EarShot Grand Rapids Symphony – Composer Spotlight: Emmanuel Berrido

Emmanuel Berrido is a Dominican-American composer with a passion for telling stories with his music. In May 2017, he was awarded the Louis Smadbeck Composition Prize in Ithaca, NY, for Bend the Knee for brass quintet, and in February 2018 he was awarded the Ithaca College Orchestral Composition Prize for Danza Ritual.

Emmanuel has studied music composition with Orlando Jacinto García, Evis Sammoutis, and Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann. Other mentors include composers Bernard Rands, Augusta Read Thomas, and Chinary Ung; violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved; and clarinetist Lori Freedman.

Emmanuel’s orchestral piece Danza Ritual was selected for the Grand Rapids Symphony EarShot New Music Readings, where it will be workshopped and read under the direction of conductor Jacomo Bairos. Public performances will take place on Friday, September 28 and Saturday, September 29, 2018 at The Morton as part of ArtPrize. More information here

Emmanuel spoke with us about his piece and the upcoming readings.

Composer Emmanuel Berrido

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Grand Rapids Symphony EarShot New Music Readings?
Emmanuel Berrido: I was at once very honored and humbled. I remember my mentor at undergraduate mentioning American Composers Orchestra on my very first day of Composition Seminar, so when Vanessa Rose called to let me know I had been invited my heart jumped – I was going to come and work with these prestigious institutions (ACO and the Grand Rapids Symphony), thus adding my name to a conglomerate of very talented composers whose careers had been enriched by their collaboration with ACO. Also, given the large pool of applicants that send their music for consideration, one could not help but feel very blessed about being invited to participate in EarShot.
ACO: In the program note, you write that you composed Danza Ritual as a way to explore “elements that make the musical culture of the Dominican Republic beautiful.” Can you talk a little bit about these elements, and how they are presented in your piece?
EB: It’s funny to discuss the program note, because when I was on my way to Michigan I thought about the story of this piece in retrospect, and remembered other details about it which are connected to Dominican culture and myself as well. So I guess I’ll dodge the question a bit, but not really, and give you more of the story.
At the time I wrote Danza Ritual (which at the time had another name) I was about to go to a festival where the centerpiece of the orchestral gala was going to be Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which is also about both a ritual and dance. It was a cool exercise for me to think how these two concepts could also come into existence within my music, and I also wanted to bring about something that felt like it was Dominican, and therefore closer to the things that make me, me.
And so during the soul-searching process I went through before composing Danza Ritual I decided on two narrative elements, which –hopefully– will guide the experience of this piece a bit:
The beginning and ending sections of this overture reflect my need to get my heart close to the Dominican culture, and the music heard on these sections is inspired by Afro-Caribbean religious manifestations from the Dominican Republic, where dance and mysticism are also patent. These manifestations, like the “música de Palos,” are very rhythmic, and oftentimes loud with distinct melodic lines often sung or played in homophony — they also make use of various types of drums and the metal güira. So the elements that I talk about on the program note are the driving rhythms, dance-like spirit, loudness, and use of very particular percussion instruments (the güira IS that one element that makes it more Dominican!). The middle section, which is the larger chunk of the piece, is inspired by the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, namely the sacrifice of Isaac, which is one of the earlier histories about “sacrifice” that I ever heard.
So, throughout the narrative of this piece I aim to depict these two ideas (dance and sacrifice) from different perspectives, and the spirit of the sections of the work are to show for this.
ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you have made to your piece?
EB: Providentially, this orchestration was read and performed at Ithaca College last February under the baton of my colleague and dear friend Keehun Nam. When I submitted the work for consideration by ACO I was prepared to make changes, but it happened that the orchestration provided by the Grand Rapids Symphony was the same that I’d written this piece for originally. In a more nuts-and-bolts plane though, I did have to put some time in and review aspects of notation to make sure the music was well presented for the orchestra. To me, notation is communication through and through, so a well-presented part not only shows that I care for my music, but also that I deeply respect the musicians who will play it.
ACO: What do you hope to gain from this experience?
EB: During the morning of the first day we were talking about being a composer and our relationship with performers, and I shared how I strongly believe that “fellowship with others is good for the soul.” So this is what I believe about something like EarShot and similar programs – we come here to work hard, but I also hope (at least this is a hope I come with) to go back home with at least one new friend. Like I mentioned at the beginning, it is already an honor to be around this talented group of people and this honor is already enough reward, but if I could even ask for more, then I would probably hope to come back to my apartment in Ithaca with at least one new person in my contacts list whom I can talk to about music and life; it is in this form of genuine relationships with others where careers grow and advance, music matures, and perspectives get broadened.
Grand Rapids Symphony will give public performances of Emmanuel Berrido’s Danza Ritual on Friday, September 28 and Saturday, September 29, 2018 at The Morton, as part of ArtPrize. More information here

Learn more about Emmanuel Berrido at www.emmanuelberrido.com

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

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