Juan Maria Solare

Composer and pianist




Pianist & composer Juan María Solare (Buenos Aires, 1966), an Argentine living in Germany, is one of those musicians that open scarcely travelled paths. The singularity of his music stems from the confluence between tango argentino and contemporary classical, "post-tonal" music (Astor Piazzolla and Karlheinz Stockhausen are his musical grandfathers, so to say). Solare unifies in his person -and his aesthetic- diverse tensions: contemporary music and tango argentino, South and North, composition and performance... The stylistic elements of his musical Oeuvre include a tendency to aphoristic, a quote of unbribable melancholy, a dose of irony and humor, and an aspiration towards sublimity. "Art music and light music are not irreconcilable extremes, but poles in a force field", says Solare about his "musical bilingualism". These tensions don't lead to an arbitrary eclecticism, but to a balanced equilibration among music styles that use to be separated in an almost aseptic way. In Solare's Work, these differences can -may- coexist without contradictions.

After his diplomas in piano, composition and conducting at the Conservatorio Nacional in Buenos Aires, he undertook postgraduate studies with Fritsch, Barlow, Humpert and Kagel (in Cologne) and Lachenmann (in Stuttgart). He was musically influenced by the avant garde classical (Stockhausen, Lachenmann and Kagel - his former teachers) - as well as disparate composers/performers by Liszt, Satie, Scriabin, Piazzolla and The Beatles.

Twenty CDs by different performers include at least one piece by Solare. His music has been performed in five continents (Antarctica still missing): from Japan to New York, from Australia to Greece.

As a soloist or in different ensembles, Solare has given over 400 concerts in Argentina, in Germany (Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Bonn, Hannover, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Munich, Berlin) and in the rest of Europe (Amsterdam, Geneva, Seville, Madrid, Granada, Oviedo, Copenhagen, London, Graz, Istanbul). He also toured Texas (USA) in 2013.

Currently he teaches Tango Music at the University of Bremen (where he conducts the Orquesta No Típica) and Composition and Arrangement at the Hochschule für Künste in Bremen. He also conducts the orchestra of the Bremer Orchestergemeinschaft.

"A full-blooded musician." (Hans-Joachim Brandt, Wümme Zeitung, Lilienthal) "He is integer, tolerant, very friendly: a very rare spirit." (Karlheinz Stockhausen) "Open, completely unacademic and really original, and by no means superficial; moreover a subtle human being." (Helmut Lachenmann)



What does music mean to you personally?

Music means energy. Psychic energy. And exactly as energy in the physical world, musical energy can have several aspects and qualities. Consolation is one of those energies. Empathy is another form of energy, which happens when we believe that music understands how we are feeling. There are also other usual forms of psychic energy, such as enthusiasm or vitality (or their counterparts, from sadness to calmness). And you can also think of beauty as a form of energy. Finally, astonishment is a source of energy and movement that can lead to both music and philosophy.

As you notice, here I am talking rather about the perception of music, not about music itself as a organization of sounds.

These descriptions are valid for listening music. As for performing music, there is also another dimension: the transmission of energy. Conveying or channeling different forms of energy. I understood this aspect quite early, when, after giving a concert in Buenos Aires, a man in his fifties approached me visibly moved and confessed me that listening me playing gave him back his will to live.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

I don't personally like the word fantasy, I prefer to say imagination, since the word fantasy has sometimes a taste of unreality that I tend to avoid, while imagination is a very real force, including both flying-in-the-ether and also down-to-earth forces. Imagination opens a world that doesn't exclude fantasy and invention, but that also encompasses other possibilities (as when one uses imagination to solve any everyday-life issue). In German you have a great word for that: Vorstellungskraft: the power (or... energy) to create in ourselves an inner picture of something.

Having said that, fantasy and imagination have an important characteristic in common: the idea of creating a new world out of thin air, of originating something where there is nothing. This can be an artistic world, pictorial, literary or a sound world, but also of course a scientific model, a chess game or a solution for an unforeseen engineering problem (remember the mission Apollo 13).

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

An amateur musician. But now seriously: is difficult to say. I felt and feel attracted to Chemistry, Architecture, Photography, Story Telling (writing fiction), newly also to Sound Engineering (Recording Technique, Mastering). But who knows, maybe I would have become a businessman. In a way, any professional independent musician nowadays is all of that: we must have some recording skills, a feeling for music promotion, instinct for business, and we must even know how to do a decent artwork for our albums (not to speak about producing good, competitive, visually attractive music videos).

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future?

The truth is that I am also getting older and that worries me much more. As for the audience: I don't actually fear that listeners will disappear. Worst scenario: classical music becomes a relic, something like today's Gregorian Chant: a music which is not completely dead, but rather for a very specialized audience. It doesn't worry me too much. We artists should adapt to new ways of understanding how people listen, and re-think the “market”. Concretely: a lot of persons now do not search for instance “piano music” or “classical music” or “music in F major” but “music for this or that” (music for relaxation, for cooking, for yoga, for learning, for folding laundry, for running, for any moment), regardless of the music's genre. And they happen to be exactly the same pieces (say, classical music for piano in F major).

