Monday, March 25, 2013

Rob Smith, Director of the University of Houston AURA Contemporary Ensemble

Rob Smith took some time to speak with Musiqa about his latest work entitled Las Pilas, a new string trio, which will premiere at Musiqa's Word Play on April 6, 2013, at 7:30 p.m. at the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall. Smith directs the Aura Contemporary Ensemble and teaches composition and music theory at the University of Houston. 

Rob Smith is a composer and a member of Musiqa's Artistic Board. Las Pilas, a string trio, will be performed on Friday, April 5 at Jan R. van Lohuizen and Sandra L. Tirey's home, which they call Geezerville. The new string trio was commissioned by Jan and Sandra. Las Pilas is based on a sense of community and building relationships, the concept of Jan and Sandra's home. They wanted to build a home where they could comfortably live the remainder of their lives. Geezerville was built next to some of Jan and Sandra's best friends. They combined their backyards to create a communal area. The interior of their house also has an emphasis on communal spaces. Essentially, Jan and Sandra created an ideal place for people to meet and mingle.

"[Las Pilas] is not about the physical things that help people who are getting older. It's really about choosing the people you want to spend the rest of your life with," Smith said. 

A "pila" is a public space in rural Central America, where people wash their clothes and socialize. Smith's wife, a pediatrician, spent a great amount of time working with the people of Guatemala, where some of these pilas are located. After discussing the meaning and importance of his latest work with his wife, he decided to entitle the string trio Las Pilas.

"The sense of community is what's so wonderful about the culture in Guatemala. The people are very kind to one another, and there's a real ability to communicate with other people. My wife believes this is because of the pilas. I find it very intriguing," Smith said.  

The music of Las Pilas is highly energetic and upbeat. Smith also added a lyrical melody, which is presented separately and at the end of the work, the upbeat material and lyrical melody is combined.

Las Pilas is symbolic of everything we go through in life, and at the end, we try to put it all together,” Smith said. Jan and Sandra wanted the music to be celebratory, so he used a pentatonic scale, which made the music sound similar to a folk song. Smith wanted to use a simple, melodic structure to give the “feeling of home.”

Smith grew up in Syracuse, New York, where he began playing the trombone in middle school. His grandmother, among several of his family members, was involved in music as well. She sang 30s Jazz standards and was offered a record contract.

The world premiere of Las Pilas, along with Quelques Fleurs for clarinet, violin and piano by Karim Al-Zand, will be performed at the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall on April 6. The concert also features works by two contemporary composers: Roshanne Etezady and the Dutch composer JacobTV, whose piece is accompanied by a film by visual artist Amber Boardman, as well as the play, Sphinx, by Blackburn prize winner, Jennifer Haley, with incidental music by Musiqa's Artistic Director, Anthony Brandt. 

Thank you, Rob, for taking the time to speak to Musiqa about your latest work, Las Pilas.

Written by Mia M. Smith