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Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez | Works for Chamber Ensembles

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Works for Chamber Ensembles

by Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez

A collection of chamber works by composer Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, written between 1990 and 1999.
Genre: Avant Garde: Classical Avant-Garde
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Luciérnagas
12:00 $0.99
2. Calacas Y Palomas
8:09 $0.99
3. Son Del Corazón
17:41 $0.99
4. A Tutiplén
6:42 $0.99
5. "...voici Le Bateau Pour Les Calanques..."
8:14 $0.99
6. M.e. In Memoriam
8:26 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
This is the first one-man compact disc of Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s works. At present, Sanchez-Gutierrez combines his assiduous job as a composer with his teaching duties at San Francisco State University in California. The thirteen years since his move to the United States have allowed Sanchez-Gutierrez to learn and practice his craft at some of the U.S. most prestigious academic institutions. His journey to the U.S. from his native Mexico is a logical consequence of the environment where he began to develop: while he was born in Mexico City (1964), he grew up in Guadalajara, and the years spent North of the border have been, to a large extent, years of searching for a more propitious environment that would offer him access to better professional opportunities.

During the first stages of his career, Carlos worked producing music shows at Mexican state and university radio stations, where he got to know firsthand the Mexican alternative rock and roll, jazz, and “nueva canción” musical movements, all of which, no doubt, have also left their mark in Carlos’ development as a composer.

Here, Sanchez-Gutierrrez offers a solid and diverse collection of works whose dates of composition span exactly one decade, and that represent in many ways the sum and stylistic substance of the composer’s language.

And a propo of style and language, during a conversation I had with Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez which was broadcast not long ago, I brought up the thorny subject of musical “labels”, as well as the issue of whether his music could be classified as postmodern. Here is his response: “I believe it is impossible nowadays to be immune to postmodernism—in case we can actually define what postmodernism really is. My work reflects a wide range of elements that I believe invariably have an effect on every artist—indeed on every human being. We are exposed to a true bombardement of information, which itself is a reflection of the esthaetic disaster in which we live, and of the tremendous diversity around us; this is particularly noticeable in North America, where, due to what I consider to be obvious reasons, diversity in general is promoted in rather militant ways. My own work ends up being postmodern, but I try very hard to avoid deliberate references to specific styles and works from the past, like other so-called postmodern composers would do. I actually have not yet reached a conclussion on whether I am a modern or a postmodern composer, and keep looking for that definition, I suppose; what happens is that, perhaps, in the process of searching for modernity, one ends up becoming postmodern. I don’t look back because my past is too diverse and contradictory, so if I did, it would cause me great confusion.”

Our composer, clearly, looks ahead, and the works included in this recording are proof that such confusion is not at all present.

Luciérnagas (1999) was commissioned by the Carnegie Hall Co., and was premiered by Eighth Blackbird at Carnegie Hall in New York City on the 12th of April of 1999. The composer writes the following:

Luciérnagas is an example of a rather abstract composition that is otherwise based on a very concrete experience. A few months ago, I was working on the music for Pascal Rioult’s choreography “El Mozote”—a story about the killing of hundreds of innocent Salvadorians at the hands of militiamen, when I came across a text by Carlos Henríquez, titled Luciérnagas en El Mozote (‘Fireflies at El Mozote’). The text described the arrival of Henríquez and other workers of “Radio Venceremos” to the site where the massacre had taken place three years earlier. As the men reached the outskirts of the desolate village, Henriquez writes that “...a dazzling spectacle made it clear to us that we had arrived at El Mozote: thousands of little lights began to twinkle. The intermittent dance of the fireflies illuminated the night, showing us the way to the town’s ruined church. ‘They are the souls of El Mozote!’, said Padre Rogelio Poncel.’ I was fascinated by the fact that the ‘dance of the fireflies’ described above stayed on my mind not as a visual or narrative representation of a brutal—albeit strangely poetic—event, but as a powerful—and strictly musical—‘picture’: The sound of brief rhythmic punctuations that weave a sparkling, constant, yet unpredictable flicker. Like the trompe-l’oeils found in the visual arts, the outcome is a shared expression of that which is regular (or ‘predictable’) and of the ultimately chaotic. The ever-fascinating world of insect life.”

