An unexpected honor

Antara Prize

At 35 one does not think about one’s legacy, relevance or achievements. At 35 one is fully invested in one’s present while at the same time trying to build a future. It’s a time of transition, a time when one starts to settle down, do what one really likes to do (at least part of the time) and earn some decent money…finally! Everyone’s path is different and one can’t generalize, of course, but now and then there are things that stop you on your tracks, force you to look back, and make you think of all the things you’ve done up to this point in life. That is exactly what happened to me on October 3rd, 2014, when I was awarded the “Antara Prize” in recognition for what the inscription describes as my “brilliant artistic career”.

Main entrance at Gran Teatro Nacional.

Main entrance at Gran Teatro Nacional.

I have been awarded prizes in the past, but this one touched me in a particular way for a number of reasons. First, I didn’t apply for it; it was not part of a competition so I wasn’t expecting it. Second, it has been awarded to people for whom I have great respect, like my mentor and teacher, the great Peruvian composer and pedagogue Enrique Iturriaga, who is now 96 years old and is still as lucid as anyone can be. Third, I was not able to attend the award ceremony so I had to ask my parents to accept it on my behalf, and finally, I had to give an acceptance speech -which I hadn’t done before. Since I wasn’t able to receive the prize in person, I entrusted my dad with this task, which he performed flawlessly.

DSC_0149On that very night, soloist Jesús Castro-Balbi, conductor Ramón Tebar, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Peru gave the South American premiere of my cello concerto “Lord of the Air” at the Gran Teatro Nacional. It was by all accounts a truly memorable evening, and the second half of the program included a work which is very close to my heart, Jean Sibelius’ second symphony, a work I discovered and learned to love during my seven-year-long stay in Finland. There is one more thing though that made this prize special: it was awarded to me at home, in my native Lima, where I grew up, went to school and cultivated my passion and where I left from 14 years ago in order to continue pursuing my dreams.

Cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi, conductor Ramón Tebar and the National Symphony Orchestra of Perú performing "Lord of the Air" on October 3, 2014 at the Gran Teatro Nacional.

Cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi, conductor Ramón Tebar and the National Symphony Orchestra of Perú performing “Lord of the Air” on October 3, 2014 at the Gran Teatro Nacional.

So what did I see when I looked back? I realized that music has been present throughout my life and that it has shaped most of the most important decisions in my life such as moving to Finland in 2000 and moving to California in 2007. I also learned that I have written a considerable amount of music and that it has been gradually getting better and better (and hopefully that will always be the case!). I realized that out of those 36 years, 21 have been spent in Peru and 15 (or 42%) have been spent abroad. But what it mainly made me realize is that hard work and determination yield results.

When I was a little kid and I sat at the piano, my audience was rather limited; mostly my parents and sister, but especially my dad who would invariable ask me to play for him every day after dinner. He didn’t only listen to me play, he criticized my playing, gave his opinions about this or that composer, and gave me suggestions on how to improve my own little compositions. He did all of this without having any idea of what he was talking about -by the way, but what’s funny is that he was actually right a lot of the time. I don’t know how he did it because he had no training whatsoever in music and very limited exposure to classical music before I came along, but he had and still has a really sharp intuition that has guided him all along. He used to say that architecture and music had a lot in common, and now I see what he meant.

I am exactly the same person I was before October 3rd, (except that I’m now 36!) and I know that the scope and relevance of the prize is limited to my home country, but it carries a powerful, symbolic meaning for me. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that everything is going to be ok. I wish I could talk to my nervous, sweaty, little 10-year-old self before going on stage to play in public for the first time, or if I could talk to the teenager who was a nervous wreck before the entrance exam to the Conservatory, or the young man who went all the way to Finland and left his family and friends behind to study in a country where he didn’t know a single soul and where the sun refuses to set or rise (depending on the time of the year). But that’s not how things work. We don’t know what the future holds for us and that’s what makes it special, because it’s full of opportunities. At 36 all I want to do is to keep living and writing and loving, and if another recognition comes in the future, at least now I am prepared to look back.

I leave you with my acceptance speech (translated from Spanish), which my father read beautifully on that special night:

My father, Architect Javier López Caipo, reading my acceptance speech.

My father, Architect Javier López Caipo, reading my acceptance speech.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This is Architect Javier Lopez Caipo and I am here tonight to accept this award on behalf of my son, composer Jimmy López. Jimmy has asked me to share a few words of gratitude with you, which I will proceed to read next.

The Lima Contemporary Music Festival and the National Symphony Orchestra are two of the most valuable cultural institutions of our country. That is why I want to begin by highlighting the tireless work that both, Jorge Garrido-Lecca, President of ERART and Fernando Valcárcel, Chief Conductor of our country’s first orchestra, perform every day.

It is for me an honor to be awarded the Antara Prize, which has been previously awarded to iconic figures of Peruvian composition, such as my dear mentor, the great composer and pedagogue Enrique Iturriaga.

I left Peru fourteen years ago with the desire to fully develop my vocation, encounter different cultures and customs, and absorb all the knowledge I could take. Over time, many of my goals have come to be, but one of the most precious gifts that distance gave me was that it made me look at my own country with a fervor and intensity that I had never experienced before. This award means a lot to me, but first of all it means that my work is recognized at home and the bond with my country remains as strong as ever.

I deeply regret not being able to be physically present with you tonight, but please know that I am present through my music and my parents, who have been gracious enough to accept this award on my behalf.

My dad receiving the prize from the hands of Fernando Valcárcel, Chief conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Peru.

My father receiving the prize from the hands of Fernando Valcárcel, Chief conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Peru.

I want to conclude by expressing my strong desire that both, the state and private sector continue to support the development of the arts in our country. Each one of us must do his/her part in this collective effort to drive Peru to a new stage where we are not only admired by our historical past but also by our enormous creative capacity, which gradually begins to be recognized worldwide. Thank you very much.”

About Jimmy López Bellido

My name is Jimmy López Bellido and I am a composer. I was born in Lima, Peru 40 years ago and I have lived in several places including Miami, Helsinki, Paris, and now Berkeley, California. The decision to open a blog stems out of a personal need to voice my views on the situation of the contemporary composer in our world today. Through my words, I hope to spark constructive discussion on issues relevant to the aforementioned topic. I invite you to participate by expressing your thoughts and opinions and to visit my website, at Welcome!
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