Archivos del mes: 18 octubre 2010



1- Sewing lesson, or how to prepare a pedal chart.

Sy? Sew? Visst! Yes! ¡Sí! Please sing this combination of Swedish, English and Spanish one-syllable words. Laugh a little, and add a touch of Latin American rhythm and some silly sense of humor that I think all we musicians must have, especially in difficult situations.


            Welcome to the sewing session opening the workshop for adventurous composition students and brave composers. Your Mexican homemadematerial kit should have a recycled piece of cardboard, a needle, elastic thread, three buttons of one color and four of another. If you are missing any of these elements, run to this Mexican harpist and/or to your local haberdasher’s shop. (You can always dig into your sewing kit or start thinking about making one for the event that your skirt or pants break before a concert).


Sitting talking around needles and threads has always been a friendly way to get to know each other, exactly in the manner of quilt makers in England and Pennsylvania during the 18th Century.


Also, before the Spanish conquistadors reached Mexico, the powerful Aztec empire had schools and academies. Among other things they taught how to speak correctly, memorize poetry and how to sing, with and without accompaniment of percussion instruments such as the teponaxtli and the huehuetl. They also offered training in “threading beautiful words” which gives me a good excuse to link music, poetry and embroidery within imagination and new creations.


The temples had schools for composers who wrote poetry and sang for priests and nobles. Aztecs used sewing needles made of the pointy ends of maguey leaves. But you, brave composers of harp music, will be allowed to use a metal needle for this particular lesson.


The harp, besides it´s 47 strings and endless transportation problems, especially during the rain season in the hectic Mexico City traffic, has seven pedals, designed in the early 19th Century by Sebastian Erard, a smart French piano builder. That’s what this sewing session is all about.


Along the variety of diatonic harps of different sizes present in almost all cultures, there were early European harps, from 1762 on, with simple mechanisms that allowed one change per note: from flat to natural or from natural to sharp. (For more information: John Marson´s THE BOOK OF THE HARP, Roslyn Renschs HARP AND HARPISTS and Laure Barthel´s AU COEUR DE LA HARPE AU XVIIIème siècle).


The “modern” design has been used since the early 19th century all the way through 20th and 21st century orchestras and schools, also in contemporary music ensembles, and by jazz harpists (who move their feet and pedals as fast as zapateado dancers on the wooden platform called tarima).


The pedal harp (or classical) has three steps for each pedal at the base of the instrument, right where the player´s feet meet the harp.


At the beginning of harp scores you might have seen cross-like diagrams with three tiny lines at the left side, crossing (or below or above) the horizontal line in the middle and four to the right.  Those depict the pedals for the left and right foot and their position.


The three steps of the pedals, like in the diagram, are as follows (from left to right): D, C, B for the left foot and E, F, G, A for the right. Above the horizontal line we indicate the flats, corresponding to the pedals’ upper position. On the line are the naturals and below it we put the sharps.


This sort-of difficult accommodation of notes and feet are related to how the instrument was developed, following the traditional harmony principles in which tonalities modulate by fifths.


Therefore, if you want to play something in C major, your pedals should be placed in the middle, producing seven ‘white’ or natural notes. If you modulate to F major, you keep all these naturals, except b, which should be moved up to the flat position, and if you wish to move to sharp tonalities, you might start with keeping all naturals except f, and move that down to produce f sharp for a G major tonality. This logic may make it easier to understand how the pedals came to be placed.


The aim of this sewing lesson for brave composers is to build a pedal model, where the buttons of two different colors represent the three pedals for the left foot and the four for the right. I found this very helpful idea in Stanley Chaloupka´s highly recommendable book HARP SCORING. You can also find more information about this in: WRITING FOR THE PEDAL HARP, a Standardized Manuel for Composers and Harpists, by Ruth K. Inglefield and Lou Anne Neill (with an introduction by Stanley Chaloupka), VANDERBILT MUSIC COMPANY.


Besides the clear image of the combination of pedals you will use for our music, you will be reminded that any change must be decided ahead of time and then made by one of the harp players feet. This also gives you an idea of the timing necessary for the physical action.


Ready? Please, protect your musical fingers from scissors and pointy needles! And let´s sew good ideas together! Go! 





Luz de Lava sib 4 Edgar – Harp – 2010-08-23 1831.pdf


 OFUNAM – Orquesta Filarmónica de la UNAM – is the orchestra where I work since 16 years. This week we will premiere one of several works that were commissioned to Mexican composers to celebrate the 100th anniversary of UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). This piece was composed by Gabriela Ortiz, and the title is Luz de Lava.


