Interview with Composer/Guitarist Javier Farias: Practical Aspects of Classical-Guitar Composition, Part IV
For my article on practical matters of composition for classical guitar (Classical Guitar, Summer 2017), I interviewed three acclaimed composers and a publisher of classical guitar music. This series of posts publishes the full interviews. The first extended interview is with Stephen Goss, based in the UK, one of the most renowned composers for the contemporary classical guitar. The second interview is with Jürg Kindle, one of the most prominent contemporary pedagogical composers for the classical guitar. This third interview is with Chilean composer and guitarist Javier Farias.
Composer and guitarist Javier Farias, has been recipient of the New Music USA award, Maryland State Arts Council Individual Award, Chilean Council of Culture and the Arts, and the Fromm Music Foundation Commission from Harvard University. He is the winner of the Andres Segovia and Michele Pittaluga composition contests, and a 2014 recipient by Fromm Music Foundation from Harvard University. Originally from Chile, Farias is currently based in the Washington, DC, area.
What is the role of commissions in your composition trajectory and process?
Winning some composition prizes in Europe led to my first commissions, starting in 2004, for composing for guitar solo as well as for guitar ensemble and guitar with chamber orchestra. Relocating to the US, however, has allowed me to find more opportunities, since here there is a great interest from both institutions and individuals to get involved commissioning new music. In my case, recent commissions include the Fromm Music Foundation, Meet the composer (New Music USA), San Francisco Conservatory Guitar Ensemble, Carnegie Hall, and Apollo Chamber Players.
The challenge that I see is that, to get commissions, there must exist a close relationship and collaboration between the performer and the composer. Unfortunately, though, the guitar has not been fully embraced within the contemporary music world. This is probably because most performers are not interested in performing new music. It’s unfortunate, but if one part of the ecosystem doesn’t push with the necessary effort, commissions just won’t work. In my case, when I get a commission, most of the time it is for writing music for guitar in combination with other instruments: choir, string quartets, orchestras, etc.
What are some of the most important things you’ve learned in working with artists or foundations that have commissioned you to write for them?
When you get a commission, the stakeholder who is paying for it already knows plenty about the kind of music you compose, so there are generally few limitations imposed regarding a certain style. This is one of the most motivating factors behind all this. Basically, you must specify ahead of time the instrumentation and the length of the work.
Describe some of the best practices or tips you’ve learned in collaborating with performers of your work, particularly for world premier performances or recordings?
For world premiere performances or recordings, a practical tip is to use today’s technologies: sending the musicians some midis of the new work, for example, always proves helpful. It’s something that some musicians may not need or prefer, but in my experience this helps to give the performers more confidence in performing new music.
What are things to keep in mind in working with publishers?
Don’t have great economical expectations: you are probably not going to much in terms of royalties, unless you are a very successful composer or if you are publishing more pedagogical materials. Still, having your music published is a good strategy to help your music better known.
What are some of the things that have worked in making your compositions more widely known (i.e. personal website, marketing, etc.).
A decent (and if possible attractive and well-designed) website is the basis of all this for me.
What is the most important piece of practical advice you would give an aspiring guitar composer?
The way I was trained for the most part as a composer did not involve getting into academia. I spent countless hours analyzing any score that was in my hand (any kind of music, different instrumentation, etc.). And although I used to analyze music written for different kind of instruments, one of the pieces that most inspired me was “Music of memory,” by Nicholas Maw. It’s very ironic for me that I had to get into a piece for guitar composed by someone who doesn’t play the guitar that completely opened my mind about ways use unfamiliar techniques and completely unthought-of possibilities for the guitar.
One good piece of advice is to try to compose music for guitar using the piano. This opens your mind to new possibilities. The guitar is a somewhat harmonically-limited instrument, and not only that: there are some archetypes produced by the postures of the instruments that incite you to recreate the typical chord progressions that have been used endlessly.
Finally, listen to a lot of music for solo piano, to analyze new textures and structural possibilities, considering the vast repertoire that exists for that instrument.
What kind of economic return can a composer expect for his/her work? Is the biggest return in royalties from sheet music sales, recording licenses, performance royalties, grants, commissions, film/tv placements, or other?
In my case, this comes primarily as grants and commissions.