Leonardo CardenasMusical crossbreeding in Ecuador

View from elsewhere 19.10.2021

We are in Loja, a city in the south of Ecuador, considered by many to be the musical heart of the country, as there are so many ensembles, groups and "banda" (brass bands) in this metropolis popular with European expatriates, which also boasts of being the first green city in Ecuador. We meet with Leonardo Cardenas, an Ecuadorian composer.

I gave Leonardo an appointment in a place appreciated by the young artists of Loja: Lemon Trip, an alternative place, which evokes Berlin squats, lemon trees and exotic plants in addition in the large patio occupied by stoned armchairs and vintage posters. Lemon Trip, run by Pablo, a drummer and passionate cyclist, is both a "Casa de ciclistas" that welcomes cyclists on the road, and a cultural centre where Pablo organises concerts, theatre performances and poetry evenings.
He arrives right on time, with a stack of records in his hands.

Hello Leonardo Cardenas! You have more than thirty years of career to your credit. Let's start with your career as a composer...
I like to say that I learned both academic composition, which comes from the European tradition, and popular composition, a mixture that can be found in my music. For me, music is one and indivisible, I don't like to compartmentalise in this way, but these two tendencies, these two traditions, let's say, do exist and are very close to each other in Ecuador, and more generally in South America.
I may have been born in Guayaquil, but I am a pure musician from Loja! I studied piano, guitar and composition at the conservatory, one of the most dynamic in the country.
I spent several years in Quito, the capital, where I wrote for the symphony orchestra, among other things. I have also created a series of chamber music concerts to play and record my own music, as well as that of Ecuadorian composers from the 19th and 20th centuries, who are still too little played, such as Luis Salgado, Antonio Neumane/ (who is of French origin, by the way!), Carlos Ortiz or even my contemporaries such as Gerardo Guevara (who worked with Nadia Boulanger, editor's note), whose work on the memory of Indian songs is important.

You were talking about crossbreeding. More precisely, what are the influences of your music?
My training is academic, but I really come from popular music. I was nourished by it. As a teenager, I was part of an Andean folk music group here in Loja. I continued this work later in Quito, working with performers of traditional music, but in a more advanced, more experimental direction. Whether in my pieces for solo violin, trio, quartet or orchestra, I like to mix traditional Ecuadorian melodies with the chamber and symphonic tradition inherited from the 19th century. In my music, I always reflect on the notions of identity and globalisation. Today, a composer has access to countless musical traditions... The field of influences, and therefore of possibilities, is immense. I love Ravel, Debussy, Fauré, Spanish music, North American minimalism, as well as Latin American folklore and, more specifically, Ecuadorian indigenous music, on which I have done a lot of research. Incorporating it into my music is a way of preserving its memory and, I believe, bringing it to life. I am thinking in particular of my "Triptico" for flute orchestra, a famous instrument in our folklore. I have called the three parts of the suite "Amazonia", "Andes" and "Tropico".

I also wrote "Natem, Ayahuashca", a work with a Quechua name that I subtitled "Journey within myself", for mixed flute quintet.

Is it difficult to make a living from music, to be a composer in Ecuador?
All the music professions are difficult here. Artists are not supported very much by the public authorities, as the pandemic has shown once again. There are very few funds to support artists, and more importantly, creation. We are quite alone. We need more festivals and competitions!
The Ecuadorian school of composition is recognised in South America. Thanks to this, there is a real network of composers: we share information and exchange a lot. We meet regularly. More importantly, the world of academic composition and that of traditional, folk music are not watertight, as you will have understood. Musicians often have a foot in both worlds and enjoy working together. Many universities, in Loja, Quito, Cuenca..., host real centres for popular music, which train and support young composers. 

And what about the public?
Ecuadorian audiences like popular music above all. The more academic contemporary music - even if it is inspired by and draws on our folklore - attracts a smaller audience at the moment. The challenge, but I don't think it's specific to Ecuador, is to attract new audiences and allow musical creation to have a wider audience. This brings us back to the question of public support.

Interview by by Suzanne Gervais


buy twitter accounts