Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
My first contact with music as a child was taking part in an interesting educational project back in Mexico. A composer called Cesar Tort was teaching kids to play Mexican percussion instruments and recreating children’s music from Mexico for this purpose. This was an exciting way to learn to read music as well as to be part of an ensemble and to experience the excitement of playing concerts.
As a teenager I was able to attend concerts and lectures of composers that visited Mexico in the 70s: people like Cage, Nono and Xenakis, really did things to my head and took my attention into what was happening in New Music at the time. The path to start writing music was next for me to explore and I really enjoyed writing my first pieces. But I wasn’t sure then that was to be my life, until I met Peter Maxwell Davies at Dartington Summer Scholl in the early 80s. His inspiring lectures and encouragement were crucial for me to take my composing seriously and I have not stopped since.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
Apart from those mentioned above, I have been lucky to have had the opportunities to meet and learn from wonderful people in my life: my composition teachers in both Mexico (Mario Lavista) and the UK (Robert Saxton, John Casken, George Nicholson, Nigel Osborne). I am constantly inspired by wonderful musicians and conductors that have played my music, to name a few: Trio Arbós, Arditti Quartet, Contrechamps, Court Circuit, L’Instant donné, Hilliard Ensemble, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Recherche, Ensemble Signal, Grup Instrumental de Valencia, London Sinfonietta, Neue Vocalsolisten, Hermes Ensemble, Claron McFadden, Ian Pace, Alberto Rosado, Brad Lubman.
Also important for me was to be able to meet and interact with composers who are no longer with us like Lutoslawski, Carter and Ligeti
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
Challenges are always in front of a blank page, no matter what forces you are writing for.
Personally, my greatest challenge has been to write for string quartet, because of my close relationship with the Arditti Quartet for whom the most important repertoire for the medium has been written in the last forty four years. I set myself very high standards when writing for them because I know only too well what they are capable of. This always makes me grow as a composer by discovering new paths for my music.
I have experienced frustrations in a couple of occasions when the conductors I was working with then, didn’t have a clue how to begin rehearsing my music, even though the players were keen and capable. But I choose not to remember these experiences.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
There is a commitment and trust from both parts: the composer and musicians we write for. The pleasure is to write for musicians who feel as passionately as I do about what I write and that are prepare to invest their time and commitment in learning a new work, in the same way I do when I write. There is a lot of energy and precious time invested in writing each piece of music. Like anyone in our society, we also need to get paid for our time, so it is wonderful when musicians or promoters succeed in raising funds for a new project, to allow me to dive into writing for long weeks or months depending on what I am working on.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
Each particular project has its own characteristics or limitations, depending on how you look at it. When the musicians are able to play anything you throw at them, then the imagination goes flying off into undiscovered realms.This is always a very inspiring experience.
Writing for voices has most of the time the implication of text and this has it’s own challenges and paths of discovery. I have written and lectured in depth about this experience.
The voice itself offers unique opportunities of expression to explore , as well as language as semantics and phonetics open a whole new area of sonic landscape to explore.
The challenge of writing for orchestra is to take into account that there is a huge group of people and to bear in mind that not all musicians in an orchestra are willing to explore their instruments in the same way that musicians who play in ensembles who specialize in new music are accustomed to do so. So the challenge is to be able to explore new ideas within the resources and limitations of an orchestra.
Of which works are you most proud?
Harriet, Scenes in the life of Harriet Tubman
Hacia una bitácora capilar
El Palacio Imaginado
Ah paax o’ob
How would you characterise your compositional language?
I have lived in Europe half of my life and although I wrote my first piece whilst living in Mexico, I became a composer while living in London. Therefore my music reflects a strong influence of the European musical tradition. However, the diverse cultural life of Mexico my native country has also given me a strong creative impulse and continues to do so, despite the distance. On the other hand, many of my decisions concerning ways of manipulating rhythm and structure have been influenced by my interest in the music of India. However, I do not attempt to quote any traditional music nor to recreate it, with the exception when the dramaturgy of the music refers to a particular well knowntune. As it is the case in Harriet or in Kamex ch’ab.
My experience working in the electronic music studio has changed drastically my way of listening even when I write without technology. This has made me explore different instrumental possibilities to enhance the palette of sounds that can be explored, but always keeping in mind musical structures.
Another important element in my musical thinking has always been economy of means, to be able to define my ideas.
How do you work?
I need to connect my inner ear to an imaginative sound world. I don’t know where it comes from, I first just need to allow this connection to happen. Once it finds me, the process of deciphering it begins and I just need to allow the music to lead me through the creative journey.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
My favourite musicians are those I have worked with, some of which are listed above.
My favourite composers are those whose music have open my ears to new sound worlds and that awake my imagination, some composer’s music gives me hope in humanity, like the music of Lachenmann.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Never stop being curious. Beware of easy success, this is a long journey and there are no shortcuts. Never stop learning. Humility is most important when you are preparing to embark on a creative journey.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness for me is wanting what you have, not having what you want.
Hilda Paredes’ ‘Harriet’ receives its UK premiere on 20th November at this year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Hilda will also be giving workshops and masterclasses during the festival. Further information here