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20 December 2022

A Latin American Adventure with an Australian Presence (Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia)

Andrian Pertout Image: Andrian Pertout  

For over thirty years I have been exploring the wider world via this incredible and far-reaching vehicle fuelled by art, music and culture - a dynamic body living within the utopian boundaries of a genuinely positive world framed by an omnipresent eudemonia; and travelling both as an independent composer, and as official Australian cultural ambassador: Australian delegate of the Asian Composers' League (2007-) and International Society for Contemporary Music (2005). This artistic journey has taken me from the architectural beauty of Samarkand, Uzbekistan to the natural splendour of the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, Brazil; from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Japan to the mysticism and serenity of the Dead Sea, Israel; from the European splendour of Belgrade, Brussels, Ljubljana, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Marino, Tirana, Vienna, and Zagreb to the Unites States of America, and beyond.

In October 2022 I embarked on a six-week tour of Latin America encompassing 15 flights, 5 countries (Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia), 2 festivals, 15 concerts, 5 lectures, 5 masterclasses, and meetings with dozens of composers, musicians and conductors.

The tour began with my attendance of the 5-day XIX Festival Internacional de Música Contemporánea PUCV 'Darwin Vargas' in Valparaíso, Chile where my work Aquí y ahora (Here and Now) for Andean Orchestra, no. 432f (2015, Rev. 2022) would receive its world premiere performance at the Parque Cultural de Valparaíso by the Orquesta Andina PUCV conducted by Félix Cárdenas. Interestingly, the venue for this re-encounter with the planet is an ex-prison - an architectural complex built on the Cerro Cárcel de Valparaíso ("Prison Hill of Valparaíso"). The work being performed was an arrangement for three quenas (Andean end-blown flutes) - G quena, D quenacho, G mama quena; two sikus and two toyos (Andean panpipes); four charangos (Andean 10-stringed, five-course fretted lute); four guitars; contrabass; and two percussionists (cajón Peruano, maracas, bombo legüero (Andean cylindrical-shaped double-headed drum) and chuyas (Andean llama hooves rattle) of none other than the cadenza from my low flute concerto, originally commissioned by Julian Burnside AO QC for performance by low flute specialist Peter Sheridan.

Something I could not have imagined occurring in this magical quinary of sunrises and sunsets is the godsend of being in the perpetual company of the Orquesta de Instrumentos Autóctonos y Nuevas Tecnologías for my entire stay. The incredible artistic presence of Alejandro Iglesias Rossi and the Orchestra (from Argentina) is absolutely mesmerising. At the essence of this orchestra is the idea of the 'integral musician', and the pre-Columbian alternative to the European model of music making and to what Iglesias refers to as the reversal of "the disciplinary compartmentalization that has been occurring in the arts since the Industrial Revolution" and a return to music that is a "ritual that involves sound, physicality, dance, choreography, as a whole." At the Centre for Ethnomusicology and Creation in Traditional and Avant-garde Arts based at the Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero in Buenos Aires, Iglesias heads the Master's Degree in Musical Creation, New Technologies and Traditional Arts, which is a unique program that gives students a solid base in traditional musics of the Americas via preliminary field work in a specific region that will in time encompass not only a solid study of the actual music, but also holistically incorporate instrument making, composition, performance, and teaching. Whilst in Valparaíso, and at the invitation of Professor of Percussion Nicolás Alejandro Moreno Yaeger, I also conducted a lecture on my music entitled 'Art and Science: Intuition and Rationality' at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV). At the end of the festival, I also joined the 'Día de la Música Chilena' tour to La Ligua (110 kilometres northeast of Valparaíso) where an open-air concert at the Plaza De Armas consolidated three orchestras: Orquesta de Instrumentos Autóctonos y Nuevas Tecnologías Untref, Orquesta Andina PUCV and Orquesta Marga Marga.

Image: Orquesta de Instrumentos Autóctonos y Nuevas Tecnologías at the Parque Cultural de Valparaíso (PCdV), Valparaíso, Chile

My Latin American adventure continued with Caracas, Venezuela. I will admit that I was at first apprehensive about my visit to the Venezuelan heartland as in 2017 Caracas was named the world's most dangerous capital, and today sits on a list of the top three most dangerous places in the world. The DFAT advice is: "Do not travel to Venezuela due to the unstable political and economic situation, shortages of food, water, medicine and petrol, and high levels of violent crime." In spite of the grim warnings, I will say that I personally did not encounter any perceivable danger, although I did make my place of residence the safe suburb of Cachao and avoided the dangerous 3 kilometre strip to the city centre after 9pm.

