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Gabriela Ortiz

Gabriela Ortiz is one of the foremost composers in Mexico today and one of the most vibrant musicians emerging on the international scene. Her musical language achieves an extraordinary and expressive synthesis of tradition and the avant-garde; combining high art, folk music and jazz in novel, refined and always personal ways. Her compositions are credited for being both entertaining and immediate as well as profound and sophisticated; she achieves a balance between highly organized structure and improvisatory spontaneity. Although based in Mexico, her music is commissioned and performed all over the world.

Ortiz's music has been commissioned and played by prestigious ensembles, soloists and orchestras such as the 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, and BBC Scottish Symphony, among others.

Recent premieres include: Unicamente la Verdad (her first opera) with The Mexican National Opera Company, Altar de Piedra for three percussion players, timpani and orchestra premiered in Europe by Amadinda Percussion Quartet and The Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra under Zoltan Kocsis; and the American premiere of the same work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Kroumata percussion ensemble, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. 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 presented the Swedish premiere of Altar de Piedra with the Mälmo Symphony in 2009.

Ortiz has been honored with the Civitella Ranieri Artistic Residency; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; the Fulbright Fellowship; the Distinción Universidad Nacional; the First prize of the Silvestre Revueltas National Chamber Music Competition with her piece Altar de muertos (a work commissioned by the Kronos Quartet); the First Prize at the Alicia Urreta Composition Competition; the Composers Award and the National Artists System Fellowship from the Mexican Council for the Arts and Culture; Banff Center for the Arts Residency; the Inroads Commission, a program of Arts International with funds from the Ford Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation; the Mozart Medal Award for Mexican Theatre and Music as the best composer of 1997; and The Fundación Cultural Bancomer Award.

In 1994 she wrote the music for the choreographic work Errant Manoeuvres performed by the Emma Diamond Dance Company at the Merce Cunnigham Studio in New York and in 1995 she completed the music score for the award winning film Frontierland produced and directed by Rubén Ortiz and Jessie Lerner.  In 2000 she returned to film music with the music score for the Mexican film Por la Libre produced by Alta Vista films and directed by Juan Carlos de Llaca.

Born in Mexico City, Ortiz's parents were musicians in the famous folk music ensemble Los Folkloristas founded in 1966 to preserve and record the traditional music of Mexico and Latin America. She trained with the eminent composer 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 visiting faculty at Indiana University.


How Taco Bell inspired a concerto about California’s colonial history

Speaker 1: (00:00)

A piece of classical music is examining California's colonial history and our state's long and complex relationship with Mexico. Gabriela Ortiz is a Grammy award-winning composer, she's from Mexico, but she's a familiar presence in California's classical music scene. She's gotten high profile commissions from the LA Philharmonic, the long beach opera, and the OHI festival. The new flue concerto is called me colonial California. Now a lot of things can inspire a piece of music, dramatic vistas, broken hearts, but as KQ EDS, Chloe Veltman tells us this new piece is inspired by a California fast food chain.

Speaker 2: (00:44)

The new flute concerto is part of an event exploring the legacy of El Camino reality, the colonial name for the ancient byway dotted with missions that stretched from the Mexican border to Northern California. These ringing sounds aren't really meant to evoke the bells of the old Camina rail missions. At least not directly

Speaker 3: (01:07)

Crispy bacon and fluffy eggs might just be better. There's only one delicious breeze in the way of the perfect dream farewell. As soon as you wake, as Tsuneo gets hosted breakfast burritos, only at taco bell,

Speaker 4: (01:20)

You see the logo of taco bell. It's a bell that reminds you that the missions, but in a very modern or public way. Yep.

Speaker 2: (01:32)

You heard right over a zoom call from her home in Mexico city composer. Gabriela Ortiz tells me the fast food chain founded by an American named Glen bell in California in the 1960s. Partly inspired her new work.

Speaker 4: (01:46)

Nothing that's serving taco bell is really Mexican food, but it's not American too. It's becoming something new. And this is the point.

Speaker 2: (02:00)

This postmodern Omar's to California's fast food culture. Isn't all that farfetched, taco bells, crispy chicken sandwich tacos, or cheesy Fiesta potatoes come from a hodgepodge of influences. And what we know is El Camino reality is really just a mixed up fantasy of an idealized California.

Speaker 5: (02:19)

The mission, uh, past becomes kind of the founding story of the Anglos.

Speaker 2: (02:24)

Robert sinkewitz is a history professor at Santa Clara university. He says white people in Southern California at the turn of the last century, came up with a notion of a so-called Royal road as a way of romanticizing the past

Speaker 5: (02:38)

The past, which emphasized heroic missionaries, happy contented Indians, Fandango's all over the place, you know, wonderful Ranchos and, and sort of a Lotus land of, of contentment and bliss, where everybody was, was happy.

