There is no guitar in the orchestra, but echoes of the guitar pervade the piece. In his program note, del Aguila writes that he views South America “as a ‘giant guitar’ . . . friendly, sentimental, nostalgic, and yet concealing a great powerful secret,” and that he “can’t think of this ‘giant guitar’ without remembering conflict and the dramatic political events of the 1970s,” events from which he fled, emigrating to the U.S. in 1978. The work begins with an ascending arpeggiation of the six pitches of the open strings of a standardly-tuned guitar, E A D G B E (which form a pentatonic scale), played on a harp – the closest sonority to a guitar in a conventional orchestra – doubled by muted strings. After that initial gesture, the harp continues ascending with that same sequence, quickly reaching beyond the range of the guitar, now accompanying a
plaintive melody in the piccolo and flute suggestive of Andean shepherds playing the quena, a breathy end-blown cane fife. Soon the piccolo and flute sing out an energetic Andean-sounding tune in a call and response with the other winds against an oscillating chordal pattern in the harp. This pentatonic melody and its accompaniment are remi- niscent of huaynos played by traditional ensembles that combine zampoñas (panpipes), charangos (small mandolin-like instruments), harp, and guitar. The material is further developed in the strings, now unmuted and pizzicato (also suggestive of a guitar). Their incessant rhythmic alternation of figurations of seven and eight beats is reinforced by percussion: at first castanets and cabaza (a Brazilian shaker somewhat akin to maracas), then a cowbell. Soon the horns join with the melody. Eventually the entire string section strums out sequences of quadruple stops interlocked in a hocket-like rhythmic pattern as the melody is passed around the orchestra. Eventually the harmonies expand from hinting at pentatonicism to a dissonant chromaticism, at one point feeling like a Rite of Spring in the New World. The tension grows and grows, propelled by throbbing bass drum strikes. Ultimately a siren wails, accompanied only by percussion instruments. A ferocious chord resounds across the entire orchestra, but it is snuffed out by a simultaneous thwack on timpani, tam-tam and bass drum.
Salón Buenos Aires
Exists both as a sextet, op. 84 (2005) and the present work for chamber orchestra, op. 102 (2010). In both versions, the music is cast in three movements, each modelled after a popular South American dance: a Brazilian samba; an Argentinian tango; and finally, a Uruguayan milonga. According to del Aguila, the “music conveys the general mood of this period of great prosperity and optimism that preceded the social collapse of the 1970s in the hands of militaristic regimes.” The original version was recorded by Camerata San Antonio on a Grammy-nominated 2010 recording of the same name devoted to del Aguila’s chamber music. The Sarasota Orchestra commissioned the version recorded here, in which del Aguila takes advantage of the greater resources of the orchestra, creating greater contrast between the different types of material and devising harmonies that add a greater intensity and more emotional ambiguity to the original music
I. Samba is the first movement of Salón Buenos Aires. It begins with melodies whose seeming diatonic innocence is subverted by bitonal counterpoint. Eventually, propelled by jazzy figurations in the piano and percussion, lush orchestration transforms the texture into something that sounds almost cinematic. Almost. A chime and other percussion sound oddly out of place, as if a few frames from an unrelated film noir were spliced into a Hollywood dance number . . . but they do not ultimately change the mood.
II. The second and longest movement, “Tango to Dream” (“Tango para soñar”), is much more mysterious. It begins very quietly, with string tremolos punctuated by ad- libbed glissandos inside the piano and the roar of a wind machine. When a prominent melodic line finally emerges, it is more like a lullaby than anything remotely resembling a tango. Very gradually, a passionate tango takes hold, in idiomatic orchestration, only to dissolve into murky, introverted textures, ending the movement as elusively as it began.
III. The concluding “Obsessed Milonga” (“Milonga obsesionada”) is a spirited dance that begins in, and frequently returns to, an off-kilter rhythmic cycle of 13/16. Del Aguila explains that the “Milonga rhythm is distorted to irregular patterns as it beats obsessively. Underneath the happiness of this movement, there is tension and angst.”
