Experimentelle und Unbestimmte Lieder op. 9 (Experiential and Indeterminate Songs, op. 9) is a Cycle for soprano, piano, and synthesizer composed by Julián de la Chica. The music narrates a spiritual experience through the five pillars of internal transit that the composer suggests are the fundamental basis of meditation. The work will be premiered on the new studio album of American soprano Rachel Hippert and will be produced and published by the independent record label based in Brooklyn, NY, Irreverence Group Music. The Colombian-born American painter Jorge Posada joins the project and includes in the album booklet his work: Silent Witnesses. The painting will also be the cover of the single that accompanies the pre-order on iTunes, where Ms. Hippert will be accompanied by the Costa Rican harpsichordist, María Clara Vargas Cullell.
CD Cover designed by Lina Gracia (IGM) | Photo by Hassan Malik
Composer Julián de la Chica has always showed a great interest in spiritual themes. Authors like Teresa de Ávila, Ignacio de Loyola, Juan de la Cruz, Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, among others, have been a point of reference in the musical evolution of this minimalist composer. Mr. de la Chica affirms that without a conscious spiritual structure, daily life becomes a dark and iniquitous labyrinth. “It is important to work consistently on self-knowledge” – he advises. The composer makes reference to the importance of daily internal work and clarifies that it’s not a religious issue, but a way of survival: “ It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox, Buddhist, or if you simply believe in nothing. The important thing is to do the work with serious observation and determination.”
Check out the Video with the Behind the Scenes of the recording.
The piece deals with silence as the only possible medium with which to listen to the self. And how can one listen to the self? Musicologist and composer Susan Campos Fonseca tells us: “ How does Julián de la Chica materialize the question of “being” in sound? Through text and music as sound material: the choice of the German tongue as a philosophic language; in its sonority, the reference to the tradition of Lieder, a form where word and sound construct a system of meanings in search of the essential. Materializing it through sound, the works achieve this “concentration” of the essential, guided by the question of the “being.”
Cycle Op. 9 is a work constructed with few elements, an austere and diaphanous work that leaves freedom to the listener, the surprising relationship between the flow of our listening and interior life. The piano invites the listener to prepare ourselves for meditation. A sound that seems to disappear with time introduces the voice that invokes darkness as an essential part of the process. We submerge ourselves in a journey of introspection exploring the five fundamental pillars that Mr. de la Chica proposes as a guide for discernment and meditation: self-knowledge, acceptance, evolution, coherence, and illumination.
Rachel Hippert is charged with personifying “the wanderer” that in her dark night and her silence, confronts her fears, her lies, her truths, and her ego. Subtly, Ms. Hippert confronts the void of nothing, of the unnecessary, to become the protagonist that risks everything.
Soprano Rachel Hippert (Photo by Hassan Malik)
Ms. Hippert’s experience in operatic scenes, as well as her technical and vocal qualities, bring the work to a mystical and hypnotic state. Her elegance and vocal discretion demonstrate power and control, qualities that give her the ability to sustain herself in a space that seems to abandon her. She knows the work, purifies it and devours it.
Graduate of the School of Music at Boston University and following her debut in New York City (2012) as “Fiordiligi” in Mozart’s Così fan tutte with the New York Opera Exchange, Inc., Ms. Hippert emerges now as a promising young artists of lyric song in the New York scene. In August 2016, her talent led her to be invited by the Princess Raden Dato’Seri Maria Amor Torres to sing during the 4th Annual Global Official of Dignity Awards and to be part of the Concert for Humanity at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City. Currently, Ms. Hippert is preparing her first concert in Nairobi, during the special event for former Vice President of Kenya, H.E. Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka. Mr. Kalonzo was awarded African Dignitary Man of the Year at the 4th Annual G.O.D. Awards 2016.
In the album notes, Susan Campos Fonseca makes reference to Ms. Hippert’s work: ” Rachel Hippert weaves an ontological experience with her voice. The soprano understands the underlying magma underneath the Gregorian tradition, mantra, and Lieder at the conceptual level. Her work is rigorous, contained and subtle. The dissonance between her voice and the sculptural piano and synthesizer can materialize flashes of something seen for only a moment.”
