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Advocate Interview: Composer Arthur Hernandez


New music lovers: If you’re free Thursday afternoon, head up to the 11th floor of Hartford’s G. Fox Building, where composer Arthur Hernandez will premiere his Four Passages Approaching Eternity for string orchestra, piano, celesta, and percussion. The performance is part of a relatively new concert series around town called Concerts @ Capital, organized by Hernandez, who works as an associate professor and music program coordinator at Capital Community College. The four-movement work, which Hernandez completed in 2010 as part of his doctoral degree studies at the Hartt School, will be performed by the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Erberk Eryilmaz.

Hernandez spoke to the Advocate about his piece, the genesis of the series and all the great things going on at CCC.

[Note: this interview has been condensed and edited.]

HA: Tell me a little in general about concerts at CCC. It sounds like there are a lot of interesting things going on there.

AH: Basically, when I first got here, the music program was a blank canvas, so I started to begin to implement events that are just part and parcel for any music program. One thing I identified was our students’ need to see first-rate music artists up close and personal and to get a different perspective of the music world. So much of what they know is mainstream commercial music. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I want them to know that there’s a whole other world of performance for musicians and artists who are a little off the beaten track. We do have mainstream acts [at Capital], but the bulk of our presentations are artists who have different perspectives on music and music performance. I think it’s been really successful in that the people who do attend really seem to like it.

HA: What’s the format of the concerts, and who seems to attend?

AH: The general format up to this point has been one concert a month as we had been cultivating the program. This semester is our busiest one to date. We nearly have weekly concerts. Attendance is great, and that’s one of the things I boast most proudly about. They are very well attended, and the bulk of the crowd is our students. That’s what I really really dig. You go to other concerts and they’ve cultivated a communal base, but the students don’t attend. Our general students do show up, and that’s because our faculty tends to be so supportive. In the humanities department, we give cultural extra credit points for attendees, and we cultivate the sense that this is the thing to do. We’ve had as many as close to 200 people at our concerts. I would say the average in the neighborhood of 75 to 80 people. But no matter how much we advertise we are a low-profile concert series. This March 1 concert promises to be huge... I’m anticipating that we are going to be up around 200. 

HA: Who are some of the performers?

AH: The performers are people in the area. Hartford is such an awesome city, and I really think it has a strong pool of musical talent. People come to the Hartt School and they stick around. They are doing their own unique musical presentations. Those are the people who I try to tap into... Jeffrey Krieger, the principal cellist for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, participates. The Alturas Duo is kind of the unofficial artist-in-residence at Capital. They are all playing around town and doing their own thing. I always tell my students that the greatest artists who exist are just down the street from you. They don’t live in the Hollywood Hills. What’s cool is that our audience has such an immediate access to the artists. They can ask about the instruments. I don’t know that you can get that in some of the more commercial venues.

HA: Some of the music sounds like it’s really different from what students might be used to. What’s been the response so far?

AH: The thing that I love about our students is that they are really open. They respect what we present. If we are presenting it, they give it a fair shake. Some students go and listen to every note and they say, “I didn’t like it,” or they will relate to it... I’ll have my students come up to me and tell me this is the first concert they’ve ever been to in their lives. Our audiences are more lively. I wouldn’t trade it for any snooty setting in the world.

HA: Tell us about the piece of yours that’s being performed, Four Passages Approaching Eternity.

AH: This was my doctoral dissertation piece. You want to do something substantive and significant. I was up to my eyeballs in wind instruments for a long time: baritones, euphoniums. I wanted to cleanse my palette. It had been a while since I had written for strings and pianos, and percussion opens up such a wonderful world of sounds. So that’s how those instruments came together. Some people say, “Oh, like Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta,” but that was far out of mind. It had been high time for me to write for strings and piano. I was hesitant to add anything else, but then I realized that yes, a celesta could be added.

As I started to write the piece, as it began to emerge, then I found an appropriate title. Sometimes it’s the other way around, where I write the title first and then build the piece around it. I had read this poetry by T.S. Eliot, and I really loved that passage. So that was the jumping off point for writing this piece. Then it began to happen: I started to read a lot of poetry, and that’s how the literary thing began to happen. There are literally four passages of poetry that I was inspired by, and they all deal in some degree with the concept of eternity. Two are T.S. Eliot, one is by Theodore Roethke and one is a Dylan Thomas passage. That movement was dedicated to [composer] Don Erb, who passed during the writing of this piece. He was also a wonderful friend. It’s a little homage to him.

World Premiere: Four Essays Approaching Eternity, performed by the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra, Erberk Eryilmaz, conducting. March 1, 6 p.m., free, Centinel Hill Hall Auditorium, 11th Floor, Capital Community College, 950 Main Street, Hartford,  (860) 906-5039,

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