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15 December 2010

An Australian in Santiago de Chile: Andrián Pertout

Andrián Pertout in Chile Image: Andrián Pertout in Chile  
© Maria Soledad Zapata

Latin America, with its psyche deeply entrenched in what may be said to be an excessively impassioned sentimentality, and its 'abrazo' or 'embrace' common to not only email salutations but also to the physical encounters that frame our hellos and goodbyes, is as charming as the imagination professes. European colonisation of the Americas dates back to 1492, but in spite of a partiality to Romance cultures, the mixed cultural heritage of the continent's peoples (European settlers, African slaves, and American natives) has bestowed upon them a unique and unmistakable character. Latin America consists of 21,069,500 square kilometres, 580 million inhabitants and a combined GDP of 5.22 trillion Australian dollars, with Spanish and Portuguese being the two principal languages. The focus of this blog is of course Chile, the country of my birth, and a country with a population of 16,746,491 people and a landmass of 756,102 square kilometres situated between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean in the south-western edge of the South American continent.

I left Chile at the age of seven, initially migrating to Gorizia, Northern Italy, to then settle in Melbourne, Australia, a few years later. My first re-encounter with Chile occurred in 2003, and as part of my participation in the XIII Festival de Música Contemporánea Chilena (13th Chilean Festival of Contemporary Music) in Santiago de Chile (the capital city), where the Quinteto CEAMC from Buenos Aires, Argentina, performed my work Renascence for violin, violoncello, pianoforte and percussion (2001). This is one of the two most important international contemporary music festivals in Chile, which takes place in Santiago at Salón Fresno of the Instituto de Música, Facultad de Artes, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. In this instalment of the 'new music' festival some of the featured international composers included Georges Aphergis, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, George Crumb, Franco Donatoni, Pascal Dusapin, Morton Feldman, Michael Finnissy, Mauricio Kagel, Bruno Maderna, Olivier Messiaen, Salvatore Sciarrino, and Anton Webern, while notable performers in attendance included former violist of the Arditti Quartet Garth Knox and Canada's Fibonacci Trio.

In 2006, La flor en la colina for flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello and pianoforte (2003-2004) was then performed at the XV Festival de Música Contemporánea Chilena by the Ensamble Contemporáneo directed by Chilean/Croatian composer Aliocha Solovera. I was recently pleased to find out that the ensemble has just released a studio recording of that work. The other important festival in Chile is hosted by the Facultad de Artes of the Universidad de Chile at Sala Isidora Zegers in Santiago, and the upcoming 2011 XI Festival Internacional de Música Contemporanea will feature a performance of my work Cinq petites mélodies for pianoforte (2008) by Chilean pianist Patricia Castro - a work commissioned by Julian Burnside QC, and especially composed for Michael Kieran Harvey in Celebration of Elliott Carter's 100th Birthday. Incidentally, in 2010 the work was recognised as the Winner of the Friends & Enemies of New Music Composition Competition in the US, receiving its American premier in New York City.

2010 presented not one, but two trips to Chile, with my first being my fifth participation in the X Festival Internacional de Música Electroacústica de Santiago - Ai-maako 2010. This festival is organised by the Comunidad Electroacústica de Chile (CECh), or Chilean Electroacoustic Community, which since its inception in 2001 has come to be known as one of the most important festivals of this genre in Latin America, representing a wide range of styles and approaches to electronic music. The festival's artistic director is Federico Schumacher - a founding member of the CECh and respected Chilean musical identity, who studied composition in Paris and now teaches composition in Santiago at the Universidad Arsis.

Some of the invited composers of the 2010 edition included Latin American electroacoustic music pioneer José Vicente Asuar (Chile), as well as David Berezan (Canada/UK), Juan Parra Cancino (Chile/Holland), Robert Normandeau (Canada), Flo Menezes (Brazil) and Terri Hron (Holland). José Vicente Asuar - a student of Boris Blacher (1903-1975) - is highly respected in the region today as he was responsible for establishing the first electroacoustic laboratory in Latin America in 1958 at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Ai-maako 2010 took place in two cities: Valdivia, the cultural centre of southern Chile, and Santiago. Valdivia (about 730 kilometres south of Santiago) is the location of the Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960, which at 9.5 is the world's most powerful earthquake ever recorded - the consequential tsunami impacting Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, eastern New Zealand, southeast Australia, and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. The festival featured an essentially 14.1 multi-speaker system, with five speakers placed at either side of the auditorium and an additional four at the front (or two pairs), with a subwoofer positioned in the centre.