Violin Concerto Op.94
“El viaje de una vida” (The Journey of a Lifetime) – Was composed in 2007. Commissioned and premiered by the New Mexico Symphony and its music director Guillermo Figueroa (who was the premiere’s soloist as well as its conductor, and is also the soloist on the
present recording), it is one of four concertante works for soloist and orchestra to which del Aguila has thus far affixed the title Concerto (the others are works for clarinet, cello, and piano), and it is a formidable addition to the repertoire for violin and orchestra. The Concerto is a very apt sonic metaphor for the struggle between an individual and society, and del Aguila’s Violin Concerto partakes of this paradigm. He writes, “The violin soloist personifies the traveler who becomes the protagonist of the story; the orchestra represents the outside world as he sees it. As the work progresses, the actual trip becomes a symbol of a more existential journey.” Del Aguila’s concerto slightly varies the three-movement concerto formula. Here, there are four movements, although the very brief third movement is immediately followed by a much longer finale. In del Aguila’s narrative, a “traveler abandons his homeland (Spain) to embark on a long voyage. A simple, undulating theme carries him steadily across the ocean. During the long journey, he reminisces and loses himself in introspection.” The first movement,
I. “Crossing the Ocean to a New World” (“Cruzando el océano hacia un nuevo mundo”), opens with the unaccompanied violin, starting from the instrument’s lowest note and ascending to the top of its range before the harp and cello add some support. Gradually the rest of the orchestra joins in, but the soloist always remains foregrounded, playing lush, rhapsodic melodies.
In a live performance, for the cantabile second movement “(Vidalita) – In the
II. Purple Land” (“En la tierra purpura”), the stage lights are dimmed and the soloist performs from backstage. It opens with a mournful melody traded between two bassoons, accompanied only by two cellos and a doublebass, all pizzicato. The violin soloist, who is amplified in order to be heard from the distance, enters with a countermelody, more as a member of a chamber ensemble than a soloist combating an orchestra. These six instruments are all del Aguila needs for this reverie.
III.The extremely brief third movement, “The Return” (“El regreso”) is more like an accompanied cadenza. It opens with a harsh sforzando chord distributed across the entire orchestra, ending as unexpectedly as it began when the soloist re-enters the stage, playing while walking, described in the score as “confronting musicians and audience . . . almost threatening.” This intermezzo is the protagonist’s “imagined return to his birthplace many years later, as he confronts his past.”
IV. The “Finale” opens with an ascending glissando on an unaccompanied harp followed by an extended, briskly-paced passage for the orchestra. When the soloist reappears, the remainder of the work is something of a face-off between them. Thematic material from the opening movement resurfaces, transformed into something far removed from its initial rhapsodic character. At the very end, the expressive opening material of the concerto returns, nearly unaltered. But after a descent back down to the lowest possible note on the violin, the place where the concerto began, the soloist remains silent for the last nine measures while the rest of the orchestra loudly and relentlessly plays on. In del Aguila’s words, “The traveler realizes that he can’t go home again: the place he left long ago is lost forever and only exists as it was in his mind.”
(Tempering Drums), op. 126, was composed in 2020 for the Augusta Symphony and its music director Dirk Meyer. It is the most recent work included herein, and perhaps the most abstract. There are no sweeping melodies, just a series of catchy jagged motifs characterized by rhythmic syncopation. Del Aguila describes this piece as a series of “imaginary events happening during the traditional ceremony of tempering the
drums by the fire as it’s often performed by the Candombe players of Uruguay before a night street ceremony.” It is not an attempt to recreate the music performed in the all-night ceremonies, but rather, the progression of the cold drumskins (hollow, dry sonorities) slowly becoming animated by the fire, inspiring joyous dancing throughout the town. After a brief and almost imperceptibly quiet introduction – a bass drum roll, string tremolos, and harp – the piano starts an incessant one-note ostinato hammering out the principle rhythmic cell of the piece one step lower than the highest possible pitch on the keyboard. Its exact pitch is less clearly perceptible than its unmistakable constantly repeating rhythmic cycle, mostly a composite rhythm of 3/8, 3/8, 3/16, and 3/16. Though it adds up to a measure of 9/8, it is a cycle of four beats of different lengths. This rhythm is juxtaposed with occasional flourishes from pizzicato strings and percussion, plus some unexpected sonorities – a timpano struck on the shell of its kettle with a triangle stick, two horn players slapping the top of their mouthpieces with their palms on an off-beat, etc. The ostinato suddenly stops, but the momentum is maintained with a frenetic harp solo consisting of a sequence of persistent ascending scales accompanied by long sustained notes and trills in the strings, now bowed. Soon a celesta imitates the harp’s sequences, followed, in turn, by winds, pizzicato strings, and piano. Then the violins, held like guitars, strum quadruple stops in a variety of different syncopations within cycles of
9/4, but because of the displaced accents it sounds like uneven sequences of three beats and, at times, five beats. The energy keeps intensifying, with various instruments in the orchestra occasionally grabbing the limelight – the brass, the xylophone, etc. – culminating in an explosive climax. Del Aguila has stated that he’s “always been fascinated by the dramatic power of rhythm, by its ability to capture our emotions, and by its tendency . . . to often drive us to unavoidable, out-of-control climactic endings.”
