Tapping and hi-hatting clarinettist in Keyla Orozco’s Estudio del Pajarillo

Though in the last decade she has been living in the United States, Keyla Orozco still has a strong bond with the Netherlands. On 11 April clarinettist David Kweksilber will perform her Estudo del pajarillo for a live stream from Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ Amsterdam.

Born in Santiago de Cuba in 1969 Keyla Orozco studied piano and composition at the Escuela Nacional de Arte and Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. In 1995 she moved to the Netherlands, to continue her studies with Theo Loevendie at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague and the Sweelinck Conservatoire in Amsterdam, where she became his assistant in 2002. In 2014 she moved to the US.

Keyla Orozco © Gabriel Guerra Bianchini

In her music Orozco explores her roots and in 2006 she conducted extensive field-research into the traditional Venezuelan/Colombian music known as Música Llanera. This project was subsidized by the Dutch Performing Arts Funds, and her later compositions have been strongly influenced by Latin-American rhythms. As in Estudio del Pajarillo for clarinet, hi-hat and tapping shoe that she composed for the Dutch clarinettist David Kweksilber in 2007. Orozco kindly answered some questions via email from Cuba.

Could you tell something about the title?

The Pajarillo (‘Little Bird’) is a popular music and dance style of Venezuela, which uses a harmonic circle of V-I-IV-V, in a minor key. It is very polyrhythmic, using 6/8 and 3/4 metres simultaneously. It’s a favourite with­­­ dancers and musicians and belongs to the Joropo family. This is the National music and dance style of Venezuela, which originated in the Plains around the Orinoco river. Traditionally it is performed with harp, cuatro (four-string guitar), and maracas. 

After my field research in Venezuela in 2006, I wrote Estudio del Pajarillo for bass clarinet, employing the original harmonic pattern. I wanted to have the polyrhythms of the traditional instruments reflected in just one single instrument. Therefore David not only plays his instrument, but also taps and plays percussion.

How did you decide on the tapping shoe and hi-hat? 

Originally, I wanted the player to accompany himself by tying something noisy to one foot, for instance bells. But David didn’t have any and instead suggested to use a hi-hat he had at home… At first I thought he was crazy, but I let him try it anyway, and I LOVED IT. The more so because it makes the piece more theatrical. The hi-hat may be replaced by bells if the performer doesn’t own a hi-hat, but he or she must wear a normal shoe on that particular foot.  

I’d had a tapping shoe in mind for the other foot straightaway, but hadn’t expected any bass clarinet player to own tapping shoes, or dancing shoes in general for that matter. So I asked David to use a shoe he could produce a good percussive sound with. But he again surprised me, for he did own a pair of beautiful tapping shoes and said he could even dance a little. So I went for it! I even included a cadenza in which he can improvise his own tap dance. After all, Pajarillo is a type of dance.

Pajarillo means ‘little bird’. Have you striven to imitate bird song in the score?

No, but David does play really fast and florid motifs, rapidly switching from one register to another. Also, the clarinet uses a couple of effects you might call ‘extended techniques’, but these are not of great importance. Rather I would highlight the sense of harmony and polyphony that I have tried to achieve in the treatment of the melody itself. Estudio del Pajarillo is technically very demanding. It’s a real virtuoso piece that is in excellent hands and feet with David!

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David Kweksilber performs Estudio del Pajarillo in Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam

More info on the programme at Muziekgebouw

About Thea Derks

I am a Dutch music journalist, specializing in contemporary music, and a champion of women composers. In 2014 I wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw (3rd edition in 2020) and in 2018 I published 'Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht'.
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