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22/02/2011

This is the name given by Cuban maestro Leo Brower to the concert he gave on the opening night of the 13th Habano Festival for the delight of an audience that will be able to enjoy compositions by the relevant musician and his guests. Next, an exclusive interview in light of the upcoming event.    

It is well known that your passion for guitar was born when you were eleven years old. Could you describe the reasons why you chose it over other instruments? I found the sound of the guitar incredibly sweet and attractive, plus the fact that there is something sensual about its shape and it is an instrument that is close to the heart, to the body, correctly speaking. That’s the reason why, let alone the intimate, delicate sound that makes you think.

When did you start to compose and, in reference to that, do you have any particular preferences for your guitar compositions or for those in different formats or instruments?

I started composing to fill the gaps in the guitar repertoire in the 1950s, when we didn’t have anything from the great composers of previous centuries. They had written for guitar or instruments from the guitar family or predecessors, but they had not been transcribed, or converted from tablature into the current notation, or edited. It occurred to me that I had to do a little of that completing work. On the other hand, the analysis of a few compositions for guitar from the past, particularly from the 19th century, helped me discover that they were relatively poor in certain codes that were considered rich, such as in works by Beethoven, Brahms or Stravinski, for example; that’s why I decided to take on that role. That’s why when I started to make music, the view of life changed me in terms of composition, because I started to see composition in the landscape, in nature, in the description of planes of a single city.

Your multiple musical facets were part of the aspects taken into account by the jury that granted you last November the 10th SGAE Award of Iberian American Music, Tomas Luis de Victoria 2010. Also a few months ago, you grabbed a Grammy Award. What do those prizes mean to you?

The Tomas Luis de Victoria award was created to have the same meaning for music as the Cervantes award has for Hispanic literature and I consider it to be a very important recognition for a whole work, let’s say for a lifework, in my case, for a 50-plus-year-old career. SGAW, Fundacion Autor and the Complutense Institute of Musical Sciences (ICCMU) bring together a very serious SGAE jury that doesn’t take revisions lightly. I’m also satisfied with the award because I could enjoy a reunion with many colleagues in the presentation ceremony held at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid on November 25.

The Grammy Award in classic music has other connotations. It is also a carefully-thought award in this type of music, but the commercial connotations it entails do strike me. My music is not commercial music and the U.S. has never paid my royalties because of the blockade [economic blockade against Cuba], nor is my music recorded there. That’s why the award took me by surprise. I don’t know how my music got to that event, but I’m glad and even more if it will help promoting my work.

What experiences did you gain while working at the Symphonic Orchestra of Cordoba? Did it exert any influence on your subsequent work in any way?

I founded the Orchestra of Cordoba, in Andalusia, and I was its leading conductor for almost 10 years, which brought a lot of happiness to my life, especially in my executive role. It is a thousand-year-old beautiful city, but it didn’t have a strong history of classic music or symphonic orchestras. Together with my teaching efforts, I carried an intense artistic work and I’m happy for having given didactic concerts for children and young people, which made up an incredible large audience according to figures issued later. I played for 55,000 children and gave nearly 300 concerts those years. I created more than 250 programs, which is not the same as repeating the same program three or four times, or making a tour of ten concerts playing the same repertoire. In various occasions, my work was selected for the orchestral performance, featuring a program of Spanish contemporary music of great impact, which was eventually applauded and rewarded me something very moving for a common man that was being given the freedom of the city. All of this, together with my winning the Manuel de Falla Award, the most important recognition in Andalusia, makes me feel very satisfied.

You are a well-known cigar lover. When did you start smoking cigars? What pleasures do you find in it? What are your favorite brands? What vitolas do you prefer?

Cigars are fascinating to me. I started smoking secretly when I was 11 years old, because some of my neighbors in the barrio of La Vibora, where I lived back then, were cigar rollers. I remember one of them who spent his whole life rolling cigars for Winston Churchill. I recall that I used to smoke just from time to time because cigars are too strong for children, but I liked it. I think enjoying a cigar is an art accompanied by a view, and why not, a playful view; It is a delight to smoke a cigar in one sitting, take your time and enjoy it, that’s why I feel that you can’t talk while smoking a cigar, you can enjoy it accompanied with strong coffee, a drink, but in my case I can’t smoke while I’m in the process of creating, because I would have to write and then put the cigar away, which I don’t think it’s right. I smoke Cohiba, Romeo and Juliet and Monterrey, and I could add that I prefer to accompany it with coffee, although, from time to time I do it with whisky.

What can you tell us about the opening concert of the 13th Habano Festival, Leo Brouwer Essential?

This concert that has been generously dedicated to me is going to include popular songs. You can’t offer a monographic concert of rigorously contemporary music, sorry, on rigorous styles, so there’s got to be some flirting with the popular elements or with renditions of the popular culture, which is what I do. We are going to do some versions of the Beatles, some of my compositions, some of which have even been played by popular musicians, although the songs were not quite popular, as it is the case of Paisaje cubano con rumba which has nothing to do with folkloric music. All the artists participating in the concert are top performers and some of them are special guests coming to Cuba just for the occasion, such as Edin Karamazov, Jose Manuel Hierro –the flamenco performer from Cordoba- and Javier Riba, a classic guitarist, also from Cordoba.

Karamazov plays baroque lute with extraordinary rigor and virtuosity; he also plays both classic and electric guitar with very authentic feelings for pop music and true respect for articulations and sound. It is as amazing to hear him playing popular songs, as it is to hear him play for example Toccata and Fugue in D by Bach. Karamazov was also invited to the concert because he has one of the most famous concerts (Made in silence) with a program that mixes my music with Bach’s; I was very surprised when I listened to him at a cathedral in Italy. He asked the audience not to applaud because he didn’t want to break the continuity of the program. We are going to give this concert here in Havana in an exclusive performance on Saturday, February 19 at the Minor Basilica of the Saint Francis of Assisi Convent, organized by our Office [Leo Brower Office]. I think he is an exceptional artist.

Except for Paco de Lucia and Sanlucar, there are many incredibly talented young artists and others who are not that famous but who repeat themselves. It seems there is a trend to repeat certain cells to make duplicates and this, which could be considered quite common, doesn’t reach Hierro, who has a very particular creativity in his falsettos.

The program includes as well a jazz version by Ernan Lopez-Nussa of my first Boceto for piano, to be performed by Lopez-Nussa and his trio. It will also feature Sampling that will be the concert’s opening act with Paisaje cubano con rumba to give way to Karamazov, followed by the young Strings Quartet Havana with my orchestration of Two Preludes by Gershwin. I’m especially fond of one musical piece that has been choreographed by great dancers like Bejart and Nacho Duato and that will be danced this time around by the Lizt Alfonso ballet company, that agreed to stage Elogio de la danza, interpreted by Hierro and Riba, mixing the rigor of the original and flamenco improvisations.

For the end, I’m leaving a version I made of the very well-known second part of Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo and which brings together onstage many of the musicians participating in the concert joined by Vichot, an excellent Cuban lute player.

All those attending the concert will receive that night the Leo Brouwer Esencial (EEEO2) CD by musicologist Isabelle Hernandez, who is also at the helm of the concert’s both direction and production. Hernandez is as well the director of the Espiral Eterna publishing house, which is dedicated to the publication of my music and runs the Office named after myself located in Vedado and which organizes the Chamber Music Festival held every year in the month of October.

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