Scenes in the life of Harriet Tubman
“Listed number 1 of the Classical music of 2018: Harriet by Hilda Paredes
Layered music theatre about the American ex-slave and freedom fighter Harriet Tubman proves that 'difficult' contemporary music can appeal to a wide audience. The design is stimulating, the storytelling structure fragmented, the rustling and driving music cleverly interweaved with spirituals. Glorious Soprano Claron McFadden is at the centre in the title role”. Joep Stapel. 12_2018
“The life of Harriet Tubman, African American freedom fighter and former slave, is a gift for an opera composer. Mexican composer Hilda Paredes has managed to distil this story into a vivid, punchy chamber opera for two voices and three instruments. The UK premiere took place during the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival – a hotbed of experimentation – so this was no historical recreation with period costume. Paredes’s score, played live on violin, guitar and percussion and backed by an electronic landscape designed by Monica Gil Giraldo, remains bright and surprising over the 90 minutes. Anchoring the ‘monodrama’ is high soprano Claron McFadden, a proud figure in a severe black gown and Puritan neckerchief. It was McFadden’s suggestion to make an opera about Tubman, and Paredes has written dreamlike, stratospheric phrases for her extraordinary voice. McFadden shares the narrative with agile soprano Naomi Beeldens, combining lyrical recitative with Sprechstimme and snatches of well-known spirituals. Bringing the story into the present, newspaper headlines chart the progress of the civil rights movement and the opera ends with a hopeful image of the young Barack Obama on the screen. Unvoiced is the thought that the current president could right now be undoing all that Harriet Tubman fought for.
Shockingly relevant opera about American freedom-fighter Harriet Tubman with a bright electronic soundscape.” The Stage https://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/2018/harriet-tubman-review-huddersfield-contemporary-music-festival/
“Hilda Paredes’ vocal lines, with sudden and abrupt leaps, are unforgiving to sing and to hear. It’s difficult to say what first begins to make Harriet such an intensely involving work… The sounds filtering through the theatre – speech, music and just sounds – are insidiously involving, the three on-stage instrumentalists point the drama incisively – the always-on-the-move virtuoso percussionist in particular – and Beeldens, taking on the role of Alice, Margaret’s daughter and Harriet’s protégée, is committed, versatile and increasingly active. The music gains renewed power and relevance from the slave hymns that Harriet used to give coded messages to her passengers on the Underground Railroad. Snatches of Steal Away, haloed with circles of marimba, accompany the escaping slaves; Harriet herself is gloriously celebrated in Go Down Moses; at the very end images of the sufferings and triumphs of black America are projected over fragments of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, as they gradually reassemble into the full theme. Ultimately Harriet does ample justice to a great American hero, not least because of a central performance from McFadden that combines dignity and authority with poignant sensitivity and supremely assured command of a demanding vocal range”. https://www.thereviewshub.com/harriet-lawrence-batley-theatre-huddersfield/
“The work has only three musicians, a viola player, a guitarist and a percussionist, but also
contains an electronic component: surreal echoes, doublings and other musical phantoms
resound from the walls of the auditorium. All of this makes Harriet into a technically complex
piece that compels admiration for that reason alone.
Paredes’ music is beautiful and rich in details, and alongside subtle and rarefied textures it
contains spikier sounds and in the fourth act even martial rhythms…
"Born in Tehuacan, Puebla, Mexico in 1957 and a resident of London since 1979, Hilda Paredes is one of the most prominent Mexican composers of contemporary concert music. Her latest recording on Mode presents five chamber pieces in riveting performances.
The title work, written in memory of British composer Jonathan Harvey, is a collaboration between violinist Irvine Arditti and Ensemble Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman. Like many of Paredes’s works that include stringed instruments, Señales features a great number of glissandos, both fingered and sliding. Wind instruments supply gusting, whistling glissandos too. This technique is complemented by long sustained notes and fast angular passagework. The piece also displays deft use of percussion, including vibraphone, marimba, cimbalom, and all manner of unpitched percussion.
Páramo de voces, for piano and tape, is performed here by Alberto Rosado. Acerbically nimble sections of melodic writing are succeeded by emphatic fifths and octaves. There is some playing of the interior of the piano and the tape part adds resonance and sustained flute-like timbres to the proceedings. The Pierrot plus percussion piece Homenaje a Remedios Varo, premiered by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble but played here by ensemble recherché, is cast in five short movements, almost like character pieces. The opening has a Feldman-esque sensibility about it: pianissimo and slow, with ambling placement of intervals. Elsewhere, the piece is populated by whirling motion and trills, harmonics, and Paredes’s ever present glissandos. There is a gradual buildup to a piano cadenza, followed by an exuberant finale filled with fast passages for each ensemble member in turn.
