Aldo López-Gavilán’s personal fusion of classical and jazz arrives in Napa

Aldo López-Gavilán

When we connected with the Cuban pianist-composer Aldo López-Gavilán Last week, he was led by his local host, arts patron Rick Swig, to a rehearsal of the Novack Concert for Kids at the Napa Valley Festival, in an amphitheater at the Culinary Institute of America’s Copia site in the center. city ​​of Napa. López-Gavilán, featured at the festival for several years and in several events this year, would perform three winning compositions by teenagers from Napa Valley Public School and also accompany the young audience experience of songwriter Nia Imani Franklin. , a former Miss America, singing Puccini’s “Quando j’ai vo”.

The 41-year-old Havana resident is familiar with the delights of young exposure to music. Raised in Cuba by famous conductor Guido López-Gavilán and late concert pianist Teresita Junco, alongside his 6-year-old older brother and violinist Ilmar, young Aldo began playing chords on the family piano at age 4 and started studying music at school, as is the case. the case of many Cubans, at 7 years old. A Danny Kaye International Children’s Award, created by UNICEF, allowed him to perform an original composition in Holland when he was 11 years old and the following year he made his professional piano debut with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Matanzas. .

López-Gavilán matured his improvisation skills alongside his classical studies and appeared at the Havana International Jazz Festival; he was declared “simply a genius, a star” by the Cuban jazz titan Chucho Valdés. López-Gavilán has recorded half a dozen albums spanning his multi-genre repertoire and has toured around the world, sometimes with the Harlem String Quartet, where his brother Ilmar is the solo violin. His contagious exuberance and romanticism are showcased both in his compositions and in the interpretations of his and other works.

Aldo’s long-awaited reunion with long-lived New York City Ilmar is celebrated in documentary film Los Hermanos, directed by Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider and screened as part of Napa Valley Festival, as well as earlier this year by the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. It will air on PBS stations in September. López-Gavilán is fluent in English, some idiosyncratic accents and usages exist.

I understood you would do a question-and-answer session with the kids after the music today. They might be a little curious and envious of your early departure to Cuba.

I guess that’s true, although I know you have music schools for kids.

When Rick and I were kids, we had more music education in our public schools. Now we have the wonderful Crowden School in Berkeley and the San Francisco Conservatory pre-college program., but they are both private. Is it public in Cuba?

Absolutely. In Cuba, there is no private school.

Some Cuban musicians I interviewed told me that although Western classical music was maintained after the Communists took control in 1959, other genres, such as American jazz and pop, were suppressed or discouraged in your country.

These musicians were probably referring to the time before I was born. I got to be surrounded by all kinds of music, including hip-hop. But in Cuba, jazz is much more popular than many other genres of American music, especially because of the [Havana Jazz] Festival that takes place every year [inaugurated in 1978]. And there are fusions with Cuban dance forms and other styles.

Aldo López-Gavilán

You appeared at this festival with Chucho Valdés. Wow! Were you on stage with him?

I was 14, and we actually had a two-piano duo, with members of the legendary band Irakere. [founded by Valdés in 1973]. And I performed, with Chucho, one of my first compositions, called “Black Magic”.

At first, did you find yourself composing in classical or jazz forms or some kind of fusion?

It was a combination. In general, my way of composing has a lot to do with improvisation, with jazz techniques and phrasing, harmonies. But the structure is somewhat close to concert music, which means it has a solid classical structure. Everything is written, and it must be played as it is written. But when I play, there are substantial parts with improvisation. [He’s also improvised during Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.]

Can we talk about your room Mall, which you will play later here with the Festival Orchestra Napa? Tell me about the play and its place in the genres.

