Carlos Miguel Prieto
YOA Orchestra of the Americas
Release Date: 1 June 2015
SERGEI RACHMANINOV 1873 – 1943
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in C minor, Op.18
1 Moderato 11:37
2 Adagio Sostenuto 11:36
3 Allegro Scherzando 11:37
GABRIELA MONTERO b.1970
4 Ex Patria, Op.1 13:22
5 Improvisation No.1 5.25
6 Improvisation No.2 7.06
7 Improvisation No.3 3.42
Total time: 64.29
Since I was an infant, playing, composing and improvising have been inseparable elements of my music making. Thanks, in large part, to the private encouragement of the great Martha Argerich, improvisation is a prominent element of my performing life today.
In 2011, the time came to write something down, to compose my official Opus 1. I had been waiting for the right story to tell, to set in ink and record. Feeling a profound sense of the loss of my native Venezuela to unprecedented levels of violence and corruption, I wrote Ex Patria. Dedicated to the 19,336 victims of homicide in 2011, it is a polemical tone poem, an unapologetic vision of Venezuela’s accelerating civic collapse and moral decay, manifested by a further 21,692 homicides in 2012, and 24,763 in 2013.
I premiered Ex Patria on October 20th, 2011, in Nuremberg, with Maestro Patrick Lange and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Published in the programme was my personal statement:
“As an expatriate Venezuelan, it may be of little surprise that I should wish to express, in music, a longing for the beautiful country of my birth. However, my debut as a composer reaches beyond private nostalgia to a very public cry.
Ex Patria is a portrayal of a country barely recognisable from that of my youth. It is my emotional response to the loss of Venezuela herself to lawlessness, corruption, chaos and rates of murder among the highest in the world.
The opening chord is intended to jolt the public from silence and apathy. It is the immediate exposure of a tragedy, which has accelerated beneath the thinnest veil of democracy with negligible and inconsequential international scrutiny.
The motifs introduced by the French horn and piano reflect a fleeting recollection of an innocent moment, an ominous calm. The theme is quickly brutalised, corrupted and stolen by an imposing, percussive and militaristic interruption, the “martellato” section depicting the daily gunfire to which Venezuelans have grown accustomed.
Emerging from the violence, soloist and orchestra acquiesce in a slow and rhapsodic dialogue of mourning, culminating in a disconsolate and unison lament. The poetic rhapsody itself is soon subjected to a chromatic and accelerating decay, leaving the audience to glimpse the maddening disorder of a dismantled and suffocated society.
My musical statement is not a political one. I am not a politician. It is my nation’s story. It is my regret.”
History and the performing composer
By voicing her opinion against Venezuela’s Chavist government, Gabriela Montero has effectively written off returning to her country any time soon – doing so simply wouldn’t be safe. She is by no means the first composer to reflect their disillusionment with the state of their homeland in music, nor will she be the last. Right from its earliest days, the history of music is dotted with the names of composers who have had to move away from the country of their birth. Some fled as the political or religious tide turned against them, some moved away as a point of principle – a protest against a regime they believed unacceptable – others simply crossed the wrong person at the wrong time. Many were in real danger if they stayed, either from the direct orders of those in power or as a result of the state of general lawlessness that, paradoxically, so often accompanies totalitarian regimes.
From their position of relative safety abroad, the composers’ reflections on their fate were similarly varied – from expressions of longing at the country they have had to leave behind to bitterness at those who made their exile necessary to, occasionally, an optimistic embrace of the opportunities offered by their new surrounds. Many revealed their feelings in music, often powerfully so.
It is in the 20th century that we find the most notably outspoken composer exiles – unsurprisingly so, given that this was the century that hosted not only some of history’s most notoriously abhorrent regimes in some countries, but also unprecedented freedom of speech and means of expressing it in others. Those who fled Europe during the rise of Nazism, in particular, are many. Among their number were not just Jewish composers such as Schoenberg and Korngold, but also composers such as Martinů, whose association with Czech nationalism put him at risk, and Bartók, who simply couldn’t bear to stay and witness the fate befalling his beloved Hungary.
Bartók would go on to have a fairly miserable time in the US, as did Martinů, who arrived there in 1941. As the man who had composed the celebratory Czech Rhapsody cantata when Czechoslovakia won its independence at the end of World War I, Martinů wore his national pride on his sleeve, but it was that very association with Czech nationalism that would also put his livelihood in danger. In 1943 he wrote his symphonic poem Memorial to Lidice, marking the fate of a Czech village that was razed to the ground and its people massacred on Hitler’s orders – the quotes of the Czech St Wenceslas Choral and, pointedly, the “destiny” motif from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are no accident.
