by Josep Maria Guix
The garden demarcates a space and establishes order where once capricious nature reigned, it creates a pleasant landscape sprung from the imagination of the one who designed it. When the wanderer enters, without hurry, the garden transforms time: everything seems to slow down and flow gently to the liturgy of wood and water, wind and rock. The garden is, after all, a metaphor for the world that has watched it grow.
Like a Japanese garden, the music of Ramon Humet is beautiful, refined, transparent, and often playful. It is so, both in intention and in the measured use of the means employed, –I cannot but relate his music to Joan Miró’s series Constellations. His work is capable of conveying the happy fascination of a child making a new discovery: music of magical smiles built on a foundation of solid technique. Music that flows naturally, –a feat in itself!– that seems to disguise the hours of experimentation and careful thought that went into its composition.
For some years now, Humet has been struck by the sensitivity of ancient Japanese culture. This has meant, inevitably, gazing at surrounding nature and finding beauty in every detail. And every object in the environment, whether stone, leaf, star or insect, becomes a universe of sensations that interact and, ultimately, lead to a spiritual attitude towards life.
A fascination with Japanese art also implies stripping one’s discourse of superfluous elements in order to arrive at that which is essential. Hence the use of haiku as the starting point for many compositions. The ability to evoke these lines of scant syllables is so surprising that it has tied the music inseparably to the associated images. We should not think, however, that this is descriptive music in the usual sense: it is, rather, a successful symbiosis between different arts.
Having captured the spirit, the visual elements and the form’s rigour, it just remained for the author to concentrate on the sounds. The bamboo flute was the starting point. In fact, Humet had long been captivated by shakuhachi, to the extent of taking regular classes in order to play it himself. This knowledge from the inside has allowed him to integrate aspects of the ancient flute into his music: its tonal inflections, the presence of air as an essential part of musical discourse, the meditative nature of the music.
However, his sensitivity towards Asian culture has germinated in very fertile ground, planted long before. Ramon Humet’s restless personality has been forged in various fields: musical, literary, technological, and that of life itself. The study of the piano, at first, and, later, of traditional composition, provided the essential theoretical and practical basis for the development of professional skills –a 'necessary' condition, as he says, but 'insufficient in itself to create interesting music'. His knowledge of engineering, meanwhile, has made it simpler to apply technology to performance and composition. But the real turning point was meeting Jonathan Harvey, in the summer of 2000, during the workshop for young composers of the National Youth Orchestra of Catalonia. From that meeting, new creative horizons opened up, above all the influence of spectralism, –mostly in practical terms, of research and treatment of materials, rather than in a dogmatic sense. From here arose the passion for all those composers –George Benjamin, György Ligeti, Toru Takemitsu, Per Norgard– who are so careful with harmony, subtle in their modulation of orchestral colour, true to the desire to innovate without destroying the link with tradition. This last aspect is crucial for those who approach the legacy of the Masters 'with great respect and admiration'. Talking with Ramon Humet means sharing the delight he takes in art, the poetry of Basho or Pessoa, or the polyphonic music of the Renaissance. He has never ceased to transmit an enviable enthusiasm for everything he does.
Residing in a small village of the Baix Camp area, at the foot of a rocky hill, the author has left behind the constant tumult of the big city of his birth, valiantly rejecting everything that is not essential to be able to compose. Always aware of recent developments, of significant changes, –his isolation has nothing to do with an apocalyptic attitude, and he is perfectly integrated into today’s culture–, the composer sits at his table, a cup of green tea in his hand, and goes back to his music, –humbly, rigorously, and with love–, picking up from the point where he left it the day before.
Josep Maria Guix, composer. (Translated by Rebecca Simpson)
The refined sound-world of Ramon Humet
by Javier Pérez Senz
'His music is delicate and subtle, with high poetic imagination.' With these words Jonathan Harvey expressed his sincere admiration for the talent of the Catalan composer Ramon Humet (Barcelona, 1968), a musician of subtle sensibilities, imagination and strong compositional technique, who has established a place in his own right in the vanguard of the new generation of Spanish composers, those who have gained a growing international reputation in recent years thanks to the fine quality, inspiration and musical style of their works.
