Passion, color, charm: recent piano works by Luis Jorge Gonzalez

Luis Jorge GonzalezLuis Jorge Gonzalez is a compatriot of mine. He was born in San Juan, Argentina, in 1936. Coincidentally, Luis Jorge studied piano and composition at the same university where I got my first undergraduate degree in piano – the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, in Mendoza, Argentina. Luis Jorge came to the US in the 1970s to study composition at the Peabody Conservatory. He taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder from the 1980s until 2003, when he retired. You can read about his distinguished career on wikipedia (in Spanish for now): http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_Jorge_Gonz├ílez.

I met Mr. Gonzalez in person in 2004 when I was hired to teach piano and pedagogy at CU Boulder. We had much in common – expatriates born in the same region of Argentina, educated in the same music school there, and a passion for everything Argentine. I had heard about his illustrious career when I was in Ohio at my previous teaching job. So it was a pleasure to finally meet him. For my first recital at CU, I asked Luis Jorge if he had any music that I could include in the program. I visited him at home, and he had me listen to his recently composed Midnight Lights suite, a set of 3 nocturnes. I was immediately struck by the huge range of emotions and drama of these works, and the unmistakable tango flavor. I premiered the suite in March 2005. Since then I have performed his music in several venues, and have premiered several other works for piano solo and piano trio.

Naturally, Mr. Gonzalez’s style has evolved through the years. He was attracted to the avant-garde in the 1970s, having studied with Earl Brown at Peabody. In the 1980s his style was sometimes described as akin to Bartok’s. Lately, he has returned to a new tonal language that has strong romantic flavor. Much of it is imbued by elements of the tango, but presented in a very personal way. He favors dark and luscious minor keys, is very fond of diminished sonorities and surprising progressions and modulations. His rhythmic sense is very complex, and is fond of irregular groupings such as 5/4 or 7/8, and frequent meter shifts in some of his works. The writing tends to be expansive and demanding.

Last year, perhaps inspired by my double-duties as piano and pedagogy teacher, and also by a commission from the Colorado Music Teachers Association, Luis Jorge turned his attention to writing pieces for developing young pianists. This interest resulted in the composition “From Fiestas and Dances” in 2006, a set of 5 charming little pieces based on Latin American dances. I feel that he put a lot of craft and artistry into these pieces. A careful listener will actually find some trademarks of his style, even in this diminutive genre. The pieces would work well for an intermediate pianist with 3 or 4 years of lessons. I am looking forward to a second book with more dances, which he has promised to write!

Here are some samples from his Fiestas and Dances.

Habanera

Tango

Cueca

The set Midnight Lights (mentioned above), is an advanced set of dramatic and passionate nocturnes also inspired by tango flavors. All of them are at moderate tempo, and have great climaxes towards the middle of the piece. The first one, “Window Shops,” is probably the most challenging, as it features many jumps and pretty fast tempos in the B sections. I am grateful that Luis Jorge dedicated this piece to me. The second one, “Window Ajar,” is the slowest nocturne of the set, and possess a tragic, almost mournful atmosphere that slowly grows into powerful climatic outbursts. The last one, “Little Coffee Shop,” is perhaps the most readily attractive of the three. Written in 5/8, it features a left hand ostinato and a slow moving melody in the RH that create an introspective and, at times, hypnotic moods.

Mr. Gonzalez explains the genesis of this set: “Midnight Lights is a set of nocturnes that evoke night strolls made when, as a young composer, I was living in Buenos Aires. The lights of the metropolis stimulated my imagination. I fancied music that had irregular tango rhythms, sophisticated harmonies, rich contrapuntal textures and unusual melodic inflections, poured into virtuosic piano writing. Many years later, remembering those experiences, I decided to write this music.”

Here is a portion of “Little Coffee Shop,” the third movement of Midnight Lights.

cafetinlow.jpg

Please contact the composer directly to purchase this set: gonzallj@aol.com

A CD with these and other pieces by Gonzalez, recorded by myself, is available at amazon.com

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