Ina, Matt and I are very excited to introduce you to our first ever 8SW Composer Competition winner, Jorge Amado. Jorge is currently a student at ISA (Instituto Superior de Arte) in Havana, Cuba. His submission to the competition, Eidos II, is a very well crafted, powerful and energetic example of the potential future of chamber music. Eidos II is the second of what will be a set of independent pieces for diverse instrumental ensembles. Its title, a Greek term that means “type” or “species,” is a reference to the diverse possibilities with the instrumentation of chamber ensembles. The piece is greatly influenced by Afro-Cuban rhythms and the folkloric ensembles used for Santería ceremonial music. Please do join us at the Tenri Cultural Institute on November 16, 2018 for the World Premiere of Eidos II. For more information please visit here.
Jorge is a delightful, humble and very gifted young man. I find his generosity of spirit and his love for music to be apparent in this interview.
Suzanne: Who are your favorite composers? Which do you feel have had the most influence on you and why?
Jorge: Honestly, I do not have a favorite composer. They each have unique characteristics that appeal to me, from their own musical language to their personal historical context. How Shostakovich and Khachaturian could create such good music despite the social and political limitations in which they lived, for example, always amazes. In my earlier compositions for violin, my points of reference were J. S. Bach, Eugene Ysaye and Béla Bartók, thanks to their significant contribution to the “sonata a solo” genre for violin. However, many other composers have influenced my way of composing since then. I believe that a composer can never forget his identity and roots. Presently I am inspired by the music of composers like Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Tan Dun; With regard to Cuban composers, I feel that those who have influenced me the most are Leo Brouwer and my composition teacher Juan Piñera.
SG: When did you become interested in composing and why?
JA: I began composing at the age of 9-10, when my piano teacher, Dr. Claudina Hernández, assigned me the task of composing a work, which would be submitted for evaluation in an exam for Cuban works. This sparked my curiosity in composing and it became a sort of hobby. At the age of 17, I took the Carlos Fariñas composition workshop, which is taught by my current professor, Juan Piñera. Professor Piñera polished my way of thinking about composition. I think this new musical facet enriched my performance skills and improved my interaction with audiences. Nowadays, composing is like another instrument that gives me the joy of being able to play.
SG: We know you are a serious violinist. Do you find it difficult to balance playing the violin with composing?
JA: For playing the violin, like other instruments, you need to dedicate time and daily practice, and for composing, you must listen to a lot of music and then analyze it. There are also projects involving other media, such as arranging and composing for audiovisual media or theater, which nourish me. These are projects that also take a lot of time, and the day only has 24 hours. To find the balance between the violin and composing is not difficult. The challenge is to save time, and to find space and time for everything.
SG: What kind of impact does being a violinist have on your composing?
JA: Composing has enriched me as a performer, and the violin has helped me with composing. It is a bilateral relationship that has opened many doors for me. As a violinist, it has allowed me to know many masterpieces, from solo to chamber and symphonic music. These are means that allow me to study works in depth, and to study what works and what does not. Also, understanding the process has given me greater interpretive understanding, as well as experience dealing with rehearsals, nerves on stage, etc. These are resources that I draw from and utilize when I compose: like when music should have a peak moment, when it should be calm, and others. But, as I explained before, being a composer has given me many resources for performing as a violinist. They are like bridges that connect and allow me to pass from one side to the other.
SG: Can you tell us about your compositional process? What inspires you – and how do your pieces come into being? Does it start with a melodic idea, a rhythmic one, or a visual image – or some sort of broader concept?
JA: This is a very interesting question, because I am still figuring this process out. Usually, it is very linked to my moods; depending on how they are, that’s how the work will be. It starts with an essence, something that can mix melody, rhythm, and then it develops when I start to write. I do not rely on elaborate concepts and rarely rely on an unwritten narrative. I do not attempt to musically retell an experience, yet an experience might motivate me and inspire music that does not necessarily have a relationship with that experience.
