• 3(afl;pic).2+ca.2+bcl.2+cbn.wood fl/0+6hn340/timp.perc/hp.pf/str
  • SATB
  • 25 min

Programme Note

Article taken from the Wall Street Journal:

The music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic has composed the soundtrack to 'The Liberator,' a sweeping bio pic of South American legend Simón Bolívar
Sept. 30, 2014

The imposing name and gaunt visage of Simón Bolívar is memorialized throughout South America, on money, building facades and town plazas. Countless monuments pay tribute to the "Liberator," the soldier-statesman who carved out five republics—Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia—in the early 19th century.

Growing up in Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel was surrounded by images of this mythic figure.

"This is the way we Venezuelans know about Bolívar, as the hero, as the liberator," says Mr. Dudamel, the 33-year-old music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
But the maestro aimed for a different image when he sat down to compose the score for "Libertador" (The Liberator), a feature film about Bolívar's life, which opens Oct. 3.
Mr. Dudamel wanted to take Bolívar down from his equestrian statues and put him in the street, transforming the national idol into a human being. The composer's chief inspiration was a brassy orchestral work infused with a spirit of populism: Aaron Copland's 1942 "Fanfare for the Common Man."

"Bolívar was not a common man," Mr. Dudamel says. "But the common man experiences all levels in the course of his life: suffering, anguish, joy, passion. And this was Bolívar, as a man of flesh and bone, who came to lead a heroic, gigantic undertaking."
That undertaking, of course, was nothing less than breaking the Spanish Empire's grip on colonial Latin America. Bolívar was the Napoleon of the region, routing superior forces with rag-tag armies and strategic cunning. In later years, he controversially appointed himself ruler over some territories he had conquered.

"The Liberator" is a Spanish-Venezuelan co-production, with dialogue in English and some subtitled Spanish. The filmmakers sought to craft a nuanced portrait of Bolívar, beyond the official hagiography. The title role is played by Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez, who brought a charismatic machismo to "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "Carlos," about the real-life terrorist-assassin known as The Jackal. Spanish actress María Valverde portrays Bolívar's wife, whose premature death devastated the Liberator. Danny Huston has a juicy part as a fictional English financier.

Mr. Dudamel tapped into his Hollywood network when composing this, his first movie soundtrack. "To live in Los Angeles inspired me a lot," he says. "And of course it was a huge help. I had the chance to talk to John Williams, for example, and he gave me so much advice." Mr. Dudamel says the composer of scores for "Jaws," "Star Wars" and many other films has offered technical suggestions as well as moral support.

The project was a personal and professional reunion of sorts for the composer, the leading man and another Venezuelan, Alberto Arvelo, the director of "Libertador." Mr. Arvelo's 2006 documentary, "Tocar y Luchar" (To Play and To Fight) spotlighted Venezuela's national El Sistema music-education program, whose alumni include Mr. Dudamel. Venezuela's national Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, which contains many El Sistema graduates and is led by Mr. Dudamel, recorded the "Libertador" soundtrack.

The three men first worked together in 2010 on the L.A. Philharmonic's
multimedia "Americas and Americans Festival" at Walt Disney Concert Hall, featuring works by Copland and Latin American composers such as Antonio Estévez. The program included a film by Mr. Arvelo and textual readings by actors including Helen Hunt and Mr. Ramírez.
Initially, Mr. Dudamel was recruited as a musical adviser to the movie. But after he came up with a thematic melody, the filmmakers decided that he should take on the entire score—his first composition to be performed and recorded.

In "Libertador," psychological and emotional plot points alternate with epic battle scenes. More than 10,000 extras participated. The battlefield music echoes Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," while some of the film's tender motifs may call to mind Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto"—albeit with Andean flutes and lute-like cuatros.

"For me, the key moment in the film for Bolívar is the death of María Teresa, his wife," the conductor says. "So from this point of view, all the motifs, all the themes that I was developing for the film, were developed from the same theme, of a melancholy and nostalgic heroism."

Mr. Ramírez says Messrs. Dudamel and Arvelo succeeded in finding "the right balance" between their subject's outsize life "and also the vernacular identity needed for this movie."
"I'm a huge fan of 'Braveheart,' 'The Patriot,' 'Lawrence of Arabia,' 'Gandhi,' and all these big, classic epic movies," Mr. Ramírez says. "But we also aspired to make our own, to respond to an inner voice…that epic coming from Latin America."

Mr. Arvelo says many people "know about a few events" of Bolívar's life, "usually exaggerated and sugarcoated, but very little about him as a human being." Initially, the director had planned to adapt Gabriel García Márquez's 1989 novel "The General In His Labyrinth," a warts-and-all depiction of the Liberator's final days. The book's controversial portrayal polarized writers and intellectuals across the hemisphere.
Bolívar died at 47 a physically broken and poor man, disillusioned with what he had wrought. "Latin America is ungovernable," he wrote in his last years. "He who serves the revolution plows the sea."

Although Bolívar never realized his dream of a unified Gran Colombia, encompassing vast stretches of northern South America and parts of Central America, Mr. Arvelo says, his "legacy is the sense of Latin American identity in his ideals, which echo from the Patagonia to the Río Grande."

Mr. Dudamel puts the Bolívarian legacy somewhat differently. "It's like Nietzsche said in 'Zarathustra': Each one of us is his own hero, in elevating his own spirit," Mr. Dudamel says. "This heritage, this moral uplift that Bolívar left us, is very important for us as citizens of a continent that is still growing."