On his newest CD released in summer 2019, two symphonic pieces of the Peruvian composer Jimmy López Bellido – Symphony No 1: The Travails of Persiles and Sigismunda and Bel Canto: A Symphonic Canvas – were recorded with the help of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya.
Jimmy López Bellido is a Peruvian composer who began to write music at the age of twelve, as he was intrigued about all the different ways that musical thought can go. He received his composer education at the National Conservatory of Music in Lima, the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and UC Berkeley. Such diverse education provides him with broad influences from South American cultural roots, the European music tradition and the sense of freedom from California that can be noticed in his creative work. The composer himself describes his musical style as cosmopolitan.
During the years of his further career, López Bellido has worked with various ensembles including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, St Paul Chamber Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. His pieces have been performed in such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, Gewandhaus Leipzig, Kennedy Center, Vienna’s Musikverein, and Konzerthaus Berlin. At the moment he is Houston Symphony’s Composer-in-Residence through the 2019-2020 season. López Bellido uses composing music as a way to express his voice and share his inner scope and depth. The composer expects to write music until his last breath.
On the CD Jimmy López Bellido: Symphonic Canvas he is exploring the genre of a symphony for the first time. According to López Bellido, when writing a symphony he felt like creating a whole new world from scratch. He considers that construction of a symphony was an enormously complex task and he admires those composers who are economical in the use of music material but at the same time exploit its full potential. Such a genre allows López Bellido to display his strengths in orchestration, sound coloring, and dramaturgy of music. The sound of the symphony was beautifully constructed, and is exhilarating in its sweeping rhythmical force.
The symphonic nature of this work is also embraced by its emotionalism and narrative-illustrative impulses. The first symphony of López Bellido shares a programmatic literary background: Cervantes’ The Labours of Persiles and Sigismunda. As a celebration of the fourth centenary in 2016 of the death of Cervantes, it depicts the onset of a long and arduous pilgrimage from Scandinavia to Rome undertaken by the two main characters – two Scandinavian nobles Persiles and Sigismunda. They pretend to be brothers, hiding their true identity and romance throughout the pilgrimage. Their true feelings are voiced when they join in marriage in Rome.
According to the composer, the symphony’s four movements directly correspond to the four books that make up the novel. Despite being based on a concrete story, this symphony is an abstract musical work that stands on its own. It only aspires to convey the spirit, greatness, and humor contained within each of the books. While listening to the symphony, one can witness the pilgrimage from beginning to end. The experience is being followed by two main characters, represented musically by themes and melodies, interrelating and transforming throughout the symphony. The beginning of the piece is an upward moving block which bursts into an intense rhythmical and dramaturgical development. This adds up to the composer’s idea that a self-sufficient organism of the symphony is born from a single cell, a motive which grows and develops to reach larger proportions of musical thought.
The second movement of the symphony is, as expected, the lyrical one, with the solo themes of violin, flute and harp, followed by the mystical charm of the celesta.
The third movement is dominated by the native Latin American percussion instruments and their tasteful performance of syncopated rhythms.
The finale of the symphony brings indeed a fatal feel to the sound. It starts in a menacing manner, caused by a minimalist combination of brass and percussion. There’s no escape from the climax, which attracts the listeners’ attention until the very last sounds.
The second piece on the CD is the opera-based symphonic suite, Bel Canto – A Symphonic Canvas. Premiered in the Opera of Chicago in 2015, Bel Canto, as López Bellido puts it himself, is the most exhilarating experience of his career. The opera is based on the best-selling novel by Ann Patchett, inspired by the 1996-7 terrorist hostage crisis in Peru. The opera-based suite of thirty minutes was commissioned a few years later by three organizations: the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Bremen Philharmonic. The arch of the story can be felt in the suite’s three-movement structure – ‘Perú, Real, and Unreal’, ‘La Garúa’, and ‘The End of Utopia’. It begins with the musical material from the overture and depicts the scene of the hostage crisis. The end of the suite resembles the opera’s last scene.
In both symphonic pieces on this CD, the maximalism of orchestral sound draws a dramatic, power-filled music line. The music feels alive, moving forward intensely with the use of hard edges, dissonant material, and syncopated rhythmical patterns. The compositions grasp attention by their imagination and beauty, at the same time avoiding the clichés of symphonic sound. Even at the moment of its stillness, you can hear the breath and the heartbeat this music provides.
López Bellido has a brilliant command of orchestral timbres and textures which makes him one of today’s most innovative and symphonically dynamic composers. While figuring out López Bellido’s style, many factors come to mind. The Peruvian rhythms and European symphonic music tradition are felt very prominently. Also, in many ways, the sound feels close to the vibrant idiom of film music. Scores of film soundtracks are rich in romanticism, nostalgia, a vivid depiction of emotional states, action-based dynamic, expressive dramaturgy of the sound, illustrative, visionary and programmatic musical language. All of these features stand out when listening to the creative work of López Bellido.
The visual representation of the video preview of the CD recording brings the ambient magical spell-like effects of blurred lights and projection of notes, moving the recording even closer to cinematic score territory. A similar allusion is created in the sound, with the choice to use a large family of percussion instruments – glockenspiel, tubular bells, suspended cymbal, nipple gong, triangle, celesta etc – and embracing the rhythmical movement in both of the compositions. The sound has a trace of pulsation and even dance-like vibration and tension.
The conductor on this CD – Miguel Harth-Bedoya – already has a career of thirty years. He is known for subtle coloring of orchestral sound and idiomatic interpretations of a wide-range of repertoire. With exceptional charisma, he is nurturing close relationships with orchestras worldwide. One of them joins him in the recording of this CD – The Texas-based Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, resident at the Nancy Lee and Perry R Bass Performance Hall.
The composer López Bellido deepens his own concept of musical style, implying that music ‘can’t be understood, but it can be felt. It has the depths that allow you to connect to it without language and image’. According to him, people make music, because they need to express something they can’t otherwise express, feeling the power greater than waiting for it to be released, carrying a fountain of love, knowledge, and beauty that they don’t deserve to keep to themselves. As a philosophy, this CD has a charming spell in its engaging qualities. On the other hand, a strongly felt tribute to the Romantic traditions of western music suppresses the impact of such sound.