Enrico Chapela: 'Young people put their hearts into performing'

One of Latin America's foremost composers, Enrico Chapela wrote a piece on commission by Deutsche Welle about a curious moment in German-Mexican history.

Mexican composer Enrico Chapela, 42, was educated in Mexico City and London. His prizewinning, best-known work, "Ínguesu" for Orchestra, musically depicts a soccer match, including changing players, goals and red cards.

For its annual Orchestral Campus at the Beethovenfest, Deutsche Welle commissioned Chapela to write a piece oriented both on the sound environment of his home country and the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. Titled "Zimmergramm," the piece premieres at the Beethovenfest in Bonn on September 15. Set for orchestra, chorus and soloists, the work references a historical episode in 1917 involving secret agents, revolution, freedom and a secret telegram.

Deutsche Welle: What does it mean to you to compose a work for the Beethovenfest in Bonn?

Enrico Chapela: It's very special, because Beethoven is one of my favorite composers. When I was a child, he influenced me in my decision become a composer.

Your work is to be oriented both on Beethoven and on the Mexican soundscape. How do you manage to combine the two?

Given that I'm writing for the Beethovenfest, I try to combine my own compositional idiom, highly influenced by Mexican music, with a kind of orchestration Beethoven would have chosen. It was a challenge, but I'm very pleased with the results.


The National Youth Orchestra of Germany also performed at last year's Orchestra Campus

You're known for telling stories in your works. In "Ínguesu," for example, it's a soccer match. What is the story behind the new work, "Zimmergramm?"

It's based on the Zimmermann telegram anecdote, a chapter in World War I when Arthur Zimmermann, State Secretary in German's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sent a proposal to Mexican President Venustiano Carranza suggesting that his country join an alliance against the United States with the perspective of having New Mexico, Arizona and Texas be restored as Mexican territory.

The musicians of the National Youth Orchestra of Germany are between 14 and 19 years old. Have you ever composed for such a young group of musicians?

This is the second piece I've written for a youth orchestra. The first was "Ínguesu," which I composed for the Carlos Chávez Symphony Orchestra. Now that I've had 15 more years of experience in orchestral writing, I know better how to write for all the fingers in the orchestra, in all its different sections. I like this experience of writing again for a youth orchestra, because these guys put all of their effort in it. They learn the piece from one day to the next, and I’m sure it's going to sound even better than professional orchestras that are unionized and sometimes less enthusiastic learners than young people are.

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How would you describe your work, "Zimmergramm"?

Alondra de la Parra

Alondra de la Parra, who conducts on September 15 in Bonn, enjoys collaborating with Chapela

It's in two sound idioms. The first, the "Sones Mexicanos," is a kind of popular music, and it gives the story its historical context: the First World War and the Mexican Revolution. The choir sings here. This part is like tonal, Mexican music with a Beethoven feel in the orchestration. Then we have the scenes with the soloists, who depict President Carranza and the ambassadors from Germany and America. One ambassador offers the pact, and the other threatens with invasion. Those scenes with soloists are in a more contemporary tonal idiom.

Do you have a Beethoven favorite?

I don’t really have one favorite work by Beethoven. But he is one of the composers dearest to me. I can say that the first movement of the Fifth Symphony; the second, slow movement of the Third and the second movement and Scherzo of the Ninth would be perhaps my favorite movements of Beethoven.

Kathrin Lemke spoke with Enrico Chapela in Mexico City.