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About this Piece

Composed: 2008
Length: c. 25 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (glockenspiel, bass drum, suspended cymbals, bongos, metal wind chimes, rainstick, claves, tam-tams, vibraslap, guiro, maracas, grelots, bamboo wind chimes, mark tree, wood blocks, water gong, slapstick, marimba, tom-toms, vibraphone, and congas), piano (= celesta), harp, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (U.S. premiere)

Written in 2008 and commissioned by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and the International Music Festival of the Canary Islands, Rituales Amerindios is dedicated to Gustavo Dudamel, which motivated me to write something that would represent the three great pre-Columbian Latin-American cultures: the Aztec (in Mexico), Maya (in southern Mexico and Central America), and Inca (mostly in Peru).

The composer does not pretend to do ethnomusicology in this work, but to take roots, rhythms, and mythology as inspiration to develop his own musical language in a kind of imaginary folklore. This work was completed with the support of the John Guggenheim Fellowship for Music, premiered January 13, 2010, in Gothenburg, and performed again during the XXVI International Music Festival of the Canary Islands (Spain).

I – Ehécatl (Aztec wind god)

In Aztec mythology and other cultures in Central America, Ehécatl was the god of the wind. Usually he is interpreted as a manifestation of Quetzalcoatl, the sacred feathered serpent, with the name of Ehécatl-Quetzalcoatl, appearing in the breathing of living beings and in the breeze that brings clouds with rain for the farmlands. He is one of the principal gods of the Aztec cosmogony and a hero in myths about the creation of the world. Sometimes he is associated with the four cardinal directions, since the wind comes and goes in all directions.

The music begins with a fanfare that seems to augur the arrival of Ehécatl, with wind that blows faster and more violent every time, arriving at a calmer B part. For a moment that makes us think we are in the eye of a tropical storm, but later, little by little, the winds become more intense. With a distant quotation of Ehécatl’s fanfare, the storm finally dissolves and Ehécatl disappears. This movement is conceived as the passage of a hurricane, which is compatible with the musical form ABA, even if the repetition of the A part is not literal but in spirit.

It is not programmatic music. The composer looks for the ethereal essence and multiform quality of the wind, benefactor or destroyer, using an orchestral palette that takes sonorities from the most diverse systems without being tied to any one in particular, such as tonal, atonal, pentatonic, minimalist, and spectral procedures, as well as multiphonics (in the woodwinds) and sounds from electronic music.

II – Chaac (Mayan water god)

Chaac was the god of rain, and also of fertility. He was a universal god of great relevance, the symbol of creative energy, so we always find Chaac in relation to the importance of learning to channel our creative energies wisely.

We should understand the Mayan symbology: If water is the symbol of life on the planet, water is also the life-giving energy inside each human being. Not a single god, Chaac was also considered to be divided into four equal entities, representing North, South, East, and West.

The water god, with his fecund energy, appears at the beginning of the movement as a water drop, until becoming in the central part a powerful tide, which contains Ehécatl’s fanfare. The musical technique that is the basis for this movement is that of clusters, which provides a foundation for little melodic motifs or the rhythms of an imaginary Mayan folklore, within a mysterious atmosphere submerged in the sounds of a tropical jungle.

III – Illapa (Incan thunder god)

Symbolized by the serpent, Illapa was the god of the weather, and one of the most popular among the gods. His name means lightning and thunder. It was believed that he brought rain from the Milky Way, with water kept in a pitcher.

This movement starts with the rhythm of a baguala (song of prayer or protest), which, along with motifs of an imaginary Incan folklore, appears like an invocation to the thunder god, so that he would bring the rain that always accompanies him. After that comes a sort of Scherzo-Carnavalito (the rhythm of a joyful dance called “Little Carnival”), with effects that recall the sounds of electronic music as translated into the symphony orchestra, ending with a frantic “rain dance” of great rhythmical power.

— Esteban Benzecry