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15 Questions to Victor Manuel Morales

img  Tobias Fischer

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hi! I´m very happy, and glad to share this moment with you. Greetings from México City!

What’s on your schedule right now?
Well, this year is really exciting for me. It's the culmination of several projects which I've been  working on hard for years, and the beginning of a new and very important stage in my career. Firstly, in terms of  my immersion with the organ and secondly, and very importantly, too, the adventure of Benejam's work on the contemporary musical scene, finally his name is recognized at least in México and some other colleagues are playing his music now. Now I continue on this line playing for the first time in México music by Einojuhani Rautavaara, Pēteris Vasks and Miguel Bustamente at an International Contemporary Music Festival, where I will give a recital for organ. In August I will tour Mexico, presenting and playing Catalan music for the Cultural Association MEXCAT (from Barcelona). In September I'll record my third CD, featuring music by the Mexican organist and composer Gustavo Delgado, to be performed in November. In October I will have my first international tour in Europe, playing in Barcelona and other cities of Spain. The idea of this tour is to present my CD From the Edge of the Time which includes the transcription for piano and flute of Lluís Benejam's Violin Sonata edited by Clivis Publication.
Upon my return to Mexico, I will give a recital for piano and violin with music of composers who are still alive and also a cycle of concerts with a chamber orchestra whom which I will play music of Alan Hovhaness and Geral Finzi. In December, I will give my second recital for organ.


Why do ypu invest so much time in your organ playing next to your piano performances?
It's true, I’m realizing a master’s degree in organ performance. Since the early times it was usual that an organist played all keyboard instruments, until the XIX century it was common that all great pianists were great organists too. In our century this tradition went forgotten. I love organ music, that is the most important, so why not?


How would you describe and rate the music scene of the city you are currently living in?
México City is an enormous capital, with a very important cultural offering. Unfortunately, the international music scene ist mostly present at big festivals alone and not as frequently as in USA, Japan or Europe. Nevertheless, people can hear and watch operas, ballets and recitals throughout the entire year, many of them for free.

When did you start playing your instrument and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I come from a family not related with the arts, so I started my musical education rather late. This is a common issue in Latin America, and I think we just need more time to develop skills and acquire the same opportunities worldwide. When I was a teenager, there were four classical frequencies on the radio, two of them broadcasting 24 hours a day, so I began to listen to marvelous music. I recognized a lot of music from the cartoons I watched during my childhood, which was really nice to remember. As I recall, I fell in love when I listened and saw a piano for the first time, around the age of thirteen.

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?
With time, the piano has become a kind of vehicle for expression for me. Today, it’s a part of my life. I could not live without it.

What do you personally consider to be incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
In 2007, I met the cousin of brilliant but unknown Catalonian composer Lluís Benejam, who shared with me the music of his “uncle Luigi”. I was astonished!  In Benejam’s music we find reminiscences of impressionism and jazz, incorporated in a personal way. Music with clear and carefully-fashioned themes, rhythmically solid sections, shaped narrative melodies, poly-interval chords ... in a word, the work of a professional and inspired composer. I decided to transcribe his Violin & Piano Sonata No.1 for flute, because I had an upcoming flute- and piano recital and wanted to include the new piece. Later, I contacted Clivis Publications (Barcelona), the composer's publishing house who decided to publish my transcription. It was released in Europe in September 2009, and a few weeks later in the USA. Naturally the next step was to do a CD with this version, including the first recording of "Spiegel im Spiegel" for flute alto & piano by Arvo Pärt and another arrangement of a piece by Alan Hovhaness and a solo piano music piece by the unknown Colombian composer Edgar Ordóñez ... A very eclectic selection as you can see!

What are currently your main artistic challenges, including questions of technique relating to your instrument?
To play close to what you have in mind, what you feel in the moment. To achieve absolute control of sound. To play the notes is not all, just the first step. Proposing a personal musical idea directly from the score of the composer is the job of a performer ... This is where the job of the artist begins.

