Member Profile: Marcos Galvany

Composer and conductor Marcos Galvany takes inspiration from his Valencian childhood for his work. We spoke with Marcos about the recent Carnegie Hall premiere of his operatic tableau Oh My Son.”

Tell us about your background as a composer and conductor. How did you get started?

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The first time I saw a piano was when I was in Barcelona for my eye surgery at the age of five. My aunt lived in a convent, and my mother and I stayed with her for months during my recovery. There were 22 nuns in the convent and a room with a piano. My aunt told me that I couldn’t touch the piano as it was only for grownups! So, of course I found a backdoor and I started playing for hours when she wasn’t looking. Everything started as a game for me. I began trying different combinations of keys until I found the ones that sounded good to my ears. Finally I started to come up with simple little tunes.

That was really love at first sight! Every time I went to the convent for a visit I would sneak to the piano and start composing. When I was 13 my mother signed me up for the conservatory. I graduated in Spain in piano performance and then I got a scholarship to study composition at Columbia Union College in Washington DC. I auditioned for the orchestra with some of my compositions and they started to include my music on their tours. They let me conduct my own work from day one. For me it was the fastest way to learn about conducting and orchestration: by doing it.

How has your childhood influenced your artistic work?

Everything influences you as a child. This accident I had when I was a little kid was probably the cause that helped the most to open another world inside of me. I had many operations on my right eye, I had to stay with my eyes covered for long periods of time, and often I felt isolated from the world. My fears, my pain, and my sadness were translated into music. Having had my first musical meal in a convent surrounded by nuns and a spiritual environment shaped my work from the beginning: the Gregorian chants, the organ, the choir were key pieces to the origin of “Oh My Son.”

All those factors are supplemented by strong religious traditions we cherish in the little town where I am coming from. My hometown has a parade for Semana Santa (Holy Week) with statues representing life of Jesus. We parade some of those statues followed by choirs singing to them through the town; it has a rich musical tradition. So I carried images of the choir and the statues in my heart for many years after I left Spain to come to the United States.

You had the Carnegie Hall premiere of “Oh My Son” this spring. How was the process of staging your work for the first time?

It was the most beautiful nightmare I ever had. I decided to produce the work myself even though I had no idea how to start doing it. I contacted some people that did this before and followed their advice. I put a folder together with of the work description, some samples and part of the cast. I contacted Carnegie Hall, and once they approved my project, I put down the money for the deposit to save the date for the premiere. It was a really big project - I had to do the impossible to make it happen.

It was scary to coordinate everything and also practically impossible to do it all by myself. Some friends offered to write emails for me, to contact Carnegie Hall, to review the contract, to help me with the press. The to-do list was long. I had to record the promotional videos, make the website, design and print the postcards, the posters, coordinate the rehearsals, print the scores, marketing for the event, organize fundraising for concerts, organize promotional concerts, interviews, press, radio, TV. I worked all the time.

I had to solve many, many problems I ran into along the way. The orchestra had a conflict with the date, just three months before the premiere, and I had to rehire 64 musicians. I almost gave up. I thought without an orchestra I had nothing, but a friend told me “Marcos, any business is about the problems you run into and how you solve them.” I tried to face this as a problem that needed to be solved, probably the biggest problem I could face at that time. I was determined to solve it and I did. This is where you have to live for what you believe, and faith had a big part in my accomplishment.

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You’ve been incredibly successful in fundraising for your project. What advice would you give to other artists trying to raise money?

First of all I would say, believe in your work. Test your work out there. Not just with family and friends, they love you and whatever you do is incredible for them. I have been presenting arias from “Oh My Son” over the years, and I have seen the impact. You need to believe in your work 100% to have the courage to go through an experience like this. It is hard, but that trust you put in your work will get you through the tough times.

When it comes to the money: the production cost around $200,000. I didn’t really know how to raise that money. It kind of happened in a natural way. I was at a gala and I met a Chilean woman named Lorna Gladstone. I invited her to come home for dinner and while we were talking I showed her some of my work. She offered to donate $5,000 on the spot, and I was really caught by surprise. I let my music speak for itself, and the money started coming. I had several donations of $25,000, $10,000, $5,000 and many small donations that helped tremendously with this production. There is no way I could have done this without the help of everyone that gave their talent, time and effort to make this happen.

How has working with Fractured Atlas helped you?

I would not have been able to do this without Fractured Atlas. I couldn’t fundraise without an organization backing me - I had donations over $25,000, and of course when people give such a large amount they need it to be tax-deductible. But working with the fiscal sponsorship program was so easy and clear. Everything went so smoothly.

What’s next?

I have been commissioned to compose a work for the José Limon dance company. I am working with the choreographer and dancer Jonathan Fredrickson on his latest piece Chrysalide that will premiere in New York in Dec 14th and 15th at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York. He is incredible. I will also be presenting “Oh My Son” on a private presentation for the Pope at the Vatican in Rome. Next year, we will be doing a much larger performance of “Oh My Son” for 6,000 people at the Vatican. After that, “Oh My Son” goes to the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid.

All images courtesy of Nanette Melville.


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