Classical music lovers can rejoice as the Houston Symphony has named its newest composer-in-residence, a man who is bringing real promise for the future of the art. Jimmy Lopez has recently joined the symphony for the program and will remain a member of the team for a total of two years.
Traditionally, composers-in-residence might serve many purposes depending on their art form, their partner organization, and the community in which they are located. For Lopez, he already has a few ideas in mind to help narrow the focus of his two-year stint in Houston.
“That’s the fascinating part because it's a role shaped by the composer and the organization," he says. "We’ve been discussing that. We’ve gone through many ideas – some very ambitious – and we’re narrowing it down for the time frame that we’ve got."
For right now, the projects at the top of the list involve debuting two large works, curating a concert and mentoring young composers.
The first of his two large works is already composed. It is a violin concerto titled Aurora and featured guest violinist Leticia Moreno from Spain. It was scheduled to debut during the Andrés Conducts Schumann concert, but it was delayed in the aftermath of Harvey and the shift in performance locations and dates. The symphony is working to reschedule the performance.
Lopez says the inspiration for Aurora came from the seven years he spent in school in Finland.
“When I think of violin concertos, I think about an association [with] violin and Finland’s auroras," he explains. "I didn’t have to think too much about what it would be but instead how I would bring the visual to it.”
It turns out that adding the visual element would be accomplished through lighting designer Clint Allen.
“We wanted to bring this visual spectacle into sound, trying to reflect the waves of light through sound,” Lopez says.
The piece will have three movements to reflect the three types of auroras that naturally occur: borealis, australis and equatorialis. The first two occur along Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres, respectively. The third typically occurs along the equatorial line on other planets.
The concert's postponement hasn’t stopped Lopez from diving into his other ambitious endeavors. He has already started talks with the University of Houston and Rice University to begin the process of mentoring the upcoming generation of musical talent.
“We’ll collect a group of students and ask them to write works for an ensemble of musicians at the Houston Symphony. We’ll be following along the process and mentoring them,” he says. “They’ll show the progress of their work, and we’ll workshop it so that they can make adjustments.”
Lopez is also hoping to incorporate the theme of diversity into the student compositions to reflect the inclusive nature of Houston.
“We want it to revolve around a theme, so we’re trying to distill the identity of Houston. The word diversity has come in, so we’re trying to focus on it,” Lopez says. “In terms of instruments, the pieces will be diverse. One might have a singer, one might have a narrator, and [an]other involves a dancer or non-western instruments. It’s a showcase itself of the capabilities of the students and what they think Houston consists of. I’m trying to look at presenting in a nontraditional venue.”
Like many of the young composers he will work with, Lopez discovered his passion for music at a young age.
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"I started playing the piano when I was five, but just as a hobby," he says. "I didn’t take it seriously until 11 years old. I was exposed to Bach, and it was love at first sight. One thing led to another. Then I went to Mozart, Beethoven and so forth," he said. "Between ages 12 to 16, I knew I wanted to be a musician. Practicing the piano was enticing, but not as enticing as creating something from scratch. At 16, that’s when I discovered that’s what I wanted to do."
He followed his passion, which took him across the globe. He went on to study music at the National Conservatory of Music in Lima, Peru; the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland; and the University of California at Berkeley.
Professionally, Lopez's works have been performed by leading orchestras around the world, and he has accumulated numerous prizes from several countries. With credentials like his, he is a hot grab for the Houston Symphony – and Houston audiences get to reap the benefits.
Because of the impact of Harvey, the Houston Symphony is currently performing shows at Stude Concert Hall, Rice University, 6100 Main. For information about upcoming concerts, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org.