Born in Venezuela but currently residing in the U.S., Ricardo Lorenz is recognized internationally for his fiery harmonic compositions. He has a diverse musical background having earned a Ph.D. degree in composition from the University of Chicago and a Master of Music degree from Indiana University. He has taught at both schools as well as at City Colleges of Chicago and Michigan State University, where he currently serves as Professor of Composition.
Lorenz is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), The College Music Society (CMS) and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC).
Listen to his compositions on February 24 at The Woodlands United Methodist Church and February 25 at The Church of St. John the Divine during “People are People—Conductorless!” concert. The program features the world premiere of a violin concerto commissioned by ROCO and written specifically for Andrés Cárdenes by Ricardo Lorenz.
Q: In writing a work for a specific performer, in this case Andrés Cárdenes, do you consider his abilities and style? How much dialog goes on between you and the performer?
Ricardo Lorenz: I feel privileged to say that Dance Unlikely, my second violin concerto, is the fifth composition that I’ve written over the years that was commissioned by, and in collaboration with, Andrés Cárdenes. In addition to my first violin concerto, I have also written for Andrés a duo for violin and harp, a duo for for violin and piano and a work for nine celli that he commissioned and premiered with the Pittsburgh Symphony cello section.
Of course, I have heard him perform many times and recently saw him conduct. By now, I feel I have a good sense of his attitude towards the violin and towards music in general.
However, when I compose a work for Andrés, I don’t necessarily tailor the work to what I interpret to be his style or abilities as a performer. Rather, I let my musical thoughts and creative impulses be guided by the enormous feeling of friendship and camaraderie I have held for Andrés since at least thirty years ago. Although we don’t see each other often, I can say that we have shared experiences together that have been fundamental to my understanding of both music and life. I guess this is the best dialogue there is.
But, of course, and now answering your questions in a more specific way, a lot of technical team works goes into our collaborations, especially when dealing with a violin concerto. I am going to Pittsburgh in a week to spend a couple of days with Andrés chopping at the solo part, making sure that it is not only coherent from the stand point of the content but, most importantly, that everything is as idiomatic as it can be for the violin.
I expect that Andrés will suggest lots of editing to the solo part.
Q: How do you compose: At the piano, computer, pen and pencil? What tools do you use to begin a new work?
Ricardo Lorenz: I always start by shaping a loose musical thought at the piano until it crystallizes into a real musical idea that invites other musical thoughts. Only after the initial thought crystallizes do I actually notate it using paper and pencil in short score form. From this stage on, composing becomes a dancing act between fragments I develop on staff paper and their realizations using a notation software. For me, it keeps the creative process really dynamic.
Q: How much editing goes into your compositions? When do you know when the piece is complete?
Ricardo Lorenz: I follow more of the Beethoven model. Composing is a perpetual series of never-ending revisions and edits for me. As I tell my students, composing is easy, editing is really hard. Ideally, one has to learn to split one’s personality—the composer persona is one thing and the editor persona is another. I haven’t truly learned how to do this yet.
When do I think the piece is complete? I guess I’d have to say only after I pass away. While still alive, every piece I’ve composed is vulnerable to being edited some more.
Q: What unique themes or inspiration make up this piece commissioned for ROCO and Andrés Cárdenes?
Ricardo Lorenz: The title of my second violin concerto, Dance Unlikely, was inspired by a photo I bought in Havana some years ago. It shows the late Fidel Castro dining out with his government entourage, military guards and all, while a small band made up of an accordion and a couple of string players are shown in the background serenading the gathering. It is an odd scene especially because Mr. Castro, seated in the center of the table and flanked by an accordion, looks like he is clearly not having a good time.
The photo is dated 1961, only a couple of years after he took power, the same year of the U.S. Bay of Pigs failed invasion and only one year before the Cuban missile crisis. I can only imagine what these Cuban officials were there to discuss, all the while four cheerful-looking musicians serenaded them probably with boleros, guajiras and tangos. Despite the music being played that night, for Castro and his entourage, dance was unlikely. (By the way, while he enjoyed food and even liked to cook, Castro was not known to have enjoyed music).
Q: Any listening tips you’d like to give ROCO audiences ahead of listening to this world premiere?
Ricardo Lorenz: My second violin concerto is driven by the unlikely counterpoint shown in the photo and by the way I translate it into music. In essence, the musical content of the solo and orchestra parts are continuously striving to break into a syncopated danceable groove only to be met, equally continuously, by more abstract musical elements that resist and ultimately frustrate the endeavor.
ROCO audiences may want to listen to a typical Cuban guajira performed by the Afrocuban All Stars on YouTube in order to get a feeling for the type of dance music the violin concerto seems to want to go but to not avail.