James Wishart was an inspirational and encouraging supervisor for my studies in composition at Liverpool University. After my masters’ graduation, he surprised me by commissioning me to write a new work for a concert he was going to conduct with the Orchestra of the Metropolitan Cathedral. This was 1986.
My response to this thrilling commission - my first in the UK - was also a response to the military dictatorships I had left behind in South America. In particular to an incident that year, where, during a protest in Santiago, Pinochet’s forces set fire to two students, one of whom died from his burns. The piece, which I entitled Fuego, explored images of fire and violence in some of their possible technical and metaphorical applications to music. After its Liverpool première, the piece went on to be performed in various countries.
In 2016, thirty years after the incident, I had the unexpected opportunity to communicate with the survivor - the one who did not die, Carmen Quintana. On a much more cheerful note, in 2016 James celebrates his sixtieth birthday. For very different reasons, the two living people to whom Fuego owes its existence have been very much in mind lately.
James’s Fire weaves together ideas from Fuego in a new, celebratory context. One connecting thread, in my mind at least, is the sense of drive and onward struggle. Another, more tangible connection is the repeated presence of a quotation from James’s Nimue’s Song.