The title would translate “Lava Light”, and it has to do with the fact that UNAM is located in an area of volcanic rock that emerged as lava from the Xitle volcano. Its last eruption was in 400 AC, and covered the ancient city of Cuicuilco entirely, except for its tallest pyramid, round in shape, that is still visible and quite prominent, reminding us of the first human settlements in Middle America. 


Here are some traces of our work together on the harp part of her composition (scored for flute, soprano, choir and orchestra). I also include some of her comments on what inspired her to compose the piece. Guess what! Other disciplines! (In this case: photography, poetry and architecture).


From: Mercedes Gómez

To: Gabriela Ortiz

Sent: Saturday, October 02, 2010 3:18 PM

Subject:  suggestions for the harp part of LUZ DE LAVA


Dear Gaby: Thanks a lot for letting me translate our communication regarding how to make the harp part of your new piece clearer for other performers after the OFUNAM premiere this October. Muchísimas gracias also for letting me share it on my blog. I feel honored to be the first harpist playing it. It sounds full of life and flaunts a very good notion of how the harp can sound. Following the impressionist masters, right? Thanks also for letting me suggest some idiomatic ideas. 



1.- I will show you the suggestions written with pencil in my part. They are for easier reading of the arpeggios in places such as measure 10, 12 and 13.


2.- Left hand after measure 151: you can improve that pattern by repeating the f or b flat, I have to show it on the harp, it’s not so comfortable to alternate fingers in that position of the hand, even if it’s totally playable.


3.- I suggest simplifying measure 212, leaving (in that 3/4 measure) only the notes of left hand, instead of using both hands.


4.- Measure 281,  can be improved if you add an a to the right hand, and a g or d to the second chord also in right hand. Left hand should play those harmonics one octave lower.



5.- Measure 3, those harmonics and notes cannot be all played, you must take away one harmonic or a note. We can see it in the first rehearsal and choose what you prefer after hearing options within your orchestration.


6.- Measure 16, that f sharp sounds unclean, since all the previous pattern has f flat, I don’t know if it’s a key mistake, since immediately it goes back to f flat. We have to check that in the harp too.


7.- Measure 25, I suggest the harmonics be moved to the left hand, an octave lower in all that passage beginning right there.


8.- Re-write the arpeggios, with the third beat in G clef in measures 50 and 51. It would be visually clearer in one clef, instead of jumping from clef to clef when the arpeggio is going up. Usually harpists choose their own fingerings and it’s easier to mark the stems according to how hands will be combined to climb in the arpeggio. (Going down would be the same in similar cases).


9.- Measure 52, third beat, write the 4th sixteenth note an octave higher. Since it’s the same to be played in the fourth beat, which shortens the sound (the finger stops the sound going immediately to the same string), and this does not fit well with the lento espressivo that you chose for that section. The same thing happens in measure 53, first beat, fourth sixteenth note: it would be better an octave higher too.


10.- Last measures (morendo al fine), those harmonics can’t be played so high, and neither do the octaves with harmonics. One possibility could be to take away the harmonics and play the right hand octaves with real notes, or the high note of left hand with harmonics and right hand with real notes.



11.- Measure 74, write the third beat in G clef.


12.- Measure 82, get rid of the last octave note, to let the hand “breathe”, since it has to jump to a different register. The same thing happens in measure 85. The harmony will still be ringing. In the harp sometimes it’s better to let the ringing fill the space. After all, one of the most wonderful things about the harp is the resonance!


13.- Measure 92, write the entire arpeggio in G clef.


14.- Add an e harmonic in F clef in the last measure, to give the passage the same bell color of harmonics to the last note, just as the three previous in the previous measure. It sort of makes sense to my ear since it’s the end of a phrase.



 15.- Measure 95, let the fourth eighth note in left hand go to G cleff so the right hand can play it together with it’s e, and the same with the f that starts the fourth beat in left hand. Get rid of the last octave note in the left hand.


16.-  Letter F, measure103, erase the left hand harmonic, it is impossible to play octaves and harmonics at the same time with the same hand. A different placing will be required there, so let’s try with my harp before the first rehearsal and you decide what you like. I will play several options for you.


17.- Measure 108, same case with harmonics.


18.- Measure 119, I suggest  leaving quarter notes instead of octave notes, and avoid  such big jumps in a fast tempo. I also suggest a lower register that would make it easier to be ready for the next passage. I have to show it playing so you can see how it works physically and see what it takes to jump from one register to another at that tempo.


19.- Measure 121, move the octave notes that begin beat one and two, write them in G clef.


20.- Measure 155, change the order of the right hand notes, for example a,b,e,d or all going down (even better). It sounds better in the ff you chose, because of the way the fingers work in that position and the strength they have .