In Venezuela, I was fortunate to be looked after lovingly by Alfredo Rugeles (composer, artistic director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar, and artistic director of the Festival Latinoamericano de Música de Caracas) and Diana Arismendi (composer and Professor at the Universidad Simón Bolívar), who organized a university chauffeur for the airport transfers to deliver a security protocol. (In the past, kidnappings of foreign nationals have not only taken place in homes, hotels, and unauthorized taxis, but also at the airport terminal.) Rugeles organised a series of activities for me in Caracas, including a separate lecture and masterclass for composition students of the Conservatorio de Música y Unearte, Universidad Simón Bolívar, as well as a concert - all taking place in the iconic Centro Nacional de Acción Social por la Música (National Centre for Social Action for Music). The concert featured a Venezuelan repeat performance of my work Objetos de imitación, Concertino for Pianoforte and Mixed Ensemble, no. 440 (2016) by the Orquesta de Cámara Simón Bolívar conducted by Alfredo Rugeles - presented together with music by Miguel Astor (Venezuela), Silvestre Revueltas (Mexico), Keyla Orozco (Cuba), Alejandro Cardona (Costa Rica), and Igor Stravinsky (Russia). The performance of my work (essentially a concertino for piano, and a dedication to Australian pianist Michael Kieran Harvey) was spectacular (the Venezuelan pianist Claudio Rubera, a rising star), with the level of musicianship at the highest of artistic standards.

I am delighted to have been invited back next year to attend the XXII Festival Latinoamericano de Música de Caracas, where my work On the Edge of Infinity for Symphony Orchestra, no. 452 (2019), commissioned by Julian Burnside AO QC for performance by the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela conducted by Alfredo Rugeles will be finally premiered at what is no doubt the most important new music festival in Latin America. The work (partially composed during my 2019 residency in Japan as Visiting Professor of Composition at Aichi Prefectural University of the Arts) is dedicated to Venezuelan orchestra conductor, pianist, economist, educator, activist, and politician José Antonio Abreu (1939-2018), who in 1975 founded 'El Sistema' - a "publicly financed, voluntary sector, music-education program," which in time was to adopt the motto 'Music for Social Change.' According to the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies El Sistema-inspired programs provide "free classical music education that promotes human opportunity and development for impoverished children." Today (almost 50 years on), the program is responsible for the creation of over 300 youth and children's orchestras and choirs around the country that support over 500,000 children.

Image: Andrián Pertout at the Centro Nacional de Acción Social por la Música (National Centre for Social Action for Music), Caracas, Venezuela

Next stop was Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and in the middle of a national election I was expecting more action than I could possibly imagine. My apartment in the characteristically bohemian inner-city neighbourhood of Lapa was the perfect vantage point for the Rio de Janeiro nightlife, which every single night did not stop until the restoration of a form of normality in the morning. We of course know now that Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva, defeated incumbent far-right president Jair Messias Bolsonaro, but to be in the middle of 'Lula' territory before and after the election results was a truly extra-terrestrial experience. For days I experienced a barrage of fireworks in Rio's night sky, which intensified to culminate in an unforgettable moment that I can only describe as a wild crowd of thousands (maybe even hundreds of thousands) passing by my street chanting 'Ole, ole, ole, ola, Lula, Lula…' accompanied by a band of multi-instrumentalists led by a drummer on steroids.

At the invitation of Chilean/Brazilian composer Bryan Holmes and Brazilian saxophonist Pedro Bittencourt I presented Portuguese-infused lectures at the two public universities in Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Villa-Lobos, Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro and Escola de Música da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (EM/UFRJ). I also reconnected with José Duarte Miller Schiller, who in 2006 filmed my Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro debut with the Orquestra Petrobras Sinfônica conducted by Rodolfo Fischer for Brazilian national television - featuring my work Bénédiction d'un conquérant for Symphony Orchestra, no. 390 (2004) - and went on to feature one of the many fabulous performances of Navigating the Labyrinth for String Orchestra, no. 385 (2002, Rev. 2010) by the Orquestra Cia Bachiana Brasileira conducted by Ricardo Rocha as the theme music for his Rádio MEC 'Concerto das Américas' radio program in Rio de Janeiro. In this memorable encounter, Schiller, Rocha and I conversed in the shadows of the spectacular Pan de Azúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). In addition to important sociocultural research into Rio nightlife, I attended two concerts presented as part of the XXX Panorama da Música Brasileira Atual at EM/UFRJ where I experienced the stunning musical prowess of Pedro Bittencourt, introduced to my ears at the XVII Festival Internacional de Música Contemporánea 2017 in Santiago, Chile.

