Composer Juan Pablo Contreras

Composer Juan Pablo Contreras joins us for the U.S. premiere of his piece Mariachitlán as part of the Mexico Bello concert on June 10.   We asked him a few questions about his work.

VBF: How would you describe Mariachitlán?
Mariachitlán is an energetic and lively orchestral homage to Jalisco, the state where mariachi music originated and where both maestro Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez and I were born. The idea of the piece was to recreate, in 10 minutes of music, the experience of walking through a Mariachi plaza, where you hear multiple mariachis interrupting each other and competing to win over the crowd.

Mariachitlán is a melting pot of many different rhythms and melodies of mariachi music. Traditional mariachi instruments such as the trumpet, harp and violin play prominent roles in this piece.

VBF: What was your process for composing Mariachitlán, and how long did it take you? I wrote Mariachitlán in the summer of 2016 for the Jalisco Orchestral Composition Competition, which I subsequently won, and was honored to have the Jalisco Philharmonic premiere it last December. I had just moved from New York to Los Angeles and felt warmly welcomed by its extraordinary Mexican community. I wanted to celebrate my Mexican heritage with a very positive and vibrant orchestral work, and felt that mariachi music was the perfect source of inspiration to do so. I worked arduously on Mariachitlán during a short period of two months, a personal composing record of mine, and was able to finish the piece for the competition deadline. To this day, Mariachitlán is my favorite work in my catalog, and it is the best representation of who I am as a composer.

VBF: What’s the story behind Mariachitlán being premiered in the U.S. at the Victoria Bach Festival? I heard a radio interview with maestro Hernandez-Valdez and learned that he was from Guadalajara, Jalisco, had received all of his professional training as a musician in the U.S., and advocated for building musical bridges between Mexico and America. As I was listening to the interview, I thought to myself, “That’s my story as well!” So, I reached out to him and told him that I would love to collaborate in the near future.

After I sent him my music, he told me that he was programming a concert of Mexican music at the Victoria Bach Festival and wanted to include Mariachitlán in the program. I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with Hernandez-Valdez and the Victoria Bach Festival Orchestra for the U.S. premiere of Mariachitlán.

VBF: What kinds of music inspire you, and what are you listening to right now? My main source of inspiration is the music of Mexico – mariachi, banda, corridos and indigenous music. As a composer, I try to blend that music with my “classical” harmonic vocabulary. My works typically address issues that are relevant in my native country and also celebrate the rich musical heritage of Mexico. I also grew up listening to a lot of rock and heavy metal music, so rhythm and energy are vital elements in my compositions. My current playlist includes music by composers John Corigliano, Donald Crockett, Enrico Chapela and the Mexican rock band Café Tacvba.

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