The Fall of Cuzco
(La caída de Cuzco), op. 99, composed in 2009 and commissioned through the Magnum Opus project and Meet The Composer, is an evocative nearly 20-minute tone poem that sonically imagines the final days of the Inca Empire and its conquest masterminded by the ruthless Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the 1530s. Though this horrific genocide (which led to the establishment of the Spanish colony of Perú) happened nearly 500 years ago, the methods used to weed out “subversives” bear some striking similarities with the tactics of the so-called Guerra sucia (Dirty Wars) of the 1970s. Del Aguila has acknowledged that he “couldn’t avoid relating Pizarro’s crimes to those of modern dictators like Stroessner and Pinochet, and relating the struggle of the Inka to those of [his] contemporaries.” As a result, the music he has created to retell this story of duplicity and greed is a fascinating blend of reimagined pre-Columbian Inca traditional melodies and contemporary harmonies and orchestration. Although the material is presented in a single continuous movement, there are five distinct episodes portrayed in the music according to Del Aguila which parallel some of the key events of this tragic history. Del Aguila describes the opening section as depicting a landscape “high in the Andes” where “the rising sun is greeted by a Caracol as a new day begins in Cuzco.” The chirping of a bird is evocatively depicted by the piccolo, subsequently answered by different birdcall-like figurations in other wind instruments, to the accompaniment of cascad- ing ascending and descending arpeggios played on a harp and amplified celesta, initially alongside a slow but steady oscillation of chimes and crotales. A pentatonic huayno then rings out in the crotales and celesta, reenforced by slowly unfolding chords in the strings, where some unrelated chromatic pitches add a slightly foreboding quality. Nevertheless, the overall mood remains cheerful as the huayno melody is taken up in the woodwinds and brass. Pizarro and his army have arrived, but after initial suspicion they are welcomed into the community and the celebration continues. But then there is an abrupt change of mood. Ominous strikes on a bass drum, timpani, and the lower notes of the piano followed by a dirge-like chorale in the strings and tolling chimes suggest the native people were right to be suspicious of their visitors. Pizarro captures king Atahualpa and places him in El Cuarto del Rescate (Ransom Room), a small building that still stands to this day. We hear an extended harp solo filled with longing, but also determination. In exchange for his freedom, Atahualpa promises Pizarro a room filled with gold, which is brought in endless processions until it completely fills the room and surrounds the entire building. A sudden dissonant chord cries out in the muted brass, but then the initial theme returns, somewhat modified, eventually transforming into an urgent motive propelling a processional that grows more and more elaborate. The harmonies underlying an initially triumphant and sumptuously tonal procession grow more and more dissonant and agitated, culminating in a raucous and unsettling cadence that feels unresolved: gleaming, yet hollow. Pizarro will order Atahualpa’s execution, and the Spanish will go on to conquer the Inca Empire.
American Record Guide May/June 2023 review by Nathan Faro
“…lush lyricism from the violin and sweeping, mysterious grandeur from the orchestra…chilling and effective …”
“…attractive and crowd-pleasing music…”
“Aguila’s style has hints of Ginasteran modernism and Ravelian color, with inescapable nods to Piazzolla…”
“…Violinist Guillermo Figueroa is equal parts suave and dramatic…” “…works also have a modern South American identity… traditional Andean melodies are subject to a sinister, dissonant undercurrent, later to erupt in violence.” ” The sizable and memorable tango at its center emerges from a mysterious haze, as if from a memory.” “Tempering Drums’ (2020) is more abstract and rhythmic, with small, syncopated motifs slowly becoming
more animated as the piece progresses… Even at its most dissonant, this is attractive and crowd-pleasing music… its performances are committed and convincing.”
