Antonio Estévez is one of the greatest musical figures of Venezuela, he belongs to the important generation of composers taught by Vicente Emilio Sojo; He founded the University Chorus (Orfeón Universitario), was an orchestral conductor and instrumentalist, and was a member of the Banda Marcial and of the Orquesta Sinfónica Venezuela.
He was very demanding with his work. I think that is the reason why he did not leave a very large amount of pieces; he had a special sound universe where the quest for tone colours and timbre were reminiscent of the style of Manuel de Falla and Claude Debussy but with the inclusion in the European language of the symphony orchestra, of indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan elements. I think every one of his works has its own personality.
In contrast to his well-known tough and undiplomatic freedom of expression!, his music has profound poetry, moments of absolute tenderness and delicate filigree. His approach is that of very refined late nationalism, for me it is like talking about Chopin and his Mazurkas in the Venezuelan context although he did not write music based on traditional forms or dances. There is a deep love for his land represented in works such as the “Suite Llanera” and of course the iconic “Cantata Criolla” which is for us is the equivalent of what Handel’s”Messiah”is for the English, we get goose bumps from the first note. It was a great idea to have used the poem by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba, which values are valid even today in our society, it sets the cunning man, the man of faith in a discussion with the Devil. In this legend, Florentino is the epitome of the great llanero: handsome, a great rider and cattleman, a singer and a poet. The Devil challenged him to a night of singing. If The Devil wins before dawn, Florentino will go back with him to Hell. Florentino’s prize is simply to have defeated the Devil.
When I studied his “17 Canciones Infantiles ” (17 Children’s Songs) I did it with all the care of which I was capable, by applying my knowledge of both language and musical culture as well as that of the pianist formed for academic piano music. I was familiar with versions by Duphil Monique – who is the dedicatee- and the interpretations of some of them made by the great Alirio Diaz from whom I have learned so much through his recordings.
One afternoon I went with my mom, who sang in the choir of the première of “Cantata Criolla”, to his home in Los Naranjos. The trip from our end of the city where we live up there was something! We were greeted very kindly, he told me stories that inspired him to write some of the pieces, we delved into some details and he said that he had appreciated that I had gone to play the pieces to him; saying our goodbyes, as we climbed into the cab, he told us in “fortissimo” with his lightly nasal voice, how he wanted to make “a bonfire” with recordings of his music he did not like!
He later said after a concert I played at the Museum of keyboards in Caracas: “Clara Rodriguez is a poet of the piano. If I was a pianist I would like to play them as she does.” That to me is a treasure and when things are not going well, is a phrase that helps me recover my faith in piano playing! I have just recorded them this year and will play them on 16 April in St. James’s Piaccadilly in London.
About four years ago, I was called by the ABRSM to advice them on Venezuelan repertoire for the piano, and after many presentations and meetings, they have already selected three of our composers. It is an honor and a privilege for those publications as are made available in 90 countries and the tests presented by a number of over 650,000 piano candidates.
For the grade four piano exams of the years 2013-2014 they chose”La Peruanita” by Federico Ruiz and for the period 2015-2016 the “Canción para dormir una muñeca” by Antonio Estévez. At the end of the period it will have been played by anumber nearing the 40,000 pianists around the world.
Antonio Estevez was interested by contemporary art, and together with artist Jesus Soto created instalations. He also worked in Paris in electronic music, activity that inspired him to found the Institute of Phonology of Caracas where composers such as Federico Ruiz, who was supervised the publication of the “Cantata Criolla” and who dedicated his piece “Meeting of Antonio and Florentino” as well as Juan Carlos Nunez and Alfredo Del Monaco, among others, could experience composing electronic pieces.
Antonio Estévez was born in January 1 1916 in Calabozo, Guárico State and died on November 26 1988 in Caracas, Venezuela
Antonio Estévez with his teacher Vicente Emilio Sojo