IGM.com spoke with Rachel Hippert and Julián de la Chica about the challenges of this new project, of collaboration, their expectations, and their experiences with this work.
Soprano Rachel Hippert:
IGM – Tell us a general idea about this project. What is this cycle op.9 about?
RH – The cycle, op. 9 Experimentelle & Unbestimmte Lieder is about a journey to spiritual enlightenment by exploring Julian’s concept of the “5 Pillars of Internal Transit,” that he compiled from traditional Catholic ideology and Buddhist meditation. The 5 Pillars are examined in 10 songs with prologue and epilogue. Each song text is a compact poem, short yet dense with evocative images and layers of rich subtext that merge with the music to dive deeply into each phase of this self-observation/spiritual purification process. It’s impressive to me how much the composer says with so few words. I find new depths of meaning each time I sing through the songs, and the music itself continues to inspire me with its subtleties, allowing my interpretations to grow and evolve along with the subject narrating the work.
IGM – Given that your training and repertoire as a Lieder/opera singer is essentially classical, what made you decide to take on the challenge of recording your first solo album premiering a repertory of new music, new work, new composition?
RH – My training and background is classically-grounded and people most often categorize me as an opera singer, but I prefer to think of myself as a “singing actress” more than anything else, in part because I enjoy singing multiple genres of music from opera to Broadway to old standards to sacred to jazz, etc. and also because the field of classical music can sometimes be limiting and if an artist insists on concentrating in just one specific area of music, the work can be either too scarce or too stale.
I definitely don’t want to limit myself, and I’m constantly seeking new ways to grow as an artist. When Julian first told me about these songs, I was thrilled for the opportunity to help create something totally new, as a challenge to grow my artistry and because I believe in the potential these songs have to transform people. I believe that the duty of art is to elevate and educate humanity, and for me these songs can do that – to pare down the extraneous noise of daily life and observe our nature in order to find truth and fulfillment – that is a critical responsibility of each person in order to self-actualize. So to experience a work of music that describes and invites us on that journey is so powerful and important, I had to be a part of it.
IGM – How do you create a bridge between the historical weight of the vocal tradition and technique with your process today, performing works of a new composer, new music that no one has sung before?
RH – There is so much creative possibility in presenting a completely new work. Most of my life is spent singing music that has endured for centuries, which indicates its quality and value in the scope of the human artistic continuum. That music is incredible and beautiful, but despite the timelessness of its beauty, it reflects the past in which it was created. It also has been interpreted countless times by different artists through the centuries. When I approach that music, I (and any classical singer today) have to contend with the centuries of established interpretations that inevitably color my own, and I have to work to find space for my individuality.
In contrast, working with new music is more of a purely creative exercise. I can let loose my imagination and listen to my creative impulses with very little mitigation imposed by established critical expectations. Critics and audiences won’t be listening to this album and comparing it with previous iterations sung by Callas or Caballé, because there aren’t any. It’s so liberating that it’s almost overwhelming. However I’m fortunate to be working with a truly generous, kind and brilliant composer who encourages me to lean into this project with my ideas and my spirit, letting me revel in the expansiveness of his vision.
IGM – De la Chica is a minimal composer. How do you feel collaborating and performing this music, where the depth and the concept are more important than the [vocal] virtuosity or the show?
RH – The music that I’m used to singing relies on virtuosity and beauty of voice to distinguish it. The operatic singer has to assert herself above the orchestra and wow the listeners with power, resonance, and a complete palette of vocal colors and skills to move and entertain.
This music is different because there is an emphasis on silence and how that speaks in the context of each piece. The instrumentation that collaborates with the voice is very contained, but it takes on a character of its own, alternately portraying settings, figures or feelings discussed in the poems. In that way, this work reminds me so much of traditional German Lieder with its strongly interwoven vocal and piano lines, cooperating and conversing to paint pictures and convey the feelings of the Romantic poets who wrote about emotional extremes, human nature, love and enlightenment. I fell in love with Lieder in college, and my extensive research and performance of music in that genre has helped to prepare me for this project. That being said, I plan to bring as much virtuosity to my performance, with regards to vocal coloring, dynamic control, and emotional expression, as I possibly can – but tempered with the humility and authenticity evoked in Lieder.