Adrián Sandi performs the solo bass clarinet piece Intermezzo malinconcio with precision and energy. Percussive single note punctuations, repeated passages, pitch bends, and angular lines demonstrate this as a composition that distills the essence of many of Paredes’s gestural interests. Some nice microtonal inflections too. ensemble recherché returns for the disc’s final work, Recuerdos del Porvenir. The group asked Paredes to use a particular plainchant, “Gloria Tibi Trinitas,” upon which to base the composition. The chant moves from the surface in melodic presentations to eventually be subsumed into the piece’s background. Recuerdos del Porvenir is remarkable in its composer’s imaginative use of this economic motive, deriving a great deal from the chant yet retaining the highly gestural and chromatic environment of her style. This recording is an engaging portrait of a fascinating composer." Sequenza 21
"These five pieces by the Mexican born, British-based Hilda Paredes range across three decades. The earliest is Homenaje a Remedios Varo, five beautifully tinted yet rather introspective miniatures from 1996, composed for the Pierrot Lunaire ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, with the addition of percussion, and inspired by the work of the surrealist painter Varo, who was born in Spain but did most of her mature work in Mexico. Señales (Signals) for violin and ensemble (2012) is a tribute too – it bears the subtitle Homenaje a Jonathan Harvey, the British composer who died in 2012 – but is effectively a single-movement violin concerto written for Paredes’ husband Irvine Arditti, in which the violin’s gestures trigger the succession of wonderfully imagined textures that Paredes draws from.
Recuerdos del Provenir is also an ensemble piece, Paredes’ 2006 response to Ensemble Recherche’s invitation to a number of composers to write a piece based upon the Gloria Tibi Trinitas plainchant, while her vivid aural imagination is equally engaged in Páramo de Voces (Wasteland of Voices) in which the sounds of a solo piano (Alberto Rosado) are juxtaposed with recordings of electronic generated sounds and music from the south of Mexico, “Music that for me”, Paredes says, “Has a never-ending sorrow such as is instilled in so many of the country’s forgotten places.” The Guardian
"It would hardly be thoughtful not to invite Arditti’s wife to the party and Hilda Paredes’s second quartet, Cuerdas del destino, proved to be the most immediately appealing work of the evening. Formally, it is structured with intricacy, using a small number of striking motifs, but it also works as pure sound – like an Amazon rainforest, with buzzing insects, fluttering wings, and multitudinous drops of rain in a tropical storm (not at all, it has to be said, Paredes’s own description)."
"Hilda Paredes’s Cuerdas del destino (2007-8) also received its British premiere.
From the éclat of its opening pizzicati, via an array of expressive devices such as glissando tremolo and harmonics, and a succession of contrasting types of musical material, this made for a vivid, at times almost, though only almost, pictorial journey. There is a palpable sense of drama to the work – as there was to the quartet’s committed performance. The concluding section seemed both old – recognisable material from what had gone before – and new, that material being employed in different ways. It registered almost as a translation of a cyclical symphonic principle to the world of the contemporary string quartet: not entirely unlike the Arditti Quartet’s very raison d’être."
La tierra de la miel:
"Musically, the first and fourth acts were the most striking. Vásquez’s interweaving of folk-like melodies in the opening scene, “Azucena,” was both impressively complex and immediately appealing, while, in the fourth scene (“Vileta”), composer Paredes made convincing use of non-traditional timbres and instrumental techniques."
“Hilda Paredes provides sorrowful music here that is almost too much. She, like the other composers, is a substantial Modernist; her style is complex and difficult. But she knows how to drain substance away too, leaving meaningful emptiness. Narucki, commandingly theatrical throughout, succumbed in the end to the full weight of tragedy."
Link to LA Times review
Link to UT San Diego review
"What the music of the Maya’s sounded like, nobody knows anymore. But the Mexican composer Hilda Paredes searches for answers in each recorded thought, in each numerological symbolism, and thus in the roots of her own culture”
WIESBADENER KURIER. Germany. (2001)
“Its rhythmic vitality seduced an audience that was previously sceptical to any proposal by this Latin woman… the reaction was shocking, but with a telluric presence, like our volcanoes.”
REFORMA. Lázaro Azar. Mexico/Canada (2001)
“…nothing to match the refinement of seamless, Mayan influenced “concerto for ensemble” Ah Paaxo’ob by the Mexican Hilda Paredes” Paul Driver, SUNDAY TIMES.London (2002)
“Watching the world premier of Hilda Paredes’ chamber opera Phantom Palace, I had the sort of out-of body experience where you say to yourself “This can’t be happening in New Haven”. I simply couldn’t come to terms with the realization that I was seeing topflight European modern opera, performed by a major international company premiering a ceaselessly provocative, unexpectedly comic and altogether amazing work…just a few blocks from my home. This is the kind of thing you feel you can only travel huge distances to see. But there it is: New Haven should be talking about Phantom Palace-in a number of languages- for years to come”.
