“It is one of the greatest challenges of my entire life”, exclaims Jorge Glem when referring to his next artistic commitment, to be held this Thursday, July 28, on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, where he will premiere Odyssey: Concert for four and orchestra, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel.
This work, composed by the also Venezuelan Gonzalo Grau, will mark the opening of a concert that in the second part of the program will include the famous Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff.
“It really was a very big surprise when Gonzalo Grau called me about a year ago to tell me that the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra had commissioned a concerto for four and orchestra for me and that he was going to be the composer,” comments the Cuaman-born cuatrista. , who since 2016 has been based in the United States, specifically in New York, from where he develops his remarkable professional career as a virtuoso performer of the national instrument par excellence, with concerts in various parts of the world.
The piece traces a journey through different forms of the Venezuelan musical tradition, from Eastern genres such as the joropo with refrain, malagueña and jota, to caraqueño merengue, coup larense and Afro-Venezuelan percussion, among other rhythms woven by the virtuosity of the cuatrista, who is also member of the outstanding group C4 Trío.
Venezuela on four strings
—How do you take on the challenge of interpreting this work by Gonzalo Grau for solo four, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and with Gustavo Dudamel as director?
—It is a very big challenge, because it has been a lifelong dream to do a concert for four and orchestra, especially since this is our national instrument, the instrument I have been in love with all my life. Gonzalo Grau is a great master and I think it is a nice choice to have him as the composer of this work, since he is a great connoisseur of Venezuelan music and classical music. He’s a person who spans all of those genres and was able to kind of take this, flesh it out for the four in an incredible way.
I am happy, but it is a very big challenge to be able to do this concert with one of the best orchestras in the world, one of the best conductors in history and with one of the best musicians I have ever met.
—How was your choice to play her established?
—Gustavo Dudamel and I talked at various times about the possibility of doing this concert for four and orchestra, although it had been difficult to finish coordinating it. But at last this opportunity was given and for me it is an honor that they have taken me into account, especially in a place as prestigious and as large as the Hollywood Bowl, where the greatest artists in the world are presented, and to do it before 17 thousand 500 people . My intention has always been to show more and more Venezuelan music in cuatro, and this time what better place than this. It is one of the biggest challenges of my entire life.
Summary of a cultural heritage
—Could you describe us how was your creative collaboration with Gonzalo Grau to conceive and elaborate this piece?
—The idea of this work was to make a small trip from the east to Barquisimeto, all along the coast many musical genres from all over that part are mixed. My collaboration really was to show him some rhythms, some musical genres from the east of the country, such as the jota, the malagueña, the polo and the joropo with a refrain. Based on that, it is like a summary of all the cultural heritage of Spain, of the Moors of Africa, mixed with all our indigenous part. It was very nice how he made it and how he took this piece from one place to another. My collaboration was more showing information and some technical details of the cuatro as such. But really Gonzalo Grau is the great genius of this work.
A year with a full schedule
—What are your artistic projects, after this commitment, for the rest of the year?
—After this concert I will be playing with the Cuban-Venezuelan pianist César Orozco in New York, with whom I recorded an album called Stringwise, on August 2 and 4. Then I will be in Venezuela to do some concerts in September. I also have the concert that we couldn’t do with John Batiste at Carnegie Hall, which will probably be in September as well. Then I’ll be doing a tour of South America with Sofía Rei, a great Argentine singer with whom we recorded an album called Umbral.
In October I will be premiering a video and an album with a great American accordionist named Sam Reider, with whom I did all this work through Guataca, a huge platform that has helped Venezuelan music a lot. There is also another concert tour with Etienne Charles, a Trinidadian trumpeter, with whom I will be releasing a new album. There are many projects for this year.
New York as a hub
—How has your career changed since 2016, when you decided to make New York your home base?
—In Venezuela I was doing very good and important things. But being in New York the challenge became much greater, because it is not a place where the cuatro is commonly played. Yes, there were some related things and some cuatro players who have been there: Edgar Castañeda, who is Colombian, a great jazz harpist; Juancho Herrera; Aquiles Báez himself was there doing things with the cuatro for many years, but it is not an instrument that is played normally.