Speaker 2: (02:52)

Cinco. It says the automobile association soon glommed onto this idea as a way to get people to go on road trips and down the California coast, they begin.

Speaker 5: (03:01)

And the push, the notion that the missions were located a day's journey from each other, you know, which kind of, when you think about it, it makes them motels rather than what they actually were. Agents of assimilation of the native people.

Speaker 2: (03:14)

The absurdity of all of this isn't lost on composer, Gabriela Ortiz in writing, and you can share out, she says she was inspired by the taco bell sign, as well as other bits of California architecture influenced however, questionably by El Camino Dao.

Speaker 4: (03:29)

It's interesting in this dialogue that goes and comms between us and Mexico and how you mother California and see Mexico, or how Mexico sees California.

Speaker 2: (03:41)

The title of Ortiz's concerto is the colonial California Arno. It's a reference to the colonial California now architectural style, which borrows from the historic missions by way of California,

Speaker 4: (03:53)

[inaudible] architecture

Speaker 2: (03:58)

As the daughter of an architect, or T's knows about the subject intimately. This section of the concerto is titled mission revival, nostalgia. It references a similar style to colonial California. Now that became popular north of the border, The easygoing triplets on flute, harp and vibraphone evoke Californian, sentimental feelings about the white stucco walls, stone, arches, and red clay tile roofs of the old mission buildings. You can see a more modern riff on the style today in places like the Andalusia building in Santa Barbara and the Stanford university campus. And in the section titled Maurisco ornaments, a curly Q solo flute line tanged with Arabic sounding scales alludes to the intricate Morriston embellishments that can be found on some 20th century, California and in Mexican buildings. The ALK is our theater in San Francisco and the shrine auditorium in LA. A good examples of the style

Speaker 6: (05:02)

Does the cultural appropriation going on on both sides. So American architects stole things from Spain and Mexico and then Mexican steel, the fake, so to speak

Speaker 2: (05:14)

That's Lewis oil. He's an emeritus professor of architecture at California state Polytechnic university Pomona. He comes from Tijuana

Speaker 6: (05:22)

Once the fake has been built in California, we steal it and we build it for cheaper. And Mexican

Speaker 2: (05:28)

Oreo says architectural history can tell us a lot about how cultures collide

Speaker 6: (05:33)

Buildings do talk and what we put in them and how we use them. There's another language that gets examined.

Speaker 2: (05:42)

The concerto ends just as it begins with a haunting flute passage After making fun of the copycat architectural back and forth between Mexico and the U S composer, Gabriela Ortiz evokes an era before all those mission style buildings appeared and now musical instrument expresses the spirit of pre-colonial times better than the flute with its deep indigenous roots for the California report. I'm Chloe Veltman.

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Review: For Dudamel, Erivo and the L.A. Phil, an incomparable ‘Homecoming’ gala

Homecoming can easily turn fraught. Just ask Ulysses.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic untypically appeared to be taking no chances Saturday night with “Homecoming,” its first season-opening gala in two years. On paper it looked as though an irrepressible orchestra that likes nothing more than to challenge expectations with its glitzy, provocative, artistically ambitious and occasionally goofy galas had become cautiously moxie-free.

This time, there were only single movements from two classical music chestnuts. A pop star made an appearance with three songs, one of them being Leonard Bernstein’s evergreen “Somewhere.” An upbeat short new piece commissioned by a familiar composer opened the program. There weren’t even any encores, and no silver or gold confetti sensationally descended from the ceiling at the end.

That’s right, no glittery confetti celebrating the momentous occasion of the L.A. Phil’s first concert back in Walt Disney Concert Hall since March 8, 2020. “We counted the 470-something days, hours, seconds, and here we are,” Gustavo Dudamel exultantly told the audience. The orchestra’s music and artistic director counted on something else as well: that music is all that matters.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel and singer Cynthia Erivo perform during the LA Philharmonic’s “Homecoming” gala at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

(Ringo Chiu / For The Times)

Improbably and incomparably, it was a great gala.

In retrospect, one could find signs that something was up with Dudamel and the orchestra when a few performances at the Hollywood Bowl this summer reached a revelatory level. Still, that hardly forecast a gala in which every seeming cliché consequentially clicked.

