Odaline de la Martinez has been a force in the London contemporary music scene for many years, as composer, conductor and founder of the ensemble Lontano and the recording label Lorelt.
Busily preparing for the September 30th start of Lontano's Third Festival of American Music, a series of five concerts focusing on contemporary composers, Odaline stopped to talk a bit about her musical background, experience and inspiration.
Tell us something about your background.
I was born in Cuba. My sister and I were sent to the States when we were eleven and were brought up by my aunt and uncle in Tucson, Arizona. Then my mother and brother arrived and I left for New Orleans. I studied at Tulane University and upon graduation received several awards and scholarships that brought me to the UK. I studied at the Royal Academy of Music where I founded Lontano and at University of Surrey where I did a composition MMus with Reginald Smith Brindle.
My early childhood is full of memories of Afro-Cuban drumming and dancing. They have always remained.
How did you start composing and conducting?
I've been composing since I was a young girl. I had pieces performed in high school in Tucson. I wanted to be a conductor since I can remember, but was told (not by my family) that women didn't conduct. It wasn't until I had been with Lontano for 5 or 6 years that I started conducting. Then I studied privately with Jan Harrington, who was conducting professor at Indiana University.
How did you come to settle in the UK?
I was brought here by a Marshall Scholarship from the British Government. Even before I left the Academy Lontano was already recording for the BBC, something quite unusual at the time. So as it happens I stayed.
Tell us something about Lontano and Lorelt.
You read already a little a about how Lontano started while we were students at the RAM, etc. At the time (1976) a lot of good composers like George Crumb, Rochberg and others were completely unknown over here. I also felt that there were many other British composers that were ignored as well. So we decided to concentrate on composers that I felt were original and good. We also began to incorporate the work of many women composers and Latin Americans as well. After all I thought, "I'm a woman, Latin American and a composer. I should be paying lots of attention to them."
Lorelt (Lontano Records Ltd) began in 1992 for similar reasons as Lontano. I saw really good pieces being recorded and deleted. This happened much too often. By then CDs had begun and it was no longer necessary to print thousands of LPs. You could start out with 1000 CDs and then reprint.
But the point of Lorelt was never to delete a CD and to concentrate on the three categories: contemporary and living composers, women composers and Latin American classical repertoire.
In 2006 when Lontano were 30 years old, we began to offer Digital Downloads on the Lorelt web site. We were also taken on worldwide by an excellent Digital Download Distributor. So we march on.
Which trends and ideas interest you as a composer, and as a conductor?
As a conductor I am open to all trends. I just like good pieces regardless of style. As a composer, I follow my own thing. I came to Europe and the UK looking for the Avant garde and discovered I was not an avant garde composer. Somehow a lot of my works have been written in search for Cuba. The memories of Afro-Cuban music and dancing are always there. And so they find their way into my music.
What is your musical philosophy, or your musical mission?
I don't have a philosophy as such. My mission: to try and do my bit to change the world by promoting music and composers that are in my opinion good and great but that have been neglected for whatever reasons.
Composing happens on its own - it's not attached to any philosophy or mission.
Tell us about the Festival of American Music: What are some of the Festival's themes and composer connections?
Some of the themes are Latin American composers living in the States, Connections with Pierrot Lunaire - a piece that has influenced many generations of composers, and American Voices - slightly opening the door to a myriad of choral music from the States. The festival begins with an "Open Recording" on 30th September with Lontano and the BBC Singers at St. Giles Cripplegate.
You can read more about the Festival and see the schedule and featured composers here:
Focus on Composers... The size and scale of the UK's foremost classical music festival, the BBC Proms, deservedly gets notice worldwide. But for us composers, it's also a fantastic way to hear who is working now in the genres of orchestral and chamber music.
The 2010 season offers a survey of some of the most highly-regarded British and international composers, as well as neglected masters and up-and-comers. And thanks to the BBC's excellent links, anyone anywhere can tune in to the Proms on line.
Here's a listing of composers with premieres coming up:
Something for everyone... With the warm weather, parts of the London scene seems to be crossing over: A 'borderless' concert by the LS Collective, short operas by 'non-operatic' artists with ROH2, and the London debut of New York's 'genre-bending' Alarm Will Sound. But there are offerings for fans of modernists in traditional genres as well, with new and recent works by Lachenmann, Barry and Goehr.
Shadoworks / LS Collective
3 June 2010 / 1930 / Queen Elizabeth Hall
New multimedia work with music by Fujikura, Clementi, Goves, Ligeti, and Abrahamsen
May starts bright and early at 7am for Vexations with London Sinfonietta players and 10am for an Alexander Goehr Study Day with musicians from the RNCM at Wigmore Hall. We then move on to major 20th c. orchestral statements, a multimedia opera, string quartet improv. with silent film, and other goodies.
Vexations London Sinfonietta
1 May 2010 / from 7:00 / Kings Place
London Sinfonietta's performance of this Satie 'happening' can be visited any time during the day - the music will be set against a moving image installation.
Alexander Goehr Study Day
Musicians From the Royal Northern College Of Music, Clark Rundell conductor
1 May 2010 / from 10:00 / Wigmore Hall
The day’s three concerts will feature works of instrumental, vocal and chamber music that span a period of nearly fifty years and closes with a performance of Sing, Ariel, a cantata from the 1990s which pays homage to, among others, his teacher Olivier Messiaen.
The BBC NOW has done a lot for new music in Cardiff recently, in addition to regular commissions and premieres, the appointment of Simon Holt as composer-in-residence is a refreshing development, as is a new series of Composer Portraits including figures from the continent such as Christian Jost and Bruno Mantovani whose work is too seldom heard on these shores. (Coincidentally, Hear and Now will broadcast a BBC NOW new music concert on Feb 6 with works by Jost, Watkins, Sawer and yours truly - links to the podcast soon...)
As well as widening the scope of the orchestra's new music programming, the NOW is also initiating an important platform for area talent, providing a wonderful opportunity for Welsh-born and/or Welsh-educated composers of any age. I'm delighted that postgraduates from my department at Cardiff University are so well represented (Max Charles Davies, Christian Morris and Jack White) and it's lovely to see a local professional composer, Timothy Raymond, in the line-up as well.
Welsh Composers Showcase with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Jac van Steen
In collaboration with Composers of Wales, Ty Cerdd and the Welsh Music Guild
Thursday 28th and Friday 29th January 2010 – BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay
Workshops and culmination concert at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay: Thursday 28 January 2010
- Workshops - 10.00-13.00 and 14.00-17.00
The project will be led by Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Jac van Steen who has also selected the scores to be featured:
Max Charles Davies - Exultet
Iestyn Harding - Foray:Symphonic Movement for Orchestra
Chris Petrie - Percolation
Jack White - Y Deildy
Tim Raymond - Dreaming of Easter
Andrew Wilson Dickson - Blaen Myherin
Christian Morris - Lyra Davidica
All of these events are open to public audiences and free to attend. To reserve a tickets call the BBC National Orchestra of Wales Audience Line on 0800 052 1812.