IGM – What was the process like creating the music close to the composer and collaborating together?
RH – I have thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with Julián. From the inception of this project, he was very open with me and interested in incorporating my unique abilities and strengths into the music. He was so deferential and respectful towards me, outlining his initial vision and checking in with me to make sure I was comfortable with the musical demands he was planning to make. I feel that our artistic values are really in line with each other, which also makes him a pleasure to work with. This project comes from a very personal place for the composer, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much room he’s given to me for input and collaboration. He’s also very knowledgeable about how he wants to story and share the work with our audiences – I’ve learned so much from him, and I’m so grateful towards him for his trust and guidance.
Soprano Rachel Hippert & Composer Julián de la Chica (Photo by Hassan Malik)
IGM – What was your impression when you saw the music for the first time?
RH – My first impression was excitement. I looked at the first line of the first piece, “Oh Ruhe!” and saw music that was beautifully crafted that I couldn’t wait to inhabit with my voice, poetry and sentiment that nearly leapt off the page. I also saw a challenge in the often very naked vocal line and complex rhythms. I love a challenge, so I couldn’t wait to dive in and become it.
IGM – The music is about a personal and inner path. Are you a spiritual person? If so, how did you create this character in this journey?
RH – I am a spiritual person, and I felt an immediate kinship with the character’s seeking and introspection. To help me create the character, I reflected on my own ongoing journey for self-awareness and actualization. I’ve been a student of various religions, worked in churches, practiced meditation, and done the work of striving to retain my humanity and sense of connection while living in New York City for the past four years – not an easy task! While I draw on my own awareness, discoveries, questions, etc. to bring life and blood to this music, I draw strength and satisfaction from the music to propel my own life journey – it’s been a reciprocal exchange. I give life to the music, and it gives life and peace back to me.
Composer Julián de la Chica:
IGM – Tell us about the Cycle op.9
JC – Experimentelle und unbestimmte Lieder op. 9 is a cycle for voice, piano and synthesizer, inspired by reflections and experiences that I have had through the years, from which I began to consciously construct a spiritual interior life. I explore the sound of the interior voice that speaks to us in our daily intimacy, a voice that questions and challenges us. A voice that is conditioned by the world and its egos. The system
Distanced from a religious vision, apologetic and ascetic, I work with processes that in my personal opinion have helped me in attaining self-knowledge, acceptance, and finally, plenitude. It is a method based in the Buddhist meditation Vipassana, whose process of self-purification is realized through self-observation.
I consider the search for individualism not from a moral egotist perspective but from the perspective that relates us with the collectivity that saturates and critiques. We know ourselves, re-cognize ourselves, re-discover ourselves when we decide to live freely. This brings us to a deep and raw understanding of our misery. We walk completely alone in the darkness. In the coherence of consciousness we define ourselves and evolve.
IGM – Tell us about the process.
JC – Working with silence is the key to the process. After having experienced the Spiritual Exercises of Ignacio de Loyola and remaining for entire weeks in absolute silence, my interest in silence became essential to my creative development. Silence helps me construct the capacity to quiet my senses and listen to my inner self. It is a long and complex process, at which you begin to arrive when you decide to submerge in this experience of self-knowledge and purification.
Exploring the silence, a theme that composer John Cage questions and proposes in his work is a process that I feel is necessary and vital in our existence and creative experience. Departing from this reflection, minimalism, as a musical proposal, brings me closer to this experience. Discovering who we are, deciding to accept ourselves, and live in the plenitude of the coherence of consciousness that governs our actions and words is an ideal in the daily process of survival. The cultivation of the spirit invites us to traverse an intimate path in solitude that brings us the fullness of interior peace, a state that should not be confused with “false comfort” or a harmonious appearance that is governed by sociological protocols or canons.
