School of Arts and Cultures

Staff Profiles

Professor Agustín Fernández

Professor of Composition

Background

Introduction

I am a composer, interested in writing instrumental and vocal music. A spell composing electroacoustic music in the 1980s was brief, but influential on the rest of my work.

Among my pursuits I could mention an interest in 'harmonicity', the quality of generating a sense of propulsion through harmonic movement within a post-tonal framework. Rhythmic persistence is a challenge I relish, insofar as it enables us to reexamine music's connection to dance and, more widely, to corporeality. For music to be rhythmically alive, in my personal experience, we need not rhythmic complexity, but a searching engagement with that corporeality. Texture is of great interest too, and I aspire to build on the legacy of Xenakis, Ligeti and Niculescu.

In my work I celebrate the past - understood as the European classical tradition and also the vernacular traditions of the places to which I have been exposed. I derive much inspiration from my contact with my native Bolivia and with Romania, in particular with its music and the composers, musicologists and performers in Cluj-Napoca and Bucharest. My three years in Japan were influential too, as is my prolongued residence in Northumberland.

I am Convenor of the interdisciplinary Eastern European and Russian Research Group (EERRG), which aims to bring together academics from various areas in the arts and humanities for interactions and exchanges such as conferences, symposia and other events. 

Another interest is the promotion and strengthening of music-making in rural Northumberland. In this regard I have led the music strand of the AHRC-funded project Northumbrian Exchanges, supporting and instigating projects with partners such as BAAFest, Alwinton Church Summer Concerts, Northumberland National Park, Morpeth Gathering and Tarset Village Hall, the last-named leading to the creation of Tarset Ceilidh Band.

I maintain strong links with Latin America and I am keenly interested in the youth orchestra movement there, particularly in its non-El Sistema forms in Bolivia and its neighbours. 

Research interests

Composition, contemporary music, Romanian music, Eastern European music, Latin American music, music and landscape, music and the environment.

Background

To begin with some recent dissemination news, Harmonia Mundi have just released a CD recorded by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra including my Una música escondida (Hidden Music). My Souvenir de Teoponte for double bass and piano was performed at Lincoln Center (New York) on 24 January 2017 as part of the Focus Festival. And Notes from Underground was revived by Royal Northern Sinfonia and Voices of Hope at Sage Gateshead on 10 May 2017. Profil Quartet performed String Quartet No. 2, 'Sin tiempo' on 28 May at the SIMN Festival 2017, Bucharest. Momenta Quartet played the same piece in October in New York and Philadelphia.  

I obtained my PhD at City University, specialising in Composition. Before that, I completed an MMus at The University of Liverpool and a Licentiate’s degree at the Bolivian Catholic University. My main teacher in La Paz was Alberto Villalpando, himself a disciple of Alberto Ginastera. In between, I spent three years in Japan, studying composition with Takashi Iida and with Akira Ifukube, and also training as a violinist with Takeshi Kobayashi. My research interest lies squarely in composition. Wider interests include contemporary music, Romanian contemporary music, Eastern European and Russian music and Latin American music.

A recent project is Río Bravo (Fierce River), a work for large chamber ensemble. It was written in December 2015-January 2016, in direct response to climate change as it impinges on our lives. It was first performed by New Juilliard Ensemble in April 2016 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York.

A previous project was Notes from Underground, a song-cycle for baritone soloist, chamber choir and large chamber ensemble. The work was a collaboration with the poet Sean O'Brien, commissioned by New Writing North for the Durham Book Festival 2015. The work was premièred on 15 October 2015 by the baritone Benjamin Appl, the chamber choir Voices of Hope and Royal Northern Sinfonia, all conducted by Clark Rundell. A performance in Cluj-Napoca followed soon after. 

The collaboration with Sean O'Brien created synergies on which we intend to build further. We are now working on a new work for choir and orchestra.  