21.- Measure 172, there is a g natural and a g flat in the same chord. I cannot use the enharmonic f sharp instead of the g flat , since the chord also has an f natural. Which one do you prefer? The harp seems to be an instrument that needs a lot of editing decisions, since you cannot have all the strings that you have as keys in the piano. You do have to choose when this happens and enharmonics are not a solution.


22.- Measure 175, we have to check the harmonics. I think they can sound better with harmonics in the left hand instead of the right hand.


23.- Measure 187, write the third beat in F clef.


24.- I would like you to hear measure 207 with an extra harmonic in F clef supporting the pp of the right hand in the fourth beat.


25.- The page turns are difficult, I had to put three pages together, since important passages are divided and there is no possibility there to change pages. Maybe when you edit the part you can ask your copyist to use the silence sections to re-arrange that.


See you in the first orchestra rehearsal. I will be in a dressing room an hour before, waiting for you. Good luck with the rest of the instruments! 






for flute, soprano, choir and orchestra 


World premiere: October 16 and 17, 2010


I.Geometrïa telúrica

II. Magma Interior

III. El Pedregal

IV. Visión Evolutiva


En todos los caminos arde un sentido constructor.

Travesías de roca, metáforas de luz.

El instrumento armónico entre el hombre y el paisaje es la arquitectura

Armando Salas Portugal, fotógrafo

Dedicated to myGrandfatherRicardo Torres Gaytán (Emeritus professor, researcher, author, director of the economy school at unam, IN MEMORIAM (1913-2009)

Text By: Armando Salas Portugal

I.Geometría telúrica


la savia renovada de la tierra.

Convulsión vibrante,

geografía de la eternidad

II. Magma Interior

Se intenta sentir la edad

longeva de las piedras

que han contemplado el tránsito de las aves.

Entre ellas se percibe el

apagado rumor

de los cantos de la tierra

III. El pedregal

La transmutación del paisaje.

Pavoroso el silencio.

El pedregal quedó en la soledad

de sus pájaros y en la quietud de la roca

esculpida por un tacto telúrico.

Horizonte de las edades.

IV. Visión evolutiva

En todos los caminos arde

un sentido constructor.

Visión penetrante

que llega y fluye

y  desmenuza la esencia.

No es lava estéril,

migración evolutiva

del paisaje y del hombre.

Muere una cultura sepultada por

la roca y resurge nuevamente

después de siglos entre lava luminosa.


“The work of photographer Armando Salas Portugal about the construction of the Ciudad Universitaria in Mexico City and the Pedregal of San Ángel area, were the inspiration to compose LUZ DE LAVA. In this music I try to evocate those enigmatic images through different colors and orchestral timbres, where the harp plays a fundamental role.

Therefore, knowing that Mercedes Gómez will be the harpist playing in the world premiere of my piece not only gives me joy, but confidence and a chance to keep learning. Mercedes (our Mechin, as we, her friend composers call her), embraces the score with dedication and absolute responsibility. She studies it and once she has assimilated it, she writes to me about every single detail, adding suggestions regarding how to polish the harp part within the orchestral context. My pianist background makes me write passages jumping from clef to clef, and this can be difficult for the harp reading in certain passages. Another example of what we are working on together is finding the right harmonics, the exact ringing place in the harp or simplifying the order of certain repeated notes in order to get a more idiomatic result, something easier to play that does not lose the essence of the piece. This process only enriches us and it is useful for us composers to learn, when we work very close to devoted interpreters, especially those open minded to new languages. Mechin belongs to this category. Therefore, working with her is a pleasure and an opportunity to enrich ourselves mutually in the process of making music together. Thanks, Mechin, for your dedication to my music, and above all, for helping me so much to enrich the harp part of my LUZ DE LAVA for this premiere”. – GABRIELA ORTIZ

 Gabriela Ortiz Torres is widely recognized as one of the most important Mexican composers of the younger generation. Her musical language achieves a synthesis of tradition and the avant-garde; combining high art, folk music and jazz. Her music has been commissioned and played by ensembles, soloists and orchestras such as Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa Pekka Salonen, Kroumata percussion ensemble, Amadinda percussion ensemble, Kronos quartet, Dawn Upshaw,  Sarah Leonard, Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Pierre Amoyal, Luis Julio Toro, Tambuco percussion quartet, The Mexican University Philharmonic Orchestra, La Camerata Chamber Players, Mexico City’s Philharmonic Orchestra,Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Venezuela, BBC Scottish Symphony, among others.

