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Carmen-Helena Téllez: A silent force in music

In an interview between rehearsals, the Musical Director of the Magic Flute of the Andes reveals some details of the most ambitious and original production of Fundación Teatro Nacional Sucre, in its world premiere on Thursday June 14th.

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The director and Venezuelan-American scholar Carmen-Helena Téllez has been called “a silent force behind contemporary music in the United States today” by Sequenza21, balancing activities as a creative artist, orchestra director, academic, producer and administrator. In 2012 she joins the famous University of Notre Dame as a professor of management. Previously, she was the Director of Choral Studies Graduates and Director of the Latin American Music Center at the prestigious Jacobs School of Music at the University of Indiana, where she also directed her Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. She is also co-artistic director of Aguavá New Music Studio, a group of artists with which she records and performs international tours. She has been the resident director of the Chicago Contemporary Chamber Players (Contempo), music director of the National Choir of Spain and visiting professor at Dartmouth College, and is currently writing books on Latin American Choral and Avant-Garde Genres.

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As director of the Latin American Music Center, Carmen-Helena Téllez has commissioned, awarded and recorded several works, organized three Inter-American Music Symposiums and many special events, created a performance contest, produced a series of recordings, and implemented a Latin American group and several courses In the year 2000 she became the first woman in the record to carry out the monumental Grande messe des morts by Hector Berlioz with 450 artists on stage. For her innovative approach to pedagogy through creative collaboration, Carmen-Helena Tellez received the Tracy M. Sonneborn Award at the University of Indiana in 2010.

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How was your relationship with the creative team of The Magic Flute of the Andes?
I have known Maestra Chia Patiño for many years. She was trained at Indiana University in Bloomington, United States, in a period when I was a professor of Management. During that time we established a very nice friendship. I was always very impressed by her talent, by an advanced attitude that she had in all her proposals, even as a student. At that time we always discussed the possibility of making a new American opera adapted to the sensitivity of our culture. Over time Chía became the Artistic and Executive Director of Fundación Teatro Nacional Sucre and when she let me know about the possibility of doing The Magic Flute of the Andes, I immediately told her that I would be happy to collaborate.

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For those who do not know Mozart’s Magic Flute Why is this opera so important?
It is important for many reasons. It is a masterpiece that has been sustained in the repertoire for more than two hundred years. Mozart did it in 1791, the same year he composed the Requiem and his death. Mozart is known for being an opera composer who writes in a very human way, which reflects the experiences of any person in a sublime way. The Magic Flute is very special because it has several levels of understanding, it has melodies that have a popular sense, that represents the common man, but at the same time it has archetypal characters, with certain moral aspects. Try to make a description of the whole society through different musical styles in a very entertaining and emotional way.

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What challenges did it represent to adapt this classic opera musically to the language of the Andean instruments?
That was precisely the most attractive of the proposal of the Maestra Patiño. It is not only a version with Andean instruments but there is an organic concept: there was a translation into Spanish, but the most important thing is that the whole concept of the work has been transferred to the cosmogony and religious concepts of our Andean philosophies. The reorquestación was an adaptation carried out in the first place by Maestro Segundo Cóndor, who was the Artistic Director of the Andean Instrument Orchestra (OIA). He did an adaptation work and established some general guidelines, but due to an illness he unfortunately died and could not finish it. When I arrived to do a first reading of the scores we realized that he established some criteria, but it was not finished. Then we did a cocreative work with Tadashi Maeda, Leonardo Cárdenas and other colleagues who work with the IOP. We had to translate the language of the European orchestra, which is based on the sound of the violin family, to the sound of the Andean orchestra. Everything was preserved: the melody, the harmony, the spirit of Mozart, but it changes the dress a bit because we use our colors. With that change also changes the sensitivity, the emotion, the aroma of the work.

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Previously you have already done some projects with the Fundación Teatro Nacional Sucre, how has your work experience been with your team?
That is a question that I love because it has to be said: what you have here at the Teatro Nacional Sucre is something marvelous. It is rare to find an environment where all the generations of artists participate, from the executive artists who direct the project to the young students who are in a first level of their career. Everyone works with great enthusiasm, affection, easy interaction and great joy. They also have the possibility to develop interesting projects without brakes. It is really a very special situation in Latin America. I hope that your work will defend and last for decades.

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What will be the contribution of The Magic Flute of the Andes to the history of the opera?
Every transcription has the great merit of translating an experience, a period of history. A work that has been circumscribed to a European scope or a social area, translates it to another. This shows that Mozart’s work is masterful, because he is able to receive this type of translation and to sustain himself with the passage of time. It is a masterpiece, but at the same time, making this translation also attracts people who have never been interested in opera to understand that this experience is necessary for all of us because it expresses our humanity. I expect several surprises, for example in the orchestration we have realized that there are some instruments that sing better than others, how a melody sings differently in an Andean instrument than in a European instrument. The melody acquires another emotional level, all those surprises are very interesting.

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