Usually, musicians mention in their CVs their most celebrated teachers. I am attracted to the opposite idea: I would mention in mine the students – brilliant musicians – whom I had the pleasure of knowing in the cello department at the Simón Bolívar Conservatory in Caracas around 1990. Among them, a young pianist who was also a cellist in the Youth Strings of Venezuela stood out. He was around fifteen years old when he accompanied on piano his classmate, cellist María Elena Medina (today a great virtuoso of the viola da gamba), interpreting Schubert’s celebrated Arpeggione Sonata. Nobody could stop him from improvising unexpected metamorphoses, diverting the elegant Viennese discourse towards the syncopated Caribbean. The humor was contagious in this very serious class, but nobody interrupted. Schubert’s phrases contained small mambos, mischievous piano diversions that fit perfectly between the cello lines, revealing the surprising creativity of a mind that would have fascinated the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier.

The parents of this restless teenager foresaw and supported unequivocally his musical career. The cello complemented the piano well, but his orientations were unpredictable. Fortunately, the fame and immense talent of his two fathers and two mothers (Alberto Grau, José Ignacio Cabrujas, Isabel Palacios, and María Guinand) did not affect his flight, as tends to happen with the Picasso effect, when progenitors create much more than their children. In place of transmitting to him the weight of atavism, the obligation to be brilliant, this rich inheritance of art, talent, and work in and for culture transferred to Gonzalo Grau Palacios a facility, an intelligence, a grace that few have for recombining the elements of an infinite gamut of musical languages and styles without losing the loftiness of the discourse.

I stress here the difference between mere talent for producing speed or typified harmonizations, complex though they may be, and conceptual intelligence, that which makes an artist say things that have never been heard. My re-encounter with Gonzalo after several decades was in January 2009, at the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s Nuevo Latino Festival in New York, where destiny had it that we were invited on successive dates. I saw him conduct from his keyboard, with total assurance, a great group of extraordinary Latin musicians, all of them probably older than he, playing his highly original arrangements of great themes such as Calle Luna Calle Sol. It was the repertory of a Grammy-nominated record produced with minimal resources: El Frutero Moderno. Today, Gonzalo is finishing recording a new CD in Caracas with extraordinary Venezuelan soloists who shine ever brighter when a polyphonic and boundless mind appears, proposing totally new universes. At last, someone was able to take the brilliant saxophonist Alonso Toro out of his laboratory to join no less than Isabel Palacios, David Peña, and Nené Quintero. David Moreira and his violin reappear after a long Iberian exile (soon we will speak of his father), and Gonzalo’s little brother Diego Cabrujas lets loose on percussion. Music? Recently, the audience at Corpbanca Hall in Caracas had the good fortune to hear their previous repertoire, perhaps a little more oriented to Cuban timba, irresistible clave. But this new work, titled Plural and performed last Friday (November 19, 2009) in the same Hall, is a surprising confluence of languages: baroque, flamenco, Venezuelan merengue, Iberian song, music of the Caribbean. Pure, free talent in action. Fortunately, the CD will remain, but the right thing would be for regional halls and a patronage to exist to enable Plural to be heard live many more times. These are works that everyone should know, works that the press should disseminate. (And live radio – does it no longer exist?) A theme of Gonzalo Grau is La Camerengata. Imagine by the title (Camerata Barroca is Gonzalo’s mother’s ensemble, and merengue is a Caribbean genre in 5/8) what this merengue holds…

Translated from Spanish by Rosemary Holland

About pauldesenne

Composer / Writer
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