Home Music In Angélica Negrón’s music, childlike marvel meets the pull of Puerto Rico : NPR

In Angélica Negrón’s music, childlike marvel meets the pull of Puerto Rico : NPR

In Angélica Negrón’s music, childlike marvel meets the pull of Puerto Rico : NPR


Composer Angélica Negrón, whose works are more and more heard in live performance halls throughout America, seems to her native Puerto Rico for inspiration.

Catalina Kulczar/Courtesy of the artist

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Catalina Kulczar/Courtesy of the artist

Composer Angélica Negrón, whose works are more and more heard in live performance halls throughout America, seems to her native Puerto Rico for inspiration.

Catalina Kulczar/Courtesy of the artist

Angélica Negrón feels the push and pull of her native Puerto Rico. The purple-coiffed 42-year-old composer left her hometown of Carolina, simply exterior San Juan, 17 years in the past and decamped to the hip Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. However whilst her work is more and more heard in live performance halls throughout America, the island retains calling her again — again to her household and mates, to the sounds of reggaeton, to the mountains, flowers and seashores, all of which circulate by way of her live performance music. It is a highly effective attraction/resistance incongruity that informs how she strikes on this planet.

Whereas Puerto Rico is fecund with pure magnificence, Negrón says it is a powerful place to stay. The island has been pummeled by hurricanes lately, damaging its electrical energy grid and triggering an 11-month blackout, the longest in U.S. historical past. Financial oppression, together with the pure disasters, could make it exhausting for individuals from there to remain — and so eager for house is a part of the tradition of the Puerto Rican diaspora. You possibly can hear it in works like Negrón’s Sinfonía Isleña, a symphonic salute to Puerto Rico’s wildlife, or the string quartet Marejada, which incorporates area recordings from Seven Seas Seaside on the island’s japanese tip.

Negrón got here late to the concept of composer-as-occupation. She was already supplying songs for the quirky indie digital band Balún and learning on the College of Puerto Rico when she fell in love with movie scores. That is when she realized writing out her musical concepts on paper was a factor, and that earlier than her lay a complete world of residing composers to admire and be taught from. At present, she’s had world premieres carried out by the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Kronos Quartet, and can debut a brand new piece at Carnegie Corridor in December.

From her dwelling in Brooklyn, along with her frivolously loud night breathing Boston terrier Midi at her facet, Negrón joined a video chat to speak about her relationship to dwelling, the challenges of a rising profession and the childlike marvel ingrained in her music.

This interview has been edited for size and readability.

Tom Huizenga: You’ve got had a string of back-to-back premieres recently, and have talked about chances are you’ll have to decelerate a bit. As an artist who is clearly in demand, how are you aware when to maintain using the wave and when to step again and acquire your self?

Angélica Negrón: I am attempting to ask myself, “Do I actually need to do that, or do I really feel like I have to do that?” What does this fee or this piece or this relationship symbolize at this second in my life? I am attempting to see all the edges of it and let go of the concern that if I say no to one thing, they are not going to come back again.

It is also realizing the worth of issues beside commissioning charges. As grateful as I’m that I get to do that for my livelihood, it can also grow to be very transactional — like, “Oh, wait, do I manage to pay for to cowl my hire this month if I say no to this?” And that is not why I am making music within the first place. So it is balancing these issues and realizing that there is a whole lot of worth that comes from saying no, taking time between initiatives, residing my life so I may be impressed to jot down issues that really feel truthful to me.

What do you do to relax out?

I like to spend time with my canine, Midi, and never have something in my palms besides petting him or enjoying with him. I’m a really sensory-driven individual, so I like his fur and his heat. I additionally like to go to stand-up comedy exhibits and drag exhibits; I believe prior to now two years I have been to extra comedy exhibits than music exhibits.

Along with your background as a member and songwriter for the indie digital band Balún, you come from a do-it-yourself ethic. With all these huge classical commissions, has that mindset shifted for you?