With respect to the abstraction mentioned by the composer at the beginning of his note: do not expect to find an “insect effect”, or musical anecdote in this work. What we can undoubtedly hear is a luminous music, as well as great variety of instrumental color, punctuated by agile, nervous, and contrasting rhythmic activity. At various points, and particularly towards the beginning of the piece, the piano seems to play a double role, being a vehicle for both percussive and melodic accentuation, not unlike Bartók and Prokofiev’s works. At the center of Luciérnagas, Sanchez-Gutierrez introduces an episode for solo marimba—perhaps a more objective Mesoamerican reference. The work, developed in fragmentary, episodic manner, reaches its conclusion via another section where the piano is the main protagonist.

Calacas y Palomas(1991) for piano duo was premiered on May 12, 1991 in New Haven’s Sprague Hall. Lori Sims and Genevieve Lee were the pianists. The composer writes the following about this work:

“Calacas y Palomas” —literally, ‘skulls and doves’—is a phrase which is ritually repeated by Mexican children playing marbles. I began writing the piece shortly after the birth of my daughter, and childhood memories kept inundating my mind. One of these memories had to do with the idea of glass-hitting-glass-hitting-glass: a sort of endless overtone-chain-reaction which itself hasn’t left me since the very moment I first thought about it. Thus, Calacas y Palomas is a work about resonance, musical continuity, percussiveness. It is also a sort of shadow-play where we do not see the object, only its shadow, and we do not hear the sound, only its resonance. It is dedicated to my wife Josefina and to my daughter María.”

Calacas y Palomas is developed from a series of (generally brief) gestures, figures, phrases, and melodic outlines that are reiterated, revisited, rebounded and reflected between one piano and the other. The atmosphere is one of sonic game play, challenge, and competition. Within this main premise, the composer introduces patterns of irregular accentuation—one of the most attractive aspects of this work—that constitute, indeed, the main propelling engine of the piece. At times it is possible to detect a subtle phase-out interplay between the instruments, somewhat akin to Steve Reich’s music, yet Sanchez-Gutierrez’s approach seems less systematic than the American composer’s. One must finally add that, especially in the latter part of the piece, we will find many fast and ever-changing harmonic gravitational points.

Written for an ensemble of fifteen virtuosi, Son del Corazón is a work of great technical difficulty. The composer explores a number of rhythmic, instrumental, sonic and expressive elements that intrigued him at the time. The work has no definite program, and Sanchez-Gutierrez declares that the title [alluding to the Latin American dance genre of “son”] was added a posteriori as a result of his own perception of the piece as essentially coreographeable. The reference to the term “heart” (“corazón”, in Spanish) has to do, according to the composer, with the visceral and emotionally charged quality of the piece, expressed most eloquently at the beginning of the work. At its outset, Son del Corazón seems to be a work far removed from the formal parameters of the son ; a brief episode where the bass weaves a pizzicato solo line (later joined by other strings) prepares what will be the central section of the piece, where the reference to the son becomes more clearly established. From that point on, Sanchez-Gutierrez proceeds to introduce a series of episodes displaying a rich instrumental palette, all characterized as well by an extremely complex rhythmic texture. Some of these episodes, of reduced instrumentation and more limited dynamics, are introduced in order to create contrast with respect to the central plot line of the work. Throughout the piece, it is clear that the work stems from an extremely idealized, almost abstract concept of son. Here are Sanchez-Gutierrez’s own words: “Son del Corazón (the Son of the Heart) was commissioned by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, who gave its first performance in Montreal in 1993. While I do not quote any son tunes or rhythms, I wish that Son del Corazón could convey the same spirit that makes Huasteco, Jarocho and Abajeño sones indispensable to the fandango.”

