An Interview with Juan María Solare

You may want to sit down comfortable and get a cup of tea. This interview will need your full attention. Today we discuss with the world-famous Composer, Pianist and Conductor Juan María Solare.

  • Describe your sound in 3 words

Melancholy, concentration, depth. Not sure if it is a description or a wish. Certainly, I could be more ‘objective’ and write “piano, ambient, post-romantic”, but this description applies to hundreds of musicians anyway. Besides, I don’t believe in objectivity in art issues.

  • Who is your favourite pianist? And which are your major music influences? 

Possibly Claudio Arrau (1903-1991), a classical pianist. Not only for his interpretations of high-end classical repertory (Liszt, Beethoven), but also for his philosophy about playing piano (his collection of conversations with Joseph Horowitz accompanied me for years).
My music influences are countless. No one invents music from scratch! If pressed to drop some names, they would be: Astor Piazzolla (the sound-world of tango nuevo), Freddie Mercury (a master of stage presence) Mauricio Kagel (musical humour; besides the only one that asked me what do I actually want to compose), Karlheinz Stockhausen (pioneer of non-musical electronic sounds, I mainly learned from him how to write down a complex score and how to conceive a one-page form scheme of a 1-hour piece) and The Beatles (melodic construction, impressive arrangements, experimenting in a recording studio). Some of those names belong to the hardcore avant-garde, some come from the pop/rock world, and also from the tango which is actually an urban form of folk music (from Argentina). What a cocktail.

  • Your pieces have been performed in iconic venues. What would you describe the best moment until now?

There are two aspects to this question: (a) when I performed myself and (b) when others performed my music in my absence.

(a) I particularly enjoyed playing a recital at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. Because of the venue itself and because the programme was a concentrated sample of all my ‘musics’, in plural: tango, neoclassical and (moderate) avant-garde, in this case John Cage. Sorry, I just love playing piano for hundreds of people, that’s my drug.

(b) And having my music performed at venues such as the Carnegie Hall in New York (in Richard Steinbach’s piano recital) was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

  • You moved from Buenos Aires, a place where music is intrinsically linked to its cultural identity, to Germany, a classical music mecca. What are the differences, from your experience, between these two places in relation to music?

You could write a doctoral thesis on the subject and this isn’t an exaggeration. I’ll focus now on only one aspect: the organisation of music life. In my view (and I can be wrong), Argentina is now discovering and developing its musical structures and Germany is maintaining theirs alive and efficient. Germany knows what their musical needs and possibilities are, the artistic potential and how to finance it. Argentina is learning which priorities have to be set, how to coordinate isolated initiatives and to put frames to the impressive creativity that arises nearly spontaneously in every corner.

When I say “structures” I mean the concrete spaces (architectonic or virtual) but also the promotion and marketing of different types of music (also overseas), the issues around composers royalties, how to stimulate funding of music (and of musicians), the overall long-term (and politically independent) development strategies and the institutions that would take care of each aspect of musical life.

For instance: let’s take the older repertory, the music of composers of XIXth century in both countries. You can be almost sure that for every third-range composer of Germany there is a Verein (society or club) that takes care of their scores and manuscripts, try to get their music performed and recorded, and publish a newsletter about their music. In Argentina, sometimes you cannot even find the person who owns the only existing manuscript of an opera or symphony that was performed 100 years ago. Possibly the adoptive son of some sister-in-law of the composer’s grandchild might have it in some old wooden chest somewhere in the attic. This horror scenario is real, not my dramatic invention. Fortunately, in the last few decades there are institutions (such as Argentmúsica or the Instituto Nacional de Musicología) and individual researchers (such as Lucio Bruno Videla) that actively try to rescue such music not just from being forgotten, but from physical destruction.

That’s what I mean when I suggest that Argentina is learning right now (and fast) about its musical needs and developing strategies towards a ‘sustainable’ musical landscape. This is an excellent thing because one gets the feeling that everything is possible and that you are actually shaping the future.

  • Neo Classical music has a wide audience nowadays. Do you think there is a compromise in the quality standards in order for this genre to become more accessible and popular?

First a few thoughts about the genre. Until a few decades ago, the term Neo Classical or Neoclassicism was used for composers such as Prokofiev, Hindemith, Poulenc or Stravinsky. Nowadays, you say Neo Classical and nearly everybody thinks about Ludovico Einaudi, Nils Frahm or Hauschka. These are quite different sound-worlds (up to a point due to the use of electronics). Or am I too close to the genre and I see an abyssal gap where normal people just notice superficial differences? Here is not about musicology, but honestly, I wish we could find a different denomination for a different reality.

As for the quality standards: I actually think they are getting higher, not lower. I don’t also believe that “worse music attracts more audience” (not that you are implying that!) However, I do think that there is a tendency towards simplification to facilitate accessibility. You can call it minimalism, I call it lack of complexity. When does simplicity starts to degrade into superficiality? THIS is the main question – in all music.

I do believe in economy of means in the sense of making the most out of whatever source material. I do believe in not wasting (musical) resources. But I don’t necessary believe in reduction of means at all costs. Certain artistic ideas need room and complexity to develop, as a huge airplane needs a long runway. Of course, if a certain artist doesn’t want to compose an airplane (yes, that’s a metaphor), (s)he doesn’t need a long runway, i.e. the highest complexity. Having said that – never underestimate the complexity of simple things.

  • Which book should we read while listening to your music?   

Temptation is very high to answer something funny such as the phone book or an erotic novel. However, the sense of the question is which literature is in consonance with my music or complements it. So the real answer would be a collection of stories by Jorge Luis Borges. I feel an intimate affinity with his aesthetic, strongly related to Magical Realism. I recommend that you read his books even if you don’t listen to my music. Runner-ups would be clever comic books such as The adventures of Astérix or The Sandman by Neil Gaiman.

Now reconsidering your question – the erotic novel isn’t a bad choice.

  • One last thing we should know about you?

You will never know how vulnerable I am.

  • Thank you very much!

Artwork of the CD Sombras blancas (White Shadows) by the British artist Alban Low []. Find the album on Spotify:

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