«I need images to compose»

Interview in the Diario de Sevilla. Signed: Pablo J. Vayón.


You can download the interview in pdf format also at this link.

After publishing a couple of albums on independent labels, María Parra, composer and pianist born in Soria, raised in Tarragona and based in Madrid, now debutes in a large multinational with her own music compositions.

RêverieMouvement and now Vision. From the music of others to your own. How has this process been?

–Between Mouvement and Vision time passes. I could have continued along the same lines and released another album in the field of classical. I had already put some wink in the form of a bonus track in the first two CDs, as if hinting a facet as a composer still shy, not very entrenched, as not wanting to show it to the world. From a certain moment I begin to chain concerts in which, systematically, I use my music on encores. And it was the public that unanimously bothered to come see me, because they noticed in me a kind of modesty in doing so, I almost asked for excuses for playing my music, and there was no one who when I approached did not tell me that it was very good what I had performed at a classical level, but that was already widely heard, and I am talking about a diverse audience, of cities, backgrounds, musical training or different sensibilities, and they unanimously came to say that what they liked most were my encores, that they were more current and that gave a glimpse of how I was and that closer sensitivity had reached them more.

That was taking its toll on me and giving me more confidence for an activity that I left parked in my day to day. And suddenly in 2018 I find a time to be able to invest in composing, and I start doing it outrageously, in spurts. Music and music and more music started to come out, and I found myself released, very happy. I had never had that feeling. I always had the happiness of playing, but there is a kind of Damocles sword in the collective imagination of the Classical, like you can’t get out of the canon, the cliché, and in that canon there are musicians who already have the approval of the public as great artists, and you, as a Spaniard, within this abundance of good pianists that are everywhere, you do not contribute anything, you are like one more drop… and suddenly the need arose, finally, and thanks to that spirit of the public, to give free rein to everything that I had been accumulating and that came out in those two months dedicated almost exclusively to composing at the end of 2018. In that process they call me from San Sebastián to play. I was disconnected from the classical world, because I had made up my mind that I would not return until 2019. I say yes to the organizer, but on the condition that half of the program had to be with my own work. I went to San Sebastián, and I played half a program with a classic repertoire and the second part, all mine. I took a self-exam. And the public told me very clearly: that second part had moved them more, since it was new music and I transmitted it with all the conviction in the world, it was what had reached them the most. Then it was clear to me that perhaps my next album had to be with my own work. I took my time to mature the style a little, have a good volume of work, that would allow me to make a selection, and find the record company that understood that I was a classical interpreter, with a specialization in Spanish music but that also had this personal facet. And it was very clear that it had to be one of the three majors, Universal, Sony or Warner. Because these companies have many departments from different fields and I could fit in as a hinge artist, as a performer and creator.

–And how was it to get to Warner?

–I knew that somehow I had to feel protected. Such a radical change could not have been possible with a small, independent label. It would have happened without pain or glory and not with the respect that I considered deserved this flipping that I was going to give. Getting to Warner was largely by chanceDelia Agúndez works for Warner and she introduced me to her boss of Classical, Juan Bauluz, saying that it would be great if they signed me in the future, and that was there, like a dream. That was in 2017. I had just released Mouvement and, well, I thought that maybe in the future there would be some option, but always thinking about a classical work. At the same time, Jesús Trujillo, who was my sound engineer, seeing the magnitude of the album I was preparing, and knowing my fears and doubts, also told me about Bauluz. Also, there was another person from the pop scene who told me that he knew the president of Warner and could speak to him. So one day I showed up at Warner. They were very skeptical when it came to hosting a classical pianist, because Classical music does not sell records, and they did not want one more record, which was a bit of the feeling I had with the previous two: you make a huge financial effort, you put all your love in the project, and ends up being one more drop in the ocean. For your personal career they are good claims, without a doubt, but these are records that pass without penalty or glory. And I can understand it. Myself, if I want to hear Debussy’s Preludes, I’m going to listen to Michelangeli‘s, if I want the Iberia Suite, I’m going to go to Alicia de Larrocha, unless I was a super-scholar who wanted to contrast the 300 versions or have it all… I had that feeling of effort, not useless, because if you do it from your truth it has its reason for being, but it does sound like a cry in the desert, with a very relative echo. At first, I was very clear to continue in the world of performing. My next album would have been Rajmáninov with Études-Tableaux and Sonata nº2. But in the same record company, they told me that this is widely heard. And in reality, everything is extremely widely heard. So in 2018 I said to myself, play it, your work is yours and you know how happy it makes you create. I went to Warner with the demo already done, explaining my situation, which was that I could compose not only for myself, but in a different style, for singer-songwriters or pop. This is what convinced them. Such a company is not an NGO that welcomes anyone.

–Is the act of composing more creative than that of interpreting?

–Much more. Of course, it takes a long time. The terror I had was that it would take away time for the interpretation, which has a gymnastic part, of practicing hours to seek perfection. And if to compose something I needed a week totally immersed in that creative process… I had the feeling that I was gradually moving away from the port and needed to return. That gave me anguish for a long time. I felt pulled on one side and on the other. The voice of my father, a painter, resounded in my ears; he told me that playing another’s music was not bad, but that the important thing was to create your own work. I was about 16 years old, and I listened to a lot of music besides classical: Dire StraitsPink Floyd, The BeatlesSupertramp, you couldn’t turn a deaf ear to all that. At that age I enrolled a course in Tarragona and it was there that they told me that there was a Musicians Workshop in Barcelona, where all that modern music was studied. When I finished High school I start two paths in parallel, the classic and the most modern, jazz and pop. I was going crazy. There were sixteen hours a day of music. What made me decide on the classic was a fluke. I had applied for a scholarship to go to New York to study in the New School all the most modern part. But I didn’t get the scholarship. I stayed in Spain and I got the chance to go to Paris and then I follow the path of the classical music. By chance I then ran into Alicia de Larrocha. I was not going to miss something like that. I was 7-8 years working Spanish music with Alicia. In the end, all that solid training at the classical level, which has made me happy and has allowed me to master the instrument, is what gives me today the absolute freedom to do what I want, both creating and performing.