Nathan Faro, American Record Guide May/June 2023
Miguel del Aguila Dirk Meyer
Miguel del Aguila Dirk Meyer Guillermo Figueroa
Miguel del Aguila Dirk Meyer
Miguel del Aguila
Miguel del Aguila
Miguel del Aguila
Miguel del Aguila
Miguel del Aguila
GRAMMY Nomination for SALON BUENOS AIRES
for best classical album
GRAMMY Nomination for CLOCKS
for best classical contemporary composition
GRAMMY Nomination for CONCIERTO EN TANGO
for best classical contemporary composition
At the GRAMMYs for Concierto en Tango nomination
Miguel del Aguila with Roman Mekinulov Joann Falletta from Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
At the GRAMMYs for SALON BUENOS AIRES
Miguel del Aguila with Ken Freudigman Ken Masur from Camerata San Antonio
For inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Three-time Grammy nominated American composer Miguel del Aguila was born in Uruguay in 1957. In over 130 works that combine drama, driving rhythms and nostalgic nods to his South American roots, he has established himself among the most distinctive and highly regarded composers of his generation. His music, which enjoys over 200 performances annually, has been hailed as “brilliant and witty” (New York Times), “sonically dazzling” (Los Angeles Times) and “expressive and dramatic” (American Record Guide). Recorded on more than 55 CDs, his music has been performed by over 100 orchestras throughout the Americas and Europe, including the Chicago Symphony and Chicago Philharmonic, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; the Kiev, Odessa, Heidelberg, Royal Liverpool, Buffalo, Louisiana and Ciudad de México Philharmonics; and the Welsh BBC, Toronto, Nashville, Seattle, Albany, San Antonio, Long Beach, Fort Worth, Santa Barbara, Caracas and São Paulo Symphonies, and the Orchestra of the Americas.
Conductors who have performed del Aguila’s works include Leonard Slatkin, JoAnn Falletta, Giancarlo Guerrero, Marin Alsop, Carlos Miguel Prieto, Lukas Foss, Gerard Schwarz, Jorge Mester, Guillermo Figueroa, David Allan Miller, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Andrew Litton, Eckart Preu, Dirk Meyer, and José Arean.
Notable among over a thousand chamber ensembles performing his works are the Sphinx Virtuosi, Windscape, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, SOLI, New Juilliard Ensemble, Eroica Trio, Philadelphia Chamber Ensemble, Collegium Novum Zürich, Imani Winds, Fifth House, Cuarteto Latinoamericano, and the Pacifica and Verona string quartets.
Festivals performing his music include Aspen, Cabrillo, Chautauqua, Ravinia, Oregon Bach Festival, Minnesota Orchestra Sommerfest, Bregenz Festspiele, Wiener Festwochen, Budapest Spring, Cervantino, and Prague Spring. In addition to his three Latin Grammy nominations, del Aguila has received a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award, a Magnum Opus/Kathryn Gould Award, grants from The Composer New Music USA/Music Alive and the Copland Foundation, and the Lancaster Symphony Composer of the Year award. He has held extensive composer residencies with the Orchestra of the Americas (2020); the Danish Chamber Players/Ensemble Sorstrøm (2021); the Chautauqua Institution Music Festival (2001-2004); and a two-year residency with the New Mexico Symphony provided by a Meet the Composer/Music Alive Award, resulting in the fully staged premiere of his opera Time and Again Barelas (2007). Del Aguila serves as a member of the Barlow Endowment’s Board of Advisors. After graduating from San Francisco Conservatory, del Aguila studied at Vienna’s Universität für Musik. Early premieres in the Musikverein and Konzerthaus were followed by performances in the U.S. in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall and The Brooklyn Philharmonic conducted by Lukas Foss. Soon after he settled in Southern California in 1992, the Los Angeles Times praised him as “one of the West Coast’s most promising young composers.” After many years in California, where he taught composition and for three years served as music director of the Ojai Camerata, del Aguila moved to Seattle. - www.migueldelaguila.com