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Cheryl North Interviews
Guillermo Galindo

ANG Newspapers Classical Music Column - November 11, 2005, under headline, Galindo's Routes, a musical tour through an American city

THE Oakland East Bay Symphony can be counted upon to come up with innovative, American-to-the-hilt programming. Michael Morgan, its conductor/music director, seems to be innately tuned in to one of the things that make the United States so great: our deeply ingrained diversity.

While the brochure for the 2005-06 season-opening concert next week at Oakland's Paramount Theatre says "the program has a Russian flavor," I would add that it actually has an essentially American cast.

The United States is, after all, a multitextured, multicolored mosaic that contains elements from all over the world. All these diverse bits and pieces are quite beautifully melded together by glue made up of some particularly durable ideals. The result is a rather grand composition.

So, the upcoming program, which includes two major Russian masterworks � Rachmaninoff's all-embracing Symphony No. 2 and Mussorgsky's Prelude to his opera Kovanshchina � will be performed along with the world premiere of new work by Mexico-born Guillermo Galindo, set to a text by poet devorah major.

The piece, commissioned as part of OEBS' Words & Music Project funded by The James Irvine Foundation, is called Trade Routes.

American as apple pie, yes?

I had an opportunity to talk to composer Galindo last week. An affable, enthusiastic Oakland resident, he explained that his early education was in his native Mexico.

"I was born right inside the heart of the biggest city in the world, Mexico City," said the 45-year-old Galindo.

His mother's side of the family had been involved in the musical instrument business for years, so young Galindo grew up surrounded by music and musicians. He even "sang" before he learned to speak. "According to my mother," he explained, "the first thing that came out of my mouth, before I even spoke, was the melody of a 1950s rock 'n' roll song." His mother, who was his first teacher, was accomplished on piano, organ and accordion.

Little Guillermo started with the piano and then, as a teenager, moved on to guitar. Later, he studied composition at the National School of Music in Mexico City before transferring to Berklee College of Music in Boston. While there he earned a bachelor's degree in film scoring, and later, at Oakland's Mills College, was awarded a master's degree in composition.

He has lived in Oakland since 1990.

While he liked to perform, he claims to have always been more interested in composition and enjoyed inventing, rearranging and imagining things. "Instead of studying the piano pieces I was given by my teachers, I would make up my own arrangements of them."

He explained his new work, Trade Routes, as "a musical tour through a contemporary American city. We (Galindo and his collaborator, devorah major) knew that our subject matter would offer us an amazing palette of musical styles, sounds and social situations to work with. The journey offers a musical interpretation of city life, the rhythm of its streets, the diversity and daily dramas of its citizens."

He further described it as "a musical collage representing random synchronicities and as a complex chance operation interconnecting life styles, religions, foods and spices, values and cultural traits."

The work's instrumentation involves full orchestra, chorus and spoken word. The Oakland Symphony Chorus, under the direction of Magen Solomon, and major as the spokeswoman, will join with the orchestra for the piece's performance. Gallindo says that it is set in a variety of different musical styles, with interlocking poly-rhythms supporting a flow of shifting poly-modal harmonies. He claims that it includes "informal serialism, melodic permutations, minimalism, jazz and even 16th-century harmony, along with shades of Native American music, African music, film music, rock, funk, tango, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern and Chinese music freely combined with Afro-Caribbean and Latin reggaeton, along with vestiges of his rhythmic and electronic media experimentation."

Very American, indeed.

As if sensing any skepticism I might have, he added that he made great effort "to be accessible without being frugal and innovative without being elitist."

"We want Trade Routes to touch the audience at a human level. We intended it to be a contemporary musical American epic that can be understood and enjoyed by everybody. We hope our audience to be able to take a tour with us," he said.

Galindo said that he feels fortunate to be able to support himself by teaching music and sound technology at the California College of Arts and at the College of San Mateo and by working on projects ranging from orchestral writing and special commissions for installation art, performances, opera, film music and sound design.

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