The interior path, then, helps us to construct a global and objective vision of our being. It helps us in a concrete manner to endure situations and experiences, to never lose perspective, and in the final state, to experience peace, enjoyment, plenitude, including in the most vulnerable moments of our spirits, of our dark nights.
Rachel Hippert in Experimentelle und unbestimmte Lieder op. 9 (Photo by Hassan Malik)
IGM – Why a cycle inspired by spiritual life?
JC – Since I read in 2000 The Three Ages of Interior Life by Garrigou-Lagrange, I have remained fascinated with the immense internal universe that is unknown to us. I confronted that book when even my evolution and maturity had not reached their depth and nevertheless I remained impressed by the infinity of paths that we can take to find that interior world that needs to be explored and worked. Later I moved on to Las Moradas of Santa Teresa. I was also captivated by the poetry of Juan de la Cruz. With time, I left behind religion to work with a question of process and observation without an eye towards faith. In NY, I came into contact with Buddhism, and it was from these two parts that I gathered together these five pillars. It’s a personal approach that has worked for me. Later, doing Ignacian exercises and remaining more than a month in silence, they helped me to discipline the process.
Composer Julián de la Chica (Photo by Hassan Malik)
IGM – Why the choice of a soprano to interpret the cycle?
JC – I have always had clear from the beginning of the project that a soprano would be charged with giving life to this exploration. Work with the voice is something very delicate. With time, I have learned to develop an ear for understanding it, for knowing its limits, in order to know how to explore it further. In this cycle it was clear that I needed a soprano, but it was also clear that it needed to be a really extraordinary voice. With time I have learned that it is crucial to work with people who share the same criteria of excellence, perfection, and professionalism as you. If it’s not so, sooner or later the project dies. It’s a given.
I remember that we were holding some auditions and listening to some approaches. But I didn’t feel that there was the necessary chemistry for a project of this level. I wasn’t just looking for someone that would sing to the cycle just to sing it, but someone who would connect with it in their professionalism, intellect and of course with a mastery of technique that would allow them to get to the depth of the work. Later I had the opportunity to meet Rachel, and I remember that I was listening to her work. I was amazed by her darkness, something that is fundamental to me in my music. One night I invited her to dinner at my house, we talked, she told me about her plans, her projects, her dreams and it was like everything started to connect. At one point in the night I realized that the songs were for her.
IGM – How has it been to work and collaborate with Rachel Hippert coming from two such different worlds?
JC – They are different worlds, but at the same time similar: we are united by music, which at the end of the day is what really matters. Rachel is not just a talented woman, but an extremely disciplined, professional, organized, and hard-working woman – multiple adjectives that are fundamental in a musical career, especially in the world of opera. We both have very busy schedules: Rachel is currently acting in Lucia di Lammermoor as well as the concerts she does as a soloist. We had to move the launch because she is preparing for her first concert in Kenya. I, for my part, am working on my next album that I will make with Susan Campos Fonseca, and I am in the middle of my first opera. I am also producing two more albums and working on a short film with Lebanese director Badr Farha. If there wasn’t that discipline and professionalism, it would be impossible to move this project forward. Rachel has made the work hers, has directed it, has reflected on it and is attentive to the hearing of it. She has developed a character that has been totally correct and she is a person that comments and adds from a position of respect and professionalism.
She is an exquisite woman in treatment and in work. It has been marvelous to work with her, refreshing and enriching for me.
IGM – What are your expectations for this project?
JC – I don’t have expectations for music, that seems like a mistake to me. In my case, I’m not a person who comes from academia, so I would not have enough serious criteria to propose or think that I am inventing something. My training is the street; NY has been the best PhD that I could have had. For me, music is something that flows in a natural way. It’s part of me and my daily life. I also don’t have the talent of being able to sit myself down and say: “Ok, I’ll write my fourth symphony.” I don’t have that ability like some other creators. I need to have a connection with the music. It’s always been that way. It’s like a platonic relationship; we’ve always had our differences, but it’s always been there for me. Often times I am sleeping and all of a sudden I wake up and say: this is what the bassoon should do, this is what the flute should do.