–The modesty at the time of showing your music was fear of being pigeonholed within the classical scope in light music, as in the new age?

–Of course. If I had been a composer who followed the academic line of the contemporary, I would have had no qualms about having introduced my music in the line of so many pianists who mix Beethoven with Ligeti with absolute joy. And it is good that it is done. It is necessary that different tendencies coexist and the ball becomes bigger with the newly created music. But I was not in that line of the evolution of the most current academic music. I was still in the line of modern crossover pianists who play their own music. It is not a very significant trend in Spain, but outside it is. And the truth is that suddenly my music has boomed on Spotify, an exaggeration. Who listens to my music? Anglo-Saxon countries are the most attracted by this trend. In Spain what I do may not be very well understood, although perhaps it is well received by those who listen to it. And that was the fear. But I decided to take the risk and let my music take off where it has to take off. Warner has told me that especially in England, the USA, Canada, Australia and a little in Central Europe likes it. Not in Spain, but I’m not worried. I need to create. It is much more rewarding to create than to reinterpret someone else’s work.

–What are the main influences of your style as a composer?

–Obviously my classical training is important, and within it everything that is Romanticism or Impressionism. But also Paco de Lucía when he begins to transgress flamenco together with Camarón and they join Carlos Benavente or Jorge Pardo. This type of merger, made with good taste and not sticking, but evolving in a personal direction but with tradition as a substrate, all that is very inspiring. Also many things about pop and rock; from the 50s to today there are so many things, that world permeates you. And then all these crossovers that play their own music, in which there are very interesting things. That universe in which you are the creator right now is much more satisfying for me.

–Have you ever thought about making your music available to other performers?

–I have written it to interpret it myself, because it is like a son to me. It looks like me and has features of mine. But, why not. If my music is successful I can do the same as others do. There are musicians who have millions of followers and have made the sheet music booklet for their works. If there is a sufficient volume of listeners and I see that my music is capable of being played, I would have no qualms about the scores coming out, for records, to be performed by others. Perhaps it is premature to think that this could happen shortly, but I do not rule out that a sheet music book could come out or that a film could come out of some of the works, as is already the case of one of them: Avalon will be a short film, in which I am the protagonist. There are cinematographic elements in my music too.

–Do you need an external image to compose?

–As a composer I am very intuitive. I start from improvisation, but the first thing I capture is the title. I evoke a lot of the cinematographic side. I breathe it. My music has no lyrics, there are no songs that tell stories. So I aspire to create a mental impression, a film that you can develop based on evocation. The title works as an invitation for the listener to place himself in a certain context. It is like when you read a book, a novel, that each one makes their own film out of it, and with my music I try the same thing, that transcends that more intellectual aspect of scholastic-academic-contemporary music, which is based on the musical motives themselves. I am more plastic, I need images to compose and make viewers to recreate images. So I see that I can get to make music for movies or somehow work with images, like Yann Tiersen did or Einaudi did with that very successful French film, Intouchables. I sense that there is a whole world to which I can open up. And I’m so excited about it… I wouldn’t mind taking a fork in my career that would take me to that universe. As long as my music is accepted or liked, of course.

–You talk about improvisation as a starting point for writing. Do you improvise playing live?

–I have two types of compositions: one, in which the piece is written so that it is played as is, and the other with pieces that are made as a jazz standard, in which the theme is exposed and then there is room to improvise to from it. For example, in my first album I put Il pleut sur Paris, but the subject is only exposed, that’s why it lasts so little. When I have played it live, I develop that theme with an improvisation. There are compositions thought like this: a few bars of exposition and the rest, improvisation.

–Will you continue to combine your facet as a classical interpreter with composition in the future?

–Right now I am between waters, but I want to think that I am going to establish myself more in the second field. And the test has been during confinement. At first I thought to take advantage of it to delve into Rajmáninov, but I couldn’t. Instead, I began to compose again outrageously. Instead of worrying, I said to myself, come on, let the sun rise wherever it has to come out.

–Will there be more albums for Warner?

–I have signed a commitment of a minimum of three in five years.

–Is the idea to continue on this path or do you think of composing something that is not just for piano?

–Yes, in fact it is already. With Warner there was talk of a solo piano album and another with collaborations, something very eclectic, to break the barriers. I have composed for Isabel Villanueva [violist], for Iris Azquinezer, but also for Javier Ruibal and some other great names in Spanish pop. We will see if all this material goes to the second or third album. If this first album has some kind of important repercussion, I already have a second one in the up my sleeve with my stuff. The music volume is now ready. But it could also be publishing collaborations first, although that is much more expensive. But everything is almost done, I just need to get together with some people. Isabel Villanueva, for example, loves flamenco, and I composed her a work that has a mix between classic, flamenco and rock. She loved it. We premiered the work at the National Library in the Festival Ellas crean. So that is already underway, as a project that makes me very excited, because it means bringing together people from a variety of my musical universes. Besides, the Rajmáninov is also on hold, as an objective target. I’m putting it off, because right now the other path makes me much happier.

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