NEW HAVEN ADVOCATE. USA (2003)
“Social activism finds voice in opera.
Ghosts visited the stage of Yale University Theatre this month, native ghosts from distant past of an unnamed Latin American country ruled by a brutal dictator….
In setting the story, Paredes evidently sought to draw on the musical qualities of the languages used to tell it, sometimes employing electronic means to manipulate her sound material (the spirit voices are made to come from different parts of the theatre), and sometimes using leitmotif textures (rather than themes) to evoke dramatic situations.
As her tale is one of pain, she has produce music of pain, full of angularity, pointillism and dissonances, often pervaded by an aura of tension and mystery.”
TORONTO STAR.Canada/USA (2003)
“I cannot resist praising the Homenaje a Remedios Varo by Hilda Paredes as outstanding, not to mention it’s acute and clear formal construction, with nothing less than a sweeping and impressive finale.”
Mundo Clásico. Spain. (2004)
“Amongst the jewels of the programme was the emotive and well crafted Homenaje a Remedios Varo, written in 1995 by the ascending Mexican composer Hilda Paredes.”
El Mundo. Spain. (2004)
“The pieces on this disc were written over a three-year period, from the 1998 string quartet Uy U Tan through the settings of Mayan spells and incantations in Can Silim Tun (1999), to the piano quintet Cotidales and the ambitious ensemble piece Ah Paaxo'ob from 2001. All show that Paredes is a composer with a fresh aural imagination, while her Carter-like use of instrumentalists as dramatic protagonists gives her music an extra dimension. Superbly played, it's music worth investigating.” The Guardian (2005)
“Her piece, "Uy u'tan", which means, "listen to their language" is the most striking on this disc. Each of the four strings has a different personality and they work together in strange ways, in odd combinations, coming together when you least expect it. This fine work makes me want to check out the other discs by Ms. Paredes” (2006) (Mode Cd 165)
“From the composer Hilda Paredes, ONIX performed Corazón de ónix, conducted by José Luis Castillo. This is a complex and ambitious piece, well written and with atmospheric and colouristic qualities. It also has solid treatment of different sound production of the instruments. These timbric qualities are enhanced by Paredes with the use of the bass and alto flute as well as bass clarinet. Corazón de ónix is marked by an interesting expressivity and by very attractive harmonic instability, which is enhanced by the use of micro-intervals and glissandi. All these elements merge in numerous moments of an evocative poetic sonority that is at the same time intense and concentrated”. La Jornada, Mexico. Juan Arturo Brennan. 2006
“Paredes, born in Mexico but long resident in London, should be better known. All four works are finely written and full of life. The title of her string quartet, Uy U T’an — in ancient Mayan — means Listen How They Talk, and Paredes takes the idea of “discourse” literally. The idea dates back to Haydn’s quartets, but she gives it an Arditti-ish twist, and the work has a superb dramatic sweep. The Ardittis are joined by the pianist Ian Pace for Cotidales and by Neue Vokalsolisten Stuttgart for the magic-spell evocation of Can Silim Tun. Ah Paaxo’ob (Those Who Play the Music) is a colourfully detailed ensemble piece.” Three stars. The Sunday Times (2005)
“Paredes has often been included as part of a new generation of Mexican composers eschewing any division between northern and southern hemispheric musical cultures, focusing on the often tension-filled relations between them. And while it would not be inaccurate to compare Paredes’ chamber works to those of Ligeti, Xenakis, or Tristan Murail, it is her attention to the relationship between communication and miscommunication, conversation and noise, that sets her work apart. In thinking about Paredes’ chamber works, we can borrow a phrase from the philosopher Michel Serres, "the miracle of harmony." Reviewed by Eugene Thacker
School of Literature, Communication & Culture
Georgia Institute of Technology
“Besides his usual conducting duties, Burns showed to be a meltingly smooth trumpeter and flugelhorn player in Hilda Paredes "Ooxp eel ik'il t'aan," a 2007 work for percussion and electronics where Mayan poetry is read by author Briceida Cuevas (heard via a recording) to invoke ancient mysticism. This fusion of indigenous and modern American modes of expression bridged the millennia both convincingly and imaginatively.” Chicago Sun-Times May 21, 2010 BY BRYANT MANNING
“Such emotional depth could be found in the comparatively spare, even sepulchral textures of Hilda Paredes' Canciones Lunáticas. These were three 'lunatic' songs set around a contemplation of the moon's solitary witness for a dark night, moving through a wild second song of lunacy, before emerging in celebration of the moon dancing 'by herself in the meadow' (this last set to a spectrally buoyant version of the Mexican ternary-binarydance, the huapango). The musical language of the setting was narratively alert, sometimes pictorial, sometimes obtuse, but always sensitive, agitated, and energised.” MusicalCriticism.com (2011)