Q&A with Composer Christian Quiñones

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Photo Credit: Samuel Quiñones

Composer Christian Quiñones’ work Trigueño o moreno was selected for the 2020 Underwood New Music Readings, where it will be rehearsed and performed by American Composers Orchestra under the direction of conductor George Manahan, with mentorship from composers Derek Bermel, Jonathan Bailey Holland, and Melinda Wagner. Reading sessions are free and open to the public at City College on March 12, 2020 at 9:30am and March 13, 2020 at 7:30pm. Click here for more information.

Christian Quiñones is a Puerto Rican composer whose music explores concepts like cultural identity and minorities within society, literature, and poetry. He was the 1st prize winner of the 2019 Boston New Music Initiative Young Composer Competition and the Pro Arte 2015 Composition Competition. His music has been performed by the Trio SanromáCuban virtuosoRené IzquierdoBoston New Music Initiative, Orquesta del Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, Young Artist Concert Orchestra (YACO), and emerging talents such as Daniela Santos Colón. Christian has also been commissioned by The Association of professional dancers (APRODANZA), Young Artist Concert Seriesand The Zodiac Festivalin France where he was awarded the Distinguished Composeraward.From 2018 to 2019 he was the composer in residence for the Mt. Holyoke MIFA Festival where he was commissioned by the Victory Playersand worked on outreach programs bringing new music talks and performances to public schools in Massachusetts. Apart from his work as a composer, Christian has done research on the commissions of Ballets de San Juan to Puerto Rican composers, and an analysis of the sustainability of independent music in Puerto Rico during an economic crisis published by Musiké. He obtained his BM in Music Composition at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Ricostudying composition and orchestration with Alfonso Fuentes and in 2019 Christian was a recipient of the Graduate College Master’s Fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he is studying with composer Carlos Carrillo.

We spoke with Christian about his piece and the upcoming readings.

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the 2020 Underwood New Music Readings?

Christian Quiñones: I was in a café near the music building where I study and I was having one of those really frustrating days where you just feel stuck musically and in life, and when I saw the email notification, to be honest, I was just expecting a rejection letter because I didn’t think I was going to be selected. But when I saw the word “congratulations,” I just started laughing and I called my family and girlfriend. It’s definitely going to be a moment that I am going to remember.

ACO: Can you talk about your compositional process for your selected work, Trigueño o moreno? Does anything stand out, like mentorship from another composer or inspiration from music you were listening to at the time, as a strong influence on the piece?

CQ: Trigueño o moreno is a piece that basically represents the idea of not falling in a clear category (racial and musically). It’s the interplay, sometimes in the form of friction and sometimes working perfectly together, of two contrasting worlds (rhythm and lyricism). For that reason, I composed it backward. I knew that the ending was going to have the same material as the beginning but in a more static way, therefore I needed something that worked with certain string techniques and between two percussion instruments that have very different registers and timbres. That was really challenging to do and it took me a long time, but once I had the beginning and the end, the middle suddenly became easier to compose.

Also, being my first orchestra piece Trigueño o moreno was written as a sort of homage to a lot of the composers that I admired like Thomas Ades, Andrew Norman, and Carlos Carrillo (who later ended up being my professor) where each section has a small reference to each of those composers, sometimes in terms of orchestration, concept, tempo marks, or sometimes hidden quotes.

ACO: In addition to being a composer, your work has included outreach programs that brings new music to public schools in Massachusetts, and an analysis of the sustainability of independent music in Puerto Rico during an economic crisis, which was published by Musiké. Have these experiences influenced your approach to writing new music?

CQ: Definitely, I often think about the idea of how I ended up writing New Music even though my first orchestra concert was when I was 18, so in a lot of ways I was also that “outsider” that ended up falling in love with this musical world because someone else introduced me to it. And now that I am here, for me it’s important to be connected with what is currently happening and to be constantly engaging with the surrounding musical world in the broadest sense possible. These kinds of outreach programs, projects, and papers it’s all part of the responsibility that I think every composer and musician has.

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Photo Credit: Samuel Quiñones

ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you have made to your piece since its last performance?

CQ: I made some changes to the piece after talking with Derek Bermel about the score, but I think what I learned the most even in this part of the process is just the aspect of preparation. From the communication to how to meticulously assemble the score and parts in order to maximize rehearsal time and look as professional as possible. And this is why opportunities like the Underwood Reading are so important because early in your career you get to experience this type of situation and receive feedback about topics that sometimes they don’t discuss too much on music schools and it’s so essential in order to have a career as a composer.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings? What do you hope to learn from the experience?

CQ: Meeting everyone. Personally, the Earshot readings and the ACO have always being these spaces where most of the composers that I admire have passed through, and having the opportunity of being a small part of that, is one of the most exciting moments of my musical career. So I am thrilled to meet all of the other composers, mentors, and everyone involved that make all of this possible and hopefully stay in contact and keep collaborating with them.

ACO: In addition to Underwood, who are some of your collaborators that you’re especially excited to be working with this coming year?

CQ: I’m super excited that next summer I am going to be working with two of my favorite ensembles: SO Percussion in their Summer Institute, and with the amazing Unheard-of Ensemble. These are basically two of my dream ensembles, that not only have recorded music that I listen on loop all the time, but that has influenced the way I write music thanks to their amazing collaborations and performances; So for me, it’s just incredible to be able to work and share music with them.

Hear Christian Quiñones’ Trigueño o moreno at the Underwood New Music Readings. Reading sessions are free and open to the public on March 12 and 13, 2020 at City College. Click here for more information.

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