An Interview with David Moliner: “If you really want to know how you are, music is the perfect art for you to know it

David Moliner, compositor.

David Moliner, composer.

He is 28 and divides his time between Berlin   where he is currently studying composition with no more, no less than Jörg Widmann, Madrid and Castellón, his hometown in Spain. David Moliner is a composer and percussionist, a musician who believes in the expressive gesture in music. Expression means everything to him. And this is something you can tell when you talk to him. Humble, modest, thoughtful, but also very passionate and enthusiastic in conversation face to face. For David Moliner the music we call “contemporary music” is related to the tradition of Bach and Beethoven. He defends that the current classical music (contemporary music) is not conceptual, neither cold nor cerebral… at least it should not be like that. Very much on the contrary, David Moliner is a champion of expressiveness, of the expressive gestures that make us understand both music and the world around us. David Moliner and I meet up in Madrid for chat. From the very first moment, I realize, that regardless whether you like his music or not, it is true that you can’t help but paying attention and listening carefully to a young man who is so enthusiastic and passionate about what he does and creates.

Where does your love for music come from and why percussion and not piano?

My real love for music comes from trains. I was, and still I am, very fond of trains as a child…

¡Honegger, Pacific 231!

[David laughs] Yes! And Steve Reich also has a work about trains, a string quartet. And Dvořák used to go and see the trains as well. He used to take his composition students to the station of Prague… As I was saying before, as a child I used to go a lot by train with my parents, because I liked it and it calmed me down. I was hyperactive, still I am, but back then I also had colics. And the only thing that calmed me down was the train. To me it seemed a very quiet and relaxing vehicle. I used to take the short distance train of Castellón, where I live. Also in Valencia. I remember I used to take the train in the afternoon, around 3 or 4 pm. They used to play classical music through the PA system, background music, you know. For me that was the perfect match, because it calmed me down and I had the chance to disconnect from my body restlessness. That’s how it all started. Then I also had some melodic dictations from my dad on the piano…

Is your father a musician as well?

Well, he is not, he is just keen on music, you know, the typical thing: he could play some notes and he was always telling me I should join the conservatory. That is how I started. At the beginning, I felt myself as a kind of frustrated pianist. I always wanted to study piano, but when I took the entrance exam, although I had a very good result, the thing is that there were no places left at the conservatory in Castellón. My friends studied percussion, so I took up percussion. I admit that, at the beginning, I had trouble with it because I also wrote music and the percussion…

Did you compose before studying music?

Yes, I did, although in a very intuitive manner. I had some music software called Encore and I used the piano. I wrote a chamber symphony or something like that. I remember I spent long hours at it. That was something really enriching to me. Then I took up percussion and that is how it all started.

And how is it that being a percussionist you haven’t gone for rock music?

I suppose it depends on the way you are. Everyone is different. My dad likes classical music a lot. When I used to listen to classical music on the train as a child, it reminded my of the music my dad listened to. I remember my dad had a tape of Beethoven’s Seventh conducted by Karajan and Haendel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks and the Concerti a due cori. To me that was a real catharsis, it seemed a very dramatic music to me, more even than some rock music. That was it! In my world I didn’t have much rock or pop music. Then I got an LP with popular classics conducted by Ataúlfo Argenta. I’ve always tried to fit percussion into the circuit of classical music.

In your two sides as percussionist and composer, which one weighs more?

I have always tried to do both in parallel, but the thing is that it has never been like that. I was caught in the middle of the Bologna Plan and it became impossible for me to do both composition and percussion. Actually, I haven’t finished my composition studies yet, I am a percussionist. However, I received composition lessons from the maestro Voro García in Valencia. Then I left for Madrid and studied with Alberto Posadas, with José Luis Toral… I was kind of catching different ideas and let them grow and mature. Then I took up lessons from Pascal Dusapin. You know, in the circuit of contemporary music it is not too well seen to go back to the past. Pascal Dusapin told my I should go back to my past. He was interested in the works I had written as a child. In that moment, all the pieces fit! I mean, I started doing what I modestly believe I am. The most difficult thing is to be hundred per cent honest with yourself. And that’s my main aspiration as a composer: to be honest with myself. Then there will be people who like what I do or not. Being honest is the most important thing. And it is hard these days in the world we live in.

