Tuesday 18 August 2015

Peruvian composer Jimmy López brings the influences of his native Peru to his own unique style producing music of imagination and brilliance on a new recording of his orchestral works from Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra on Harmonia Mundi

Composer Jimmy López (b. 1978) www.jimmylopez.com was born in Lima, Peru and studied with Enrique Iturriaga at the National Conservatory of Music in his home city. He later studied with Veli-Matti Puumala and Eero Hämeenniemi at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and at the University of California-Berkeley with Professor Edmund Campion.

He has been awarded numerous prizes around the world and his works have been performed by ensembles such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Worth Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony, Symphony Orchestra of Chile and the National Symphony Orchestra of Peru and in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival, Darmstadt Music Festival, Donaueschingen Music Festival and the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

López is a member of Suomen Säveltäjät (Society of Finnish Composers), ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), CIRCOMPER (Circle of Composers of Peru) and the San Francisco Chapter of the Recording Academy (GRAMMY). He is a founding member and Vice President of kohoBeat Musical Association in Finland. As part of the Renée Fleming initiative, the Lyric Opera of Chicago has commissioned from him a full-length opera based on the bestselling novel Bel Canto. The world premiere is scheduled for December 7, 2015 and will run through January 17, 2016.

His cello concerto, Lord of the Air was premiered on March 7, 2013 by cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi and the TCU Symphony Orchestra conducted by Germán Gutiérrez. Another recent premiere was Perú Negro, written for Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Centennial Season of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

López’s Cello Concerto and Perú Negro appear on a new release from Harmonia Mundi www.harmoniamundi.com  dedicated entirely to his orchestral works. The other works on this disc are Synesthésie and América Salvaje. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra www.nrk.no/kork  is conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya http://miguelharth-bedoya.com  with cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi www.jcbcello.com  in the concerto.

HMU 907628
Perú Negro (2012) was commissioned by Miguel Harth-Bedoya and is based on the conductor’s initials E, B, Bb and G, which correspond to Miguel (Mi = E) Harth (H = B
natural) Bedoya (B = B flat) Gonzáles (G). The piece was inspired by Afro-Peruvian music that López has assimilated into his style.

A horn call opens the work, echoed by a muted horn. The brass repeat the horn’s call before the whole orchestra enter to take the theme slowly forward in an impressively dramatic and forward moving theme. The music soon drops to pizzicato lower strings that lead on with little woodwind arabesques before a second subject appears out of the textures, pointed up subtly by the percussion. This is a steady forward moving theme that becomes rhythmically varied as the music pulses forward through passages both dynamic and more restrained, slowly building then falling back. There is some terrific use of drums to add colour and point up the rhythms and, indeed, add a Peruvian flavour. The music builds to a climax before drums and percussion take the lead. Trumpets sound out before the music drops back with brass moving the music forward over an insistent string theme with woodwind swirls.  Slowly the music builds again with some very fine orchestration.  López builds and draws back in a very distinctive manner with terrific use of brass as the music drives forward to the coda.

This is an impressive, wholly approachable, work that receives a terrific performance here.

Synesthésie (2011) was commissioned by Radio France and owes its underlying concept to the parameters set by the commissioner for a ten-minute orchestra piece in five movements for the radio program Alla Breve. The composer wanted to infuse each movement with a different flavour and soon realised that the five human senses would suit perfectly, hence the names for each movement.

Timpani and drums thunder out in the opening of Toucher (Touch) to which the orchestra adds wiry phrases, brass adding a rising theme before strings and drums lead full of energy to the coda.

Odorat (Smell) brings a slower section as the strings introduce an undulating melody with subtly and beautiful percussion adding colour. The music grows in dynamics with rich string sonorities appearing before a quiet coda.

Beautifully conceived orchestral sonorities open Goût (Taste) with woodwind taking the lead and creating some very fine moments with lovely little woodwind arabesques and brass interventions as the music reaches a climax before leading to a quiet coda.

Audition (Hearing) opens with a riotous orchestral outburst that continues with a fast brass motif with strings and percussion adding to the texture, as the music pushes forward, rising in dynamics before rushing to the coda with timpani rolls leading into the final movement.

