Aldo Lopez-Gavilan: Blending Classical and Jazz

Cuban pianist and composer Aldo Lopez-Gavilan is equally talented in classical and jazz. He draws from both worlds when he composes, leaving plenty of room for improvisation. In this interview, music journalist Steve Roby speaks to him and classical clarinetist Ricardo Morales before their  January 7 concert with the Boulder Philharmonic.

Let’s start with an introduction for our listeners.

My name is Aldo Lopez-Gavilan. I’m a pianist-composer from Cuba, and we are here in Boulder, Colorado, having a great time with the Boulder Philharmonic and Maestro Michael Butterman for a wonderful evening tomorrow night, performing mainly my music and, uh, especially premiering my first and only so far, Clarinet Concerto. So, I thought it was a good idea to bring Maestro Ricardo Morales, who is in charge of putting this music in the ears of the world. So, I will introduce my friend Ricardo, and he can say something.

Hello, my name is Ricardo Morales. I am the principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. And it’s a great honor to join you in this interview today.

Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you for being here. We appreciate it. Why don’t we start by telling our listeners about your musical history and accomplishments?

It’s always good to introduce a little bit of our path. In my case, I was very lucky to be born into a musical family where even my grandparents were enthusiastic. Some of them were professional musicians, especially my grandfather, the father of my mother, Juan Jorge Junco, one of the most renowned clarinet artists in Cuba. He was the principal clarinetist in the Havana Symphony for many years. And he had the opportunity to perform under the baton of great conductors from all over the world. And in fact, this concerto that we are premiering is dedicated to him. Then, of course, my mother was also a musician. She was a pianist and teacher. My father, who is almost 80 years old, was a composer and conductor then. So, on the whole family, you know, all my uncles, cousins, and especially my older brother, Elmar Gavilan, is a great violinist. Recently, he was nominated for a Grammy award for the second time with his, uh, group Harlem Quartet, a wonderful string quartet that collaborates with, uh, you know, the greatest legends of jazz, like Chick Correa, Gary Burton.

I started very young in the world of music. Of course, I had a piano at home. The whole house was full of music all the time. My brother was practicing, my mother was teaching, and my father was rehearsing. I had no choice. Firstly, my mother wanted me to be a cellist and bought me this cello. But the size was not right for my age. And it was so big that I quit very easily. I only had a few lessons and was very attracted to the piano at home. when I had the chance, I would go and play it. So that’s how I started on this path. Then, of course, I went to the music school I started when I was seven. I was improvising, composing, and doing all that besides my academic training. I went further enough to become a “slave of music” nowadays. In a good way, of course. Because I cannot live without it.

What was life in Cuba like for you as a musician?

In Cuba, we have a wonderful program for music training and many other arts careers. But in music specifically, as I said before, we start when we are very young when we are kids, so we have a very specific and demanding program since we are kids studying solfege, history of music, choir, piano, and your favorite instrument as a major. Then, after seven years of this. What we call elementary music school is for seven years. Then, if you get into a conservatory of music when you are around 14 or 15 years old, you keep going with your studies at a music conservatory where you graduate after four years of doing this theoretical work, all kinds of training, very much influenced on the Russian program and which is very good and of course, with our physics, including the culture of Cuba, Cuban music. After that, there is a university called La Ciudad de las Artes, where you specialize and do all your majors as you please. I had the opportunity to, you know, study with great teachers in all the fields, the piano, the theoretical aspects of music, and the history of music and all of that. For me, it was very tough because I must admit that I was not the greatest student, especially in the theoretical and academic parts. The piano was always my savior. I would go to competitions, either nationally or internationally. And they will always, you know, encourage me to keep going with my academics. I have to say, yes, the music was in my veins, and my training mainly spent hours and hours on my instrument. Beautiful. Not only academically, you know, doing all these programs from the regular repertoire that we are used to working with, but also in the Cuban side, you know, with the Cuban music and a little bit of jazz too, and so on.

We’re so grateful to have you here in Colorado!

Thank you very much. I’m very happy to be here and project. It’s a dream come true.

Let’s talk about your concert at the Macky Auditorium. Can you tell me about the event?

It’s going to be wonderful!

We will be performing my music, which is a great honor. I will be premiering my Clarinet Concerto with Ricardo Morales as a soloist, which is a great honor. I couldn’t even imagine collaborating with such a great artist or musician. And I have the honor to listen to his wonderful performance of my music. This concerto is a usual concerto with three movements, that is. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a little jazzy. It’s a little funny at the end. , some jokes in the third movement. The second movement is probably a standard jazz ballad with a twist of classical instrumentation and a wonderful performance with all kinds of joke intonations. All right. The first one is a bit more serious, but I always try to put my signature of my Caribbean background and a little bit of Cuban, a little bit of Afro hair here and there, and that will be the first thing we will hear. Then, I will be playing myself as a soloist on the piano, my piano concerto empori, which was. It was a piece that I performed here before with the Symphony in Boulder in 2019. It’s a wonderful piece that’s very hard for both the pianist and the orchestra to play, but I think it’s worth it.

We were discussing right now with some of the musicians in the symphony that despite all the troubles to get the music done, once you make it, it’s pretty rewarding. And it’s a very special song because it was a song that was dedicated to my daughters for their birthday. After they loved the tune, I decided to make a whole full piano concerto out of it. Beautiful. Then, there is an intermission for the second half. The greatest work ever. One of history’s most beautiful and massive works of music is pictures of an exhibition. Oh, yeah, by Mussorgsky and orchestrated by Maurice Ravel, one of the greatest orchestrators. And a funny thing that neither Michael Berryman nor any of the symphony members were aware of is that I graduated with this piece when I was 18 or 17. Sorry. I graduated in Cuba from the Conservatoria de Musica Amadeo Roldan with this major work as part of my recital, the original version for piano, of course. So, it links the whole program in a very nice manner.

I want to remind our listeners that the Vignettes and Promenades concert will take place at Boulder’s Macky Auditorium on Sunday, January 7th at 4 p.m. Doors open at three, and for tickets and more information, please visit Boulder phil.org or call the box office at 303 4491343. Thank you so much for your time today for joining us on KGNU radio, gentlemen, and have a great show at Mackey Auditorium.

This interview has been edited for continuity and clarity.

Courtesy photos were provided.

About the author: From the San Francisco Bay Area to the Big Island of Hawaii, Steve Roby has worked as a journalist, entertainment photographer, magazine editor, radio host (San Francisco, Hawaii, and Denver), and video documentarian. Since 1989, he has been writing about music and interviewing musicians. Roby is also a published author of three books, one on the L.A. Times Non-Fiction Hardcover Best Seller List.

Picture of Steve Roby

Steve Roby

From the San Francisco Bay Area to the Big Island of Hawaii, Steve Roby has worked as a music journalist, entertainment photographer, magazine editor, radio host (San Francisco, Hawaii, and Denver), and video documentarian. Roby is also a published author of three books, one on the L.A. Times Non-Fiction Hardcover Best Seller List. He’s been featured in The New York Times, Rolling Stone (x2), and Billboard. He’s now based in Denver.
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