Now that you are talking about honesty, what do you think is more honest: composing and let others perform your music or performing the works of other composers?

Everything comes together. When you are writing music, you are free, you are not a slave of anything; when you are performing works by other composers, this an exercise of humility, because you need to serve another person, you need to let the other person show you how it should sound and you have to keep as loyal to their music as possible. Both composing and performing are linked though.

So, being honest, can you ever be a prophet in your own land?

Castellón is a city where there is no stable music circuit, I mean, powerful, but I feel lucky that I belong to the Community of Valencia. This community has always had a great musical life. There are great musicians. I have always felt welcomed in my region and in Spain as well. In that sense, things have gone well for me. It is true that I had to work really hard though. I was living in Berlin and I had a call offering my a teaching position with a flexible schedule in high music schools in Spain. So, I came to Madrid and now I can combine my professional life as performer and composer with my teaching life. I think I have received quite a recognition in Spain both as concertist and as a composer. It all takes time!

What are your challenges as a composer?

That’s a tough one and there is a lot to say… Really, the most important aim I am always looking for is the issue of tension and distension. For me music is neutral. The only thing you can really talk about in music is action, our actions. Music is what you want it to be. Music is not only auditive, but visual as well. For example, it has been shown (we have done it in Berlin) that a clarinetist performing Debussy’s Rhapsodie achieved a complete different result by playing it with more corporal gestures than without them.  The semantics of music for the audience is very different in one case or another. That is what I aim at. In my humble opinion, I think the issue of tension and distension has been treated in a very weak manner in the history of music. I know I am being very superficial by saying that, but when, por example, Anton Webern came along, he showed us a different view on the second and seventh species in the twelve-tone system. He was able to polarize a note in such a way that you had to be very perceptive to hear it. That creates a great tension and distension, because it breaks the mode of the species. That is my aim: achieving the greatest tension and distension. I consider myself an expressionist. Beethoven did a lot, for example, in his Eroica, where you can hear some chords that break the mode of the species. And Bach does it as well in the cadence of the Brandenburg Concerto no. 5. That is what I am interested in! Being organic but with the highest level of expressiveness. Xenakis did it as well with his work Jonchaies. In my quest I try to create chords I call congruent and underlying.

David Moliner

What is a congruent chord?

It is a chord where you put all the tension together. An underlying chord is the one that relaxes that tension. You can speak of congruent gestures as well. I really try to take that tension and distension to its minimal level, like Webern did, and to its highest level as well. Webern uses lots of gestures. His works are full of gestures. He was always struggling with the expressiveness even with corporal gestures. With all due respect, I think when Pierre Boulez conducts the music of Webern without gesture, the semantics of the work gets lost. Many people think the music of Bach is rational the same as the music of Webern or Xenakis. To me, however, they are really very expressive composers.

Talking about expressiveness, which Spanish conductors you like the most in contemporary music?

I like Pablo Heras Casado. To me he is one the referents in this regard. It is true that Pablo studied with Pierre Boulez in Lucerne, but I choose him because of his expressivness. He has conducted lots of contemporary music works in Madrid and he makes you connect immediately with the music. I have something similar happening to me with Matthias Pintscher, a German conductor who lives in New York. I have worked with him in Lucerne and he is very expressive. Contemporary music has a lot in common with Beethoven and Bach. That is why I do not understand when people say that contemporary music is cerebral…

How can you explain to someone who does not usually listen to contemporary music that this kind of music has a lot to do with Bach, for example?

It has been our fault. A fault of us, the performers. We have not been able to explain it well, because we also have been told that the music of the 20th century was all conceptual. For example, Rihm was not well considered. Boulez controlled everything, you could not show expressiveness. But finally we have been liberated! Today you can speak about feelings, passion and expression in contemporary music. I think the music of the 21st century will take that path: expressiveness. So, how would I explain that contemporary music has a lot to do with Bach? With examples. The audience are not stupid, but sometimes they also need some explanations from us.

