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Today we bring you the interview we had with one of the most important and internationally recognized composers, the Catalan Hèctor Parra i Esteve. During his outstanding career he has been studying with teachers such as David Padrós, Carles Guinovart, Brian Ferneyhough, Jonathan Harvey, Philippe Manoury, Philippe Leroux, Horacio Vaggione, José Manuel López López and Michael Jarrell. In addition, he has been a resident researcher at the IRCAM-Centro Pompidou in Paris and has taught composition in the International Course of composition and musical informatics of this institute. His international projection has led him to receive numerous prestigious awards such as the 2017 National Culture Prize of the Generalitat de Catalunya or the Ernst von Siemens Foundation Composition Prize (Germany) in 2011. Hèctor has received multiple commissions from institutions and orchestras around the world, and his music has been presented at major international festivals. He has composed operas that have received critical and public acclaim, such as Les Bienveillantes, Wilde, and Das geopferte Leben.

Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with us, Hèctor!

For more information about Hèctor Parra, here you have his website!


1. How did your interest in composition arise and what do you like most about your profession?

When I was 13-14 years old I liked to write piano pieces imitating the style of composers like Scriabin or Poulenc. Until I was 24 I dedicated myself mainly to working on the piano, and I was lucky to have extraordinary teachers, such as María Jesús Crespo. Her influence on my later compositional activity has been very strong, since the technical and musical work of pianistically complex works by Liszt, Chopin, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Ravel, etc. has marked the development of my own instrumental writing. But it was only from 2002 onwards, once settled in Paris and working on electronic music at IRCAM that I clearly saw that I had to dedicate myself to writing. And since 2006, I have been lucky enough to be able to make a living from it. What I like most about dedicating myself to composition is the fact of conceiving the permanence of new worlds and of being able to live unique experiences through each new work.

2. In your program notes, you say that "the Fragments Striés are inspired by the painting of Pierre Soulages and, more specifically, by the powerful striations and luminous reflections that characterize his Peinture outrenoir of the 1980s and early 1990s." How did you meet this artist and why were you inspired by his pictorial concept to compose Fragments Striés?

I was introduced to his painting at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2002. I was immediately fascinated by it, since the experience of being in front of one of his paintings has to do with the perception of space and time, and the very consciousness of existing: the massive black of his painting, which forms a kind of wall where we see ourselves reflected, becomes, after contemplating it for a few minutes, a window into an unknown world.

3. In one or a few words, how would you define Fragments Striés?

Fragments Striés is a short work composed of four instants, four glances at Soulages' work, and specifically at a series of very pure, medium-sized paintings, where the directionality of the striations, specific to each painting in the series, defines the architecture of the whole.

4. We have performed your work many times in competitions and concerts, and we have always found that all the public liked it. We even won the prize for the best interpretation of a work by a Spanish composer at the XXIV Certamen Internacional de Jóvenes Intérpretes Pedro Bote. Why do you think this work works so well and the public likes to listen to it?

I think that, first of all, it is my good fortune that this quartet is performed by musicians of such quality and inventiveness as the Lítore Quartet! The composer, first of all, writes for the musicians, and these are the ones who really transmit to the public the thoughts that are in the score. But during this act of transmission - the concert - the symbols and structures that the composer has written or suggested to the score are greatly enriched and developed through the thoughts and emotions of the performers. And this is what reaches the audience, isn't it...?

5. As a composer, what would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of the saxophone as an instrument?

Wow, that's not an easy question, and I'm not a saxophonist! I would say that the strengths have to do with the extreme plasticity of the instrument's sound, both in articulation (from the driest and most percussive slaps to the most continuous and mysterious tenuto sound) and in color (from the simplest and purest sound -more complex from the start in any case than in other wind instruments, like the flute) to nodal and complex sounds like multiphonics with inner trills). The expressive possibilities are extreme, as are the subtleties of phrasing and articulation that it allows. Nevertheless, some composers are concerned about the timbre of the instrument, which is very characteristic and dense, or about certain musical and cultural connotations (jazz, dance music, etc.).

6. In recent years we are experiencing an increase in the number and level of saxophonists and saxophone quartets. At the same time, composers are writing a lot for our instrument. Why do you think this is happening nowadays?

I simply think that the saxophone is a first-rate instrument, with expressive possibilities that are so in tune with today's world, with its richness, its rhythm and its colors…

7. What are your present and future concerns or projects?

Concerns… I don't know. Three days ago I finished JUSTICE, an opera that will be premiered next January 22nd at the Grand Théâtre de Genève. With a libretto by Finston Mwanza Mujila on an original script by Milo Rae, this opera places us in Katanga, in the Southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where in February 2019 one of the major multinationals extracting raw materials caused an accident with sulfuric acid in which 21 people lost their lives, including many children, drop by drop! In the opera, we deal with the unjust imbalance of power between a completely abandoned, impoverished and often genocidal civil society, an almost non-existent weakened state, and the large Western and Asian multinationals that continue to plunder the immense natural wealth of Central Africa just as they did in colonial times. But JUSTICE focuses on individual human experiences - on the mother who has lost her daughter, on the young man who has lost both legs, on very real characters who convey very real emotions as well. How can music channel them and reach the greatest number of people? This is one of my main concerns at the moment.


We have recently recorded and published his quartet for saxophones entitled Fragments Striés (2004), in which Hèctor Parra musically expresses the paintings of Pierre Soulages, known as “the painter of black”. Enjoy it!


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