Daughter of Composer Alberto Ginastera Opens Up

Monday, October 24, 2016 - 12:00 AM

Alberto Ginastera (BBC)

On Jan. 24, 2016, in Bal Harbor, Florida, I met Georgina Ginastera for an evening of conversation about her father, Alberto Ginastera. We talked about his music, his process, his personality, his goals and his challenges. I also had the opportunity to ask her questions like: What made him laugh? What was his favorite color? His favorite painter? His favorite food? What did he love besides music? It was an unforgettable experience in so many ways, but my favorite parts of our discussion related to her personal stories of life as the daughter of a famous composer. After performing Ginastera’s iconic Harp Concerto close to 200 times, I feel very close to his music — but with this conversation, it was so meaningful to feel just a little closer to the man.

Video: A centennial tribute to Alberto Ginastera by Yolanda Kondonassis.

Below are some of Georgina Ginastera’s interesting recollections:

Her father’s late-night composing in the next room would keep Georgina awake when she was a little girl.

"My father would work at night and sometimes I would awaken, a bit irritated, because I would hear him at the piano, searching, searching, finding, searching. I always say that these were the sounds of my youth — the search for notes and the finding of notes. Once, I woke up — I must have been a bit older, 6 or 7-years-old — and I wanted to sleep, but then he made me sit next to him at the piano and he told me, ‘the piano is my orchestra and this is my job because I’m a musician, and this is what I do.’ Then he showed me the manuscripts, they looked like hieroglyphics to me. ‘And these are the notes that I write,’ he told me. But he explained it to me in such a soothing manner as he tucked me into bed, that after that, I was able to sleep calmly while listening to him work.”

Alberto Ginastera was Astor Piazzolla’s spirit guide.

As a composition student of Ginastera's, Astor Piazzolla would frequently seek his teacher’s advice. After traveling to Paris to study composition for a time with Nadia Boulanger, Piazzolla returned to Argentina and felt he was without direction.

“He asked my father, ‘What should I write?’ My father answered his question with a question. ‘What is it that makes you happy to write?’ ‘I like to write tangos,’ Piazzolla said. ‘Then go write tangos,’ my father told him. And so, Piazzolla went on to become one of Argentina’s most famous composers and pioneered what is called the new tango.”

Ginastera loved to laugh.

“He had a great sense of humor. My father would find people, things, and jokes very amusing. He also loved to tell jokes, but he wasn’t very good at it. He had a side of him that was a bit shy. In contrast, his music — which is so extroverted — was not always in line with his own personality. But sometimes, he would tell a joke and then he would laugh by himself. It was so funny, of course, because people were not laughing, but I found it hilarious. Then I would laugh and he would chuckle at his own joke again. It was very endearing."

Ginastera was a fan of design, great art, and high style.

“My father liked the architecture of New York City — the Chrysler Building, anything Art Deco — and he loved the long boulevards of Paris. I think that he was inspired by modern things the most. My childhood house was mostly white; there was not much color, but there was a lot of white, black, and gray in the furnishing, and then, all of a sudden, a red couch. The color was primarily in the artwork, but there was not a single piece of art that was not modern. We had works by a Uruguayan painter, Torres Garcia, that were Cubist in style. Others were Impressionists. He had an impressive collection of art. He also had something that I now cherish and display in my home: two cats made of fluorescent pink plastic, by a pop-style artist. He also loved to wear brands such as Christian Dior to dress well. He was passionate about many things."

Ginastera loved to entertain.

“Several times a month, our home was like an open house. All the visiting artists from abroad would stop by for food and conversation. Stravinsky was a guest when he came to visit Buenos Aires and I remember being so surprised at his small physical stature. I thought to myself, ‘How can such a petite man write such powerful music?’ But on these occasions, we would work to entertain our guests - make small sandwiches, prepare the napkins, set the table. Sometimes the table was for ten people, but at other times there were forty and there was barely enough space for everyone. Guests would eat with a small plate while standing — a paella or rice with seafood — whatever could be easily eaten without knives. At first, when I was small, I didn't find it fun, but as I grew older I did begin to enjoy it. There was a mixture of so many people — students, artists, family — and it would always end with the younger guests playing Bossa Nova and tangos. It was very festive."

Ginastera had his own definition of success.

“My father was a man of yin and yang. His work is like that and his life was like that. I have this notion that people who are very talented, as my father was, have a gift that was given to them — talent. People like this have talent not only for one thing but for many things: to be a good father, to be a good friend, to be a good professor, to be a good musician. My father had a phrase that he loved that he would say was attributed to Picasso: ‘I don’t search, I find.’ I think that this phrase was a way to face his musical oeuvre, to search, but not to search for things, but to find them, to forge a path in which one would inevitably find things. That’s what he would do each night as he would be searching for every note ... it was to find those notes, not to be searching in other places, but to find them from within. And when it came to success, he would not consider it to be a good review, money, or recognition. His idea of success was that ‘if, after 100 years, my works would still continue to be performed and that audiences would continue to listen to them — that would be success.’ He would be happy today, in this moment."

I am so grateful to Georgina Ginastera for her candid recollections as we celebrate Alberto Ginastera’s lifetime of extraordinary work in 2016, his centennial year.

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Comments [2]

Geo. from St. Louis, MO

Indeed, very nice to read this post of stories from Georgina Ginastera, and many thanks to YK for it. If YK is reading this, I recently heard your new recording of AG's Harp Concerto with the Oberlin Orchestra, and it is terrific. I would recommend the album for your new recording of the Harp Concerto alone.

Nov. 02 2016 11:48 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

What a delight to read these reminiscences of Georgina Ginastera about her father, none of which I had known of previously; and it's doubling thrilling that the interview was held in Bal Harbour, Florida, because it's so close to Miami! Every time I listen to "Estancia", "Panambi", the "Concerto for Harp and Orchesta" and the "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra" they sound fresh and I always look forward to hearing them again; and I look forward to hearing his compositions that new to me. Justifiably, Alberto Ginastera's centennial was celebrated with performances at Tanglewood this summer.

Oct. 24 2016 06:04 AM

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