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Francisco Lara Interview

Posted on 24 February 2004. © Copyright 2004-2023 Composition:Today

C:T talks to one of Spain's leading young composers Dr Francisco Lara. Francisco won the prestigious Spanish Symphony Orchestra Association Composition Prize 2001, in which his orchestral piece Hopscotch was performed by all 25 of the associaton orchestras and was a finalist at the Queen Elisabeth Composition Competition Brussels 2003 for Fractures for piano and orchestra. He is currently writing a Violin Concerto for Miguel Borrego and the Spanish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, to be premiered in February 2005.

Tell us something about your backgound.

I started music as a guitarist and it was not until I started studying in London in 1991 that I decided to become a composer. I did a Masterīs Course at the Royal College of Music and a PhD at Kingīs College under the supervision of Sir Harrison Birtwistle. I also studied conducting in London and finally got a job conducting a university orchestra in Spain. London was a real turning point in my view of music and composition. Studying there felt like being part of the history of music. That is something I quite miss here, back in Spain.

How did you start composing?

I got a place to study composition at the Royal College of Music having done virtually no composition at all and having had no performances. The situation in Spain was very stale at the time and I needed a change. London came as an incredible inspiration. I discovered lots of music and scores and went to many concerts. Then I realised that that was what I wanted to do.

Who are your favourite composers and why?

I like the madness of Schumannīs piano pieces that relates very much to the madness of Ligetiīs music. I am very fond of Birtwistleīs music, particularly his conception of time and the brutality of his statements. Magnus Lindberg is also one of my favourites.

What was your first success as a composer?

It was at a little concert at the Royal College of Music. It was a composers concert and it was the first time I had a piece played. My music was very primitive but some people seemed to see that I had potential, I was very surprised and very encouraged by that.

Where do your ideas come from?

I donīt think anyone knows where ideas come from, but I certainly know that they come more easily when I am actually working. I suppose I get ideas from other composerīs music and from sound in itself. As far as form is comcerned literature has been a great inspiration for me; not as a programatic influence but as a structural one.

Could you tell us a bit more about that?

Literature has been my main influence from my beginnings as a composer. I have used the structure of poems to plan the structure of some of my pieces. My approach to cycles and recurrences of identical musical passages also comes from literature. My orchestral piece Fin Again deals with the return of the ending and the link of the real end to the beginning ( as in Finneganīs wake).

The influence of the Argentine author Julio Cortázar has been crucial. The chapters of his novel Rayuela can be read in several different orders. Thus, one can get a different perspective of the same reality. My pieces Rayuela, Hopscoth and Alles ist leer... all are based on musical blocks that are "read" in several different orders as the piece progresses. These blocks are always identical in their successive appearances in the piece.

More recently my latest orchestral piece, Murr is based on ETA Hoffmannīs novel Katze Murr, where he presents the unconnected stories of Meister Kreisler and Murr the cat. In this way my piece has several unconnected musical stories that get interrupted to be resumed a number of times in the course of the piece.

Do you have particular techniques - one's you come back to again and again? Tell us a bit about them.

The way I have developed my harmony has been conected with modal collections. I have been interested in the harmonic series in general and in the interaction of two harmonic series based on two fundamentals. One of these is always the one on G and the other any of the ones based on the rest of the chromatic notes. Leaving aside the microtonal differences resulting from natural resonance I have constructed 11 modes based on the interaction of 2 harmonic series. To build these modes I chose the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 11th harmonic of each of the series.

The 11 modes have different intervalic content and I use the to define harmonic areas. They are never used in transposition.

The way I have approached harmony has been by juxtaposing different modal areas. Musical ideas are usualy associated to a particular register and to a particular modal scale. The passages where harmony is most prominent are basicaly compsed as harmonic curtains. Each curtain consists of 4 or 5 chords superimposed. Each chord is based on one mode trying to avoid octave repetitions. The result is a kind of atonal consonance.

What's the worst thing about composing?

One of the worse thing for me is coming back to composing after a period away from it. It often takes a few days, or even weeks to get back into it. Those days are really discouraging because I never get any ideas. I used to feel depressed, but experience taught me that there is usually light at the end of the tunnel.

And the best?

For a long time the thing was actually hearing my music live. Nowdays, it is the idea of discovering and working out my own ideas that I find very pleasurable.

What inspires you to write?

I think sound is in the first place every composerīs inspiration. On the other hand, it is the fact that I am doing something absolutely personal and totally my own that really makes me do it. I have discovered that composition needs to be a joy in itself - apart from its realisation in performance - to be worth the effort.

What advice would you give to a young composer just starting out?

I think the most difficult thing for composers is to define their own language. It took me a long time to find my own. I would recommend people to spend quite a lot of time listening to music, trying to identify what they like about what they hear, and finally try to have their own voice independent from established trends or schools.

Do you have a routine? A place that's special

I usually start composing early in the morning, around 7.30. I like the quietness and stillness of the morning and also my mind is fresh and free. Thatīs when I try to find ideas, later in the day I work them out and other things like copying or typing music.

Do you do other work as well as composing?

I do some conducting. I am the University of Valladolid Symphony Orchestraīs Principal Conductor. We do all kinds of repertoire, including some contemporary. I like working with enthusiastic young people, it is often very rewarding

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2023

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