Jimmy López Bellido Ph.D. ‘12 is currently serving as Composer-in-Residence for the Houston Symphony Orchestra.
You studied at the National Conservatory of Music in Lima, and the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki prior to UC Berkeley. How were the conservatories different from your experience in Berkeley?
All those places are incredibly different from each other. In Lima I acquired a solid base, especially in regards to harmony, counterpoint, and music theory in general. All of this especially thanks to my mentor and -as I like to call him- my “personal Yoda”, Enrique Iturriaga, a 99-year-old composer who has made an indelible mark in Peruvian musical life. The Sibelius Academy reinforced that base but it provided me with great exposure to Finland’s (and by extension, Europe’s) rich contemporary music scene. It also gave me plenty of opportunities to explore my fascination for the symphony orchestra, not only because Finland, a country of 5.5 million, boasts 25 professional orchestras, but also because the Sibelius Academy itself has a very strong orchestral conducting department, a fact that allowed me to try a few of my compositions in rehearsal. What I took from Berkeley was creative freedom. Europe has strong traditions and it is hard for Europeans to let go of them sometimes. California, in turn, is fertile ground for innovation in many areas, the kind of innovation and openness that allowed the birth of Minimalism, for example. It is here, at Berkeley, where I was able to distill my language and find my personal voice.
Edmund Campion was your advisor at Cal. What was the most significant thing you took away from him?
Ed believed, and still believes, in me and my music. He had real faith in that, as competitive as it is, I could make it in the music industry. He guided me through my transition from the world of academia to the hard realities of being a freelance composer. He recognized my strengths and weaknesses and helped me carve the path that I have carved for myself. Ed recognized my talent and had faith in me right from the start. I will be always grateful to him for that.
You’re debuting a concerto at the end of the month titled “Guardian of the Horizon.” Can you tell us about it?
The Sphinx Organization, which has done a fantastic job supporting black and Latino musicians, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and they commissioned me to create the Concerto Grosso for Violin, Cello & Strings to celebrate the occasion. They are taking the piece on tour throughout several cities in the US, including their annual Gala Concert at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium on October 13th. The work has been co-commissioned by the Sphinx Organization, with the support of Linda and Stuart Nelson, Carnegie Hall, and New World Symphony, and it is dedicated to my father’s memory, who passed away in December of last year. This work is also a part of Carnegie Hall’s “125 commissions” project, celebrating the famed institution’s 125th anniversary.
You’ll be composer-in-residence at the Houston Symphony for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. What are your goals/aspirations for your time in Texas?
During these two upcoming seasons I will be focusing on three major projects: a violin concerto, a symphony, and a mentorship program with young composers that will culminate on a concert consisting of new works by student composers from the Houston area. The violin concerto’s premiere has, sadly, had to be postponed in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, but it will certainly take place during the 2018-19 season. The symphony will be premiered during the 2018-19 season and it will pay homage to Houston’s special contribution to space exploration. The mentorship program will be developed in conjunction with Professors from Rice University and University of Houston, and it will consist in the creation of new works, workshops with Houston Symphony musicians, interdisciplinary cooperation, and a final presentation at a special venue where the newly created works will be presented. In addition to all this, I will participate in talks, lectures, and chamber music concerts, plus other existing works of mine will be featured during the orchestra’s upcoming seasons.
In the Denver Post, Ray Mark Rinaldi says “Lopez doesn’t sound like the other composers currently at work. His influences are broad, but he has a distinct voice and it is adventurous and winning. He’s making opera that sounds like him, rather than trying to emulate others.” How did you find your voice in terms of composition?
During my time in Lima my eyes and ears were pointed toward Europe, so I didn’t pay much attention to my own country’s rich musical tradition. All of this changed when I moved to Finland because there I realized that in order to develop a distinct voice I could not continue ignoring my geographical origins. After coming to the US I continued to explore the Avant-garde scene, especially in Germany (Darmstadt and Donaueschingen), as I continued to delve into my geographical roots with works such as “Perú Negro”, which is entirely inspired by Afro-Peruvian music. These two parallel roads were not at odds with each other, but they were not necessarily interacting with each other, so in my mid thirties I made a conscious (and sometimes also unconscious) effort to integrate them into a single mode of expression. Nowadays I feel perfectly comfortable employing the tools I have learned from both of them and the result is a more unified and distinct personal voice that I think will continue to be shaped as I enter my forties.