Classical 91.5

Rochester composer pursues "irrational" passion for music

Jan 25, 2018

Composer Octavio Vazquez
Credit provided

A Rochester-based composer who teaches at Nazareth College is headed to the Winnipeg New Music Festival this week.  Octavio Vazquez will serve as a guest composer, attending rehearsals, panel discussions, and concerts along such classical music luminaries as Philip Glass. 

Getting to this high point in Vazquez’s career has not been an easy path.  He grew up in the 1970s in Galicia, northwestern Spain, at the end of the rule of the long-reigning dictator, Francisco Franco.

“I was born during the last few years of the dictatorship,” he says. “Music was not particularly well regarded.  There was very little going one. There were no orchestras on Galicia.  For my parents, the words 'delinquent, criminal, musician' -- they were all synonyms.“

But as a child Vazquez found that music just kind of came out of him in ways he couldn’t explain.  He pecked out tunes on his brother’s calculator using the keypad as a tiny piano.  He invented a system of musical notation before he learned that such a thing already existed.   Sometimes melodies seemed to arrive out of the blue.  He says that still happens.

“Another thing that happens sometimes is that I dream music.” He says, “It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before. 

Vazquez ultimately defied his parents to study music in Madrid.   In time, as scholarships and commissions flowed into the composer’s life, his parents came realize that in creating new music, their son was in his element. 

“It is completely irrational,” says Vazquez.  “It’s the most irrational thing you can do, is to go into classical music as a career choice.  But the best things in life are irrational. Why do you marry this person and not the other person? It’s irrational. It must be!”

In a few months, Vazquez will travel to the MacDowell Colony, a New England artists’ retreat.   There, he’ll join an elite group of composers, artists, and writers, working in the same spaces that inspired composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

He’ll be doing what it seems like he was born to do.   Write music.