Other recent compositional launches include Arreglos bolivianos, a series of creative arrangements for string orchestra and various chamber combinations commissioned by Bolivia Clásica and performed at various Bolivian venues under the direction of Jaime Laredo in August 2014. Before that there were various USA performances by the Momenta Quartet of String Quartet No. 2, 'Sin tiempo' - a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation. Previously Momenta had premièred my String Quartet No 1, 'Montes', a musical tribute to the Bolivian painter Fernando Montes.  Other recent premières include Souvenir de Teoponte for double bass and piano (Vienna’s Festsaal, Diplomatische Akademie, 2012; Colliers' Rant for four choirs (a Sage Gateshead commission, performed as part of the Festival of the Northeast, June 2013).

To mention other examples of past work: Danza de la loma was recorded and broadcast by the BBC Symphony and also performed and broadcast by the Ulster Orchestra and by Orquesta de Cadaqués in Spain. Fuego received its US première by The Juilliard Symphony at New York’s Lincoln Center, a venue which also saw the first performance of Peregrine by the New Juilliard Ensemble in 1997 and of its revised version in 2005. Fuego was also played by Orchestra Sinfonica di Perugia and by Orquesta de Castilla y León in three concerts in Valladolid and Salamanca in May 2007.

A strongly folk-oriented piece of juvenilia, Misa de Corpus Christi for children’s choir, mixed choir, baritone and orchestra, was first performed in 1978 but then destroyed and later reconstructed for performances in 2010-11 by the ensembles of Instituto Laredo in Cochabamba. 

The chamber opera The Wheel, commissioned by the Royal Opera House’s Garden Venture, was performed five times at Riverside Studios by the Garden Venture with Endymion Ensemble in 1993. The London International Opera Festival featured my electroacoustic opera Teoponte in 1988. A more recent operatic incursion was Prison Letters, (Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, August 2013).

Other electroacoustic works include Wounded Angel for charango and electronic sounds, available from NMC records in a recording by myself, and on dB Productions recorded by Stefan Östersjö, and Silent Towers, which has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and on European radio stations, and is also available from Lontano Records. Both works have also been performed at London’s South Bank (Purcell Room).

My orchestral works are published by Tritó (Barcelona) and Filarmonika (Fort Worth) and my guitar music by Tre Media (Karlsruhe).  

Roles and Responsibilities

Head of Research

Professor of composition 

Qualifications

PhD (City), MMus (Liverpool), Licenciado en Música (Universidad Católica de La Paz)

Previous Positions

Dartington College of Arts, Lecturer in Composition (1994-5)
The Queen's University of Belfast, Composer in Residence (1990-1994)
Municipal Chamber Orchestra of La Paz, Co-leader (1983-4)
Komagane Training Institute, Language Instructor (1982-3)
Embassy of Bolivia in Japan, Private Secretary to the Ambassador (1981-2)

National Symphony of Bolivia, Principal viola (1976-80)

National Conservatory, Harmony Teacher (1977-80)

Memberships

PRS

Languages

English, Spanish, Japanese (residual), Italian (developing)

Awards

Doctor Honoris Causa, Academia de Muzică Gheorghe Dima, Cluj, Romania

Informal Interests

Northumberland, Bolivia, Romania, Eastern Europe, languages, literature, family, fitness, cats, dog

Research

Research Interests

Composition, contemporary music, music 

Other Expertise

Composition, contemporary music, Romanian music, Eastern European music, Latin American music, music and landscape, music and the environment.

Current Work

New work for choir and orchestra, developed as part of the project Narratives of Crisis and Renewal (CRIC) at Newcastle University's School of Modern Languages.

Future Projects

Commission from Sage Gateshead for new work for members of Royal Northern Sinfonia and guests, September 2018.

Reconstruction of opera Teoponte for performances in Bolivia.

Ongoing development of opera based on Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer.

Research Roles

Head of Research at ICMuS

Chair of ICMuS Research Committee

Active researcher

Leader of the music strand of the AHRC-funded project Northumbrian Exchanges, aiming to strengthen networks for music-making in rural Northumberland (2013-14)

Postgraduate Supervision

Former member of AHRC Peer Review College until resignation in 2012 

PhD supervisees: Patrik Bishay from Germany, Christopher Randall from the USA, Helen Papaioannou and Matthew Rowan from the UK, Sergio Camacho from Spain, Joel Eriksson from Sweden and Johann Hasler from Colombia.

