Sunday, April 11, 2010

Talking to conductor, singer and teacher Carlos Fernandez Aransay


On March 30th 2010 I had the pleasure of talking to Carlos Fernandez Aransay in Buitrago del Lozoya, Spain. A singer, accompanist, teacher and choral, orchestral- and opera conductor, Maestro Aransay has published several articles, translates, has been assistant secretary of the Iberian and Latin American Music Society (ILAMS) and has taught vocal- and operatic repertoire at the City Literary Institute, London.

PH: Carlos, what are your first musical experiences?

CFA: I was born in Tarragona in Catalonia (Spain). My mother was a very fine pianist, winning first prize for her playing at the Murcia Conservatoire (where I was later to win first prize for Harmony studies.). So my first musical experience was hearing her play the piano. She played a lot of Chopin. At the age of 8, I began studying piano and solfege.

PH: And where did you continue your studies?

CFA: I went on to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Music (Madrid) in Piano, Theory and Composition. By then I was studying singing at the Escuela Superior de Canto de Madrid, where I was also working as an accompanist. I took post-graduate studies at the Royal College of Music (London) in Orchestral Conducting and Composition and sang solo recitals and in opera. I then went on to study conducting privately with Jacques Delacote in Vienna, becoming his assistant for two years in performances of “Carmen” with Jose Carreras in Munich, Zurich and Berlin.

PH: Would you like to talk about Coro Cervantes?

CFA: Yes. I founded the Coro Cervantes chamber choir in 1995 in London, where we performed our first public concert in 1996 at the Spanish Embassy. Under the auspices of the Instituto Cervantes, the ensemble’s mission is to bring Iberian and Latin American music to British audiences. In 1998, the Coro Cervantes became a professional choir, traveling to Mexico, Spain, Latin America - we performed in Mexico at the Guanajuato Festival, the biggest arts festival in Latin America – and to Russia. Singing in a reconsecrated cathedral in Moscow was a very moving experience for us.

We have 16 singers in the ensemble, two thirds of whom are British and one third, Hispanic. There is a core group of 10 singers, with others joining them to perform specific repertoire. All are professional singers. Our repertoire is varied, including both sacred and secular music, spanning from music of medieval times to much Renaissance music, right through to contemporary music, such as the works of one of Spain’s most distinguished contemporary Spanish composers, Anton Garcia Abril (b.1933).

Although we are often supported by the Spanish Embassy and the Spanish Institute of Culture, it is financially difficult to run a professional group in these times. We do, however, have a loyal following in Britain. London offers wonderful opportunities for the choral conductor

PH: Would you like to mention some of the different programs Coro Cervantes has presented as well as future plans?

CFA: Yes. We have performed a complete program of music from the Habsburg court - of the time of Philip II and Charles V - and music from the time of Catherine of Aragon. The concert focusing on the latter took place in Peterborough, where Catherine is buried. We also sang the London premiere of Spanish composer Bartolome de Escobedo’s (c.1500-1563) 6-voiced “Missa Philippus Rex Hispaniae”. In addition to works in Spanish, Coro Cervantes sings in Quechua (the Inca language), Nahuatl (the Aztec language), medieval Galician, Catalan, Basque and in other languages.

Another interesting project consisted of two programs in connection with literary works of Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), one accompanying a play and another, a lecture. There is mention of many songs both in “Don Quijote” and in Cervantes’ short novels. The music is either anonymous or by composers contemporary to Cervantes or before his time, composers such as Luys de Navaez, Luys de Milan, Enriquez de Valderrabano, and others. The Globe Theatre was an inspiring venue for these events.

In October 2009, we sang in the opening of “The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600-1700”, an exhibition at the National Gallery, London.

PH: What about recordings?

CFA: We have recorded several discs. To mention just three, “O Crux”, our first disc, which presents Spanish sacred music of the 19th century, was chosen by Gramophone Magazine as one of the CD’s of the year.

“Oratio” – our disc of 20th century music from Spain and Latin America – was awarded 5 stars by the BBC Music Magazine. This disc includes Ginastera’s “Lamentations”.

“Yanomami” (the Yanomami tribes live in the rainforests of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela) is a disc of choral music accompanied by guitar. The disc, presenting music of Spain and Latin America, supports “Survival International”, a movement helping tribal peoples in defending their lives and protecting their lands.

At the end of 2010 in Madrid, we may be recording sacred Spanish- and Basque music from the 19th century, the choice of these much-neglected works being the result of collaboration between musicologists and myself.

PH: You mentioned that you studied Composition.

CFA: I obtained both a post graduate drgree and an Associateship from the Royal College of Music in London in Composition. I do compose now and then but hope to have time to do more in the future. I have a few songs and choral pieces I would like to perform. Most recently, I wrote two arrangements for our Epana CD.

PH: I understand that teaching is close to your heart.

CFA: Indeed. A great deal of my work in London is as a vocal coach and I work much with young opera singers in Latin America. I also direct an important singing competition in Peru. I divide my time between choral work and teaching vocal technique. In addition to Coro Cervantes, I have a new choir focusing on opera – The London Lyric Chorus. Am guest conductor of choirs in Latin America and of the National Choir of Spain and guest lecturer teaching choral- and orchestral conducting at the National Conservatoires of Lima, Peru and Celaya, Mexico. And then I enjoy working with and conducting singers in international choral workshops, such as the Lacock courses. All the vocal work I do is based on my firm belief that high quality vocal- and choral performance must come from sound vocal technique.

PH: What about opera?

CFA: I love opera. Am off to Cuba soon to direct a gala of opera highlights with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra and two wonderful singers.

PH: And when you are not working, how do you like to spend your time?

CFA: Reading…reading fiction and history. I go to theatre, of which London has so much to offer. The world of art interests me: among my friends there are some painters, and I attend exhibitions in venues on the London-Madrid circuit. As mentioned earlier, I love opera and try not to miss an operatic performance! I also love wildlife, travel and to spend time with my friends and family.

PH: Carlos, many thanks for giving the reader a glimpse into your professional life and ideas.