A quote from Beethoven’s Fifth also appears in the Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte for string quartet, piano and voice, written in 1942 by another composer in exile in the US, Arnold Schoenberg. His music labeled as “degenerate” by the Nazis, the Austrian pulled no punches in explaining why he had composed his Ode: “I knew it was the moral duty of intelligentsia to take a stand against tyranny.” As to how the work should be performed, meanwhile, he said that the singer must convey “the number of shades essential to express 170 kinds of derision, sarcasm, hatred, ridicule, contempt, condemnation etc., which I tried to portray in my music.”
Erich Korngold, Schoenberg’s fellow Austrian and fellow Jew, also forced to live abroad and also suffering the indignity of having his music banned at home, expressed his thoughts in a different way entirely. Deeply depressed and homesick after moving to the US, Korngold turned his back on music for the concert hall and directed his attention instead towards film scores. “It was as if he had made a vow that he would write no more ‘absolute’ music as long as the horror in Europe was weighing on the world,” wrote his wife Luzi.
Wherever there were dictatorships in 20th-century Europe, there were exiled composers. In Italy, the rise of Mussolini saw the departure to the US of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, while in Spain, Manuel de Falla had no time for General Franco’s regime and, in 1939, promptly accepted a new post in Argentina. De Falla’s move was a notably pointed one, as Franco had been courting this most Spanish of all composers to serve as the country’s national composer. Given his efforts at stamping out Catalan nationalist culture, Franco was probably then none too impressed that de Falla’s new opera, Atlántida, happened to draw on a Catalan poem as its inspiration. One assumes, on the other hand, that Roberto Gerhard – a Catalan composer who moved to England in light of the suppression of his music in Spain – must have approved wholeheartedly.
And then, of course, there were the Russian composers, faced first with the restrictions of Communist rule and then the terror of Stalinism. Igor Stravinsky was the first to show his disgust. Ironically, he had initially welcomed the Revolution in 1917, promising as it did his country’s liberation from the corruption of Tsarist rule. By 1918, however, his property had been seized by the state and he was left penniless, bringing about a radical change of opinion. A Soldier’s Tale, the work for narrator and chamber orchestra that soon followed, makes its point forcefully enough: the soldier’s march is not glorious but a distorted, almost comic one; the dances featured in the music are Western, not Russian; and the plot acidly tells of the soldier gullibly selling his fiddle to the Devil in return for a book that he does not understand but, the Devil assures him, will bring him
If Stravinsky’s message was delivered subtly through his music, Nicolas Nabokov’s was done bluntly and in person. Born into an aristocratic family that had fled Russia for the US in 1917, Nabokov, whose work includes the ballet Union Pacific and the opera Rasputin’s End, made it his mission to expose the truth about Soviet music. When, in March 1949, Shostakovich arrived in New York as the star name of a Soviet delegation taking part in an arts conference at the Waldorf Hotel, Nabokov was waiting. As he reached the end of his speech, Shostakovich found himself being aggressively quizzed about artistic freedom under Stalin – questions that Nabokov knew the Soviet composer, several of whose own works were banned in Russia, would be unable to answer. Nabokov followed up his attack with his own post-conference speech, bemoaning the fate of Soviet musicians.
And what of Rachmaninov? He, too, was from wealthy stock, and made his exit in December 1917. Never the chirpiest of composers, even in his prime, his reaction to exile seems to have been one of despondency and regret. His time in the US, where he arrived in November 1918, was marked by creative stasis, partly due to his busy schedule as a performer and partly due to homesickness. Of the six significant works he did complete before his death in 1943, his mournfully heartfelt Three Russian Songs above all tell of a composer longing for a return to better times. As the composer’s old friend Vladimir Wilshaw wrote on hearing the songs in 1934: “Only a man who loves his country could compose this way. Only a man who in his inmost soul is a Russian. Only Rachmaninov could have composed this!”
Rachmaninov was not just a composer in the wrong place while in the US; he was to some extents also a composer in the wrong time. While others – from Schoenberg to Stravinsky, Berg to Bartók – were taking music in new directions, his own compositions still sat at the very heart of old-style Romanticism. As someone who both composed and performed at the highest level, he was something of a dying breed too.
Composers have, of course, been performing their own works since the likes of Byrd and Dowland sat down with their virginals and lutes in the 16th century. It was in the early 19th century, however, that a new phenomenon arose – the extraordinarily talented virtuoso whose equal brilliance as composers enabled them to write the sort of music that would show off their exceptional talents.
As a composer-performer, Rachmaninov was enviably naturally talented on both fronts: his innate gift for writing a beautiful tune has ensured that his popularity as a composer has never waned; and as for his playing, when a poll was conducted among 100 leading concert pianists in 2010, he was voted the greatest pianist in the era of recorded sound. And yet, as said, even he struggled to keep the flow of compositions going once the demands of the concert tour took up his time.
