EarShot Columbus Symphony: Composer Spotlight – Ivan Enrique Rodriguez

Iván Enrique Rodríguez (b. 1990) is a young Brooklyn-based composer and conductor originally from Puerto Rico. Already his works have been performed by the ELM Antonio O. Paoli choir, trumpeter Luis “Perico” Ortiz, classical guitarist John Rivera Pico, and the San Juan Children’s Choir. Iván is currently working on a commission for guitar, cello, and harp for Elisa Torres Pérez, noted principal harpist of Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico. His composition for orchestra, Luminis, was one of four pieces selected for the American Composers Orchestra’s EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings, and will be performed in Columbus Symphony’s Happy Hour Concerts Series, Thursday, October 29, 2015 at the Ohio Theater.

Iván was kind enough to answer these questions about EarShot and Luminis for SoundAdvice.

Composer and conductor Iván Enrique Rodríguez. Photo credit: Mary Kouw

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to hearing Luminis had been selected for the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings?
Iván Enrique Rodríguez: First and foremost, I felt (and feel) completely humbled when I got the news that my piece Luminis was selected for the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings. Orchestral music needs a constant creative production for it to stay alive and maintain relevance. Programs such as EarShot are the seed for the future and sustainability of music written for the orchestra. Being part of such an important program makes me feel that it’s worth taking the sacrifices of this journey. As a composer and a conductor, this opportunity also represents a great nourishment for my career. To be in direct contact with Maestro Milanov is definitely a privileged position to be in and to learn from him. But, what I value the most is the opportunity to share what my soul, constantly and desperately, forces me to write down on staff paper. I undoubtedly feel the responsibility to do art, to commit to the transcendence of music; the obligation to give what has been given to me. This opportunity gives me the chance to share who I am, and for that I feel infinitely humbled and grateful. I believe and live what the great Nadia Boulanger once said “Do not take up music unless you would rather die than not to do so”.

ACO: In your program note you write “Luminis is a set of fantasy variations on original musical motifs.” Can you talk about these original motifs and how you came up with them?
IER: This is quite interesting because to talk about these motifs its basically to talk about my composition process. Luminis has its genesis on the ancient metaphysical and philosophical duality concept in which there are two moral opposites (independent of their interpretation) at work, usually represented as good and evil or light and darkness. Once the concept in which the composition is going to be based on is defined, I start to “sculpt down” out of a “block of sound” or to “splatter sound” on a staff paper to achieve what is conceptualized abstractly in my head. What’s interesting about this approach is the aleatoric process of finding the motifs inside the “block of sound” or to visualize them out of the “splash of sound” without actually knowing or “planning” what these motifs may be; just searching for what may describe best the original thematic concept. Once they are identified they are treated with pronounced importance throughout the composition process of the piece. Typically, in a variation composition what is intended to be varied are the original motifs in which the pieces are based on. Luminis treats them in the opposite way, the motifs stay the same throughout the piece and what its actually varied is their surroundings.

ACO: What do you hope to learn or improve upon at the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings? Is there anything in particular you feel needs improvement in Luminis?
IER: To answer this, I must quote Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Book V, Chapter I) “The only thing that we can know is that we know nothing, and this is the highest degree of human wisdom.” What I hope to take with me from this experience is all that is desired to be taught. As an artist I find myself in the Quixotesque quest for music, art and knowledge, therefore anything that could be imparted in this experience will be growth for my persona. In my personal view about Luminis, I find it complete and that it expresses effectively what I intended to communicate with the piece. Having had the opportunity to play in an orchestra and the experience as Chief Conductor of the Ernesto Ramos Antonini Symphony Orchestra in Puerto Rico for several years gives me an awareness of how to treat the instruments idiomatically. Nonetheless, any comment or critique always acts as an agent of progress in the artistic self. I personally believe that the view of a work through the eyes of others is always something to value and EarShot allows this opportunity.

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