By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES, March 9 — Today we bring you an interview with the recognized Cuban guitarist, composer and professor Eduardo Martin, who was the first Latin American composer honored at the International Guitar Competition sponsored by Radio France, in addition to his being a soloist with the National Center of Concert Music.
HT: The year 1991 brought you enormous satisfaction — as well as to the music of Latin America — for your having been represented in that important competition of Radio France. In it you turned out to be the first Latin American composer to win an award.
Eduardo Martin: I was surprised by the news because I had sent in that score several months earlier. By the time I learned about my award, I was deeply involved in another project. In fact, I hadn’t thought any more about that matter and had already forgotten about it. I have to admit that I never found competitions very attractive. The reason I decided to participate in that one was the need to promote my music a little, and that’s what resulted, so I was pleased.
For me, public recognitions are times for promotion; I’ve always seen them as that and nothing else. The results of any type of artistic competition are subject to personal and subjective assessments. Competition in art is a fallacy, because one work of art cannot be the rival of another. I’ve never believed in competitions as definers of talent. In that sense I don’t believe they define anything. In art, the races are about long distance, not speed. No one finishes first or last because the goals are always on the horizon.
HT: It’s a privilege for any exponent of your instrument to have been a pupil of personalities who turn out to be historical names within Cuban music. I imagine that your involvement with major figures such as Isaac Nicola and others of that stature has been invaluable.
EM: I’ve had the opportunity to study under great Cuban maestros and artists such as Nicola, Ortega, Brouwer, Gramatges, Dieznieto, Vazquez Millares, Bellver and many foreigners who were also top notch. Likewise, I’ve had the opportunity to work with major artists who I admire. I’ve listened to all of them with special attention while always trying to appropriate the most I can from their art and wisdom. All this has enriched and helped me to find some of the paths that I now pursue. I feel deep gratitude, admiration and respect for all the great artists that life has allowed me to know and work with, whether they’re recognized or not by the media or official cultural institutions.
HT: There were two groups in your career that have been fundamental: first the group Cuarteto Guitarra 4 and today the respected Duo Confluencia.
EM: Both groups have been schools for me. With Guitarra 4 I had the opportunity to work with three great teachers of the Cuban guitar: Walfrido Dominguez, Rey Guerra and Carlos Lloro. Those were three very intense years at the end of the 1980s. It was a big challenge for me at that time. The repertoire that we tackled was quite comprehensive and demanding. I needed to feel comfortable playing alongside these major guitarists, so I had no other alternative than to put in a lot of study to achieve that. Confluencia derived from this, although at the beginning Walfrido and I were interested in doing another type of work. We both came out of a different aesthetic. At that time we felt the urgent need to compose. This was why we started from scratch to create a repertoire of our own free version works, which in a few years allowed us to record several CDs.
HT: Can you recall for us the “Sounds of the Americas Festival” and how you were called on from New York to participate in it?
EM: That is a festival where each edition is dedicated to a different country. That year it was Cuba’s turn, so the organizing committee selected works by Cuban authors and among them was my “Hasta Alicia baila.” It was a surprise to be included among so many legendary composers such as Gramatges, Fariñas, Juan Blanco, Dieznieto, etc. I was the youngest, followed by Juan Piñera.
All the others were at least 30 years older than me. In the end something happened with the visas. It was never exactly clear what happened, but the US authorities only authorized about half of the group of invited composers to enter the country, so only my music was able to travel there.
HT: You’ve written a large number of works for the guitar, and you’ve even composed background music for the theater and cinema. As it turns out there’s a CD of that work. It is “Angels in the Street,” which critics consider to be one of the highest expressions of contemporary guitar.
EM: Yes, I’ve written for diverse formats, generally in combinations that are linked to the guitar. I’ve composed absolute music, for presentation in concerts and with didactic senses for teaching, but I’ve also written music for the theater, dance and the cinema.
It’s true that critics have praised much of my work in recent years, this is a fact, but we shouldn’t deceive ourselves; recognition and success are almost always associated with questions of the moment and in my case this is clearly reflected. Let me explain: most of my music that is today lauded by those expert critics from “exquisite media sources” in the First World was composed more than twenty years ago. However, only after being recorded by performers who work with recording labels with world-wide distribution reach have these works been recognized and praised.