Humet, a telecommunications engineer, was a pupil of Gerry Weil and Harriet Serr’s, with whom he studied in Caracas from 1986 to 1989; special mention should also be made of his studies in composition and orchestration with Josep Soler and piano with Miquel Farré. He stepped onto the international stage when he received the prestigious Olivier Messiaen Composition Award in 2007 for his work Escenas de pájaros (Scenes of Birds), which also won the 2006 Queen Sofia Prize for Composition. The world premiere, on January 10, 2007, at the Théâtre Maisonneuve in Montreal, performed by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jean-François Rivest, and the Spanish premiere, in October of the same year, with the RTVE Symphonic Orchestra under its then chief conductor, Adrian Leaper, marked a turning point in his career. His work is serious and meticulous, with no dramatic effects, and has earned him growing popularity. There is a clear desire to advance in his composition, which is increasingly refined without losing its extraordinary communicative power.
The last decade or so, since 2000, has been a very fruitful, creative period for Humet. Slowly but surely he has built up a large catalogue of works, many of oriental inspiration, refining his language in a continuous process: pieces such as Tres Nocturns, for soprano sax and symphony orchestra; Mantra II for percussion group; Escenes del bosc (Forest Scenes), an album for piano structured in different volumes; ...from the Meadows for flute, saxophone, piano, percussion and electronics; and Jardí de haikus (Garden of Haikus) for chamber ensemble. These pieces have gradually moulded and strengthened his attractive musical personality.
In fact, Música del no ésser (Music of Non-being) brings together four scores that share a great deal of common ground. The first to see the light was Vent transparent (Transparent Wind), a work commissioned by the Fundació Caixa Catalunya and premiered with great success on August 14, 2008 at the Torroella de Montgrí International Music Festival (Girona). The crowd warmly applauded the work, dazzled by the array of musical and poetic images let loose by the young composer from Barcelona in an impeccably accomplished piece only 10 minutes long.
Humet is a musician with imagination, vitality and charisma, who knows how to express his musical thoughts using the most varied techniques and expressive resources, and the works comprising Music of Non-being combine a highly refined timbre, subtle atmosphere and much musical charm. The composer’s interest in Japanese philosophy and traditional music plays an important role in his creative process. In the case of Music of Non-being, Humet was inspired by a short poem written by the Zen monk Daido Ichi´i just before he died: A tune of non-being / filling the void: / spring sun, / snow whiteness, / bright clouds, / clear wind.
The four movements – which can be performed in isolation – are 'generated by a very concise melodic motif' and acquire their most revealing poetic and musical dimension when they are played together. Humet wrote these pieces in a particularly fruitful period and they exemplify the consolidation of a symphonic language that has matured without a single false step, whose writing is increasingly rich, full and suggestive. The lines inspire images whose translation into sound stirs the imagination of the listener, either through the peace and serenity evoked by the line 'snow whiteness', or the contrasts that animate the fourth movement, where the more extroverted and brilliant character of the line 'bright clouds' emerges. To use Humet’s words this movement 'proposes a harmony full of colour, with resonant and powerful interval aggregates. Its cheerful tempo makes the brass sing in a sort of final fanfare that drags the orchestra into a climax full of the joy of life.'
The attraction to colour, the constant search for a world of sounds able to grip and fascinate the listener has been a constant in Humet’s orchestral language since his earliest works, such as the Three Nocturnes written in 2001, his first work for symphony orchestra, premiered by the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid and José Ramón Encinar, with Manuel Miján as soloist. The refinement of the language is another constant in his work, as evidenced by the quantum leap forward in quality in the aforementioned Scenes of Birds, in which the fascination with timbre is linked to an increasingly subtle and imaginative mastery of resources.
Humet takes a great deal of interest in the concertante genre, and he again reveals his inspiration and talent in the Concerto for Piano and Instrumental Ensemble - And the World was Calm, commissioned by the Grup Instrumental bcn216. The work was premiered on March 5, 2010 at the Ars Musica Festival in Belgium by pianist Jordi Masó – to whom the piece is dedicated – and the aforesaid Barcelona ensemble, conducted by Ernest Martínez Izquierdo. The same musicians later recorded the piece on November 10 in the same year, at the Auditori de Barcelona.