Written on a commission from the The Stony Brook Contemporary Music Players, A Tutiplén received its premiere on April 24, 1997 at Miller Theatre in New York. This is one more example of Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s skill to depurate and stylize the popular music sources he occasionally employs as raw material. At the beginning, the work is set in motion by the extroverted activity of the clarinet and the flute, with the accents and turns of vernacular music subtlety appearing, along with a few jazz-related gestures and a certain Stravinskian spirit as well. While the composer does not clearly acknowledge the presence of such diverse elements, I conclude that my perceiving them is perhaps a confirmation of the subtle co-existence in this music of numerous links between musically diverse sources. Later, and particularly thanks to an intelligent use of accents and contrast, A Tutiplén reaffirms its roots in the popular; the attractive passage spearheaded by the piano and keyboard percussion, which eventually takes the piece to its unexpected ending, is remarkable. Sanchez-Gutierrez has written the following, regarding this composition:

“The work is a fresh re-interpretation of a previous composition of mine, Jarocho locochón. Both works originate in a simple melodic/harmonic idea. A sort of cantus firmus redolent of the bass line of a Mexican ‘Son Jarocho’ is exposed, transformed, and distorted throughout the work in a series of episodes that grow in rhythmic complexity, creating a dance of indomitable frenzy.
Why a Son Jarocho? Nostalgia, I suppose, is the main reason, though I also had the intention of creating a sort of intimate ‘imaginary’ folklore, through which I could communicate my obsession with rhythm, harmonic tension and motivic manipulation.”

"…voici le bateau pour les calanques…" was written on a commission by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition. Its world premiere, by the Left Coast Ensemble, took place April 10, 2000 in San Francisco’s Green Room. Following are the composer’s words about this attractive piece:

“I conceived this piece while living in Cassis, France, as a guest of the Camargo Foundation. My studio overlook the small port from which tour boats departed every day towards the famous Marseilleise calanques.
As I was finishing the work in San Francisco, almost two months after I had left Cassis, I realized—perhaps only out of nostalgia—that, to me, the piece hid a clear—albeit not exactly deliberate—Southern French ‘program’. The organized pitch structure (four transpositions of a twelve-note motive, displaced registrally according to a quasi-serial plan) are the backdrop for a free arabesque melody that tries hard, but never quite finds its way fully to the surface of this ‘ocean’ of Western sound. Like the Northern Africans in French society, the melody will never adjust entirely to the rigidity of its environs. However, its character ends up permeating every note and rhythm around it. A musical pastis, a sonic couscous.
Maybe it was the daily experience hearing the tour boats’ announcement ‘voici, le bateau pour les calanques!’, or perhaps I am just imagining things...”

We may add to the above—exhaustive!—description the fact that this work is indeed perceived aurally as austere and expressive, with a subtle touch of nostalgia, just as Sanchez-Gutierrez points out. Besides the formal elements mentioned before, it is possible to find quick microtonal episodes at key structural points. The work’s texture, at first simple and sober, becomes more complex and dense towards its central section, to finally return to the economical expression of the beginning.

M.E. In memoriam, for nine players was written in 1994 on a commission from the U.S./Mexico Fund for Culture. It was premiered on October 23, 1994 during the international Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato, Mexico. The premiere performance was in charge of the Cuicani Chamber Orchestra, under the composer’s direction.

When he set out to compose this work, Sanchez-Gutierrez thought about maintaining the anonymity of the individual to whom the work pays tribute, but he later made it know that the “M.E.” of the title refers to Mexican composer Manuel Enríquez (1926-1994), who was born in the State of Jalisco, and who Carlos met towards the end of the former composer’s life. Enríquez is an important, yet contradictory, figure in Mexico’s cultural history. His contributions as a composer and organizer of cultural events are of everlasting importance. Sanchez-Gutierrez’s composition is not conceived as an epitaph, but instead aims to celebrate the contradictory character and explosively powerful quality of Enríquez’s music. Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez provides us with the following commentary:

“Octavio Paz wrote that ‘death is a mirror where the vain gesticulations of life are reflected.’ Rather than mourning the departure of a friend, this work is likely to invoke the complexity of the man's life--and the anger of those he left behind.”

