UNM professor wins Guggenheim fellowship - Albuquerque Journal

UNM professor wins Guggenheim fellowship

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

When José Luis Hurtado was 2 years old, he sat on his father’s lap as he listened to Chopin, Brahms and Schubert on the radio.

José Luis Hurtado

It was a family ritual that turned prophetic. This month, the University of New Mexico associate professor of music theory and composition won a $55,000 Guggenheim Fellowship for music composition.

“This was the first time I applied,” Hurtado said. “There are people that have applied for 20 years.

“I couldn’t believe it. It’s a huge honor.”

The musician will write a two-minute piece for a child pianist. He’s arranging it for a string orchestra, two percussionists and electronics.

Hurtado is writing the work for his 10-year-old son Mateo.

Born in Ciudad Valles in the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico, Hurtado grew up amid a long chain of musicians, ranging from opera singers to organists and pianists. He began piano lessons at 5.

At 15, he was studying at the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, the most prestigious conservatory of its kind in Latin America.

Initially a piano major, he switched to composition because it allowed him to study more advanced music theory

“At that time, I was practicing seven hours a day,” he said. “I wanted to have these tools to have a more personal touch in the music I was performing.”

Soon, he was composing seven hours a day.bright spot

After leaving the conservatory, he earned his master’s degree at the University of Veracruz. A workshop with the Argentinian-American Harvard University music professor Mario Davidovsky altered his plans. Davidovsky studied with famed composer Aaron Copland, who urged him to emigrate to the U.S.

“I showed him my music,” Hurtado said. “He encouraged me to keep going.”

When Davidovsky returned home, he called the young composer and invited him to Harvard.

“That call changed my entire life,” Hurtado said.

Hurtado earned his doctoral degree there in 2009; he came to UNM in 2011.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “It allows me to share all the personal discoveries, gems and little treasures I’ve had throughout the years.”

The Guggenheim Fellowship came with a lot of cash; Hurtado was one of just three composers to win from a pool of nearly 3,000 applicants. But in these tough times, the money is going into his savings account.

“I’ve had at least 10 to 15 concerts cancelled.”

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