WITH DR. AGUSTIN FERNANDEZ
Agustín Fernández is a composer who studied with Akira
Ifukube during the 1980s.
in Bolivia in 1958, Fernández had studied composition in La Paz
with Alberto Villalpando and in Japan with Takashi Iida and Akira Ifukube.
In 1984, he moved to the United Kingdom, obtaining an MMus at Liverpool
University and a PhD at City University, London.
began his musical life as a child performer in 1969. His works began
to be performed professionally in 1974 and the following year his Rapsodia
won a national composers competition. His teaching career began
in 1977 at the National Conservatoire in La Paz, where he taught harmony
and composition, followed by language teaching in Tokyo and Komagane,
Japan. In the United Kingdom, he worked for four years as Composer-in-Residence
at Queens University, Belfast, where the job included the chairmanship
of the Sonorities Festival. Following a spell as lecturer in Dartington
College of Arts, in 1995 Fernández was appointed lecturer in
composition at Newcastle University and, in 2000, senior lecturer.
list of works includes the operas Teoponte commissioned for the
1988 London International Opera Festival and The Wheel, commissioned
by the Royal Opera Houses Garden Venture in 1992. The electroacoustic
works Wounded Angel and Silent Towers are available on
commercial CDs. Danza de la loma, has been broadcast by BBC Radio
3 recorded by the BBC Symphony, and again on live "simulcast"
by Radio 3 and Irelands RTE, performed by the Ulster Orchestra.
Fuego and Peregrine have received premieres at the Alice
Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. The orchestral/choral work Approaching
Melmoth was performed by Northern Sinfonia and NS Chorus, with Sir
Thomas Allen as the soloist. His Cantata for Christmas and Epiphany
toured the Canary Islands with the Youth Choir of the Filarmónica
de Gran Canaria. In 2004, the Northern Sinfonia gave the first performance
of A Hidden Music for string orchestra and piano.
webmaster, Erik Homenick, had the occasion to ask Dr. Fernández
about his past associations with Maestro Ifukube. AKIRAIFUKUBE.ORG warmly
thanks Dr. Fernández for taking the time to share his memories
on this website as well as providing two wonderful photographs. To learn
more about Dr. Agustín Fernández and his music, please
visit his website by clicking on the link below:
Homenick: How did you become interested in music and musical composition?
Agustín Fernández: I began at an early age singing
Bolivian folk music and playing the charango, a 10-string small
guitar. In the 1960s my duo Los Kallawayas performed in folk
clubs around the country, until my voice broke when I was 12 and I had
to stop singing. My partner in the duo, Toño Canelas, went on
to form the group Los Kjarkas (although soon after that he was
to die tragically), whereas I became interested in classical music.
Brahmss Trio op. 40 was a mind-blowing revelation that
immediately planted in my mind the idea of becoming a composer. That
was in 1971, and since then I havent looked back.
EH: What led you to study music in Japan?
AF: In the late 1970s I played in a quartet with three Japanese
musicians who were then in Bolivia as members of Japan Overseas Co-operation
Volunteers. We were good friends, and they gave me a foretaste of a
language and a culture I would soon grow to love. When they returned
to their country they applied for a one-year training grant from their
local government so I could come to Japan. This enabled me to spend
a year studying in Japan from a base in my friends native province,
EH: How did you get involved with Akira Ifukube and Takashi Iida?
AF: My main interests were composition
and violin. Mr. Iida was teaching composition at Utsunomiya University,
so he was the obvious choice for me to come and study with. My string-playing
friends were involved in Sai-no-Kyoiku, a network of violin teachers
grouped around Shinichi Suzuki, the creator of the now world-famous
Suzuki Method. Among the high-ranking figures in this institution was
Mr. Takeshi Kobayashi, eminent violinist and pedagogue. It was my good
fortune that Mr. Kobayashi accepted me among his violin pupils. When,
after a year in Utsunomiya, I moved to Tokyo, it was Mr. Kobayashi who
suggested I should meet Mr. Ifukube and seek to study composition with
him. Mr. Kobayashi arranged a meeting at Mr. Ifukubes house
located, I seem to remember, in the district of Takanodai - at which
Mr. Ifukube looked at my scores and agreed to take me on as a pupil.
EH: How long did you study with Ifukube?
AF: For two years from 1981 to 1983.
EH: What were your first impressions of Akira Ifukube?
AF: From the onset I was impressed by Mr.
Ifukubes grace and elegance in appearance and demeanour. He wore
his hair neatly combed back, he dressed carefully, always in a suit
and bow-tie, he had the most impeccable manners and he spoke with enormous
polish and courtesy. It was immediately clear to me that this was a
man of great sensitivity and generosity of heart, to whom respect for
human beings came naturally. He was also remarkably modest, speaking
about his achievements only when asked, and then only as was necessary
to address the specific question that had been put to him.