In a way, it sounds humiliating that an artist thinks “my music will be used as a sleeping pill”. Automatically we remember the Goldberg Variations, that (assuming the story is true) Bach composed to treat the insomnia of Count Keyserling. Whatever triggered that commission, the music is here, and we can listen to it also in a traditional concert situation.

Possibly, new generations will not use technical terms to describe music by its genre, they will use other terms. But we will have an audience. Perhaps an unexpected audience, therefore we have to be alert to recognize it. Is not my ideal audience? Maybe yes, maybe not. But is my current audience my ideal audience? How would my ideal audience look like? My former teacher Helmut Lachenmann described his ideal audience as composed by hundreds of “Lachenmännchen” (little clones of himself). I am not sure that this is my ideal (i.e. thousands of "Solaritos"). That would be a quite critical audience.

What do you envision the role of music to be in the 21st century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

I don't believe (but God knows better) that there will be a radical transformation of the roles of music (in plural), but rather in the ways people relate to music. For instance: it can happen that the traditional concert situation loses its primacy and that also other ways of celebrating music arise. Such as a flashmob concert. Several world-class orchestras are doing surprise concerts. Also Paul McCartney performs surprise appearances on an irregular basis. So you see that even the oldest generation of musicians is still finding new approaches to connect with their listeners.

There is also an increasing amount of live internet concerts. There are online platforms devoted exclusively to such virtual recitals. All these forms -and new to come- will not replace, but rather complement the current music rituals.

A few decades ago it was unusual to see someone listening to music with headphones in a train. Technology wasn't ready for that. And 100 years ago was unthinkable to listen to the music you wanted: you had to wait that a radio plays it. And 150 years ago was impossible to listen to music other than live. Did radio, LP or internet replace the concerts? No! They complemented it.

Do you think that the musician today needs to be more creative?

More creative than before? No, because I consider that a high creativity was also needed in the times of Mozart or Scriabin. What differs, in part, is that musicians today are expected to play also other roles we are not trained for. I think of the whole world of music promotion. And also of the recording techniques, and the sound analysis: seeing on a screen the waves of the sounds you are playing or singing. I think this should be a must in the music education at all levels: you would understand sound -your sound- much better.

Several colleagues complain to me that they are not technically fit for those areas. I believe them. But I also believe that some colleagues are even happy of being ignorant of those aspects. To my ears, it is like complaining of being analphabet. One is not joyous of being analphabet: one does something about it. On the other side, not all conservatories, universities or Hochschulen include in the curriculum something even close to "music promotion". The result is that some students have huge problems even for something as simple as writing a Bio.

What is the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

Creativity is a key word in my world. In short: try to achieve a state of permanent inspiration and creativity, and solutions will come to you. Solutions? To which problems? Well, composing is solving problems that we pose to ourselves. We invent the problem and we solve it. Therefore, half of the task is asking the correct questions to the music we are composing: how do you want to be? Then we listen the answers and transcribe them into music notation. Composing is thus a kind of dictation, albeit not from outside but from inside. In each step of this transcription, you need both technique and creativity. A bombproof technique and an intuition with strong wings.

Orchestration is a good example: a highly imaginative instrumentation that doesn't adapt to reality (both of the instruments and of the performers) is useless; a technically perfect but absolutely predictable instrumentation is boring - is inhumanly perfect.

However, this point of view (achieving a state of permanent inspiration) can be easily criticized. Some could argue that you need both inspiration and expiration.

Do you think we as musicians can do something to attract the younger generation to music concerts? How would you do this?

Yes, we can, up to a point. However, there are other professionals that learned those skills systematically and they will do it better. One has to think as a concert organiser and a business man, which is possible of course, but sometimes not consonant with the other skills you need as a musician, for instance practicing, or pondering about the resonance of organised sound in the human soul. In other words, there is a limit for everything and for everyone, and I am already very close to my limits. Going beyond my limits would be risky for my emotional balance: when I can choose between composing anything and making press for an upcoming concert, the decision is clear. In other words: a single person can seldom solve all problems of their profession. That's why teams exist.

Tell us about your creative process. What is your favorite piece (written by you) and how did you start working on it?

How does one discover one's favorite piece? Maybe those pieces that I would love to have performed in my burial. Nómade, Trenodia, Mote of Dust Suspended in a Sunbeam... However, all the pieces of any composer are parts of a puzzle, and all are necessary, even the unspectacular ones. Jorge Luis Borges puts an impressive example. In the Epilog of El Hacedor he describes a man who wants to picture the world. Along the years, he draws all kinds of things. Shortly before dying he discovers that this labyrinth of lines shapes the picture of his own face.

I can think of several pieces as my "favorite". However my personal preferences are or should be irrelevant for others. They could be even misguiding. In any case, all of my favorite own pieces have something in common: strong autobiographical roots. I discovered that when music is related to you deeply and comes from your history, from your sincerity with yourself, it also has an unstoppable communicative strength.