Certainly, without trying to be a gloss of Enriquez’s work, or to imitate his style, Sanchez-Gutierrez’s piece shares many general qualities with the former composer’s work—if only tangentially. During the first half of the composition, the oboe appears to play a leading role through a series of gestures and motives that are reiterated across the entire range of the instrument; this resource is further explored, if less evidently, during subsequent passages. During a breaking point, the robust and tense discourse established by M.E. in Memoriam is supported by the piano and percussion instruments over a wash of repetitious pitches on the strings. The final section of the piece revisits the energy-charged expressiveness of the beginning, reminisces on other previous passages, and ends with a final peremptory gesture on the piano.

Juan Arturo Brennan
©, 2000
All rights reserved
This intimate music will never cease…
Ramón López Velarde, Song of the Heart, 1932.

The music of composer Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez stands out from the astonishing plurality of stylistic and technical trends found in the music of our time. His work is among the best written in Mexico in recent years. It is solid, filled with fantasy, and emerges from a powerfully imaginative mind that is capable of inventing an enormously fascinating sonic universe. From his earliest works, Carlos’ music has shown us the face of originality. The music he hears through his internal ear isn’t like any other. It sounds, paraphrasing López Velarde, like a modern, a jungle, an orgiastic song.

The first of Carlos’ works I heard was a piece for clarinet and piano [The Loon’s Chant], premiered at the Pinacoteca Virreinal, during one of Mexico City’s New Music Forums. That piece—nearly twenty minutes in length—drew a series of paths that fork, creating a sort of aural labyrinth whose final resolution would demonstrate the presence of a surprisingly compact structural plan. It was after this happy first encounter with his work that I became a frequent and grateful listener of Carlos’ music. Some time later, I listened to Calacas y Palomas for two pianos, and to Son del Corazón for instrumental ensemble, both included in this recording, which confirmed my admiration for this very important composer and his music.

One of the most compelling facets of Carlos’ musical thinking concerns the nature of the instrumental writing. In his work, no instrument occupies a privileged space. Instead, all instruments acquire a special category as soloists. In his hands, instruments become exceptional entities capable of displaying an extraordinarily diverse variety of color, while deploying a truly amazing degree of musical activity.

It is clear that Carlos’ music shows his fascination with instrumental virtuosity, through which he seeks—and finds—many new expressive and technical resources. In this sense his work not only perpetuates, but even renews a noble tradition that is as old as music itself. But there is another kind of virtuosity to be found in his work—a poetic virtuosity that can be perceived differently according to the character and spirit of each composition. Carlos’ titles are eloquent and match the character of a given work. The virtuosity of Luciérnagas (“Fireflies”) and Calacas y Palomas (“Skulls and Doves”) is agile and winged; that of Son del Corazón (“Son of the Heart”) is extroverted and luminous; and, finally, that of “…voici le bateau pour les calanques…” is humid and evasive.

Carlos’ personal language has grown consistently and sensibly. He has refined his compositional gestures throughout the years, ultimately providing them with an admirable mix of expressive precision and formal order. In his music, one hears a personal, intimate voice that outlines with sure strokes everything from a simple motive to the overall structure of a composition.

The happy conjunction of talent, rigorous discipline, magnificent craftsmanship, and absolute devotion to his art have contributed to define the attractive and powerful personality of Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s music. I am certain that this, his first one-man recording, will trigger greater interest in his oeuvre, thus allowing the work of one of the most skilled and original composers of our time to be enjoyed by larger audiences.

Mario Lavista
(Mexico, October 14, 2000)



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