Within the classical world, there is a very comparable sort of hustle that goes on behind the scenes generally. I nonetheless play in Balún, and I additionally play solo exhibits. I really feel the DIY spirit is at all times with me, and what I discovered in that scene in Puerto Rico has formed the best way I method issues — from press footage to going to exhibits, supporting others, to the sense of group, to attempting to create my very own path even when there’s not an individual there that appears like me or appears like me. If I am strolling into David Geffen Corridor or Walt Disney Live performance Corridor, one of many issues that retains me grounded is that I really feel like I’ve one thing that isn’t essentially the norm in these areas. And that makes me really feel much more that I belong there, as a result of these areas should be shaken up on this method.


I heard that whenever you began within the composition division at College of Puerto Rico you had been the one girl. Later, you studied with the veteran composer Tania León, who had loads to interrupt by way of in her era. I am questioning what boundaries you are still encountering in the present day, as a girl and as a Latina.

In one in every of my first classes with Tania, she talked about that I’m a Latina, I am a girl, I am curious about uncommon devices and I am an educator. I assumed what she was saying was one thing constructive — and naturally, it was. However she actually meant for me to be very conscious of who you’re employed with and why they need to work with you. And I am so grateful she mentioned that, as a result of to at the present time, after I obtain an e mail from somebody who’s curious about collaborating, I consider these issues.

Typically it is as apparent as somebody doing a micro-aggression that may very well be associated to your gender or the place you come from or your accent. However different instances it is not that simple. It may very well be within the type of writing to me late and providing a very low charge. After which I discover that male colleagues will not be getting that remedy; they’re being contacted a 12 months forward and provided a unique charge. Typically it is so simple as somebody introducing me to a conductor and the conductor utterly ignores me. That is occurred prior to now — not within the context of being a featured composer, however simply in a collegial scenario.

There are issues we stock with us that we won’t management — the place we had been born, how we converse. And as cliché because it sounds, I consider these issues as my superpowers. So certain, go forward, underestimate me. I’ll simply do my factor. However I used to be actually naive for a very long time. I used to be taught to remain in my place, keep small, not be confrontational.

Was that one thing you absorbed, culturally, in Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is a extremely patriarchal society. Particularly after I grew up there, within the ’80s and ’90s, you sort of keep in your lane. It’s important to be well mannered. On the identical time, the mannequin I noticed was that these nice girls had been working the present — like my mom, my aunts, my grandma, actually highly effective girls who do not let individuals step on them. So, very matriarchal-run communities and households, however on the identical time, the overarching construction of the patriarchy. It is taken me a few years to unpack that, to understand that these girls had been attempting to guard me by telling me “Keep in your lane,” and on the identical time, with their actions, confirmed me one thing completely different was attainable.

This sounds just like the theme behind your current orchestral tune Arquitecta, which premiered on the Dallas Symphony with vocalist Lido Pimienta.

Sure, that piece is all about that. In truth, fairly actually, on the finish of the work, you hear their voices — my mother, my aunts. You do not hear my grandma as a result of she handed away two years in the past, and my different grandma handed away a very long time in the past, however I really feel such as you nonetheless hear them — all these girls which have been actually necessary in my life. The piece is predicated on a poem by Amanda Hernández, a Puerto Rican poet I actually admire. And as quickly as I learn it, I felt this captures so nicely how girls construct and nurture and create areas.


In Puerto Rico, you started learning violin after which modified to composition. What made you turn?

I used to be in conservatory orchestras enjoying violin, enjoying simply the classical repertoire. I did not actually know residing composers. After I did my undergraduate research, I did not see myself as a live performance violinist, so I studied movie additionally. And thru movie, I found movie music — the Bernard Herrmann and Hitchcock collaborations, Fellini and Nino Rota, and Pedro Almodóvar and Alberto Iglesias. I appreciated these composer-director relationships.

By these, I found extra trendy music, finally resulting in Bang on a Can, So Percussion and Kronos Quartet. I bear in mind discovering Kronos’ recording of Black Angels and the large rating of that piece within the conservatory library in Puerto Rico. These moments actually had been the spark to doing what I do. I used to be making ambient music on my own, and making music with Balún, however I used to be not writing music down on paper. I assumed these issues had been very separate. Then I noticed that they may very well be mixed, and that it was not only a interest.

