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A Musical Odyssey: An Argentine GSAS Student's Composition Premieres in France

Marcelo Toledo

On Dec. 19, when most Columbia students were completing final exams and heading home for the holiday break, Marcelo Toledo (GSAS '04) was at the Pompidou Center in Paris, where one of Europe's foremost new-music groups will perform his dissertation piece, a composition for chamber orchestra, at its world premiere.

In 2000, while Toledo was working on his dissertation, a large orchestral piece planned for a symphonic orchestra of more than 100 musicians, he applied to a competition organized by the Institute of Research and Coordination in Acoustics - Music (IRCAM) and the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris, both founded by French composer Pierre Boulez. Toledo's work was selected from more than 500 entries.

"The competition is highly competitive and is a great opportunity to have a new composition performed in France by one of the most important contemporary music ensembles," Toledo said.

The Ensemble Intercontemporain's virtuoso players work together with IRCAM, a unique cultural and educational institution devoted to the expansion of technology and music through a close collaboration between researchers and composers.

A graduate music composition student from Argentina, Toledo titled the piece "Para el encuentro en los abismos" after a line from a poem by the Argentine poet Juan L. Ortiz. "I consider Ortiz the poet of the ethereal, of the almost imperceptible -- a poet who explored like no one else the transitory, yet eternal aspect of things," he said.

Describing his musical style, Toledo said that it is "an exploration/journey into a world of complex sounds and noises produced on selected traditional instruments -- a river of several layers of sounds, each one with its own speed, process, texture and density that generates a more complex matter in permanent transformation.

"What is unusual about this composition," he continued, "is the almost complete absence of definite pitch as we know it in traditional music. In fact a number of my recent compositions have been engendered by the assumption that in order to create a coherent, expressive and well-structured piece of music, it is not essential to work with pitch-oriented sounds."

It took Toledo six months to create the work, which is crafted for 24 musicians. He dedicated the composition to his wife, Laura, and the world premiere to the memory of Edward Said, described by Toledo as a "vital, indispensable mind and spirit in a time of cruelty, chaos and nonsense."

While few Columbians had the chance to attend the performance, School of the Arts Dean Bruce W. Ferguson will curate a show of Toledo's score, which will line the gallery walls and will feature his original written musical notations and drawings as well as recorded music from the world premiere by Ensemble Intercontemporain. The show, "Sound Object", will be in the Neiman Center for Print Studies in Dodge Hall from January 22 through February 13.

Published: Dec 22, 2003
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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