External Roles

Member of Advisory Board for Institute of Musical Research (IMR), Royal Holloway College, University of London (2015-)

Member of the jury for Premio Eduardo Abaroa, La Paz 2017

Member of the jury for the Sigismund Toduța Composition Competition, Cluj-Napoca 2017

External Examination

External-examined PhDs at Royal Holloway College, Goldsmith College, Brunel University, Liverpool University, Huddersfield University, Oxford University.

External Examiner for undergraduate programme at Liverpool University (2009-2013)

Esteem Indicators

Invited for concert engagement and curriculum development at Instituto Laredo, Cochabamba 2017

Invited for guest speaking and masterclass at SIMN 2017 Festival, Bucharest, May 2017

Invited to participate in fora and teach masterclasses at Festival Sigismund Toduta, Cluj-Napoca (Romania) in 2015 and 2016.

Only living composer represented in Festival Bolivia Clásica 2014, including performances by Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson, Ana-Maria Vera and Orquesta Juvenil Bolivia Clásica conducted by Jaime Laredo

Koussevitzky Commission, 2010

Invited to represent Bolivia at Latin American Music Festival in Caracas, Venezuela

Appointed to the Chair in Composition at Newcastle University from 1 August 2007.

Only featured composer at the celebrations of the centennary of the National Conservatoire of La Paz, Bolivia (2007).

Signed up for publication of orchestral works with Tritó S.L. of Barcelona.

Signed up for publication of guitar works with Tre Media of Karlsruhe.

Eleven works published online by the British Music Information Centre as part of The BMIC collection (www.bmic.co.uk/collection/).

Appointed Composer in Residence at Barcelona Festival of Song 2006. 

Resident composer at the festival Songs Across the Americas, Bolivia, August 2003.

Artistic Co-ordinator of Music from the Chiquitos Indians of Bolivia, a project involving Emma Kirkby and Florilegium and resulting in performances at Newcastle Early Music Festival and Wigmore Hall, March 2003.

Featured composer at 2002 Encounter of Latin American Composers and Performers in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Pájaro negro for soprano and ensemble selected to close the festival.

External examiner for PhDs in Composition at Brunel University and at Goldsmiths College and Royal Holloway College, University of London.

Member of AHRC Peer Review College

Funding

Composition commissions funded by Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Durham Book Festival, North Music Trust, Fundación Arnoldo Schwimmer, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Great Britain, Greater London Arts, Merseyside Arts. 

Teaching

Undergraduate Teaching

Module leader for Contemporary Compositional Techniques (MUS2041), Orchestration and Arranging (MUS2008 - not offered in 2016-17) , Major Specialist Study Composition (MUS3012), Minor Specialist Study Composition (MUS3016).

 

Postgraduate Teaching

Supervision of practice-based research in composition 

Publications

  • Fernandez A. Río Bravo. . Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York: First performed by New Juilliard Ensemble conducted by Joel Sachs, 2016.
  • Fernández A. After the Gathering. . Alwinton: Kathryn Tickell & The Side, 2016.
  • Fernández A. Notes from Underground. . Durham Book Festival, Durham 2015: Royal Northern Sinfonia, Voices of Hope, Benjamin Appl, 2015.
  • Fernández A. Collier's Rant. . Newcastle upon Tyne: Agustín Fernández, 2015.
  • Fernández A. Aqua Tinae. . 2014.
  • Fernández A. Arreglos bolivianos. . 2014.
  • Fernández A. String Quartet No. 2, 'Sin tiempo'. . Massachusetts, USA: Momenta Quartet, 2013.
  • Fernández A. Souvenir de Teoponte. . 2012.
  • Fernández A. ¡Oh Guitarra!. . Karlsruhe: Tre Media Edition, 2009.
  • Fernández A. Montes. . New York: Momenta String Quartet, 2007.
  • Fernández A. Mystical Dances. . Huddersfield: Northern Sinfonia, 2006.
  • Fernández A. Alquimia. . Edited by Performed by Patricia Caicedo and Pau Cassan. Barcelona, 2006.
  • Fernández A. A Hidden Music. . Newcastle upon Tyne: Northern Sinfonia, 2004.
  • Fernández A. Botanic Spider. . Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Northern Sinfonia, 2003.
  • Fernández A. Trío. . Cochabamba, Bolivia: Trío Apolo, 2003.