I’ve never done away with my Cuban mu­si­cal her­itage. Even the com­po­si­tions that might not sound Cuban, if we sat down and I ex­plained it, if I showed the har­mon­ics, the cam­ou­flage, they’d hear it. — Manuel Valera

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS - The Four Sea­sons,

His cur­rent fo­cus is on com­pos­ing. “I’ve al­ways been su­per en­gaged with it. All day, ev­ery day. Even watch­ing TV, I’m al­ways think­ing about things hav­ing to do with com­po­si­tion; how to de­velop things, how to ap­proach it from dif­fer­ent an­gles. I’ve been study­ing 12-tone rows and Schoen­berg, I’m re­ally full force into that now. In my mind, com­po­si­tion is very nu­mer­i­cal, and I’m al­ways try­ing to find a way to merge 12-tone and atonal mu­sic with the mu­sic that I hear. The more I study, the more it be­comes clear. It’s all about the sound, not the notes, not how you’re go­ing from here to there but the sounds and the tex­tures, go­ing to har­monic places that you wouldn’t get with jazz har­monies.”

His lat­est ef­fort, a trio project ti­tled finds him get­ting into com­poser An­to­nio Vi­valdi’s head and not just do­ing an­other clever vari­a­tion on the com­poser’s four vi­o­lin con­certi. “The mu­sic is en­tirely dif­fer­ent than Vi­valdi’s,” Valera said. “It would have been bor­ing to do an­other jazz ver­sion of the piece. I took a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. There’s some avant-garde things in there, some dif­fer­ent tonal things.” Valera de­scribed his in­spi­ra­tion for the piece. “At first, I thought it would be a way to deal with the whole is­sue of cli­mate change, to make it mean­ing­ful in mu­si­cal and emo­tional ways. But I de­cided I didn’t want to make it too po­lit­i­cal. So it’s sort of, in my lay­man’s opin­ion, as if Vi­valdi was alive to­day and how he would ad­dress the sea­sons now that we’re on our way to one long sea­son, rather than four. Vi­valdi’s mu­sic is mostly very happy, very up­lift­ing. Mine is too, but in a dif­fer­ent way. Ac­tu­ally, it’s much darker in its way.”

The win­ner pre­vi­ously of two New Jazz Works grants from Cham­ber Mu­sic Amer­ica, Valera is cur­rently work­ing on a suite, much as he did with The Four Sea­sons, de­signed around the same ce­les­tial con­cept as Gus­tav Holst’s The Plan­ets. “I’ve al­ways been in­trigued by the so­lar sys­tem. The mu­sic isn’t based on Holst’s at all.” Valera said that pur­su­ing the project has given him a fur­ther chance to study and write mu­sic in some­thing of a dif­fer­ent style. He’s got­ten in­spi­ra­tion read­ing Ni­co­las Slonim­sky’s 1947 classic Th­e­saurus of Scales and Melodic Pat­terns, a book also said to have in­formed mu­si­cians from Schoen­berg to John Coltrane. “It’s based on Slonim­sky’s way of com­po­si­tion but in my own style, more an­gu­lar.” He’s hop­ing to record the fin­ished pieces early next year.

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