Image: Ricardo Rocha, Andrián Pertout and José Duarte Miller Schiller at Pan de Azúcar, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Quito, Ecuador followed. I was unable to conduct lectures and masterclasses in Quito, as the dates of my visit coincided with the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations that honour the souls of ancestors, although I did accept a meeting at the Conservatorio Superior Nacional de Música (Superior National Conservatory of Music) with Ecuadorian composers Ricardo Monteros (also director of the National Conservatorium), Julio Bueno (former national minister for Culture and Heritage) and Marcelo Ruano. And because of my bad timing I also had to fly to Manta (400 kilometres from Quito) to meet up with David Handel, artistic director and chief conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Ecuador (National Symphony Orchestra of Ecuador), as they were undertaking a national tour during my visit. It was really nice to join the orchestra's national tour and to additionally catch up with David, who in 2019 conducted two performances of my work Hacia los vientos norteños for Symphony Orchestra, no. 454 (2019) in Coquimbo and La Serena (Chile) by the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Serena as part of the Musicahora: XVI Festival de Música Contemporánea.

This work was also composed during my 2019 residency in Japan, and is dedicated to Chilean musician, conductor and humanist martyr Jorge Peña Hen (1928-1973). Jorge Peña Hen's legacy is marked not only as founder of a series of fundamental institutions for the development of music in La Serena and the north of Chile (notably the Bach Society, the Philharmonic Orchestra of La Serena, the Polyphonic Choir, and local chamber groups; not to mention the Experimental Music School of La Serena and Regional Music Conservator that collectively went on to transform the city into an important cultural centre), but also for his direct role in establishing the social movement of Youth Orchestras in the Americas, which today has 80 members from 20 countries. In 1964, Pen also founded the Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Escuela de Música Jorge Peña Hen - the first children's symphony orchestra of Chile and Latin America (the impetus of 'El Sistema'), which was "made up mostly of poor children from the poorest schools in La Serena."

Image: UNESCO World Heritage City of Quito, Ecuador
Image: UNESCO World Heritage City of Quito, Ecuador

Next in line was Bogotá, Colombia, where I conducted three masterclasses, a workshop, and a lecture as part of week-long residency at the Conservatorio Superior de Música de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia at the invitation of Colombian/Catalan composer and Professor of Composition Moisès Bertran Ventejo. My masterclasses encompassed the complete collection of composition students at the university, while the lecture endowed me with the opportunity to further develop my compositional philosophies and methodologies surrounding the notion of 'Art and Science: Intuition and Rationality' that had been at the centre of my lectures throughout my Latin American tour. I would further use this opportunity to attend a concert by the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia at the Teatro Colón Bogotá - a masterpiece of baroque architecture. One of the highlights at this juncture of my tour was my attendance of 'Forest Mind: On the Interconnectedness of Life' - a National University of Colombia exhibition at San Agustín in central Bogotá that connected the Inga community of the Colombian pan-Amazon (an indigenous ethnic group from the Southwest region of Colombia, historically linked to the Incas) with the Swiss artist Ursula Biemann. This exhibition not only accorded me with the opportunity to experience the Inga's sacred rituals, but to also sample some of their food staples, such as 'chicha' - the traditional fermented corn drink banned by Spanish authorities and the Catholic Church during colonial times. On my last day in Bogotá I visited the Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango (Banco de la Republica de Colombia). The amazing aspect of this building is that this is the location of the Music Library sponsored by the Bank of the Republic of Colombia. Among many artistic and cultural activities, the bank supports Composer Portraits that include sponsorship of recording sessions and CD releases.

Image: Andrián Pertout, Moisès Bertran Ventejo and composition and performance students of the Conservatorio Superior de Música de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Conservatory of Music of the National University of Colombia), Bogotá, Colombia

Image: Andrián Pertout, Moisès Bertran Ventejo and composition and performance students of the Conservatorio Superior de Música de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Conservatory of Music of the National University of Colombia), Bogotá, Colombia

My final stop would bring me full circle and back to the Chilean port city of Valparaíso, although this time residing in the coastal town of Concón (30 kilometres north-east of Valparaíso) in close vicinity to the Fundación Orquesta Marga Marga (FOMM) headquarters. The six-week long trip culminated in my attendance of the 4th PUENTE Festival Interoceánico: Encuentro interoceánico de culturas (BRIDGE Interoceanic Festival: Interoceanic Meeting of Cultures), presented by the FOMM. As an ongoing international coordinator of the festival, which takes place in Valparaíso and features the Orquesta Marga Marga, I dedicated this year's festival to Australian music. I had the great privilege of inviting a number of Australian composers to compose new works for string orchestra to be premiered in the 2022 festival, which is essentially a continuation of my important international role as mentor and facilitator of Australian music composition. It should be noted that the Orquesta Marga Marga is an orchestra practicing in an environment totally alien to the Australian artistic landscape. As it happens to be one of the ten professional orchestras in Chile, by law it must perform at least 25% local content. The Orquesta Marga Marga does even better than that, performing almost 50% music by living composers, as well as the usual dose of Vivaldi and Mozart. The orchestra obtains all its venues at no cost and accordingly presents all its concerts free of charge (part of an enlightened 'socialist-inspired' view common to Latin America that attempts to connect the arts with the general public in anti-elitist and egalitarian fashion). It also records all its concerts with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment that includes two 32- and one 16-channel digital desks, ten regular and two 360 cameras, as well as two DJI drones.