Aldo López-Gavilán and his family

Let’s start by saying that this is a piano concerto, with large orchestra and solo piano and the classical structure: three movements. But of course, it’s very influenced by jazz and by Cuban and African culture. Everything is based on a theme that I dedicated to my daughters [Adriana and Andrea, with his wife, conductor Daiana Garcia] for their birthday, when they were 9 years old. I improvised this theme [formed on an alluring rippling ninth chord] in the middle of the night, just to surprise them. [Adriana and Andrea both won the top award last year in the Pequeño Pianista category of the inaugural Concurso Latinoamericano de Piano.] Later, I started playing what was to be the first movement with my jazz trio. It was more like a structured jazz piece, where I could play the theme and then improvise around it. Later, I decided to orchestrate it [as a concerto], because I was invited by the late great conductor Joel Revzen to play at Classical Tahoe [in 2017, where López-Gavilán also appeared with Joshua Bell and in jazz settings]. You find this main theme from the first movement throughout the work, but with variations. I didn’t tell you that my daughters are twins, so they are always told that they look a lot alike, but in a lot of details they are very personalized, and I have tried to achieve that in my work.

Tell us more. Will this piece be recorded?

We plan to register it properly next year. The second movement is more lyrical, it tries to mix two different styles that I think are related. One is black church music, like spirituals, the other is what we in Cuba call the vieja trova tradicional, beautiful romantic songs with amazing poetic lyrics, always describing love and beauty. I tried to embrace the idea of ​​uniting cultures. The final movement has more dramatic and unsettling rhythms, shifting tones, more jazz elements [and reggaeton]. It’s very exciting but also carries the beautiful things of the first movement.

A place for Cuban percussion in the orchestra?

There’s no. I try to make it more universal. This is one of the goals of my career: not to try to impose my culture on the real message you want to convey, which is the beauty and depth of emotional and spiritual language.

Aldo López-Gavilán with the Harlem Quartet

And love of family seems to be the norm for you. Last night the Festival presented the film about you and your brother Ilmar, Los Hermanos. For those of us who haven’t seen him yet, tell us a bit about him and your perspective.

First of all, I’m very happy that the film was screened here at the Cameo cinema [in St. Helena]. I especially want to thank my friend Rick Swig, who was behind all of this. It’s hard for me to describe because it’s about me and my family, but it’s mostly about love for family, love for music. And it describes many events in our lives, and how we got together in the United States, to tour and perform in different cities in this country, with my brother and the Harlem Quartet.

Have you been separated for a long time?

He went to study his violin in Russia when he was 14 and I was only 8, so he left home. Then he studied in Madrid, then came to California, and he graduated from the Manhattan School of Music. He basically stayed here, made a life and a family. He went to Cuba to visit our family every year, but he only visited, we didn’t live together.

Does the documentary talk about the differences in lifestyle between the two countries?

A little. In a very pleasant way, however. Everything is covered with love.

What has been your reaction to the news over the past two weeks regarding the protests in Cuba? Is the American media looking for another way to portray communism in a bad light?

First of all, I will say that I am very sad to see my people suffer so much violence among themselves. The Cuban people have suffered from scarcity for a long time. And, of course, there are different interests of the Cuban government and the US government, especially in the Florida community, which I don’t want to talk about because I don’t have a full knowledge of this thing. What I can say is that I wish it would lead to a better solution for our country.

A solution from the Cuban government?

I’m not sure they can or are willing to do it. But I’m not a politician, and I don’t know a lot of laws that force the government to do what it does. What I do know is that people need to be heard, even if there are some who just want to profit and wreak havoc. And I am against any brutal response from the army and the police.

Is there something in Cuba that looks like Napa?

Ah I don’t think so! [laughs]

You became a regular at Napa, and you also played at the San Francisco Jazz Festival in 2014.

It was a great series of concerts, at the Joe Henderson Lab, a solo piano recital, and I really enjoyed the response from this wonderful audience.

What did you play for them?

Many of my own compositions for solo piano. I knew I was in a jazz hall, so there was a lot of improvisation, but you will always find in my compositions this fusion of concert and jazz and Cuban music; it doesn’t matter where I do it or how I do it. [For an example, a musical quote from the venerable Cuban son “El manisero” is audible in López-Gavilán’s performance of his Pan con Timba, with the Harlem Quartet.]

Anywhere we should look for you later?

Oh yes! I will be on tour with the Quartet and my brother, and you will find this information on my website, [The Harlem Quartet, with Aldo López-Gavilán, will perform at Kohl Mansion on Oct. 31, and the brothers will appear as a duo for Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall on Jan. 23, 2022.]

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