Puerto Rico figures pretty prominently in a lot of your music in stunning and nostalgic methods. You’ve got been away from Puerto Rico for 17 years now. Are you homesick?

I’m, and I’m not. Fortunately, I commute loads. My shut household and shut mates are nonetheless there. I get homesick, and the gap and nostalgia make some issues really feel sort of magical. Properly, not magical really, however extra romanticized. And this performs into the sentimentality which is simply a part of our tradition — this eager for dwelling.

Is it the stress of that longing that gives an engine of concepts on your music?

That is undoubtedly a part of it. There’s the inherent complexity that comes whenever you’re from a spot like Puerto Rico. I lengthy to be dwelling, however after I’m dwelling the “magic” goes away. It will get existential fairly shortly. There’s undoubtedly a eager for this idealized sense of dwelling, however on the identical time, as soon as I am there, it is experiencing what my family members expertise each single day and realizing how tough it’s to remain on this extremely attractive however deeply troubled island.

I ponder if Puerto Rico can be as current in your music should you lived there full-time as a substitute of Brooklyn.

I ponder about that too. Possibly I’d be residing on a farm and never making music in any respect, or solely making music with vegetation. What I can say is that being away from dwelling, and having such a fancy relationship to the concept of dwelling as a part of the Puerto Rican diaspora, has formed a whole lot of how I transfer on this planet and the work I create.

You come from Carolina, exterior San Juan, which you name the birthplace of reggaeton, with its superstars like Unhealthy Bunny and Daddy Yankee. Do any of these beats or sounds make their method into your classical items?

Oh, sure. There’s a piece that I wrote for the Bang on a Can All-Stars referred to as Turistas that has some percussion components which are undoubtedly derived from the dembow rhythm that’s the coronary heart of reggaeton. And there is a motion from a bigger piece I wrote for So Percussion titled “Go Again,” which is about that sort of stress of the push and pull of going again to the place you had been born.

Reggaeton is now clearly a part of international pop, so it is in all places. However it’s been with us for thus lengthy, particularly in Carolina. Lots of the music that I wrote at first, after I was in Puerto Rico, was attempting to silence reggaeton, as a result of it was at all times current even whenever you did not need to hear it. However being away from dwelling, I am seeing reggaeton utterly otherwise as a result of I am not in it 24/7. It turns into a part of that pull to the island.

The final motion of your Sinfonía Isleña is titled “Flora,” which is an homage to the greenery and flowers of Puerto Rico. However you’ve got really composed music utilizing vegetation and greens as devices — artichokes, snake vegetation, radishes. How does that work?

I take advantage of a know-how referred to as OTOTO, which is just a little synthesizer that makes use of capacitive delicate know-how, the place something that conducts electrical energy can set off a sound. So after I contact one thing, my hand completes the circuit and triggers sounds I’ve mapped on my laptop. I initially bought it as a toy; it was a Kickstarter undertaking. And I used it as a software after I was an educator at a Montessori bilingual preschool — I used to be like, “It is a cool factor to make a banana right into a synthesizer.”


Given the instances we’re residing in, you could not fault any composer for writing darkish music. However in your items I hear magnificence and pleasure, blended with nostalgia. Even within the thick of the pandemic, in 2020, your piece for Kronos Quartet, Marejada, whisks us off to a Puerto Rican seaside.

I am a really constructive individual. And with regards to sounds, I am drawn to those who are inclined to translate as extra optimistic. What’s actually interesting about writing music is that sounds can seize and retain an entire world. So for me, I may hear the resonance of a stroll to my kitchen as one thing pristine — nearly like a sine wave — and actually candy and stress-free. However on the identical time, it is evoking a reminiscence of my grandma cooking, and perhaps my cousins combating within the background. This type of layered multitude of meanings and emotions coexisting is one thing I am actually drawn to.

I write my finest work after I’m enjoying, when I’m exploring, after I’m discovering. There may be this sort of childlike marvel to it. However on the identical time, I am 42, and I’ve a whole lot of life experiences that inform these decisions. My hope is that there’s lightness and joyfulness and playfulness to it, but additionally one thing else that’s prompting, questioning and welcoming. And in that stress, there’s something recent, stunning and significant, and an entry level for others to seek out issues about themselves.

