Willanny Darias · Blog · Program notes for my new CD "Polychromatic"

Willanny Darias

Program notes for my new CD "Polychromatic"

March 10, 201723:54

Below the full program notes for the CD "Polychromatic", written by the pianist, Willanny Darias:

“It is the stretched soul that makes music. And souls are stretched by the pull of opposites — opposite points, tastes, yearnings, loyalties. Where there is no polarity, where energies flow smoothly in one direction, there will be much doing but no music, much noise but no music. The music is created by the meeting of silence and sound, the music is created by the polar opposites.” (Osho)

Polychromatic is a meeting of cultures and traditions experienced through piano music, in the hands of classically-trained Cuban pianist Willanny Darias. This multi-colored production contains works by Robert Schumann and Alban Berg, as well as four living Cuban composers: Aurelio de la Vega, José María Vitier, Aldo López-Gavilán and Yalil Guerra.

The Symphonic Études by Schumann, an 18-part work, turn the piano into an orchestra where different moods, timbres, and characters are blended and superimposed. The pianistic difficulties are not for purely technical virtuosity but instead are meant as a clarification of the form and an expression of the polyphonic complexity. This version of the work, which also includes the five posthumously-published variations, is able to portray the conversation between the imaginary characters which represent the two opposite, contrasting sides of Schumann’s personality — the introspective, melancholy sections in the voice of Eusebius, and the fiery, wild ones as told by Florestan.

Berg’s Piano Sonata firmly stands on the imagined fence between Romanticism and Modernism, between tonality and atonality, between tradition and innovation. While comprised of a single movement in sonata form, it is also an expression of Schoenberg’s idea of developing variation, since most of the musical material in the work can be traced back to the first two measures. The heavy use of chromaticism and whole-tone scales give the Sonata its unstable and almost-atonal feeling — at times yearning, at other times despairing, its final return to the key of B minor does not feel like an arrival, but rather a resignation.

Aurelio de la Vega’s Preludio no.1 was written in Cuba when he was 19 years old. The composer, now aged 91, has since become a significant figure in Latin American art music and the USA musical scene due to his vast catalogue of compositions which encompass almost all media, in addition to his work as lecturer, professor and writer. Although this Prelude is his earliest piano work and has an openly-Romantic style, it already portrays the individuality of young De la Vega and manages to paint a world of its own in only three minutes. The rich chromaticism of both harmony and melody creates intensity and drama in the opening section. This gives way to a middle section, where Neo-Impressionistic harmonies and gestures reminisce of natural landscapes and water — first as pulsating waves, and later as dreamy, shimmering reflections of those waves. The Preludio is concluded by a return to the initial intensity, which then fades away into the distance.

The two Danzas by José María Vitier, which Willanny learned while still a child studying in Cuba, are wonderful examples of this composer’s unique style that seamlessly fuses serious music with popular Cuban music. While well-known for his extensive catalogue of TV, radio, theater and film music, Vitier’s opus spans orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, and piano works, as well as religious works and jazz. The style in his piano music is influenced by the Cuban tradition of Saumell, Cervantes, and Lecuona, along with jazz and music from other Latin American countries. The Danza de Fin de Siglo (The End of the Century Dance) combines refined pianistic virtuosity with nostalgic melodies and the Cuban Danzón rhythm, and evokes memories of things past. In Juego de Muchachos (Young People’s Game), the fast tempo and lively rhythms, together with the charming, coquettish melodic gestures, effectively depict the playful spirit of youth.

Aldo López-Gavilán, a young classical and jazz pianist and composer, is quickly becoming one of the most notable Cuban musical figures of his generation. This particular work of his, Pájaro Carpintero (Woodpecker), is refreshing and vibrant. Its most noticeable element is the theme, where the repeated notes imitate the Woodpecker bird as it carves a hole in a tree. These lively sections with the repeated-note theme are interspersed with more lyrical sections in which jazz harmonies come to the fore. The middle section breaks the pattern — it begins with the cell of the single repeated-note C, in sixteenth-notes, first on the right and then on the left hand. This rhythmic continuity is set against syncopations with the opposite hand in an improvised style. When chords are added to the mix, the momentum and the energy continue building up until an inevitable climax is reached which culminates in a variation of the lyrical theme. A recapitulation takes place, and then a rhythmic, celebratory Coda ends the work.

The last two pieces in the CD are written by composer, producer, arranger and classical guitarist Yalil Guerra. What is most striking about both works is the ease with which traditional Cuban melodic gestures and rhythmic figures are weaved into polyphonic textures, irregular rhythms and a modern and personal harmonic language. Guerra, a Latin Grammy winner for Best Classical Contemporary Composition and six times nominee, has composed for chamber and choral ensembles, as well as for solo instruments, including many works for piano.

The Homenaje a Aurelio de la Vega (Homage to Aurelio de la Vega), in the form of a Cuban Danzón theme with six variations and a Finale, is Yalil Guerra’s tribute to his composition professor, Aurelio. The variations are highly unified — not only by the theme, but also by the intervalic, polyphonic and harmonic treatment of the musical material. At the same time, they present a wide variety of moods and perspectives, from the ethereal and pensive, to the incisive and explosive. The textures are mostly polyphonic and include counterpoint and imitation, while the rhythm is complex due to the frequent use of polyrhythm, and irregular rhythms and meters.

The Toccata is a compact 5-minute piece that is both technically and energetically challenging. It consists of five contrasting sections in the first half, which are then repeated from beginning to end. However, there are subtle but constant changes in the repetitions, which make the second half of the work seem familiar, although not quite known. Technically it is equally demanding for both hands, and in some sections a Bachian influence can be perceived. The piece tends to oscillate between more playful, rhythmic elements; wild, frenetic outbursts; and a mix of both. Moreover, the Toccata is the work that initially connected the composer and producer Yalil Guerra with the pianist, Willanny, and it is therefore what led to the making of Polychromatic.

Willanny Darias (born 1993 in Havana, Cuba) completed her Bachelor and Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, where she studied with Solomon Mikowsky on a full scholarship. She received her musical education in Cuba from the age of 5 until 17 and had her symphonic debut at age 12. Recent appearances include solo recitals and chamber music performances in Havana, New York, Los Angeles, Germany, Sweden and Greece. Her awards include: five Grand and First prizes in Cuba; First Prize 2005 Maracaibo International Piano Competition (Venezuela); First Prize 2009 Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition (New York); First Prize 2010 Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC) Piano Competition; and Fourth Prize 2014 Panama International Piano Competition. Some live recordings of her performances can be found on her website,