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  • An Interview with Martin Matalon
  • Fernando Benadon

Born in Buenos Aires in 1958, Martin Matalon (see Figure 1) received his bachelor's degree in music composition from the Boston Conservatory of Music in 1984 and his master's degree from the Juilliard School of Music in 1986, where he studied with composers Vincent Persichetti and Bernard Rands. In 1989, his chamber opera Le Miracle Secret, based on a text by Jorge Luis Borges, was premiered at the Avignon Festival. The same year, he founded Music Mobile, a New York-based ensemble devoted to the contemporary repertoire.

Among his awards, Matalon has received the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1986), a Fulbright scholarship to France (1988), the Holtkamp-AGO award in organ composition (1988), the Opera Autrement award from the Centre Acanthes for the production and commission of his Opera based on Borges's El Milagro Secreto (1989), and in 2001 the award from the city of Barcelona.

In 1993, the composer collaborated for the first time with IRCAM on La Rosa Profunda, music for an exhibition organized by the Pompidou Center on "The Universe of Borges." IRCAM then commissioned a new score for the restored version of Fritz Lang's silent film, Metropolis. After that considerable work, Matalon turned to the universe of Luis Buñuel, consecutively writing scores for two legendary films by the Spanish director: Las Siete Vidas de un Gato (for Un Chien Andalou), and Le Scorpion (for l'Age d'Or). His catalogue also includes a large number of chamber works, such as Formas de Arena for flute, viola, and harp, and Lineas de Agua for cello octet.

Begun in 1997, the series of compositions entitled Trames, which blur the line between solo concerto writing and chamber music, constitute a sort of compositional diary for their author. They include Trame II for harpsichord and small ensemble, Trame III for cello and orchestra (a commission from Radio France and the Orchestre National de France), Trame V for trumpet and orchestra (commissioned by the Orchestre National de Lorraine), and Trame VI for viola and ensemble, premiered in February 2004 by the Ensemble Intercontemporain and violist Odile Auboin.

Matalon has written for, among others, the Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre National d'île de France, Orchestre National de Lorraine, Beauvais Cello Octet, Trio Nobis, the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble Modern, Court-Circuit, and Les Percussions de Strasbourg, with whom the composer released a disc on Universal last year. He was composer-in-residence with the Arsenal and the Orchestre National de Lorraine for the years 2003–2004. This collaboration between the composer, the orchestra, and its conductor, Jacques Mercier, resulted in the composition of two orchestral works. A listing of his compositions involving electronics is given in Table 1.

I interviewed Martin Matalon on the evening of April 19, 2004, just prior to the performance of Las Siete Vidas de un Gato by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. I was meeting him for the first time, although we had spoken on the phone a few times when I lived in Paris. During those two years, we did not manage to get together owing to various commitments or otherwise mundane occurrences on either end. So it was with much anticipation that I sat down with him for a stretch of relaxed and uninterrupted conversation. We decided to conduct the interview in English, rather than our native Spanish, to keep the transcript of the interview unimpaired by the quirks of translation. As we sipped Japanese tea overlooking the rainy Yerba Buena gardens in downtown San Francisco, I shared with him some of the questions that had been floating in my head since first hearing the haunting and hard-hitting music of Metropolis several years earlier. [End Page 13]

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Figure 1.

Martin Matalon (photo courtesy Nicolas Botti).

Benadon: Many of your works have a connection to Jorge Luis Borges. Could you talk about the relationship between your music and his writing?

Matalon: I discovered Borges when I left Argentina. I was young—19 years old. For more than a decade, Borges was maybe the only author...


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