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Jimmy López Bellido takes us to an explosion of sound

04 June 2024
6 min reading time

Peruvian composer Jimmy López Bellido’s works are performed everywhere across the globe. His trombone concert Shift, which was specifically written for Jörgen van Rijen, will be premiered on June 14th in Rotterdam. López Bellido on van Rijen: “He’s a fantastic soloist.”

Jimmy López Bellido (45) travelled to Arizona to attend the global debut of his song cycle Quiet Poems, sung by American star tenor Michael Fabiano. Although he can’t go to every performance (his 2007 orchestral piece Fiesta alone was performed 150 times), López Bellido tries to attend every premiere of his works. “I have the giant privilege of being able to listen to different executions of my music, live and sometimes online. Occasionally I’ll want to make small adjustments to a piece after hearing it in premiere, but I force myself to wait until I’ve listened to multiple performances. Every orchestra and every musician puts their own spin on my music, so I can’t judge if anything needs to be changed based on just one performance. All the possible interpretations of what I make is what makes my job so fun!”

Avoiding clichés

As a former trumpet player, López Bellido feels a familiarity with the sound of the trombone. At the time of this interview he has finished two parts of his four-part trombone concerto Shift, which he is writing for Jörgen van Rijen: “Jörgen is a fantastic soloist with tons of experience. We stay in touch regularly, he knows what he wants but he also gives me all the space I need. He has collaborated with many other contemporary composers, including James MacMillan and Tan Dun who both wrote a concerto for him.”

López Bellido wants nothing to do with the typical trombone clichés, like a big brassy sound or using many glissandi. “In my earlier work from 2022, Aino, I did use a lot of glissandi in both the strings and brass. But for this trombone concerto I have a very different concept. There are no trombones or tuba in the orchestration so the solo trombone can have its own distinctive voice. For this concerto I’m focused on the interaction with the orchestra, the dialogue.”

He adds: “As a composer, you should know the possibilities of a certain musical instrument but in the end it’s the musical ideas that count. Like a painter or sculptor, you can have many different materials at your disposal but you have to create something interesting with it.”

Doppler effect

The constant traffic in Lima, Peru where López Bellido grew up, became the inspiration for Shift’s sound. “I’m always aware of sounds in my environment, and Lima is a very busy place. During a walk I heard the pitch of beeping cars and ambulances change as they flew by, known as the Doppler effect in natural science. Shift is about this kind of change in sound. Every part in this trombone concerto represents a different element, like water, light and sound. In the final act these elements come together to create an explosion of sound.”

Internationally engaged

At age 21, López Bellido left Lima to study music composing at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, under the Finnish composers Veli-Matti Puumala en Eero Hämeenniemi. After achieving his master degree López Bellido moved to the US, where he studied at the University of California in Berkeley. After years of living in San Francisco, López Bellido feels well at home. López Bellido’s eye for the international can be heard in his works. “Finding my own musical identity has been a journey. I really wanted to create a space for every single different background of mine to live in the music I was making, but that felt a little forced sometimes. Now I apply my life experience and backgrounds very naturally. My orchestral composition Aino is inspired by the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic poem for example. The writing process brought me back to the barren planes of the far north. In comparison, my 2012 orchestral piece Perú Negro shows my Afro-Peruvian roots.”

For this concerto I’m focused on the interaction with the orchestra, the dialogue.
López Bellido

Healthy body in a healthy mind

López Bellido lives a disciplined life. Every workday he composes music from ten to five with very few breaks. After work he goes to work out at the gym. López Bellido’s Instagram account showcases a kaleidoscope of impressive musculature and soberly-dressed musicians in classical concert venues. “Working out is intense and requires a lot of special care, including responsible eating habits. It’s an entire lifestyle. I need the physical activity, because I sit down at the computer and piano all day to compose. Mens sana in corpore sano I suppose.”

Until the last breath

López Bellido concurs that the life of a freelance composer can be tough sometimes. “Every composer deals with deadline stress. I’m lucky to be quite disciplined and mostly able to finish my work on time. What’s harder for me is the period between assignments. The weeks before a premiere are usually very intense; a lot of rehearsals, talking to soloists and conductors and sometimes last minute changes. After a premiere it feels like a weight is lifted off my shoulders but I also feel an emptiness. Then I know I need to recharge, and I’ll go to a museum or the cinema.” When asked if he would be able to continue this schedule, López Bellido replies: “I can’t do this any other way, I want to compose music until the day I die. Maybe I’ll take it a little easier once I turn eighty, but the feeling that I’m short on time is always there.”

Text: Inge Jongerman        Photo: Igor Studios

This article appeared in Intrada, edition 2024-25 nr. 2.

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