About the very first intuition of a piece (the German "Einfall" is perfect to describe this sudden ideas): often, short musical ideas come to me in unexpected situations (shower, waiting for the bus, shortly before awaking, or in those seconds between ringing the bell and getting the door opened). Usually they are very simple ideas. Therefore, the temptation is very large to consider them unimportant and forget them. This is a huge mistake, for several reasons. First, your Muse (intuition) gets used to the message "they are not listening to me, they don't take me seriously, I'm not coming back". And second: those ideas are usable! Simplicity is not a defect. Those sudden ideas are just underdeveloped, what did you expect? A whole string quartet revealed in a minute? I am sure that most people (also non-musicians) have excellent musical ideas at some point, the only difference is that composers can (a) recognize their value without filter, (b) remember them (or writing them down immediately), and (c) have the technique to develop them.

By the way, the original sudden intuition ("Einfall") must not necessarily be found at the beginning of the piece! Sometimes is placed later (because it needs some preparation) and sometimes is not kept in the final piece at all - because it fulfilled its function of generating everything and retired.

As for the working process: of course there are differences and particular cases, but usually everything starts with a small conception, a generative idea. It can be a melody, a motif but also a rhythm, a textural idea, a harmonic progression, a particular combination of instruments or even an abstract, "empty" formal structure. Second stage: I try to generalize this generative idea, so that it becomes a particular case of a whole, thus placing that initial idea in a broader context. Here I usually discover or decide the overall form of the whole piece, without details. The third stage links the smallest dimension (that generative idea) with the largest dimension (the global form of the whole piece). This third stage of composing is like a spaceflight in which you are approaching a new constellation. First you see a general shape. When you get closer to that constellation, you begin to see the single stars, eventually planets around those stars, later also moons around those planets. You also notice that distances are different than seen before. In this stage you work up to the details, in several steps.

At several points in this process, I print the sketches, put them on the piano and play. And I make corrections and precision. It is not barely correcting mistakes, it is defining better what belongs to the piece and what not - and how. It is understanding what I actually want for this piece. Sound can be very inspiring! Some of my teachers were against this idea of composing at the piano, they said that you thus risk discovering things by chance, not by artistic necessity. I say: whatever makes you discover something is welcomed. Besides: one filters those random results and keeps those that fit into the plan. In an extreme case you can even change the initial plan. The ability of making happy chance findings is called serendipity. And serendipity is an inspiration source.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

You mean to discover classical music as listeners, I assume. My advice is: proceed with hedonism. Listen to everything: music in different styles, from different eras, countries, social classes (yes, there is music targeted to different classes). But listen with pleasure, not by obligation. And don't say too early "I hate this music/composer/style/genre". Time proves that personal taste evolves. If not, we would listen only baby lullabies during our whole life.

Do you think about the audience when composing?

Yes. But not only. The audience is one parameter of sound. But only one. It is like asking whether I think about the note C sharp when composing. Well, that note is part of the available palette, it is therefore always in the background and sometimes in the foreground; and sometimes is irrelevant, for instance when you are defining dynamics in detail. The same happens with the audience. At some point, it becomes part of the composition process.

Now I will re-formulate the question to make my point clearer. Do I think about perception of sound structures when composing? This is a doubtless yes. If I compose anything, I want things to be clearly heard, which also means hierarchically heard: what is important should be heard as such, and the accompaniment shouldn't take more room than the main elements.

I also think about the audience (about the listeners, about the perception of sound) when I consider timing. Timing, in my opinion, is the main shaping force in music. Timing means developing an instinct that recognizes when something has to change, or be repeated, or varied (i.e. stated again from another perspective). The feeling of timing also indicates us if there was enough time to understand and "digest" what has been played. Understanding timing is also crucial in theater and cinema. In short, timing is about dosage of information - and of energy.

However I cannot foresee all possible reactions of the audience. Maybe others can, but I cannot control that. That might be even misguiding. Perhaps it works for certain kinds of music necessarily full of cliches (say, film music) but as soon as you try to do something closer to art music, you cannot massively predict or control (manipulate) the reactions of the people.

Besides, if you give the listeners exactly what they are expecting, you are actually deceiving them, because audiences want to be surprised.

There is one possible exception to this: composing an opera and in general for very large forces (a huge symphony for instance). Staging an opera implies unimaginable costs. A composer can not risk a fiasco, i.e. you better try to consider the audience and its reactions in terms of acceptance.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

Projects are enough, time is scarce. The problem with death is not what can happen after, but all that will be left unfinished. And I would like to leave only a few things unfinished, or rather none. Which is virtually impossible since I am constantly imagining worlds, compositions, album releases... Back to your question: for my near future my plan includes - recording and releasing lots of my previous music on Spotify and all available platforms and stores (there are recordings already scheduled until end of this year [2018]). - being much more selective with the concerts I play (there are concerts already confirmed in Denmark, Istanbul and Germany up to mid-2019) - trying to get my music placed in film and television - a difficult world in itself.

And yes, I experiment with my projects in the sense of giving a try to things that I have never done. We keep alive and fresh by doing things that we never did before.

Juan María Solare