«The goal is to transmit energy» (interview with pianist & composer Juan María Solare)

Interview with pianist & composer Juan María Solare. The questions were posed by Amaranta Wright when Juan Solare was nominated finalist at the LUKAS (Latin UK Awards) in Great Britain. The questions were answered (per email) in January 2013. Solare ended receiving the second prize (after singer Martín Alvarado) out of five finalists and more than ten candidates.

– Introduce yourself. Age. Where you come from?  What is your cultural/family background?

(Juan María Solare) Born under the sign of Leo, on 11th August 1966 at 23:40 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In case you want to do my astral chart, you have enough information. So I am 46 years old. My brother is also a musician (viola), my sister devoted to dance (Argentine folklore). My mother was a Philologist and researcher / teacher of Hispanic Literature at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. My father was a lawyer (labor law); he taught me the bitter truth that Law and Justice are different things. Both were active music lovers (mainly classical, since rock and pop were practically banned at home – and jazz barely tolerated). Tango was unavoidable at home. Even if you hate tango music, in Argentina you listen to it permanently in the radio, so it develops like a second nature. I like to think that tango is in my blood but experimental music in my DNA. Or the other way round – difficult to say.

In any case I think of my person, as an artist, as a bilingual being: the tension of being at the same time a composer AND a pianist, playing tango AND classical contemporary music, belonging to the Latin American culture AND living in Europe. These tensions, this force field, generates inevitably a quite singular musical language.

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– What was your earliest memory?

Nothing spectacular, but memory is a strange feature. You sometimes remember unimportant episodes and filter more important ones. Possibly I was 4 or 3. and it was new year eve (1970). I recall the firecrackers, and I see myself standing close to the window of the flat where we lived at that time, on the street Billinghurst. But wait a minute. It can’t be the earliest memory. Now I see myself in that flat of the street Anchorena. Also a second floor. But this was before. And I got hurt. A table somehow hit me in the eye. A visitor was there, Raúl Cortazar, a great person. And my father run with me to the hospital (Hospital de Niños), just a few hundred meters from there. When we were back, the visitor was still there.

– How did you get into the activity for which you won the award? Tell the story of your progression as it were.

Music in general: my mother played piano, albeit not professionally. But there was a piano at home (and still is) and I learned to play short melodies. I was surprised of several things. One, how could a piano work without being plugged, without electricity. Second, how could it be that there were houses without piano. This means that for me the piano is literally as natural as a mother tongue.

– Who has been the most influential figure in shaping you and your art?

In the first steps, and if I have to mention only one figure, possibly my mother, since she was the main responsible for our education (and my father for feeding us – that was their deal). But of course, I am being partial and committing injustice with possibly hundreds of persons that influenced me and my art. If I could mention a second or a third person, they would be María Teresa Criscuolo, my piano teacher for ages, and Horacio López de la Rosa, teacher of theory but also retrospectively my first composition teacher.

– What was it about this activity that you so fell in love with and that you love doing so much – describe this connection and your passion for what you do

You will perhaps be surprised, but when playing the piano, a very important aspect is the haptic perception, the concrete feeling of touching the instrument. Sometimes the actual acoustic result is not as important as being in touch with the keys. If you think this thought is unmusical, consider that lots of musicians overcome (or relief) the stage fright through touching their instrument – not by playing on it. This action is similar to touching, caressing a horse before riding. About touching: sometimes other instrumentalists think that a pianist has no direct contact with the vibrating elements producing sound, as guitarists are in contact with the strings. But for a pianist -or at least for me- the feeling of playing on the keys is exactly as being directly in touch with the strings. Is difficult to explain, since all words require a shared [joint] experience.

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– Describe one thing you like about the scene you are in, one thing you dislike

Like: I get surprised when colleagues (musicians in general, not only pianists or composers) do something that I wouldn’t expect and that I didn’t imagine before. So I learn, open mental doors and keep myself alive and curious. Another point relates to the sense of the whole thing: why making music at all. I recall an important episode. I was in my early twenties and gave a recital in the (not longer existing) Auditorio Promúsica in Buenos Aires. After the concert a man in his fifties approaches me, visible moved, and tells me that my music gave him back his will to live. From this episode I discovered that my main function, as an artist, is to transmit energy.

Dislike: the «sports» aspect of the musical profession. Competence, winning, getting better positions. Selling oneself, the need of “flirting” with organizers, of convincing others, boasting about triumphs – and the very notion of “triumph” in arts. All this makes one forget about art or music, deforms the soul, and can make you think that this profession is not about speaking to the hearts, but about getting a job or arriving first to the toppermost, getting exposure for the sake of it and -if possible- destroying your competitors on the way. Almost the opposite to what it should ideally be. As composer Béla Bartók said, competition is for horses, not artists. The irony is that it is a part of the musical profession and so we must go on doing it. So your colleagues end up considering you a potential competitor who should be defeated, and not a person with whom you can produce beauty together. Sad.