And perhaps that explains why those who both perform and compose at the highest level have become so rare? Such is the pace of the musician’s life today that combining the two roles has inevitably become impossible. Nor does today’s neatly bracketed, conveniently labelled world seem that comfortable with those who multi-task: composers should compose, players should play.
Thankfully, Gabriela Montero bucks the trend. Celebrated for fearlessly improvising concerto encores and during recitals, Montero makes her compositional debut on disc with this recording of Ex Patria. Whether, one day, she may be able to return to Venezuela to perform it in front of her home audience, only time will tell…
Jeremy Pound 2014
Gabriela Montero was born in Venezuela, where she made her solo debut at the age of five, and her concerto debut aged 8. After studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London and winning the bronze medal at the 1995 International Chopin Competition, Gabriela came to international prominence, playing with the world’s most prestigious orchestras and in the most celebrated concert halls, including the New York, Los Angeles and London Philharmonic Orchestras, the Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Houston, Detroit and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Gewandhaus Orchestra, The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the Zurich Kammerorchester, Wigmore Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, and Carnegie Hall.
Celebrated not only for her interpretations of the classical repertoire, Gabriela is a prolific improviser, composer and activist in the field of Human Rights, a portfolio of diverse disciplines that has led to a variety of appointments and awards. She has won a Latin Grammy for “Best Classical Album” (Orchid Classics) as pianist and composer for Ex Patria (2011), her composition protesting the collapse of Venezuela; two ECHO awards; two Grammy nominations; the Heidelberger Frühling Prize; a Rockefeller Award, and the Beethoven Prize for Music and Activism. Gabriela was invited to participate in the 2013 Women of the World Festival at London’s Southbank Centre, and was named the first Honorary Consul of Amnesty International in 2015. She has spoken and performed twice at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and has been recognised for Outstanding Work in the Field of Human Rights by the Human Rights Foundation for her ongoing commitment to human rights advocacy in Venezuela. In 2009, Gabriela was invited to play at the inauguration of US President Barack Obama. Her solo discography includes four solo albums on the EMI/Warner label, and two orchestral albums on the Orchid Classics label.
Musical America’s 2019 Conductor of the Year, Carlos Miguel Prieto is known for his charismatic conducting and dynamic, expressive interpretations, which have led to major engagements and popular acclaim throughout North America, Europe and beyond.
A passionate proponent of music education, Prieto has served as Principal Conductor of The Orchestra of the Americas from its inception in 2002, and was named Music Director in 2011. Prieto also works with Carnegie Hall’s NYO2, leading musicians aged 14-17 from across the United States.
A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School, Prieto is a highly influential cultural leader as well as the foremost Mexican conductor of his generation. He has been Music Director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico since 2007. In 2008, he was appointed Music Director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería. Having conducted over 100 world premieres of works by Mexican and American composers, Prieto is renowned for championing and commissioning the music of Latin American composers.
Since 2006, Prieto has been Music Director of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. On 27 February 2018, he led the orchestra in its Carnegie Hall debut in a concert celebrating the 80th birthday of Philip Glass. Prieto has also conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Beijing Symphony Orchestra, the Hallé, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa.
Prieto’s recordings include works by Bruch, Beethoven and Mendelssohn with violinist Philippe Quint and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería (Avanticlassic), and Korngold’s Violin Concerto, which was nominated for two GRAMMY Awards (Naxos).
In April 2018 Prieto was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music by Loyola University New Orleans.
Led by Music Director Carlos Miguel Prieto and Artistic Advisor Plácido Domingo, The Orchestra of the Americas is a pan-American symphony orchestra made of top musicians under the age of 30, representing 25 countries in the western hemisphere. The voice of a continent, 6000 prodigious musical contenders enter the orchestra’s annual audition process from Patagonia to Alaska, ranking it among the world’s most competitive academies. The orchestra’s mission is to empower rising musical leaders to transform lives and communities across the Americas and beyond.
The season centerpiece is a July-August residency and concert tour held each year in different regions of the world. Since its 2002 inaugural tour, the orchestra has performed more than 350 concerts across four continents, including at Symphony Center Chicago, Palacio de Bellas Artes Mexico, The Kennedy Center Washington DC, Teatro Colón Argentina, Sala São Paulo, The Oriental Arts CentreShanghai, The Edinburgh Festival, Basilica di San Pietro and other landmark venues throughout more than 40 countries. Hailed by Hamburger Abendblatt for ‘the most unforgettable performance in the history of the Elbphilarmonie’, the orchestra brings renowned artists – Yo-Yo Ma, Valery Gergiev, Philip Glass, Gabriela Montero and many more – into the lives of a new generation of musical leaders and diverse audiences from Carnegie Hall to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, reaching millions through live performances, broadcasts, recordings and documentary films.
“Here is the full Montero, revelling in her fine technique, and unstoppable creative flow.” (BBC Music Magazine)
“Montero is a master pianist, composer and improviser.” (Pianist Magazine)