MakeMusic’s Tom Johnson with Pedro Eustache. Tom explains:
“Pedro is an incredible musician. But his spirit is what takes your breath away.”
This week, let’s play the What-If? game.
As a Finale user, what if you could engrave a piece you knew was going to be placed in front of an internationally acclaimed conductor like Gustavo Dudamel?
OK, now what if the piece was your own composition?
Let’s take it a step further: What if you were also the featured soloist in a Dudamel-conducted premiere of your piece?
For me, that starts to pull things from dream-come-true realm towards the nightmare end of the scale. Here’s the clincher – what if the program called upon you to solo on 21 different instruments?
On Feb 8, 2009 Pedro Eustache experienced all of the above – and more – when his “Suite Concertante for World Woodwinds & Orchestra,” was premiered by Dudamel and his “Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar,” in Caracas, Venezuela.
Venezuelan-born Pedro Eustache is a composer and virtuoso multi-instrumentalist who specializes in world-music flute, woodwinds, reeds, and synthesis. “Multi-instrumentalist” really is an understatement, as he owns more than 500 instruments from all over the world, many of which he designed and built.
Even if you don’t recognize his name, you’ve heard him play. He’s been a featured soloist on many film soundtracks as well as on countless recordings. He’s worked with great film composers, including John Williams, James Newton Howard, Danny Elfman, and Hans Zimmer. He’s also recorded or performed with such diverse artists as Paul McCartney, Ravi Shankar, Yanni, James Newton Jr., Don Henley, Googoosh, Alex Acuña, and many more.
But let’s get back to the story of this extraordinary concert. In 2007 Pedro learned that fellow
Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel was going to visit Los Angeles with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of
Venezuela. As Pedro, Dudamel, and the orchestra are all products of “El Sistema,” the incredible Venezuelan music education program, Pedro took this opportunity to meet Dudamel. At this meeting Dudamel expressed his desire for the two of them to “do something together,” and Pedro jumped at the opportunity, immediately planning what this “something” might be:
“I wanted to put everything I had into this thing, to make the strongest statement I could make as a creative musician. I wanted to create something that was kind of a trip of the world, musically speaking, something that had tremendous narrative to it, but was cohesive at the same time.
A few months after that meeting, I brought some of my instruments to his office and I played them for him. I gave him a private audition and told him what I had in mind for the piece: I needed his okay before I started. His response was immediate, he said ‘go right ahead, do it.’”
The subsequent process took 14 months, right up until a few weeks before the premiere.
“I knew I wanted to do something from India, I knew I wanted to do something from the Middle East, I knew I had to do something from eastern Europe, and like that. I felt like I was guided, I felt God took me by the hand and said, okay kid, come this way.
Please don’t laugh at this, and I hope people get me: I wanted to go from Bach to Yanni. I wanted to go from the deepest thought process possible, from the most elevated, artistic, erudition-based thing, to the most fundamental, communicative thing possible. I wanted to have each extreme. I tried to be true to each culture to the best of my ability, to presenting this in a conversational setting with an orchestra setting, and I believe that God blessed me on this.”
Traveling around the world, from gig to gig, Pedro collected ideas, often singing them into a tiny digital recorder. In addition to musical phrases, he’d also record concepts that occurred to him:
“I am a Bach freak. He is the greatest influence on my life. He was inspired by God’s love to create everything he wrote. He’s my main musical hero, so I wanted to honor him.
I was thinking about how best to do this while traveling through central Europe. There, inspired by my love of flamenco, I thought, what if I do a fugue in the flamenco bulería style? I’ve never heard that done. In the end I spent six weeks writing a three and a half minute fugue.
It is literally, form-wise, and harmonically speaking, it is an absolute baroque fugue. Not 100% contrapuntally, because I took some necessary liberties, but structurally, form-wise, and harmonically it is a textbook baroque fugue. And, if you see it, it is also absolutely textbook bulería because it respects the metric and the form of the bulería. It is just one of the examples of what God gave me.”
Pedro frequently makes it clear that he credits God with the creation of the piece which was simply channeled through him:
“The climax of “Sareri Hovin Mernem,” the Armenian piece, occurs when the orchestra is playing the most poignant part of the traditional song, whose lyric translates as ‘I’ll die feeling the cold breeze of the mountain.’ They’re talking about Mount Ararat, which is the iconic heart of the Armenian people. The thing is, if you see visually the score, the contour of Ararat is drawn through the music, literally, as a result of being composed in a ‘mirror’ form. This kind of thing only God can do; He gave me that idea.”
At this part of the story, where it seems like it is God’s will for the entire process to go smoothly, we’ll adjourn. Join us for the conclusion next week, where Pedro will share how “smoothly” wasn’t part of the master plan, and we’ll share some video too.