The Catalan composer Luis Codera Puzo has just won the composition prize awarded by the Ernst von Siemens Foundation for Music. It is one of the most prestigious in the sector, and entails the production of a monographic CD and a €35,000 cash prize. The musician began his musical training by teaching himself, and he has studied electric guitar, piano, trombone and percussion, as well as big band theory and arrangements in styles such as jazz, modern music, classical and electronic
He is one of the founders and the artistic director of the CrossingLines Ensemble from Barcelona, in which he improvises electronic music live and plays electric guitar. His musical career is defined by a certain restlessness, which is expressed in a constant rethinking of the ideas behind his music and is articulated as a permanent need to keep searching.
First of all, congratulations for the prize you were awarded by the Ernst von Siemens Foundation. What does this recognition mean for your professional career and for Catalan music?
Thank you very much. First of all, the prize is very important for me for the chance it gives me to record an album in very good conditions of my chamber/ensemble repertoire of the last four years. For me it was important to take a look at and review what I have done and to be able to record it. Moreover, I hope that, at least for a while, the visibility of the prize will allow me to be in a better position to decide the projects that I will be taking part in.
The concept Catalan music is too abstract for me to say anything about the influence of this prize. Of course it has serious repercussions, but the most important thing is that it would have been no surprise at all if it had been won by another Catalan composer of my generation. To have won this prize is a nice twist of fate, but it is less important in comparison with the music that others of my generation are writing and which clearly demonstrates the existence of strong human values. I am referring, for example, to Catalan composers of my generation with whom I have been able to work and immerse myself in their music thanks to the CrossingLines Ensemble, such as Carles de Castellarnau, Joan Magrané, Raquel García Tomás, Octavi Rumbau or Josep Sanz. And let’s not forget that the highly renowned Hèctor Parra also won the prize in 2011. Nevertheless, and I don’t think I’m wrong if I speak for Parra too, both of us have developed our main works abroad, which gives us another point of view.
As a performer, you make the case for improvisation, which you consider ought to be more frequent. How do you link it to your facet as a composer?
I make the case for improvisation as a listener rather than as a performer. I feel that improvising and composing are essentially different activities with, fortunately, different results. But it is true that a considerable part of the music that I have been listening to live lately is improvised and that this is beginning to influence my way of thinking about music.
Last year the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival made a clear commitment to Catalan composers and performers. At the presentation of the programme, Àlex Susanna defined Catalan contemporary music as “our culture’s best-kept secret”. How can festivals like the HCMF help our music get noticed?
I agree with Àlex Susanna and I believe that it is a brave commitment. I think that a strong culture is a culture that looks to the future, and I feel that – especially since the creation of the Catalonian College of Music (ESMUC) – many things in the field of music have changed and are changing for the better. There is a great human value, but we mustn’t forget that infrastructures are necessary where these assets can be developed and above all that they may continue (something that is threatened if, as is happening at ESMUC, the available resources are cut). With regard to the festival, the resident composer was most deservedly Hèctor Parra and I am sure that this led to a lot of media coverage, although the most important thing is the constant work and that there should be continuity.
You’ve studied and lived for some time in Germany. Do you think that this was an important factor when gaining international recognition?
80% of the commissions I have received in the last four years were funded in Germany, France or Switzerland. The importance of going abroad does not lie simply in the projection, but above all in being able to put into practice my musical ideas. But what is really important about having lived abroad is the cultural diversity that I have had the opportunity to experience. Going to concerts and listening to music is an essential part of my education, and my view would be very limited had I not lived abroad. A problem the countries of southern Europe have is that it is very unusual for us to showcase new composers that are not from here. It seems a way of protecting our culture, but it is actually a way of isolating it. If we only programme international composers when they are already established, our audiences, composers and musicians do not have the opportunity to hear the music that is being made right now, and this element of complete cutting-edgeness is an attractive aspect to bear in mind.
In CrossingLines Ensemble you are trying to reflect a different view of contemporary creativity. How do you face up to this challenge?
It is practically a miracle that the CrossingLines Ensemble exists, a cultural oddity. We formed the group because we like to make music with a very high level of involvement, and because there is a way of working that is difficult to find. Virtually all the musicians in the group have lived or live abroad (something logical given their level and the limited possibilities they have here) and the group’s early days were very difficult, but people’s individual commitment has made unthinkable projects possible. The group is a way of being able to construct something, to create ideas and propose how we would like the cultural reality to be. It’s a huge effort that can only be understood by those who have tried to undertake a project starting from scratch, but knowing that there is a whole generation of composers linked to us that have done really great things makes up for it. We are optimists because both the cultural institutions and audiences are realizing the value of the group’s work and increasingly we can tackle more ambitious projects. Now the challenge is to be able to keep growing and achieve better conditions in order to dedicate ourselves more exclusively to this project.
To conclude, can you tell us something about your future projects?
As a composer, in the most immediate future I have to record, in collaboration with the Auditori, the people from Neu Records and other musicians, my latest piece, “π”, for electric guitar, trombone, double bass, glockenspiel, modular synthesizers and electronics, in which I moreover take part as a performer, and which will be released on the monographic disc that is part of the prize. After that I have to finish “albedo” for piano and electronics, a piece that I was asked to write by the pianist Lluïsa Espigolé and which I have been thinking about and rewriting for over two years (apart from the fact that I’m slow, writing something for piano that is not a repetition of something else seems very difficult to me, and I’ll probably never manage it). For early 2015 there will be a monographic concert in Paris, the result of a prize that the Colegio de España and the INAEM awarded me and which entails composing a new piece. Presumably this concert will also be repeated during 2015 in a Spanish city, yet to be decided.
At the same time, I have various projects for pieces and concerts with modular synthesizers that entail a dual role as a composer/performer, a side that lately I have needed to develop and on which I wish to spend more and more time.
As artistic director of the CrossingLines Ensemble, we still have three concerts in the current season (at the Fundació Tàpies and the Ateneu Barcelonès) and a very interesting new season that is still being put together, which will see the group performing more in Europe. In quite a few of these concerts I perform as musical director and electric guitarist.
Interview with Luis Codera Puzo, Catalan composer, winner of the 2014 Siemens Priz
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