Brass bring a broad fanfare to open Vision (Sight) before the music falls to a plodding theme that quickly gains momentum leading to a climax with drum strokes and brass sounding out in this colourful orchestration, ending suddenly.

Lord of the Air, concerto for cello and orchestra (2012) was commissioned by the Texas Christian University and dedicated to Jesús Castro-Balbi who gave the first performance and is the soloist here. Lord of the Air here is the Andean condor, a bird that has its natural habitat in the Colca Canyon, in the south of Peru. This breathtaking natural formation and the Andean condor served as the source of inspiration for this piece.

The first of the four movements, Leap to the Void, opens with the solo cello bringing a series of rapid phrases interrupted by percussion. The orchestra join adding short phrases to complement the cello motif. López’s orchestration brings much colour and texture with many little orchestral details as the cello develops its theme, rising higher and ever more intense before falling to a fragmented version of the theme.

With The Ascent, the orchestra opens in a light and fast moving theme to which the cello adds phrases drawing on those of the first movement. Jesús Castro-Balbi brings some fine playing in this fast moving, fine textured movement with its never ceasing forward thrust. Occasionally a dialogue is developed between soloist and orchestra. Midway the music rises through a dramatic orchestral passage with side drum before the cello rejoins in a fast and furious passage right through to the coda.

Soaring the Heights has a hushed orchestral opening with celeste to which the cello brings a sorrowful theme, exquisitely played. Castro-Balbi provides some lovely, very unusual sounds, quite captivating, supported by a hushed orchestra with rippling harp. This composer certainly creates an odd feeling of weightlessness in this most original of movements, which grows in strength and tone. The soloist brings a short cadenza like section before interrupted by the orchestra still coloured by harp arpeggios. The orchestra falls away as the cello now achieves an extended cadenza, still rather gentle, finely played by this cellist with some exquisite little tonal effects. It does rise a little before the orchestra rejoins, quietly and subtly, both finding ethereal hushed sounds before firming up for a quiet coda.

Homecoming brings a pizzicato cello that dances ahead competing with pizzicato orchestral strings. Soon the orchestra takes the music ahead with a syncopated theme to which the cello joins. Both orchestral strings and cello are terrific here with fine ensemble and taut playing. The solo cello then develops deeper, fuller phrases as a rich melody appears, this cellist producing a fine singing tone. As the music slowly speeds up, the orchestra takes the theme moving inexorably forward, gaining in dynamics before the cello joins in a fast virtuosic passage. The pizzicato strings reappear as the music hurtles to the coda on a timpani roll.

This is an unusual and highly distinctive concerto that received a terrific performance from Jesús Castro-Balbi and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Miguel Harth-Bedoya

América Salvaje was commissioned by the Minister of Education, Javier Sota Nadal, for the inauguration of the National Library of Peru.  Jimmy López based this piece on the poem Blasón by José Santos Chocano www.britannica.com/biography/Jose-Santos-Chocano-Peruvian-poet  and is a work that aims at reflecting Peru’s multicultural roots with the same clarity and strength as the original text.

Strange wind sounds are heard from the pututo, an Andean ceremonial instrument, creating a terrific atmosphere. Birdsong is evoked before strings bring a descending and then rising motif. Tubular bells chime and a myriad of percussion colours are heard as bird sounds are heard amongst hushed strings. As the music quietly finds its way amongst this mysterious landscape, brass slowly help to raise the music up, rising with woodwind flourishes. The music falls to a quiet extended percussion passage that brings a gentle rhythm before the orchestra adds to the drama with little bursts of brass and strings, soon taking the music rhythmically forward. López always varies the textures and orchestration to add interest and colour bringing a terrific overlay of orchestral lines as the music finds its way towards the coda that brings a tumult of colourful sounds.

Jimmy López is a fine composer who brings the influences of his native Peru to his own unique style producing music of imagination and brilliance. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra with their Chief Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya provide brilliantly played performances. The recording is excellent and there are authoritative and informative notes from the composer.  

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