Weekdays are the most productive for me, because I keep my mind busy and I listen to a lot of music in the hallways of my university. When I listen to music, I am not necessarily referring to instrumental music. It could be the birds that fly between the foliage, the contractors working on the restoration of the university that sometimes work to a rhythm, or sounds in the atmosphere that invade my home, like the cars horns and the loud sounds of buses and other things.
SG: In your program notes about Eidos II, you explain that “Eidos” is a Greek term meaning “type” or “species” and that it is a reference to the diversity of musical instruments that can be combined in chamber ensembles. The term “Eidos” can also be further defined as “the distinctive expression of the cognitive or intellectual character of a culture or social group.” In your notes you also write about the folkloric traditions that inspired the piece, and in this sense it seems that this extended definition is fitting. Was that your intention?
JA: I became inspired by platonic philosophy in 2015, when I delivered a lecture related to philosophical musical language based on the elements that propitiated the cosmological formation of the universe (this work obtained third place in the scientific philosophic event of my university). I found out that the term “Eidos” acquired a philosophic meaning in the Theory of the Forms and I conceived the idea for Eidos I at this time. Later, I learned about the etymology of the word, its pronunciation, the context in which it can be used, etc. through a student from Cyprus who studied at my university. Although it might link closely to the hypothesis which extends to the social groups of humanity, it was not intentional.
SG: How is Eidos I different from Eidos II?
JA: The most significant difference is that Eidos I is for clarinet quartet. I was composing works for violin, violin and piano, violin duos, etc. at that time and wanted to create something different. Most of it is written using an asymmetrical rhythm, something very unusual in my compositions. Since I was happy with the results, I decided to create a set of pieces for different ensembles. Eidos I was composed in 2017 and received an honorable mention at the Musicalia contest sponsored by my university every year.
SG: In 2015 you were part of a group of Cuban students who took a trip to Chicago as part of a cultural exchange with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. Please tell us more about this experience. Did you have a chance to go to a lot of concerts/hear a lot of music while you were there? What was your impression? -Did you hear any new music – by this I mean anything written in any genre but by a living composer? What are some of the similarities and differences between what young composers are doing in Chicago and Havana?
JA: It was incredible, I still remember it as if it were yesterday. When I was there, I could not believe it. This was my first trip and the cultural shock was very strong. Chicago is a city that is frequently featured in American movies and television series and I was reminded of them while I was there. The opportunity to meet and share music with North American musicians was astonishing. Artists are sensitive to everything, but to be able to share what you love is something else. I was able to participate in a concert performed by the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP) and directed by Orbert Davis at Roosevelt University.
I also remember a frustrated desire when I went by a theater and saw an announcement for a concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with no other but Zubin Mehta at the podium. I was not able to attend because my visa expired the day before the concert. Regardless of this disappointment, everything else was wonderful: the orchestra, the musicians, the management team, and the family of the conductor. They are all great people.
I did not have a chance to interact with young composers because the agenda was so tight. After my trip, I dedicated a composition titled Reunion (Encounter) to CJP, which the orchestra premiered in November 2016.
SG: In your bio you mention being a guest speaker at events that appear not to be related to music. Can you tell us more about these interests? Do they influence your composing in any way?
JA: It was an event at which I delivered a lecture on a famous Cuban violinist from the nineteenth century, Claudio Brindis de Salas. I presented at the Escuela Nacional de Artes (middle school level,) as part of a workshop named “Afropalabra” (Afro-word,) sponsored by the Casa de Africa (Africa’s House). This institution is dedicated to highlighting the contributions of black personalities in Cuba. The connection with this violinist was shaped before I was born. My maternal grandmother had a spiritual bond with him to the extent that my maternal uncle studied the violin. I apparently followed in his footsteps. I think my interest in composing works for violin inspired by my family history became stronger as a result of my research.
SG: What is life like in Cuba for a young composer? What kinds of opportunities, other than entering competitions, are there for young composers to get their music performed?