EH: What aspect(s) of composition/theory did you study under
AF: We covered aspects of structure and orchestration.
EH: What were your thoughts of him as a teacher?
AF: He was truly inspirational. He gave
of his time and energy with such unstinting generosity that one came
out of his lessons in an ebullient mood, feeling renovated and energised.
He was interested in discussing technicalities only as a means to an
end, never getting bogged down in unnecessary speculation. His overriding
interests, at least as manifested in his lessons with me, were structure
and orchestration. He would relish talking about them and he would always
find a vivid metaphor to explain his ideas simply and accessibly
no mean achievement, considering that my language skills in Japanese
must have been fairly basic.
What lasting impressions has Ifukube's teaching left on your compositional
Mr. Ifukube set great store by clarity of structure and discernible
direction in the flow of the music. To this day I tend to demand these
conditions of my own pieces. Sometimes I do set out to write a new work
without knowing in advance where it is going to head, but I feel naughty
to do so when I remember Mr Ifukubes injunction that the composer
cannot afford to start jotting ideas aimlessly anymore than the architect
can draw plans without knowing whether the project in hand will be a
bridge, or a hospital, or a theatre.
EH: Do you have any interesting stories/anecdotes from the time
you spent with him?
AF: A remarkable aspect of our lessons was their duration, from
about two in the afternoon till well into the evening. They would take
place at his house. He would go through my score and make his comments,
always useful and instructive. Then the conversation would take off
in all directions: language, history, literature, trees and, of course,
music. I infer he must have owned a veritable museum of musical instruments
from the fact that he delighted in disappearing from the sitting room
to come back a few minutes later bringing an exotic instrument the conversation
had happened to touch upon.
enjoyed fine wines and cheese, and was fond of sharing them in convivial
company. I believe we dispatched a bottle or two on more than one occasion.
What did he see in me, I wonder, to induce him to lavish so much precious
time on an obscure young Bolivian? Clearly not talent, since his final
letter of reference was rather lukewarm in this regard - and he can
hardly be blamed, for I, too, feel lukewarm about the music I was writing
at the time. I think we just hit it off. I was voraciously interested
in his teachings, and he, too, was interested in the different angles
I brought to bear.
Ifukue and Agustín Fernández
He was proud of his entry in The New Grove, a publication he
seemed to hold in great esteem and appeared to have read with alarming
thoroughness. Once he sounded out my opinion on Alberto Ginastera, which
I gave to the best of my ability. I said that I enjoyed the colourful
orchestral writing in Estancia and Panambí, but
had been bemused by the expressionistic operas. He seized on this to
express his surprise that the author of Ginasteras entry in The
New Grove had allowed himself to break into the kind of adulation
for his subject that greater composers had not been afforded. I was
touched by his sense of injury at seeing such a reputable publication
behave in a perceivedly biased manner.
still treasure Mr. Ifukubes farewell present: a hanko (signature
stamp) he had had made for me with his interpretation of my surname
in Japanese characters. Sadly I havent had occasion to use it,
but I do look at it fondly every now and then. He gave me the present
at a dinner party shortly before my departure from Japan. Was the party
at his house? I think so, although I feel most ungrateful not to remember
exactly. Around the table were Mr. and Mrs. Ifukube, Mr. and Mrs. Kobayashi
Takeshi Kobayashi, Ifukube and Fernández
Are you familiar with any of his concert/film music? If so, what are
your favorite pieces?
AF: I confess that I have not seen any of the Godzilla movies,
nor have I heard the soundtracks. My acquaintance with his output is
based entirely on his concert music. I am particularly fond of the Second
Violin Concerto, which I heard live in 1982 at an all-Ifukube concert
with my other teacher, Takeshi Kobayashi, on the solo violin, and enjoyed
hearing again, with a younger player on the solos, on a tape the maestro
gave me when we said goodbye. Tragically I lost this tape almost immediately
when my bags were stolen in Lima, Peru, en route to Bolivia. I also
admire Lauda Concertata in Keiko Abes masterly rendition.
Sinfonia Tapkaara is another favourite. And, of course, the much-loved
Japanese Rhapsody, which would invariably draw roars of approval
in the live performances I attended.
EH: Do you have any final remarks?
AF: I was deeply sorry to hear of Mr. Ifukubes demise.
Since I last saw him in 1983 I wrote to him a few times - in English
since my command of kanji was never that strong and I
now regret not having persevered. He had far too many admirers to be
able to afford the time to write back, in a foreign language, to a former
student, but I should have written again, once a year, to tell him how
I was doing. I am so sorry I didnt. When I came to England in
1984 I dedicated to him my Meditación No. 1 for chamber
ensemble, a work in which I began to process the inner transformation
Japan and, in no small measure, Mr. Ifukube had unleashed
will always remember him as an inspired composer, a man of enormous
integrity, incomparable grace and, above all, a generous and insightful