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Meet The Guest Composer Of U of L's New Music Festival

The University of Louisville

The music of composer Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez mimics the way he speaks. He uses short sentences, punctuated with wild gesticulation. Overall it is very controlled, though a little unpredictable under the surface.

“Somebody said to me once, ‘You have a very direct delivery,’” Sanchez-Gutierrez says. “Which was, of course, his way of saying ‘Calm down a little bit.’ So my music reflects that.”

This week, Sanchez-Gutierrez -- who currently teaches composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. -- is in town as the featured guest of the University of Louisville’s annual New Music Festival.

Sanchez-Gutierrez was born in Mexico City, and has studied at the Peabody Conservatory, Yale and Princeton universities, and Tanglewood Music Center. He’s received numerous honors for his creative work, including the Barlow, Guggenheim, Fulbright and American Academy of Arts and Letters awards.

As a composer, he is known for his pieces that mimic machinery; they are percussive with all the parts whizzing together in rhythm.

“But I’m also interested in machines that don’t quite work, machines that are a little bit unpredictable,” Sanchez-Gutierrez says. “Machines that are a little less like a Swiss clock and more like a Mexican tortilla machine.”

It’s this level of unpredictability -- the feeling that something might just break -- that makes his orchestral compositions feel so urgent and modern. For that reason, I was surprised when I saw that “Ariles,” Sanchez-Gutierrez’s composition making its world premiere at the New Music Festival, would be performed by the University Wind Ensemble (directed by Frederick Speck).

Sanchez-Gutierrez says the pairing was a welcome challenge for him, causing him to think about softening his pieces in a way.

“But I think I am also asking wind instruments to play percussively,” he says. “Or to think more percussively than they are used to.” 

Sanchez-Gutierrez hasn’t actually heard the composition played by the ensemble in full yet. Audiences can hear it with him on Friday at 8 p.m. at U of L’s Comstock Concert Hall.

As part of the New Music Festival, faculty from the Conservatory of Castilla-La Mancha will also appear and present the premiere of “Sound Spaces for Cervantes,” a cutting-edge performance of lights, sound and space at the Gheens Science Hall and Rauch Planetarium.

The piece pays tribute to the life and works of Miguel de Cervantes, the preeminent Spanish novelist of “Don Quixote,” who died 400 years ago this year.

More information about the festival schedule can be found here