JA: I believe that there are many talented young people with strong interests in composing in my country. I am not referring only to those who have formally studied it, but also to students who demonstrate a good level in their work without having studied it. My teacher offers a composition workshop to music students of all levels, from elementary to higher. His students develop confidence in their own work without being afraid of what it is considered correct or not. If a composer begins at a younger age, he/she will have a lot of time to find his/her own way of thinking about music, and I am very grateful for this.
Since Cuban popular music is more recognized internationally than its concert music, there is a strong desire in Cuba to develop concert music more. My university posts information about national and international contests and encourages students to participate. Such festivals as Casa de las Américas or the Contemporary Music Festival also support the participation of young composers.
SG: Do you think there are any common elements that are currently influencing young composers such as yourself in Cuba?
JA: I don’t think there is a common element among young composers here. Even though they may have the same teacher, students do not necessarily all follow the same aesthetic trend. They are all influenced differently and compose using their own language; some are based on intuition, others on calculus, etc. This has allowed for a community of diverse musical opinions that generates debates that converge and exchange in a bilateral way.
SG: What kind of music/which composers are you listening to at the moment?
JA: Currently, I am listening to a variety of musical genres that are different from what I do: from film and video game composers such as Howard Shore, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer and Jeremy Soule to Brazilian popular music and traditional Asian music.
SG: What will the next steps be once you have completed your studies at ISA?
JA: I really do not know what awaits me exactly because there are so many things I’d like to do. I want to continue working, studying and learning new things. I would like to explore orchestral conducting. I have wanted to do this for a long time. I feel that it is a very wide-ranging specialty that could help me develop musically as well as personally. I would also like to study music abroad, but if it is not in the future as I dream, I would be happy if I could teach composition at my university (ISA).
Jorge Amado is an up and coming young Cuban composer and violinist. He is the first prize recipient of the 2018 8SW Composer Competition for his work, Eidos II for flute, viola and cello. Jorge has been recognized for his work by competitions such as the Instituto Superior de Arte – sponsored by Concurso Musicalia (First Prize in 2015 and 2018, two honorable mentions in 2017 and one in 2018), the Concurso de Composición “Harold Gramatges” sponsored by UNEAC (First Prize, 2015), the Alfred Schnittke Competition and Composers’ Forum (Ukraine, Finalist, 2016). Additionally Jorge’s work has been presented in several festivals including the Festival de Música de Cámara (Havana, 2015), the Festival de Música Contemporánea de la Habana (2016 and 2017), the Austin Chamber Music Festival (USA, 2017) and the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival (USA, 2018). He has composed solo, chamber and vocal works, including both acoustic and electro acoustic pieces. His orchestral work, Reencuentro, was premiered by the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic in Chicago in 2016.
As a violinist, Jorge has performed with orchestras such as the Orchestra of Cuban Radio and Television, conducted by Miguel Patterson, the project Chicago-ISA’s orchestra, conducted by Orbert Davis, and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (2015), also conducted by Orbert Davis. Additionally, Jorge has performed in concerts and workshops presented by Casa de las Américas in Havana, as part of their Composition Awards concerts. He has participated in the recording of two albums, sponsored by the AHS and Colibrí Productions.
In 2015, Jorge participated as a speaker at the XIX Scientific Workshop on Social and Cultural Afro-American Anthropology and the VII Meeting of Orality “Festival Afropalabra.”
Jorge is currently a student at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), majoring in Composition with Maestro Juan Piñera and Violin with Maestra Carmen Amador. He graduated with a specialization in Violin and Music Theory from the Escuela Nacional de Arte (ENA) in 2016, where he received honors for his comprehensive academic and civic achievements.
Please visit here to hear Jorge perform his Sonata No. 1 for solo violin. It will take your breath away. Want to hear more? Please visit here to hear a performance by the Fear No Music Ensemble of Jorge’s Triptico Cubano and here to hear a performance of his Sueños Ancestrales for violin and piano performed by Abel Rodríguez and Jelger Blanken.