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Costa Rican Composer Andres Soto On Carnegie Hall Debut with Tromba Mundi [Exclusive]

First Posted: Oct 06, 2015 03:58 PM EDT
Andres Soto

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On Oct. 7, Tromba Mundi, a trumpet ensemble, will make its Carnegie Hall debut and will also perform the premiere of "Swashbuckler" by Costa Rican-born composer Andrés Soto.

The occasion is special as it is also the Carnegie Hall debut for Soto, who has quickly established himself as a rising artist in composition. He has diversified his work in film and classical music and has scored numerous award winning short films as well as feature length films. His classical compositions have been performed in Costa Rica to great acclaim and he has also collaborated with the U.S. Open (tennis), NYC Fashion Week with violinist Jane Hunt, and Ars Nova theater with composer Max Vernon.

Soto was also the recipient of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts Scholarship in 2009 and 2010 and was invited by the Universidad de Costa Rica as a guess lecturer in the X Seminary of Composition. Latin Post had the opportunity to speak with him about his Carnegie Hall debut and his inspiration for "Swashbuckler."

Latin Post: Tell me a bit about the piece that is premiering at Carnegie Hall. What was the inspiration?

Andres Soto: When I was commissioned by Jean-Christophe Dobrzelewski, one of the members of Tromba Mundi, he said he wanted something slightly influenced by film music, specifically "pirates". I took it that he wanted something exciting, adventurous and full of bravado so I kept that in mind while writing it. It has exciting fanfares, grandiose melodies, and plenty of drama. That led me to title it "Swashbuckler," as a hommage to those classic adventure films with lots of heroic sword-fighting. It refers not only to the film genre, but also to the hero himself, who is resourceful and chivalrous and has been interpreted by the likes of Errol Flynn ("The Sea Hawk", "Robin Hood") and Douglas Fairbanks ("The Three Musketeers," "The Mask of Zorro").

LP: What were the challenges in composing this piece?

AS: I had never written for six trumpets before so I didn't know how to make use of the ways you can develop a piece with that instrumentation. I had to study some scores by other contemporary composers to get a feel of the ensemble.

LP: Why brass instruments for this piece? What was your artistic intention?

AS: The piece was comissioned by Tromba Mundi, an ensemble formed by several well-regarded trumpet players from across the nation. I'm glad they asked me for an exciting piece, that way they can showcase their virtuosity and, in their words, "make the audience leave the concert hall humming your melodies."

LP: What does it feel like to final get a piece to debut at Carnegie Hall? What are you most excited about?

AS: It's a dream come true for any composer, but especially for one that comes from so far away. I mean that not only in terms of distance, since I'm from Costa Rica, but also because as I matured as a composer one of my goals was to write good music for talented musicians to play in inspiring concert halls. I hope it's the first of many!

LP: When did you realize you wanted to be a composer?

AS: When I was 14, I started listening to classical music a lot and buying cheap CDs in the supermarket. Then at age 15 I came across a notation software online that I downloaded and that got me hooked into the idea of writing music. That led to piano lessons at age 15, I only wanted to learn the piano so I could write music. I told my teacher I didn't want to learn "Fur Elise" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" like her other students, and fortunately she let me choose what to focus on! Ever since then I fantasized of writing for orchestras, and I have been blessed with some orchestral commissions in my native Costa Rica by the National Symphony.

LP: Tell me about your experience with working with the National Orchestra in Costa Rica. How did that relationship develop over the years?

AS: I got to meet the director of the National Music Center of Costa Rica via Eddie Mora, a conductor who premiered my first two orchestral works in Costa Rica. We decided to create a 40-minute work for narrator and orchestra based on a children book that is very famous in my country, and it was a big success. Both the orchestra musicians and the audience loved it and it was a pleasant experience. It even led to a national debate about the validity of using state funds to finance a work based on a controversial book, so without really trying we somehow created a classical piece that was really talked about by everybody in the cultural (and political!) circles of Costa Rica. Long story short, the CD we recorded will be released someday sooner or later and might spark some debate again.

LP: How has your style developed over the years?

AS: My first exposure to classical music came with Disney and Looney Tunes. "Fantasia" was the film that opened my ears towards the love of classical music, and the Disney movies from the '90s with scores by Alan Menken planted a deep-rooted flag in my brain. The first composer I idolized was Tchaikovsky, then Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and eventually Mahler and Strauss (I like plenty others but those are giants in my iTunes library!). So I think I'm highly influenced by them. Then, with my involvement in writing music for film since college, I grew to love Ennio Morricone, John Williams and Alan Menken even more. Taking a look at all those composers I named, I feel I have a love for good orchestration from Strauss and Mahler, and love for lyricism and lovely melodies from Tchaikovsky and Menken, and a love of humor, wit, and personality through Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

LP: What are some other exciting projects that you are working on?

AS: I recently started working as an assistant to a composer who writes music for TV and Film here in NYC, so that will take plenty of my time. But I'm also supposed to write two orchestral commissions to be premiered in Costa Rica by the National Symphony in 2016. I'm going to score a short film my brother just finished shooting and I also have to finish a piece for wind ensemble that an old friend of mine commissioned me for her high school band in Atlanta. It's important to mind the youth too!

LP: Favorite piece of music and why?

AS: That question is impossible to answer. There are so many inspiring pieces of music in the world one can't mention one without including another. Shostakovich said if he had half an hour left to live he'd listen to Mahler's last movement for Das Lied von der Erde. I'll take that route to answer the question and say if I had one hour left to live I'd listen to Mahler's Eighth. Or the Fifth... Or Respighi's Feste Romane... or Strauss's Don Quixote... Shostakovich's Fifth... Prokofiev's Classical Symphony... Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe. Actually, can I have one day more to live, please?

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