My work, Le petit agneau for harmonic and polytonal bells (2009), or 'The Little Lamb' was especially composed for the Federation Bell Installation in Birrarung Marr (Melbourne), which was designed by Neil McLachlan and Anton Hassell in association with Australian Bell Pty Ltd and comprises of thirty-nine computer-controlled harmonic and polytonal bells. In this work, the mixolydian mode is adopted as the basic pitch material, while the simple seven-limit frequencies ratios associated with this heptatonic scale form the basis for rhythmic development: 1/1, 9/8, 5/4, 4/3, 3/2, 5/3, 7/4 and 2/1. The melodic elements of the English language nursery rhyme 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' also feature in the work - these are incorporated via a linear additive compositional process structured around tempo canons (or diminution canons, expressed as polyrhythmic ratios: 3/4/5/6 and 4/5/6/7/8/9) and two rhythmic sequences based on ouroborean rings for pairs and quadruplets (0111, 0100 and 1111, 0000, 1010, 0110). Its performance at the Auditorio Fundación Telefónica in Santiago was of course an acousmatic reinterpretation of the work, featuring samples of the bells with specialisation based on a 12.1 sound diffusion scheme. In this September/October trip José Oplustil Acevedo also produced a 'Siglo XX' one-hour radio program dedicated to my music for Radio Beethoven (96.5 FM), Chile's one and only classical radio station.

I then returned to Chile in late November, 2010 to participate in four concerts with the Orquesta de Cámara de Chile conducted by Basel-based Rodolfo Fischer. The concerts took place on 1-4 December in the Santiago suburbs of Las Condes, Pudahuel and Ñuñoa, as well as in San Fernando (about 140 kilometres south-east of Santiago). The experience with the orchestra was phenomenal, and the five rehearsals conducted over a period of a week delivered a memorable concert series. The work performed was Navigating the Labyrinth for string orchestra (2002), or 'Navegando el laberinto', as it came to be called in Chile. The work was composed as a special dedication to Australian composer Brenton Broadstock, and intended as one of the pieces to be performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Warwick Stengards) for a CD release celebrating the work of Melbourne composers. Chilean musicians and audiences alike took a special liking to the work, so much so that I find myself now invited back to Chile in 2011 for four performances of a new work with another prominent orchestra in Chile - the Orquesta de Cámara de Valdivia, as well as for the presentation of Bénédiction d'un conquérant for symphony orchestra (2004) by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Concepción (the symphony orchestra from Chile's second-largest city). The Orquestra Petrobras Sinfônica from Rio de Janeiro (one of the oldest and most prestigious orchestras in Brazil) was the last Latin American orchestra to perform this work in 2006 (see A Grande Música: Andrián Pertout television program produced for TV Brasil on YouTube). Now, here is an interesting concept; imagine an orchestra funded by an oil company. Well, Petrobras, or Brazilian oil, which is reported as being 'the world's eighth biggest global company in market value' and is rated as 'the world's seventh biggest oil company with shares traded at stock exchanges' is this orchestra's major sponsor. Could this happen anywhere else but in Latin America?

Further links

The X Festival Internacional de Música Electroacústica de Santiago - Ai-maako 2010 (www.aimaako.cl)
Fundación Beethoven / Orquesta de Cámara de Chile (www.fundacionbeethoven.com)
Radio Beethoven 96.5 FM, Santiago, Chile (www.beethovenfm.cl)

Andrián Pertout is a freelance composer. His music has been performed in over thirty countries around the world, and is currently the Australian Delegate of the ACL (Asian Composers’ League), President of the Melbourne Composers’ League, as well as Honorary Fellow at the Faculty of Music, University of Melbourne and National Academy of Music (Thessaloniki, Greece).


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