Negrón accepts applause after the world premiere of Sinfonía Isleña, carried out by the Eugene Symphony on Feb. 16, 2023.

Amanda L Smith/Courtesy of the artist

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Amanda L Smith/Courtesy of the artist

Negrón accepts applause after the world premiere of Sinfonía Isleña, carried out by the Eugene Symphony on Feb. 16, 2023.

Amanda L Smith/Courtesy of the artist

Is there a specific level within the composing course of — from the little seed of an thought to the world premiere efficiency — that appeals to you most?

I really like the preliminary a part of accumulating sounds. Even when I am not writing for electronics, I like to gather sounds within the sense of gathering as brainstorming. It may very well be interviews, podcasts, movies. It may very well be phrases, work. A bit bit like hoarding in that preliminary stage of worldbuilding — like, that is the world wherein this piece exists. And oftentimes that is past sounds.

I consider every bit as nearly like a snow globe. However it does not essentially need to be snow — it may very well be sand, it may very well be cotton sweet, it may very well be grass. Setting that ambiance begins telling me the way it will really feel and sound.

What drives you to compose, to stand up every morning and do it another time?

It is a want and a need to not solely specific, but additionally to know issues that I’m not capable of perceive with phrases, and unpack them by way of sounds. After which hopefully, by way of that course of, connect with others.

You’ve got been a instructing artist with the New York Philharmonic’s Very Younger Composers program. How will we domesticate the following era of composers and get younger individuals — ladies particularly, Black and brown children particularly — curious about writing music?

By normalizing the creating of music in academic settings and in public colleges. Jon Deak, the founding father of the Very Younger Composers program, talks about how once we’re younger, we at all times play with colours and paint. That is simply one thing regular, starting in preschool. However with sound, it is vitally completely different. Usually, early experiences with sound are by way of approach and studying an instrument; there is a proper and unsuitable method of doing issues. We not often have early experiences wherein we’re simply enjoying with sounds: What does this maraca sound like mixed with the xylophone or this horn? Strive it now with out the horn, and may the horn be slower? Enjoying and exploring sounds shouldn’t be normalized in curriculum. That will be a terrific first step, as simple as music academics opening up areas for college students to have the ability to improvise and create.

Additionally, repertoire. Herald a residing composer in order that they know we’re on the market and we exist. That was big for me. And guarantee that the posters within the classroom will not be simply of useless white European males, to allow them to see composers like Caroline Shaw, Jessie Montgomery, Tania León, Meredith Monk, all of us who’re on the market now.

On a bigger scale, all the identical issues apply to programming, even in case you are a small orchestra. I’ve had my music carried out by group orchestras, and people have been a number of the most significant experiences. It is normalizing our existence and opening up areas wherein college students can have these encounters with sound. That does not imply that they will all be composers — it is simply having that have, that sense of play, of exploring, of attempting completely different colour mixtures of various devices.

Talking of creating house, have you ever sensed a shift in the previous few years when it comes to presenters and performing organizations opening up house for extra composers of colour and girls composers?

Actually, I’ve felt that shift. It is slow-moving, as at all times, proper? I hope that we open up conversations in regards to the constructions in place in order that these composers can thrive and have sustainable careers — not simply be included within the one program within the season that highlights girls or Hispanic Heritage Month. When these issues are normalized throughout the board, and we’re supported in a method that is the same as different creators that do not seem like us, that is what I am curious about. It is not solely us being there, but additionally how we’re handled as soon as we’re there.

What’s going to the music of Angélica Negrón sound like 10 or 20 years from now? What do you need it to sound like?

I’ve by no means been requested that. My hope is that my music nonetheless appears like myself. I hope that it is as cool as Tania León or Julia Wolfe or Meredith Monk. These are individuals who have a lot edge and coronary heart and which means, and figuring out all of them personally, I do know it is as a result of they’re talking fact to who they’re by way of their music. So whatever the sounds I find yourself utilizing or the devices or the mediums or any stylistic or aesthetic issues, what I can hope for is that it’s talking true to who I’m.



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