In the particular case of this cycle, I had started to compose it a long time ago, but then passed on to other things. It is a dense work that had to take its time; I had to have some distance from it. It is also a really clean and naked work. Something that that scares me to show. I felt that it was too naked for the current ears that only want to listen to virtuosity and show. Later I was composing my first quartet and there I found the counsel to know how I should continue this cycle. Then I went to spend my last summer in Portugal and I couldn’t find the answer to the end of the cycle. I lacked the last movement, “The Epilogue”, that explored death. Confronting death, how would it sound? Would it be filled with terror, or to the contrary, would it be peace and an inexplicable feeling? One of those days I was staying in an old castle in the north and I decided to sit on top of the ramparts. My feet were hanging. I closed my eyes and listened to the ululations of the rice paddies. In this moment the entire epilogue simply came to me. I picked up my phone and began to write what I had seen. Then it was all finished.
After beginning rehearsals with Rachel, I knew that I had learned much about her voice since I had heard her sing Romeo and Juliet. Nevertheless, hearing the music in her context and with her voice helped me to finish securing details in the work. Rachel also suggested aspects that helped to bring the work to another level.
IGM – Let’s talk about IGM and support for these projects.
JC – I founded IGM with the end of having a platform that would publish my projects as well as protecting my work. It came from a complex process of having always worked with managers or producers that told you what you should do, say, how you should act. That should be good, when you really need advice and someone to develop a creative project for you. But in my case, it’s different. I have very clear ideas and know what I want.
After moving to NY, I decided that this was not going to happen and that I would do what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to compromise my ideas and my dreams. It sounds a little egotistical, but thinking about the process I had lived through, it was totally necessary and vital to make the change. I moved from always listening to everyone else and pretending to be someone or something that I was not to the opposite extreme of looking for my own identity in music and doing simply what I wanted. If people buy a CD or not, it doesn’t scare or bother me. If the critics like or don’t like a work, it’s the same to me. What is important is that now I am happy and am being honest with myself, the only person who matters at the end of the day because I have to face myself every day. There you are face to face.
This was my first motivation. Nonetheless, with time, IGM has been expanding and has convened other musicians from other countries, of different genres. In that way, I should say that IGM is like NY: we all come together, we meet everyone. There is no filter; it’s the rawness of us as human beings and artists out there in the street. Like when you get on the train and you see the sleeping beggar next to a woman who could be wearing a 50K dollar ring, in IGM you find musicians from academia to improvisers, creators of noise or opera singers. This is to say that in IGM we are a family that are united by a passion for music and art and we all fit there. We live in constant dialogue, we all nourish each other, we all collaborate and what’s best, we propose a world from our discourse and our collectivity.
When someone comes to contract IGM for some project, at the end we have a palette of talent with which any initiative can be developed. From musicians, composers, sound engineers, photographers, videos, graphic designers, etc. We respect each other in our decisions and our approaches. IGM only has one commitment: excellence.
IGM – What comes next for the cycle?
JC – This project is taking wing. Now, for example, we have the good luck to count on the presence of Colombian painter Jorge Posada. This is what I mean when I say that when the moment comes, the music starts to speak. Everything falls into place.
Jorge Posada: Silent Witnesses
I met Maestro Jorge Posada thanks to a great friend who bought one of his works. When she brought me to his studio I was mesmerized by his art, specially his artwork Silent Witnesses. it was if I had glimpsed the Cycle op. 9 on canvas. Maestro Posada has the ability of seeing inside of us; he knows our misery, our glories, and his paintings are the radiography of them. It was incredible. Later I talked with Jorge and asked him if he wanted to have his work in the booklet of the album, as well as the cover of the promotional single where Rachel would be singing with Costa Rican harpsichordist Maria Clara Vargas Cullell. It’s really marvelous.
María Clara Vargas Cullell (Photo by Verónica Arias)
Regarding performances, we will perform the cycle in concert at the end of the year here in New York, and we’re now starting to have a few invitations to perform it in Europe. We’re working on organizing dates and seeing if it’s possible. We still don’t have things confirmed, but it has been amazing to see the response from those who have already heard the project. I think that seeing it live is a great experience.
(Photo Courtesy Jorge Posada – Media Team)