An Interview with Composer and Conductor Vince Mendoza

Vince Mendoza - photo by Pamela Fong
Vince Mendoza – photo by Pamela Fong

World Music Central interviewed composer and conductor Vince Mendoza coinciding with his December 1 concert with Brazilian guitarist and composer Guinga and the LA Philharmonic.

What attracted you about this project?

Years ago I was introduced to Guinga’s music and I was impressed by its beauty and complexity. I have always wanted to work with him, and am glad that I finally will be in conjunction with the LA Philharmonic.

What kind of arrangements do you plan for this concert?

The second half of the concert will consist of orchestral arrangements of Guinga’s music by Brazilian arranger Paulo Aragão. There is one arrangement by Trumpeter Jessé Sadoc, who is also a soloist on the concert. Finally, Ivan Lins will make a special appearance on the concert. I wrote 2 arrangements of his compositions.

This concert will combine musicians from various traditions: classical, jazz and world music. What would you call the final result?

As a composer I have always worked in a world of mixed musical languages. My activities as a conductor helped me to interpret these languages to instrumentalists and ensembles from different traditions. Personally, I love to work in many different styles, and it is a challenge to put the styles in the context of chamber music, jazz or symphonic orchestrations. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes it is heaven. But musicians need to be open to exploring the multitude of ways to express a musical thought. And in my experience I have found that musicians are much more open to exploring new languages in this manner.

How do you approach composing arrangements?

I think that first the composition has to appeal to me on a visceral level, because after all the analysis and transcription and “deconstruction”, the arrangement must have something that reflects my own view and feelings on the piece. I particularly enjoy working with the themes presented in the lyrics. In this respect I learned a lot from Joni Mitchell. My pattern is to take apart the song, find interesting elements on which I can base my own variations, and put it back together in my own way.

Which are your main sources of inspiration?

As musicians we do not live in a bubble. Well, some of us do. I think that we are influenced by our environment, and in particular the people with whom we play. When you are writing for improvisers, your music is much more subject to the interpretation and development of the instrumentalists. They often send you in a direction that is not expected, and are an endless inspiration to write.

Of course having said that, I love listening to music when I can. Most of my listening has to do with the projects repertoire that I am preparing at the time. We recently worked on a Flamenco project in the Netherlands, so I pulled out my Camarón recordings, and Sabícas/Enrique Morente CD. I am inspired by the Armenian Musician Djavan Gasparian. A friend recently turned me on to Chinese Composer Qigang Chen. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with Dino Saluzzi from Argentina. His music is soulful and romantic. I love Salif Keita. Of course, everything else I need to know I get from Bach and Louis Armstrong.

Is it a challenge to combine orchestras with non classical soloists?

It really depends on the interface of the written music. The composer/arranger needs to understand how the music works, its language, with whom the soloist will be playing, and how the soloist will expect to react to the orchestra. If the music is written in this manner, then it is a lot easier to find a common ground.

In the past, you worked in other projects that combine jazz with world music, like Jazzpaña. What attracts to world music?

Actually, Jazzpaña chose me. Years ago, I had been working with the WDR organization in Germany and Siggi Loch from ACT Music approached me to write this music for the WDR Band plus the soloists. It was a turning point for me as it brought be into the musical world of another culture that shared the improvisational spirit and rhythmic vitality of Jazz music. Plus the music and musicians had such soul and character to their playing. Since then I have come across many musicians from other musical cultures with the same spirit of creativity. I am attracted to this. And I have a lot to learn.

When thinking about arrangements, what’s your favorite musical format?

I enjoy writing for orchestra for the color and beauty of sound. The big band of course is my roots, and is the source of a lot of my early experimentation. I love the power. However my next project will be concentrated on more small group compositions.

What other projects are you working on?

Besides my new recording that I am planning for the spring, I am working on some more dance music for the Compagnie Linga in Lausanne and the WDR band in Koln. I will also be doing a concert of my music in Germany this summer for the Traumzeit festival.

Vince Mendoza photo by Pamela Fong