The atmosphere was, of course, energized by loyal audience excitedly back in its beloved concert hall. Dudamel was greeted like a pop star himself. The mood was sheer love-fest. Standing ovations added aerobics to the concert menu. At one point Dudamel turned to the orchestra and said, “I love you with all my heart.” Eyes, this night, teared up more than once. It was maybe the most moving evening in the hall since Esa-Pekka Salonen’s farewell concert as music director in 2009.

Mystically distant trumpets in Gabriela Ortiz’s magical “Kauyumari,” the first music heard, compellingly set the stage. One of Mexico’s most important composers and a favorite of Dudamel‘s, Ortiz took her inspiration from the image of a blue deer (or Kauyumari) that is the guide for Mexico’s Huichol people when, after taking peyote, they seek to heal their souls. Through a Huichol melody brought to vivid rhythmic life, Ortiz offered her own aural hallucinogenic.

In the glow of red light, audience members wearing face masks listen to the L.A. Phil “Homecoming” concert.

(Ringo Chiu / For The Times)

With her kaleidoscopic eyes (and ears), this Gaby in the sky with diamonds turned the jaunty tune into a ravishing vision, its repetitious rhythms keeping a listener glued while the changing instrumental colors created the unnerving effect of feeling unglued. The Huichol melody was always there, but you never could predict where or how it would turn up in the orchestra. We thought we knew what was happening, but Ortiz kept reminding us that we didn’t, which felt exactly of our own moment. I suspect (and hope) “Kauyumari” will join the orchestral hit parade.

You can’t get much more commonplace in classical than the opening of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Yet Dudamel, with the help of the young Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho, somehow made it fresh. The L.A. Phil musicians can doubtlessly play it in their sleep, but the almost-forgotten reality of this orchestra in this hall (sorry, Apple, but your new spatial music does not come remotely close) became its own kind of Tchaikovskian peyote.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel and pianist Seong-Jin Cho on Saturday in Disney Hall.

(Ringo Chiu / For The Times)

The horns heralded yet another vision. Cho, who comes across on his recordings as a mild-mannered performer whose crystal-cut phrasing tells you almost nothing of himself, sprung to life with magnificent sparkle, the sounds of bells ringing, approaching that of Horowitz. Cho made a perfect foil for Dudamel’s extravagant expressivity. The orchestra stopped just short of overwhelming Cho, framing his playing, instead, in rich glory. You will not find its like captured on Cho’s discs or downloads.

The same might be true for Cynthia Erivo, who came next. Her performance of “Somewhere” from Bernstein’s “West Side Story” at the Kennedy Center can be found on the National Symphony’s website. It is beautiful. With Dudamel and the L.A. Phil, Erivo dropped the beautiful after about 30 seconds and dug deep, then brilliantly deeper.

Cynthia Erivo singing in Disney Hall on Saturday.

(Ringo Chiu / For The Times)

The somewhere she sought — with powerful, low earthly tones and strikingly unearthly high ones, her timbre changing to meet the expressive needs of each word while her intonation remained remarkably true — was not out of reach, not outside of us all, but within. It was a spectacular performance. No one has any right to speak for Bernstein, but he was in the room, somewhere.

After two more Erivo songs, “Feeling Good” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” — impressive without raining on the “Somewhere” parade — Mahler entered the room. A dozen years ago, Dudamel conducted his first L.A. Phil gala as music director. He was 28, as was Mahler when he wrote his First Symphony, which was on the program.

This became a famous concert, broadcast around the world, and it is available on commercial video. The extreme propulsion the young Dudamel brought to the final movement’s arresting 20-minute progress from panicky crisis to euphoric exultation felt like prophesy. Then the confetti rained.

That movement ended Saturday’s gala, and ended it in way that nothing could follow. Prophesy fulfilled came around two minutes faster, with less propulsion and more exploration of Mahlerian detail, of getting inside of everything. The symphony became more blossoming than a progression. The ending here turned into a monumental what-didn’t-kill-us-made-us-stronger statement, more sober than a sheer adrenaline release of energy. It was a loud and solid and all-consuming climax that wasn’t really a climax but a reason for being.

The L.A. Phil is, without question, back — and back as the orchestra of the future that understands the necessity of looking back. The gala wasn’t a normal gala. The orchestra has a no-nonsense vaccination policy with no exceptions. Masks, obviously.

The titles of the three pieces Dudamel conducts for his first regular season program, beginning Thursday, pretty much say it all: “Transfigured Night,” “Four Last Songs,” “Death and Transfiguration.” Confetti and encores can wait.

Gabriela Ortiz (b. 1964) - Altar de Neón, for Percussion Quartet and Chamber Orchestra


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Gabriela Ortiz (b. 1964) - Altar de Neón, for Percussion Quartet and Chamber Orchestra


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