NAS 10 Questions with Juan María Solare
This time, we get to know Juan María Solare, Pianist & composer from Buenos Aires, now living in Germany, His music stems from the confluence between post-Piazzolla tango and classical contemporary music. His singular style represents a synthesis of North and South, classical and popular, wit and melancholy. "Art music and light music are not irreconcilable extremes, but poles in a force field", wrote Solare about his musical bilingualism.
The track "Mote of Dust Suspended in a Sunbeam" is featured in the New Artist Spotlight Family of Playlists.
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1. Tell us a little about where you are from and what you are currently doing.
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and have been living in Germany for half my life (first in Cologne, now in Bremen). This is not merely a statement of facts: it has vital and aesthetic consequences. This is the first link in a long chain of dualities, collisions, and - why not - dissonances. In a way, I feel the confluence between North and South, but also as a synthesis between classical and popular music, between humor and melancholy, between performance and composition. Possibly these dualities lend my music a certain uniqueness.
Let's focus on the music: the influence of Argentine tango (say, Ástor Piazzolla) on my music is recognizable and undeniable, but also the presence of contemporary classical music (say, Karlheinz Stockhausen or John Cage) is extremely clear upon closer listening. Honestly, I love this tension: I can recognize myself in it. I wouldn't like to be forced to decide between both two aesthetic worlds. It would be as if someone gave me the choice between cutting off my lower half or my upper half: the result would be the same (a complete amputation). In my world of ideas, art music and popular music are not irreconcilable extremes, but poles in a force field.
And what am I currently doing? I have numerous pots on the fire. On the one hand recording and planning more recordings (such as a 12-track album entitled 'Every Piano Has a Story'). I also, promote recent releases (and my whole back catalog) on Spotify & Co. I'm also promoting my Concerto for piano and orchestra and my other orchestral music (this requires absolutely different channels than the above). In addition, I am also pursuing my regular activities: tango music lessons at the University of Bremen, and lectures on 'Composition applied to school practice' at the Hochschule für Künste Bremen. I also teach piano at the Freie Musikschule Bremen Nord. Furthermore, I conduct the chamber orchestra of the Bremer Orchestergemeinschaft. To confess the truth, I am also doing, years late, on my tax return for 2020 (although this is not what you want to read from a musician). When I want to procrastinate on any of these tasks, I start composing. That's why I'm so prolific.
2. What inspired you to start playing and making music?
In the beginning, my mum. Just that easy. Since classical music was played almost constantly in my family home, I put my hands on the piano at about the same time I learned to speak (or possibly somewhat later). In any case, I learned music as a mother tongue. As for composing, my first written piece (a short waltz Opus Zero) is dated at the age of ten. I still keep the manuscript.
But the second step is no less important: at a certain point, I clearly saw that sound can be structured in the same way as Lego. Little bricks that are grouped together to form different (sound) structures. In fact, before I wrote down Opus Zero, I remember playing on the piano a piece built from the symmetries of the keyboard. And it sounded acceptably good, but this was not the constructive principle. I had called this work 'La casa' (The House), because it had foundations, several floors, and a roof.
And the third stage is perhaps the decisive one: I realized that through music I could move people, I could touch people's souls. Once, after a concert in Buenos Aires, a mature man came up to me, visibly moved, and told me that seeing me play had given him back the will to live. I discovered that I can bring comfort, relief, and consolation. Of course, a legitimate question arises: who comforts me?
𝟯. Who are your biggest influences?
There are lots of them, and that's a good thing. We can immediately recognize the 'aesthetic genealogical tree' of an artist who has just a few influences. On the other hand, I am viscerally incredulous of those who believe to have no influence whatsoever. No one makes art in a total vacuum.
I acknowledge the strong influence of The Beatles and John Cage, of Queen and Franz Liszt, of Ástor Piazzolla and Karlheinz Stockhausen, of Charly García and Mauricio Kagel, of Alexander Scriabin and Les Luthiers, of Scott Joplin and Erik Satie. But no less important is the musical influence of non-musicians. For example, that of the visual artist Marcel Duchamp and of the science populariser Isaac Asimov.
This latter statement could benefit from an explanation. Composing music involves organizing sound objects, and designing channels through which expressive energy flows. And writing a scientific essay involves ordering abstract thoughts, and designing discursive channels through which communicative force flows. It is then necessary only a small (interdisciplinary) step to be able to learn music from a non-musician. Besides, reading Asimov is extremely fun, which proves that learning and entertainment are not enemies (Do you remember what I wrote above about art music and popular music?)
For anyone who reads - or deciphers - Spanish: please look up my essay 'Mis maestros de composición' where I systematically elaborate on the subject of influences.
4. What are your goals in the music industry?
My first goal is to understand how it works. I feel like I'm in the kindergarten of the music industry - not the kindergarten of making music, but of how to make money making music.