HT: It has been said that your work clutches onto the traditional musical environment but with new shades. I imagine they’re referring to your contemporary contributions within your academic ones. Likewise, on one occasion you were described in the foreign press as “the Piazzola of the Cuban guitar.” Therefore, how do you see your own work and how do you define yourself as a guitarist?
EM: I’ve never sought to be up to date or to stand out as a champion of national traditions from one place or a specific environment. I’ve only wanted to communicate through music, which is one of my greatest passions. As I have no reservations about expressing myself without limits, I appeal to the use of various tools, coincident with an idea of sound developed based on dissimilar cultures, styles and aesthetic thought. Latin American music, with its wide range of rhythms, genres and styles, offers a rich diversity that I avail myself of whenever I need to. Cuban culture is an essential source and reflection in my music.
As a performer I have also traveled down many roads. In the ‘80s I was closely tied to the traditional repertoire of classical solo guitar. By 1987, with Guitarra 4, we began approaching symphonic and chamber music transcribed for that format. We played Bach, Mozart, Fauré, Ravel, Falla, Piazzolla and also versions of works by popular Cuban authors such as Eusebio Delfin and Aniceto Diaz. In addition, we played some original compositions by Brouwer, Guerra and my own. All of those we recorded for the EGREM label in 1989 on the CD “La Huella de España.”
Beginning in the ‘90s, with Duo Confluencia, we recorded several disks in Uruguay, Argentina, Spain and Cuba with our free versions based on the Beatles, Lecuona, Matamoros, Eliseo Grenet, Manuel Corona, Richard Egues, Pedro Junco and Joseito Fernandez, in addition to our own works that we wrote for that format. Also in that decade, Walfrido and I performed several concerts and did recordings with the quartet together with two Spanish maestros: Francisco Gamallo and Ignacio Lopez. We called that assemble “Cuarteto Imaginario.”
Since the end of the ‘90s I’ve concentrated more on writing and playing my own music for the solo guitar, like that on the CD “Calendario.” Although I continue making incursions into other chamber music combinations, from my duets with the flute came a disk with Spanish flautist Jesus Gonzalez. That CD was named “Lugares comunes.” Right now I’m continuing to search for and discover new routes.
HT: And what about you the professor, removed from the stage and placing yourself in the educator’s role looking out for the younger generation at the Superior Institute of Art? What can you say about the future of the guitar in Cuba and about the new line of composers who will follow your creative paths?
EM: There’s a lot of young talent here…people with creative potential. And I delight in doing things with them. At the Havana Contemporary Music Festival that we organize under the Musicians Association of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), I’ve heard some very good works by young authors. On the other hand, those on the cutting edge help to renew us and give us feedback based on exchanges with them. Circumstances always change because the conjunctures in each epoch are different, but creation will always defend us. The youth know this; that’s why they have created and will continue doing so.
HT: There exists a setting that you participate in every month in the Havana capital. Can you describe it generally for those who still aren’t aware of it but might be interested?
EM: I didn’t knock on the doors of the Casa del ALBA Cultura, I only discovered that they were open. In any case, in August 2010, along with my daughter Galy, we began to present a program there that we call “In Confluence.” The structure is very simple: we organize a recital and during the intermission I interview an invited guest for about 10 or 15 minutes. They speak about their life, their work or any other aspect they wish to highlight.
At the next session the great guitarist Freddy Perez will play, and in the interview we will have ballet director Lizt Alfonso. Already passing through on past programs were visual artist Vicente Bonachea, cultural promoter Tony Basanta, the historian and musicologist Zoila Lapique, composer Juan Piñera, historiographer Dr. Carmen Almodovar, maestro Jesus Ortega and many excellent performers, among whom might be highlighted the trio Alter Ego, the group Sonantas Habaneros, Rosa Matos and young talents like Galy Martin, Alberto Aguiar, Alberto Port and Yailin Martinez. I too have played, solo and along with others.
Fortunately we fill the place, to the point that we’ll have to do move to the room below because there’s not enough space for everyone. The program is held at the Casa del ALBA Cultura (on Linea Avenue at the corner of D Street) on the second Sunday of every month at 5:00 p.m.
HT: So how then are the plans unfolding of one of the living Cuban composers and guitarists with broad international renown?
EM: I have a mountain of projects to realize as well as others in the middle of development. Presently I’m working on several scores and at the same time I’m preparing works for recording and for playing in my upcoming concerts and tours. My time is committed, I require it this way; and my goals…they remain on the horizon.