Being in New York was starting to get together with people who played totally different musical genres and we gradually involved the four. Sam Reider came out of those things, then I met Sofía Rei, Etienne Charles, now what’s happening with John Batiste. Between all that, I made the album with César Orozco on piano and I had the opportunity to play with great musicians, like Paco Granados and in other places like Lincoln Center, where I did a concert just recently, and at Carnegie Hall. Apart from having that closeness with the rest of the United States and with that bridge to Europe and the rest of the world from this incredible city. It’s very nice to be part of that musical life that New York City has, but with the cuatro.
—What have been your most fruitful experiences since then and until now?
—Apart from everything I’ve told you about, a very important concert I did with the Harmony Program orchestra, which is a kind of Sistema that was done in New York with people from the United States. I had the opportunity to be next to Joshua Bell and Ali Bello, a great Venezuelan violinist who lives in New York City. Very interesting things have been emerging there. I did a concert where I was invited by Natalia Lafourcade and also by Residente, from Calle 13, with whom I did other concerts. This city is wonderful and I am very happy to be there.
Valuable planting of the four
—Do you think that the cuatro, as a solo instrument, has achieved all the international recognition it deserves?
—He hasn’t reached it yet. However, I think all the work has been done for it. We are many quadrists. I thank Siembra del Cuatro for the boost that Cheo Hurtado has given to our national instrument through that organization. Thanks to that we know many cuatristas that today we are scattered in many parts of the world. Now a play called Papá Cuatro is being made in Miami, with Miguel Siso, and I’m very excited to see it too. Many things are happening with the four worldwide. This is work that has been done by maestro Cheo (Hurtado), Pollo Brito… there are innumerable cuatro players who have done something important for our instrument. So I believe that the road is very long, but we must not stop traveling it for a moment.
—What do you expect from yourself as an artist?
—The most important thing is to do something for the country, for our national instrument, for our music. Sometimes it is not necessary to try to impose yourself or pass over other people to be recognized as an artist. In fact, it is not even necessary to be the most virtuous person. I believe that what is necessary is that one can do something good for his people, for his country, for his musical instrument. I am happy to be an artist, but for that part.
—What do you miss from Venezuela?
—The fact of being able to be close to wonderful places, like Mochima and so many incredible natural sites. I long to be in my country, in my land, it is something that I always miss. And above all these things, always seeing my family, having them closer. When I was in Caracas I always went to Cumaná on the weekends that I could, but now it is much more difficult. However, thanks to God last year I was able to return to Venezuela, I have been a couple of times and that is something that keeps me connected to my land, knowing that I can return and share with it.
I like to see the musical development that exists in Venezuela, with so many musicians, with so many kids that are doing very nice and admirable things. I like the Caracas nightlife, traveling around the country. I miss many things and I hope to return soon and continue enjoying that wonderful country that I adore.
—How would you like to see Venezuela?
—I always think of a Venezuela that is full of joy, as it was a long time ago, that the colors live again, that there are no those political fights that exist today and that we can be in a country of progress, that goes forward , that we can project ourselves into the future within the country. That there be absolute democracy, separation of powers, that one feels that those of the government entity, or the president, really understand that they are public servants to do what is best for the country and not perpetuate themselves in power for years.
I think it is very important that all these things resonate in the country and that little by little we can be sure that our children are going to grow up there and they are going to be fine. It is a country that we dream of, but we also have to continue working hard for it. I do not believe that the responsibility falls on a single person, but that each one of us must assume it and work for it.
Honor a rich tradition
In addition to valuing that this composition, which premieres tomorrow Thursday in Los Angeles, joins the repertoire of works for four soloists and orchestra, which includes pieces such as the one created by Vinicio Ludovica in the mid-1990s, premiered by Cheo Hurtado and the Simón Bolívar Symphony, Jorge Glem considers that it is an event that he assumes responsibly and whose merits, more than him, “honor our cuatro and all those who have cultivated and continue to spread this rich tradition of cuatro cuerdas with their art”.
—I am happy because I am going to play Venezuelan music composed by a great musician like Gonzalo Grau, with one of the most important orchestras in the world, conducted by maestro Gustavo Dudamel, a person I love and admire, and on a stage as big as the Hollywood Bowl. . It’s going to be something incredible and historic.