Latest premieres include: Unicamente la verdad (her first opera), with The Mexican National Opera Company, Altar de Piedra for three percussion players, timpaniandorchestra premiered by Amadinda percussion Quartet and The Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra under Zoltan Kocsis; and the American premiere of the same work by the commissioning ensemble, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra with Esa- Pekka Salonen and Kroumata percussion ensemble. The Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble performed the avant-premiere of her new opera Unicamente la Verdad in August 2008, under Carmen Helena Téllez; and Kroumata had a Swedish premier of Altar de Piedra with the Mälmo Symphony in 2009.


Gabriela Ortiz Torres studied composition with Mario Lavista at the National Conservatory of Music, and Federico Ibarra at the National University of Mexico. In 1990 she was awarded the British Council Fellowship to study in London with Robert Saxton at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 1992 she received the University of Mexico Scholarship to complete Ph.D. studies in electroacoustic music composition with Simon Emmerson at The City University in London. She currently teaches composition at the Mexican University of Mexico City and as a visiting faculty at Indiana University. Her music is currently published by Universal Edition. Boosey and Hawkes, Arla Music and Ediciones Mexicanas de Música.







A few years ago my duo partner Janet Paulus and I recorded Mexican 19th century piano music – in our own transcriptions for two harps. Right after that I was approached by Guadalupe Castro, a young musicologist, finishing her studies at the National Conservatory, where I teach. She proposed for us to consider including some pieces written by young Mexican girls from that same period.

This year coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution that ended the far too long presidency of the dictator Porfirio Díaz (November 20, 1910). A budding democracy followed after all those years of war. (Right now the whole country is flooded by celebrations to remind us of this part of our history. September 15 was also the 200th anniversary of our independence. We are invited to think about how far – or not so far – we have come as a nation).

We could not include the material on that CD.  The recordings were already finished and far into distribution. Janet and I decided then to include a first half at our recitals with these nice pieces composed by talented girls born around the end of the 19th Century. This, we thought, would be an interesting complement and would give the audience a better picture of what was happening in a period when Mexico was so influenced by Italian opera and French piano music.

Some of these young composers married their piano teachers and stopped composing. Others took their husbands name and were difficult to trace in the archives. Most of them devoted their life to raising huge families, to cook and wash diapers. (Nothing wrong with that, I believe. I have done it myself and it taught me a lot about life).

Like so often in history this next episode happened by pure coincidence. Concepción Manrique de Lara y Ramos was one of those young girl composers. Her granddaughter, Mayra Pérez Sandi, called me one day because she had seen our DUO SONDOS on the web, playing a piece by her grandmother, with the title BESITOS PARA PAPÁ (literally: LITTLE KISSES FOR DADDY, or PUSS, PAPPA in Swedish). She wanted advice regarding what to do with the material her grandmother had left behind. What’s remarkable about this specific piece is that it was written in 1906, when Concepción Manrique de Lara y Ramos was eleven years old. It was published in Germany and distributed in Mexico later.

Meeting with Mayra I was accompanied by Mexican composer Marcela Rodríguez. We offered advice regarding how to make recordings of her grandma’s music and to contact musicologists interested in this part of Mexican music history. Then I learned about other aspects of this lady’s life, and I realized how remarkable this young composer was in the context of what was expected from girls and women at the time.

 It was close to overwhelming to have the original manuscripts in my hands and watch the fine ink traces, a wonderfully clear writing and a personality coming through from the timeworn paper. We had to cover our noses and mouths to handle the documents. They are more than a hundred years old, but still speaking loud and clear with her talent and presence.    

     Daughters in families of certain economic standing, such as hers, were able to afford private piano lessons, part of the refinement with which future ladies would make what was called excellent wives.

 With this training combined with her natural skills, besides being a refined silk embroiderer, Concepción was an agile piano player, a composer and poet, among other things writing the lyrics to her romantic songs, some of which she kept composing as an adult. She composed waltzes for her three daughters Mayra, Celina and Alicia. For her five sons she wrote “ranchero” songs, similar to “corridos”, a popular genre in those years, which were used to spread news about the revolution. Sometimes the music was used by enemies, changing the text to make fun of the other army. An example of this is the famous LA CUCARACHA. Maybe one day I should write lyrics about colleagues and cultural authorities on the other side of this battle field (the side where art, education and culture sadly are not a priority).

 As an adult, Concepción had the generous vision to open a music school. Maybe, without knowing it, she was one of Mexico’s first feminists, giving importance to musical education and spreading it outside private homes.

 I am thinking about including another of Concepción’s pieces in some of my next recitals. I think she deserves it, as do all the many women, forgotten by history. I have a copy of a piece, generously given to me by Mayra. It’s called CARICIAS PATERNALES (PARENTAL HUGS or FÖRÄLDRAKÄRLEK), composed in 1904, when she was a sweet and romantic, talented nine-year-old with plenty of dreams. Why not play it?

 Brava for ever, Concepción!