– What were the most difficult obstacles that you had to overcome to excel in what you do and get to where you’ve got to in your particular activity?

In a first stage: the main obstacle was to discipline myself in order to learn and develop the necessary techniques, the know how. Later: putting order in the administrative aspects of the profession such as getting concerts, building an image or a trade mark as a musician, keeping in touch with organizers and performers, «selling myself». I notice now that both things have to do with discipline.

– Describe one setback and one breakthrough?

Setback: It was a macro-recital in Tandil, a city in Argentina where I gave music tuition for wight years (and where I still have my best friends). At that recital I had to play ten minutes. I played two preludes by Karol Szymanowski. But I have slept just a couple of hours and gave lessons the whole day. It was my worst recital in my whole life; that kind of things I would like to erase from the Cosmic Memory. Moral: if you have to play tomorrow, sleep well tonight.

Breakthrough: This time was in Göttingen, a cute city in Germany where I gave my first European recital (in 1993). I was studying German at the Goethe Institut, where the recital took place. But: two weeks after that recital I had to move to Cologne and didn’t have a place to live – in a foreign country where I didn’t know anybody and with limited language knowledge. I tell you: thus I overcame stage fright once and for all: before the real danger of having nowhere to go, playing a concert is not a danger. This experience was crucial for me, but it would be cruel to suggest others to go through the same.

– How do you find the UK audience for what you do compared to others. How have you found British society and there attitudes towards you and what you do?

I can only speak about the audiences I found in London, not UK in general. Among us: I was positively surprised because the audience reacts very warmly and much more spontaneously than, say, in Germany. I must also say that my audiences tend to be heterogeneous (what I find positive). I feel very comfortable with this diversity, since I get the feeling that I can actually speak -musically- to quite different people in their own language. Last but not least: in my recitals I love to say some words to the audience. And I am a witty person, ironic and even sarcastic if needed. Well, this wit and irony are understood without further problems by the British audiences I found. Call it cliché – but it works and I love it.

– What has kept you driven?

The unquestionable belief that I can offer quality of life through music. The belief that my own life and other people’s lives get better through my activity. Being a musician means that I help people to smile and allow them to cry. I relieve pain from people’s souls (almost always). I strengthen people’s belief in life. I improve people’s understanding of other souls, of other cultures, of other sounds. I produce the harmonization of antagonistic forces. I exemplify the engagement with an unstable vocation. I increase people’s capability of correlating things and therefore -hopefully- their intelligence. I maintain people’s awareness awake. I show people that vigour and smoothness are not irreconcilable.

– What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy (in the context of what you do?)

Happy: to be on stage and notice that persons are really enjoying, that they want to be there more than elsewhere. Getting to know that a person had an «aha-experience» through listening to my music.

Unhappy: to have the feeling that people don’t give a damn for my music and that I even disturb them (for instance, playing background music). Anecdote (Misselwarden, 29th April 2006): “Could you really listen to me playing? It was so loud!” Answer: “Yes, you could be heard very well, we almost had to scream in order to go on talking” Or also to play a waltz and being asked, immediately after, why I don’t play a waltz (yes, it happened to me). Or having to listen, right after the concert, the unsolicited critic of an audience member with minimum musical background. It is as if I were a professional cook and they spit on the food I prepared for them.

– The Living person you most admire and why?

Strange, I have to really think about this. I’ll tell you next year. Maybe most admired people are dead.

– If you could go back in time, where would you go?

Leave this for next year.

– What song would you like at your funeral?

Several of my own compositions must be played at my funeral, as Nomade or Trenodia. But not only sad music. Also tranquil but optimistic (as Licha). And also energetic, deep (non-superficial) music as my Barro sublevado or Dimensión. I don’t want my funeral to be sad, I would like people to go back home with a sense of being charged with energy.

– Tell us a secret.

I use to play, since some years, with a puppet in the pocket, or even on the piano. It is a small snake, some 25 cm. long. My first one was called Victor, he accompanied me even to Finland – but got lost in one trip to Argentina. Now Orlando has taken his place. Although of course, nothing can replace Victor. But Orlando is doing his job well, he was already with me in Istanbul, in Germany, and of course in London. When the concert have been particularly good, I realize that Orlando is happy.

– Where would you like to do from here? What would you like to achieve? How and where do you see your future?

Two aspects: production and marketing. Production: I want to write more music for orchestra (concretely I am planning a violin concerto) and more film music (until now, I made music for only six short films). Marketing: My first wish is that my pieces be performed -by myself and by other musicians including orchestras- daily, constantly, somewhere in the world. My wish is that the artistic professions are recognized as decent – also financially. My wish is to live 300 lives parallelly, in order to achieve all I want, as composing, reading other people’s ideas (some call it “books”), writing down my own ideas.

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