The music department has recently played host to three of Columbia’s leading contempary composers. The composers have been in the department, assisting in composition, as well as giving the departments new contempary music group, the Chimera Ensemble, a chance to premier some of their work.
Meeting them is an unusual experience, as what they have to say is disheartening just as much as it is uplifting and encouraging. One of the composers, Johann Hasler, told nouse of the lack of classical music tradition in Columbia; speaking of a nation which lacks a musical voice. For example, while Germany and Austria have traditions in the great symphonic masterpieces and Italy has roots in a deep operatic tradition, there is a great void in the place of a musical label for Columbia. Hasler spoke of the dangers of seeing this void as a symptom of an underdeveloped cultural identity or as sign that the nation is unable to, in some sense, ‘find itself’. Instead, he embraces this lack of musical voice as an opportunity to do what one wants, unconstrained by the demands that you walk on the path tread by those before you. Even if someone has been there before you, there is burdening tradition which tells you that you should go that way.
Initially, said Hasler, the social climate in Columbia was hostile to musical development. He said that the such development was hindered by the egos of the main figures in composition before the 1980s. Any personalities in the music scene were incredibly competitive, and refused to acknowledge the peers, let alone support and promote anything that had not come from their own pen, even the work of their students. Anyone is Columbian composition wanted to be ‘the’ Columbian composer.
Such a lack of input into and development of musical composition and performance also led to a drying up the musical influences which we would take for granted today, such as readily available CD stores and music concerts. Asking them where his influences must then have come from, the composers tell me that there main influence came from the national radio. However, the radio was un-experimental, and the output was relatively restricted, which led to an incredibly limited scope of influence.
The story, however, is not one of suppression and restriction. Composers in Columbia are beginning to see their peers as much less dangerous. Finally, admits a relieved Hasler, things are beginning to change. The attitude of competition and mistrust is beginning to fade, and composers are beginning to finally work together. Although the formal teaching of music in Columbia has like all other countries been taking place for centuries, only in recent years has a national school of music been established.
This optimistic attitude could not have been more apparent when I spoke to the composers before the concert. The same was the case in the concert; the music was individual, bold and optimistic. This, of course, was in no small part due to the polished and professional performances given by the Chimera Ensemble. That said, some of the music I felt was a little to focused on doing something imaginative, or on making a statement (about what would be anybody’s guess). Why, for example, the performers had to change positions and move across the stage to sing in a different position is a question well worth asking. The music could have been more fully appreciated, it seems, if less emphasis had been placed on what the music was trying to do and say, and more focus placed upon the enjoyment of the music for its own sake. The music seemed, at times, just as confusing as their titles; from the baffling ‘The fish was seeking my hopeless eye’ to the cryptic ‘v3v3v3v’, the audience were left not quite knowing what to expect.
Perhaps most disappointing was to only see the concert hall half full; yet I should very much doubt that this will deter the Chimera Ensemble or contempary composers. I am quite certain that we will be hearing more from them both in the very near future.
I went to concert not really knowing if the music was going to be my kind of thing or not, and I left not really knowing whether it would be or not. Contemporary music, especially in Latin America, is still finding its feet and developing a sense of identity. So, adds Hasler, there is not choice but to be so wonderfully unique