You have mentioned your father a couple of times. Which persons have influenced you the most in your life so far?

In regards with the way I am, I think I have always been between two extremes, because my parents are separated. My mum is very temperamental and my dad is more calm, appeased. My dad’s family is more conservative and my mum’s family more progressive. As a child I have been in Barcelona, but also in Castille, in a little town. I was between to worlds. I think I have some temperamental features from my mum, but also some features I call apollodionysian. If you really want to know how I am, listen to my music: thing with your heart and feel with your mind. As for my musical influences, I would quote the Spanish philosopher Ángel Gabilondo: “my best friends are Plato and Aristotle”. I cannot stop learning from Bach, Beethoven, Webern or Xenakis every time I listen to them.

Let say we could get Bach back to life just now and he could listen to your music, what do you think his reaction would be?

He might not understand the way I myself connect my “musical mechanisms” with his. Or may be he would! Bach was very clear with his ideas. However, I would like to say something Jörg Widmann told me once when he saw I was hesitating: “You cannot hesitate when writing music, because if Beethoven or Bach would be here now, you had to sit down next to them and look them in the face without fear”. Everyone has faults. I am full of them, but you have to fight and be able to speak with Beethoven or Bach face to face. Who knows, maybe Bach would like some of the things I do. Why not!

Let’s talk now about your career as a percussionist. What would you like to do that you have not done yet?

There is one thing I really would like and that is to play and conduct percussion in order to take it to the place it really deserves. Percussion is an instrument of the present. I have nothing against piano or violin, which have a great repertoire. Percussion is the most neutral instrument. It is visceral, it is lyrical, it is expressive, delicate, noble, it has so many different colours… It is almost more than an organ! I am planning to conduct percussion programs, because percussion is very gestural. I want it to be in the front line of solo instruments. Percussion is always associated with accompaniment, always the last in line! However, percussionists we pay attention to everything. We are the direct connection with the orchestra and the conductor. I have a project with the Riot Ensemble. They will come to Spain and we will go on tour together. We will be playing the Webern transcription of Ricercare a sei voci by Bach, Plectra by Xenakis, and the Concerto by Webern. We will also play a one of my works: Estructura no. 1.

Have you got any other projects?

In August 2020 we will premiere one of my works at the Konzerthaus Berlín: the Concerto for percussion and orchestra in collaboration with the Spanish National Youth Orchestra JONDE. It is a commission by the Asociación Española de Orquestas Sinfónicas. It will be played in Spain as well as in some other European cities. I have great expectations, because I will be playing a work of mine with such a great orchestra as the JONDE. Apart from my work, we will also be playing music of Falla and Mahler. And I also have some other projects with Jörg Widmann in Berlin.

Is there anything else you would like to say about contemporary music?

Yes. We have to convince people that they have to dare to think, dare to know the world they really live in. We are not simple animals. They sell us a simple world, but it is not. If you really want to know how you are, music is the most perfect art for you to know it, because you will see the abstract, you will put yourself on the shoes of the others and you will dare to exercise your thinking. Contemporary music has all that. Maybe I fail at expressing it in a better way, but you have to dare to know.

What will be your message for those people who read this interview in some years time?

Dare to think! We walk more and more like sheep. Be brave enough to stop, analyse and know the world you live in with all its complexity.

Michael Thallium

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1 comment to An Interview with David Moliner: “If you really want to know how you are, music is the perfect art for you to know it

  • Luisa Maria Gil Casorran

    Estimado David: Dentro de un rato empezara vuestro concierto en el Auditorio de Zaragoza. Siempre me gusta informarme sobre las obras e interpretacion que voy a escuchar, y de la que voy a disfrutar. Lo cierto es que me ha sorprendido tanto el curriculum de Garcia Tomas como el tuyo; y tengo gran curiosidad y deseo de escuchar vuestras composiciones.
    Os deseo mucho exito, en la alegria de que gente tan joven como vosotros hayais emprendido un camino tan dificil y comprometido como la musica sinfonica y clasica

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