Thursday, 8 November 2018

String Quartet No. 2 'Sin tiempo' (2013)

In a motivational sense this work belongs together with the opera Teoponte (1988) and with Souvenir de Teoponte (2012). Both respond to the same background of societal turmoil and failed insurrection.

One specific episode in Bolivian history, the guerrilla campaign at Teoponte (1969-70), encapsulates the dreams of a generation, its struggle to make those dreams true, and its inglorious, bloody failure.

I composed the 1988 opera based on the minimal sources then available, including my own memories. Only in 2006 was the first serious monograph on the subject published: Sin tiempo para las palabras: Teoponte, La otra guerrilla guevarista en Bolivia by Gustavo Rodríguez Ostria (Cochabamba: Kipus, 2006). Had this book been available in 1988, my understanding of the whole episode would have been substantially different, and my opera would have been much richer as a result. Hence the need to revisit the subject of the opera from new angles. In most cases this ‘revisiting’ is not thematic or otherwise recognisable to the ear.

‘Profecía’ is a musical illustration to a poem by Franz Tamayo (1878-1956), La profecía de Huaina-Capac, where the dying Inca emperor foretells a grim future of strife and devastation on the land he leaves behind.

‘Plegaria’ is a prayer, although not in the sense of a slow or private meditation, but prayer as an invocation, a gathering of inner energy, a struggle to achieve control, an exhortation, an appeal, a supplication. This has to do with the role Liberation Theology played in the Teoponte episode.

‘Acción’ relates to the strife itself, musically alluding to the opera’s most violent passage.

This work was composed thanks to a commission from The Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, The Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Inc,  for the Momenta Quartet, who gave the first performance in 2014.

Monday, 13 August 2018


LoA (suggested pronunciation ‘eloway’) is a commission from North Music Trust for Royal Northern Sinfonia and guests, for performance at Sage Gateshead on 22 September 2018 as part of the celebrations of RNS's 60th anniversary. The piece brings together five leading soloists from RNS and four professional guest musicians who have had to adjust their practice to life-changing disabilities.

Undeniably in this project it has been more important than ever to communicate with the players and to assimilate their particularities in order to write suitable parts for each of them. Once these were ascertained, the high musical standard of the guest players made it possible for the creative work to flow without any great sense of impediment. More than one of constraint, the experience of composing LoA was one of channelling the energy, the struggle and ultimately the triumph of these wonderful players over adversity.

As will be obvious to many listeners, LoA is a fantasia on the Northumbrian traditional tune Lads of Alnwick (first published in 1733). Since I first heard it in 2005 by the Kathryn Tickell Band, this tune has intrigued me for its quirkiness, its tightness of construction and the vertiginous circularity of its design. I have long looked forward to an opportunity to immerse myself in this tune through some kind of creative exploration.

The opportunity has arrived to make a start, thanks to a commission from Royal Northern Sinfonia. I offer the piece to RNS on its 60th anniversary, with gratitude for the many magnificent musical experiences the orchestra has given me, including some with my own music.

Making the acronymic title even more suitable for the occasion, in my native Spanish loa is a word for ‘eulogy’ or ‘praise’, which is what this piece is for Royal Northern Sinfonia. More obscurely perhaps, Loa is the river on the banks of which a small contingent of Bolivian civilians fought to fend off the invading Chilean forces in 1879. The rout of the Bolivians led to their being driven out of their own coastal territory, leaving the country in a landlocked condition Bolivians still consider temporary. This, too, is relevant to some aspects of this piece.

An alternative version for ten players is also available. 

© Agustín Fernández 2018

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Tres canciones sobre poemas de Rachel

Agustín Fernández
Tres canciones sobre poemas de Rachel

Rachel Bluwstein Sela (1890-1931), known by the pen name of Rachel, was born in Russia and settled in Palestine from the age of 19. Her poems possess an extraordinary transparency, conveying simply and briefly complex feelings of hope, unrequited love, self-doubt, irony, fear of death, and devotion to the land and landscape of Palestine. She wrote in Russian and later switched to Hebrew.

Tres canciones sobre poemas de Rachel are settings of Spanish translations of three of Rachel poems. Written in La Paz in 1976 – when the composer was 18 – they belong to a youthful period of development and discovery. In 1992 the composer destroyed most of his manuscripts written before 1984. Only a handful of works were preserved, among them this choral songcycle.

In the first song the poet deploys a degree of sarcasm to describe her own abject infatuation with a man who does not return her love. In the second song Rachel depicts the enthusiasm for agricultural work shared by the pioneers in Palestine, with words full of a sunny vitality clouded only by a wistful mention of her posthumous legacy at the end. The third song stares death in the face, first protesting that it is too soon, then accepting “the verdict” and attempting a gracious welcome of the inevitable.  

© Agustín Fernández 2018