Inside The Mind Of  The Composer: A Q&A With Eugenio Toussaint
Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, December 2006

Rarely does the performer have an opportunity to receive feedback from the composer. However, even rarer is the case when the composer is the performer of their own work. This will be the case on December 13th, when POA will feature the Mexican composer Eugenio Toussaint as soloist in a world premiere of his own Concerto for Improvisational Piano. One can't help but think of the times when Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and other great composers would present performances of their own works and write with their performing ability in mind.

Mexican composer Eugenio Toussaint defies boundaries by making contributions to both the jazz and the classical worlds. Founder of Sacbé, one of the most important and influential bands in the history of Mexican jazz, Toussaint's beginnings were as a self-taught jazz pianist. His varied career saw his compositions commissioned and premiered by the likes of the National Symphony Orchestra, the Curtis ensemble and the Orquestra Sinfinica Carlos Chavez. He has been invited to lecture on his musical style at various prestigious institutions such as the Berklee College and Boston Conservatory.

In a Q&A with Eugenio Toussaint, we have a unique chance to have a glimpse inside the composer's mind, as he talks about his work, style, and views on music.

Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas: An important part of POA's mission is to promote the work of young composers and performers of the Americas. Does this strike a personal note for you, having born in Mexico?

Eugenio Toussaint: Absolutely. One of the major difficulties for Mexican and Latin American composers in general has been the fact that it is extremely difficult to promote your music abroad, unless you have some personal connection. I am very glad that Alondra has taken seriously to promoting new music from Mexico and Latin America, and I think this is POA's major asset.

POA: You will be performing your own composition, Concerto for Improvisational Piano. Can you talk about the being a performer of your own work. Does this give you a certain freedom as a performer?

ET: This is the first time I am performing an orchestral piece of mine. I am not a classical pianist, and for many years I thought about a good way of putting my so-called classical music writing with my improvisational piano skills, and I came up with this concerto. It allows me absolute freedom, since ninety percent of my performance is improvised. This piece allows me to merge two of my most beloved worlds: the jazz performing and the concert music writing.

POA: How do you see your music fit on today's classical music stage?

ET: I think my music can bring a different language to the classical music stage. I am a musician that was trained in the streets with popular music, so my approach to concert music is different than the approach that someone with more academic schooling might have. I do not consider myself an avant-gardist in the strict sense of the word, but I do believe I have a personal language that, up until now, has been well received by musicians and the general public.

POA: Does your ethnical background influence your style of writing? How so?

ET: Popular music in general influences my writing in one way or another, although I am not trying to recreate that type of music in my own work, but rather try to capture the essence of it and hopefully apply it to my own way of saying things. Having been born in Mexico City allowed me to be in touch with many different types of music, including jazz which definitely has had an impact in the way I perceive and write music. I insist though, I am not trying to "Mexicanize" my music through the utilization of obvious patterns.

POA: Do you believe in strict lines of separation between defined styles of music such as jazz, classical music, world-music, etc.?

ET: I think the separation exists due to marketing agendas. Record companies, critics, magazines, etc. want to tell people there is a separation between musical genres. To me music is music. Period. I understand there are many ways to make music and that some styles will appeal more to a certain group of people, but in the end, it is only music.

POA: Where is music headed today? Some argue that classical music is in a developmental slump. What are your thoughts on its direction?

ET: This one is a little bit hard to answer. I definitely think the industry is going through major changes. As they say "renovate or die". The problem I see with the classical music scene is that it needs some refreshing, and I feel that will come from third world cultures. I have nothing against the European tradition, but I think some aspects of today's European classical music scene is a little bit stagnant. Orchestras have to develop new audiences, and that will only be accomplished with open being open minded. I think this is exactly what POA is doing.

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