The PUENTE Festival Interoceánico took place between Tuesday 15 November and Saturday 19 November 2022 and included three separate concerts of new music by the Orquesta Marga Marga conducted by Luis José Recart. The featured Australian composers for 2022 included Bruce Crossman, Misha Doumnov, Eve Duncan, Alan Holley, Natalya Vagner, and myself. Initially invited to participate in 2022, flautist and musicologist Johanna Selleck will also be included in next year's festival. My own participation in the festival included the world premiere of a special orchestral arrangement of my work Voyage à la terre de l'enchantement (2016), which was commissioned by Julian Burnside AO QC, dedicated to my wife Katija Farac-Pertout, and especially composed for Australian ensemble Plexus.

The opening concert, 'Terra Australis Incognita' at the Liceo Politécnico (Polytechnic High School) in Concón, was dedicated to Australian music and featured Eve Duncan's Wooden Boat, Little Star, Archer; Bruce Crossman's Dancing Deep Sadness; Natalya Vagner's Light Keeper (the composer performing the piano part with the orchestra); Misha Doumnov's La Maga; and Alan Holley's Waratah. Highlights of this concert (attended by Concón mayor Freddy Ramírez Villalobos) included the highly emotive and figurative expressiveness of Crossman's Dancing Deep Sadness; the deeply moving and artistically inspirational east-meets-west fusion of Doumnov's La Maga; and the 're-imagined songbird nested in compact synergy' of Holley's Waratah.

Day 2 delivered a performance of three concertos for string orchestra by the three finalists of the IX Concurso Internacional de Composición (presented each year by the orchestra) at the Palacio Vergara in Viña del Mar. The judging panel of the IX International Composition Competition included Ezequiel Diz, Eve Duncan, Natalya Vagner, and myself, with the first prize accorded to Chilean composer and resident of Viña del Mar, Carolina Palacios, for her work Mintaka.

The Orquesta Marga Marga's closing concert at the Club Alemán in Valparaíso included a diversely international cast of creatives: Abdulaziz Shabakouh's (Kuwait) String Septet No. 2, my (Chile-Australia) work Voyage à la terre de l'enchantement, Julieta Szewach's (Argentina) Súplica en la Tinieblas Luminosas, Eduardo Cáceres's (Chile) Siete Velos de un Prisma, Ezequiel Diz's (Argentina) Romance del Paraná, and Artyk Toxanbaev's (Kazakhstan) Burambel. In a separate program presented by the Orquesta Marga Marga following the festival, Alan Holley and Misha Doumnov received a further three performances of their works.

In 2023, there will again be a number of Australian composers featured in what will be the 5th edition of the PUENTE Festival Interoceánico: Encuentro interoceánico de culturas, although on this occasion the featured country will be the Philippines, with music by Marie Jocelyn Marfil (Associate Professor, University of the Philippines), Maria Christine Muyco (Professor, University of the Philippines), Conrado del Rosario (Berlin-based freelance composer), Ramon P. Santos (University Professor Emeritus, University of the Philippines, and National Artist of the Philippines), Josefino 'Chino' Toledo (Professor, University of the Philippines, and Music Director/Conductor of the U.P. Symphony Orchestra), and Katz Jakosalem Trangco (Professor, University of the Philippines, and President of Asian Composers League Philippines).

In closing, I would like to acknowledge the Australia Council for the Arts for its support of my Latin American tour via its 'International Engagement Fund' program.

Image: Ezequiel Diz, Misha Doumnov, Andrián Pertout, Luis José Recart, Julieta Szewach, Natalya Vagner and Eve Duncan at the PUENTE Festival Interoceánico (BRIDGE Interoceanic Festival), Valparaíso, Chile

Note: This article has been edited for length.

Andrián Pertout is a freelance composer with a PhD in Composition from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (University of Melbourne). His music has been performed in over 50 countries around the world. He is currently Vice-President of the Melbourne Composers’ League (2021-); Member of the Executive Committee (Treasurer) of the Asian Composers’ League (2022-); Australian delegate of the Asian Composers’ League (2007-); International coordinator, PUENTE Festival Interoceánico, Valparaíso, Chile (2019-); Member of the Editorial Board, Eurasian Music Science Journal, The State Conservatory of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, Uzbekistan (2022-); and was Visiting Professor of Composition at Aichi Prefectural University of the Arts, Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, Japan (2019).


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