About this Recording
8.559816 - GRECO, J.L.: GeografĂ­as del Silencio / In Passing / Swallow / Off with its Head! (Gifford, Netherlands Wind Ensemble, Czech National Symphony, Leaper)

José Luis Greco (b. 1953)
Geografías del silencio • In Passing • Swallow • Off with its Head!


Born in New York City, José Luis Greco is the son of the Spanish dancers José Greco and Nila Amparo, and nephew of the great Metropolitan Opera star Norina Greco. As a youngster, he studied piano and guitar and performed as an actor and dancer. After years involved with rock and jazz, he obtained a B.F.A. in music from the City College of New York, where he studied with John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, among others, and a Master’s Degree and Doctorate (ABD) in composition from Columbia University, studying with Mario Davidovsky, Jack Beeson, Chou Wen-chung and George Edwards. Before moving to the Netherlands, he had transcribed and orchestrated Ravi Shankar’s Raga-Mala (Sitar Concerto No. 2), premiered by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Zubin Mehta, and composed and conducted the production of his first opera, Aria Da Capo.

Greco first achieved recognition in the 1980s as composer, performer and co-founder of Cloud Chamber, an Amsterdam-based multi-media, dance, theatre and music company specialising in site-specific projects, and supported by the Dutch Ministry of Culture for ten consecutive years. Commissioned by the same Ministry in 1992, his Spanish lyric opera Cuentos de la Alhambra (Tales of the Alhambra) received its world premiere in Haarlem and Amsterdam in February 1996.

Since 1994, Greco has lived in Madrid, Spain, where his symphonic works have been premiered by the major orchestras conducted by Sergiu Comissiona, Adrian Leaper, Andrés Salado, Miguel Romea and Enrique García Asensio, among others. His solo, chamber and choral compositions have enjoyed interpretations by some of Spain’s most distinguished performers and ensembles.

He has also composed for the Ballet Nacional de Espana and the Companía Nacional de Danza.

Composer’s note

The difficulty of saying something meaningful about music is fairly obvious, since music expresses things that words cannot. The difficulty is compounded when a composer is called upon to write about his or her own music. That, at any rate, is my personal dilemma. Of course, it is possible to write about the circumstances surrounding the composition of a work, about the technical/formal considerations that were part of the creative process, the idea(s) that inspired a piece, a step-by-step rendering of the instrumental interplay, etc. However, all of that is really a circumvention around the music itself, nothing more than a tip-toeing around a fact that many would rather ignore: music speaks for itself, and in a language whose meanings are different for each listener. Even if I, as the composer, could somehow successfully convey verbally what I was trying to get at, to communicate in music, there is no guarantee that a listener would interpret the music as I intended. And quite honestly, I am glad of that. The idea that my music might have as many different meanings as there are listeners is a very satisfying notion. Therefore, I would rather not limit the listener’s imagination by subjecting it to my account of things.

Having said this, I should also admit that I’m never quite sure what it is that I’m exactly intending in a piece of music I compose. Usually, after starting out with a vague sound image for the beginning of a work, and once I’ve got that worked out, the music itself seems to dictate what its intentions are, what it wants to say, where it wants to go, from one bar to the next, passage to passage, harmony to harmony. “You gave birth to me,” it seems to say, “now let me live my life.” My job then seems to be to give form to, to provide a vessel for what I sense its story to be.

Having heard the remark several times that the titles of some of my works don’t reflect more than the opening passage of any given piece (notwithstanding those that don’t seem to reflect any aspect of the work), this indeed makes sense to me. If a title epitomizes the idea which bestows the work with its first breath, the opening bars are likely to musically mirror that idea. But since from that moment the music takes on a life of its own, where it will go after that is anybody’s guess.

Let’s take as an example the first track on this recording, Geografías del silencio (Geographies of Silence). This is the last piece I wrote before embarking on the two-year journey of composing my third opera, Malaspina, or the Idea of Happiness (to a libretto by Pierre Elie Mamou), and I was already very absorbed by the opera’s subject. Malaspina was a late 18th-century Italian navigator in the service of the Spanish crown. His last, five-year scientific expedition to all the Spanish colonies that dotted the globe at the time was probably the most important of its kind since that of James Cook. Unfortunately, upon his return, and after the hero’s welcome he received, he got involved in politics, made powerful enemies and was thrown into prison for seven years, then exiled, and all the scientific documentation of his expedition was stashed in the corner of some warehouse, where it lay forgotten until a century later. His legacy was doomed to be enveloped in the most absolute silence. So, two ideas, geographies and silence, were on my mind; and Geografías del silencio begins with an evocation of silence, and then silence moving through different geographies. But that is as far as the ideas took me. From there on in the music itself led me through uncharted territory. I only hope that the listener will feel, as I do, that the rest of the piece flows logically out of those initial ideas. Pierre Elie Mamou has elsewhere referred to the nature of this piece as “a quest in which melancholy and dream states are mingled.”

The genesis of the next work is somewhat different. In Passing is the English translation of the Dutch title of a movement-theatre piece by Barbara Duijfjes, for which this music was composed. Together, Ms. Duijfjes and I negotiated the overall form, and the length and emotional thrust of each movement, but the choice of instrumentation was exclusively mine.

Towards the end of my ten-year sojourn (1984–1994) in Amsterdam I lived in my studio on the top floor of a building overlooking a canal. I kept a nocturnal schedule and when finished working, weather permitting, would go up to the roof and watch the sun rise. At some point a squadron of swallows would burst into view from below the edge of the rooftop before dispersing and zooming about in pairs or groups. This is the image that gave rise to the opening of Swallow. However, as is usually the case with my works, the music soon began to dictate its own path through regions I could hardly have imagined when I began the composition. Nonetheless, if memory serves me correctly, “the devout coming and going of migratory birds” (Pierre Elie Mamou once again) was a notion that like a spectre hovered at the back of my mind throughout the composing of this work.

Like most children of my generation in the US, I grew up glued to the television. Early on, cartoons were my preferred fare, but as I grew older these gave way to sitcoms, sci-fi and adventure series. And all that eclectic music, that marvellous, zany, catchy, spooky, kaleidoscopic, humorous and dramatic music provided the soundtrack of my youth. And I never forgot it; it’s still with me today. So at some point it was just an imperative to compose something that would distil those many lasting impressions, “churning up childhood as if memories were the forebodings of a future” (Pierre Elie Mamou). And what of the title Off with its Head!? Need I explain the association? Alice is a wonderful girl. She grows with one and yet never grows old. I’m sure to fall in love with her again sometime in the future.

José Luis Greco

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