What do you start with when working on a new piece?
It depends on the kind of piece: virtuoso, contrapuntal, with long melody lines, and so forth. Of course, the background of the work or even some sections of it are fundamental. All pieces are different, just like people … each work needs a particular way to start. There are methods but not rules.

There's a wide range of nuances between trying to stick as closely to the score as possible and the kind of freedom Glenn Gould would indulge in. How do you balance your personal emotions/ideas and the intentions of the composer in your interpretations?
The score is just an approximation of the composer’s idea because our notation system is limited. The score is just a guide. As a performer, one must find oneself in the piece, to reach or to achieve some kind of symbiosis with it.
Listening to the great composer-performers is very interesting in this regard. In his recording of some of his preludes and fugues Op. 87, Shostakovich plays very differently from the score in most of them. That suggests an inherent freedom of approach in the specific moment: If it’s marked Lento, why not to play it Andantino if it works, and the other way around. Or maybe this time Forte instead of Piano. Not just for feeling but for musical-artistic conviction as well; the intellect is the key. An ardently passionate execution is usually ridiculous, and a meticulous impersonal performance usually is cold and tedious. Reaching the exact point is the job of the artist, always maintaining control. That is much more evident when you work closer with a living composer. In fact there’s an actual line in composition where just notes are written and nothing else. Each time one performs a work, it comes alive, it always will be different. If the score were a bible, all performances would be the same - really boring.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
Oh, perhaps as we talked before, to play closely as on rehearsal, to feel the freedom of that magic moment, like jazz or folk performers! It’s very important for me to be comfortable on the spot, enjoying the moment and to live the music. If it’s possible people will feel it too, a concert must be a wonderful communion.

As Charles Rosen put, “the death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition”. From your perspective, what are some of the root issues for what is generally refered to as the “crisis of classical music”, which also includes the scene for contemporary composition, and what, to you, are sensible ideas to bring it back to life?
Today, an artistic vocation requires a profound reflection from the inside of the artist, which, at some point, will lead him to uncover his own voice in the music, and thus show in the creative act the essence of the artist that makes him different from others.
It’s also time to put down the solemnity in concerts; it must to be an exiting experience for everybody. It’s important to create a new and young public, classical music must be part of people’s lives, and must to be a good business too, just like pop music, why not … It has had good results in some countries. Let’s move forward.

The flood of album-releases and concerts are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today, in a time when it is instantly available in dizzying amounts?
Oh yes, dizzying amounts for collectors, but it’s very important to rescue many forgotten and neglected repertoire, and there are wonderful recordings of traditional repertoire, too. Music by itself will have an inherent value all the time, not always album-releases, just high quality recordings (performance, engineering or both) I guess. At the same time, it’s fantastic that people all over the world have access to music with only a click thanks to the Internet. This may constitute a human right, but it has created a crisis for recording labels; now it happens more frequently that artists themselves produce their own recordings, with a long time to recover the investment. A very serious topic.

Many artists are finding it hard to secure a living with their music. What are the financial realities you're living with and in which way, do you feel, could they be improved?
Fortunately I live with my career in all aspects, performing a lot of my time, but I like to write about music and enjoy transcribing also. So eventually I receive commissions in these matters too. Of course the entire time one must be ready to play. In the past, I have occasionally received invitations for a concert on a Saturday afternoon, which required me to play on Sunday at noon for a cancelation with a specific program. Opportunities come up this way sometimes. It's always open to improvement, but that is not always in the artist’s hands.

Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.

Very difficult, but you mentioned one, Glenn Gould, one of the most brilliant artists of all time, his music always saves me in dark moments. A powerful artist of today is pianist Stephen Hough; he always finds a “new way” in all his performances.

Victor Manuel Morales Discography:
From the Edge of Time (2010) Prodisc


Victor Manuel Morales

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