The composer himself has mentioned the two-fold source of inspiration for the piece in his notes: 'My little boy experimenting with the piano and my reading of the famous poem The House was Quiet and the World was Calm from Transport to Summer by the North American poet Wallace Stevens. The basic musical material is inspired by the typical gestures of a child experimenting with a piano keyboard: sharply contrasting chords in the extreme registers and the insistence on two specific notes. In fact, the work began with the exposition of a series of chords inspired by this exploration of the extreme registers. In the central section, the notes G and A form a motif that recreates the child’s insistence on playing these notes'.
It is a curious starting point, combined with ideas that emerged from the reading of the Stevens’ poem, which once again illustrates the power of literature to influence the conception of a work. In fact, Humet is a passionate reader, especially fascinated by poetry. If the reading of poems by three nineteenth century English writers – William Blake, William Wordsworth and John Keats – lies in the origin of his Three Nocturnes, and the short death poem by the Zen monk Daido Ichi’i inspired Music of Non-being, on reading the poem by Wallace Stevens one aspect immediately caught the composer’s attention: 'The repetition of the scene of calm, which is transformed into a metascene constructed as a superposition of several planes that even involve the reader himself. For me this ambiguous and iterative deployment of the same scene conjured up a multi-directional treatment of time: horizontal time in sections i and iii, with an abundant proliferation of the original material; vertical time in sections ii and vi, with resonant chords and echoes; and both horizontal and vertical time in section iv, in the form of compact blocks of textures and mechanical motifs; and overlapping layers of time in Section v, the soloist’s cadenza'.
In a nutshell, this is music full of vitality, imagination and energy, the work of a composer with charisma, with clear ideas and his own identity in the contemporary panorama of Spanish musical creativity.
Javier Pérez Senz, journalist and music critic. (Translated by Chris Gladwin)
The music of Ramon Humet (Barcelona, 1968), composer and engineer, has received widespread acceptance from audiences and critics thanks to his relentless search for a highly refined personal language and the balance between form and expression. After studying composition with the composer Josep Soler, he met the British composer Jonathan Harvey, an encounter that deeply marked his creative path.
In 2007 he was awarded the Olivier Messiaen International Composition Prize, which brought the commission —on the initiative of conductor Kent Nagano— of the orchestral composition Scenes of Wind for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, premiered in 2008 and conducted by Jacques Lacombe. His orchestral music has also received awards such as the XXIV Queen Sofia International Composition Prize and the XVI International Composition Prize Ciutat de Tarragona. In 2014 he has been guest composer at Palau de la Música Catalana.
Ramon Humet’s music exudes an intense love of nature, embodied in some of his symphonic works, such as Música del no ésser (Music of Non-being), premiered by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pablo Gonzalez, El temps i la campana (Time and the Bell), premiered by Spanish National Orchestra conducted by Guillermo García Calvo, or Escenes d’ocells (Scenes of Birds), an orchestral work that has been the subject of multiple performances conducted by Jean François Rivest, Adrian Leaper, Roberto Minczuk, Víctor Pablo Pérez, Edmon Colomer and Rubén Gimeno with several orchestras. Piano music is a key facet in the catalogue of Humet's works, and Volume III in the series Escenes del bosc (Forest Scenes), stands out: the piece was commissioned by the Association pour la Création et la Diffusion Artistique and was premiered at the Cité de la Musique in 2007 as a mandatory piece in the prestigious Concours Olivier Messiaen for piano. Also, volume V was premiered at Tokyo Opera Recital Hall in 2014 by Satoko Inoue.
His music has been described by Josep Maria Guix as 'beautiful, refined, transparent, and often playful. Music of magical smiles built on a foundation of solid technique.'. Often inspired by Japanese traditional music for shakuhachi, some of his most relevant works for chamber music have been released on a specially designed compact disc, 'Niwa', recorded by London Sinfonietta and conducted by Nicholas Collon. This CD, produced by Neu Records label, has been recorded with high definition sound and 5.1 Surround system, and has been reviewed by Gramophone Magazine as a 'fascinating project'.
Ramon Humet has taught composition at the Liceu Conservatory since 2009 and has a wide repertoire of vocal, instrumental, electroacoustic and stage music, with particular attention paid to orchestral production.