More specifically, my main goal is to achieve that my music will be my source of income in retirement. That is, even if I don't have any additional income, my catalog should produce enough royalties to keep me alive. Like a life insurance policy.
A more specific goal is that my music is included in feature films and that my orchestral music (i.e. my larger works, as opposed to three-minute miniatures for solo piano) is played widely.
Romantically speaking, I could say that my aim is that my music will still be heard in the year 5001 and all that jazz. The truth is that I want it to be heard a lot right now. And I'm sorry if this sounds too me-centric. The next goal is less so:
There are eight thousand million people on the globe. Among them, it is statistically reasonable to assume, there are a couple of million who would unconditionally love my music - but don't know of its existence. The goal is to connect these people with my music.
5. Tell us about your creative process when you make new music.
Clearly, there is a great deal of intuition in this matter. Intuition is not about writing down whatever idea that comes to mind and hoping that it fits in the context. Intuition means here that the 'rules of the game' have become so well assimilated that they arise naturally, just as the rules of grammar come naturally when speaking in one's mother tongue (one does not ponder whether such-and-such a word is a verb or a noun, or how to decline that adjective, or whether one is using the indicative or the subjunctive mode; one thinks about what one wants to convey).
To put it very simply, there are two complementary aspects to my creative process. One is the gestation of the basic material, the 'atoms', the simplest units, the initial spark, the conception of a basic cell. Ideally, from here I jump directly to the larger, general dimension, to the overall view, to the architectural plan, in order to design a house or a city where this cell can grow healthily and develop in a non-chaotic way. And then, the compositional process consists of making these initial ideas proliferate within a safe framework. A musical idea has to be attractive, but a structure has to be reliable. In other words, there is both the intuitive and the rational element. Always, as in extra-musical life. We have two brain hemispheres: let's use both. This is a theoretical, 'textbook-like' description. In practice, we all do what we can...
6. What is your all-time favorite song?
Technically it is not a 'song', but my favorite composition is possibly Franz Liszt's Faust Symphony. Because it tells a story with sounds (explicitly, concretely identifying different characters with specific leitmotifs) and runs through various kinds of human emotions in just over an hour. But speaking of real 'songs', my choice was probably Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles. Because thanks to it I understood how to use counterpoint in an accessible, efficient way: at the end of the song, the opening melody is superimposed on one of the central melodies. Both melodies sound simultaneous. This formula was repeated a couple of times by The Beatles (which in no way diminishes its effectiveness), for example in I've Got A Feeling.
7. What is the best advice you have either given or received in terms of music?
Best advice given: 'lack of concentration poisons talent'. Best advice received: 'Don't do something ('large-scale') musical just because it solves your immediate financial problem, but because you also want to continue doing it afterwards' (by Mauricio Kagel).
8. Proudest accomplishment?
I am quite satisfied with my recital in the crowded church of St. Martin in the Fields in London. The runner-ups are other recitals in places like Texas (Rudder Theatre, College Station), Lüneburg, Germany (Staatstheater), Seinäjoki, Finland (World Tango Summit) or Bregenz, Austria (Festspiele), in each case with hundreds of people in the audience. I just love it. The 24 million all-time streams on Spotify also make me proud, however, I am aware that the vast majority of those streams have been 'passive', i.e. within a playlist set as background music.
9. Just for fun! What's been your most embarrassing moment so far?
Possibly my participation in a collective concert I gave in my twenties in Tandil (Argentina) after a night of sleeping a couple of hours on a bus and teaching all day. It was dreadful. That kind of experience that you want to erase from the cosmic memory. Never play music of a certain difficulty in a cataleptic state, with a sleep deficit.
𝟭0. Tell us about your lowest and highest points in music so far.
Let's start with the highest ones. Partially, this question overlaps with No. 8, because my highest points tend to make me proud. Let's add then that the performance of any of my major works is a high point. For example, the recent premiere of my orchestral work 'Un ángel de hielo y fuego' (An Angel of Ice and Fire) in the packed, sold-out main hall of the CCK in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional conducted by Mariano Chiacchiarini.
However, this refers to the outward aspect of an achievement. The other, more important aspect of a high point is every time I become aware of having done something particularly well: be it a recording, a composition, a concert, or even a literary essay (I love to write) - regardless of its reception.
As for my low points, I can take this opportunity to make an intimate confession. I have the impression that my lowest point is always the present moment. For some unknown reason, I feel that the compositions I wrote in the past are ineluctably better, deeper, more expressive, more complex, and more ingenious. Of course, the feeling I had when I composed those pieces was exactly the same: I used to write better in the past. Surely this is a psychological flaw that must have a name, with many doctoral theses on the subject. And surely, when in five years' time I get my hands on the works I am writing now, 'at my lowest point', I will also think: but how well I used to compose before!
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