It wasn’t that long ago that composer Diana Syrse was contacted by the LA Philharmonic about a possible commission from them. “It was just like a year ago,” she says in a phone call after recently arriving in Los Angeles for Tuesday’s world premiere of Connected Identities. “In September 2016 they asked me to send a portfolio with different pieces of mine. They wanted to know more about my work. In December I was invited to participate in this program and come to Los Angeles for this commission. I was very glad and that’s how everything started.”
The concert, part of the CDMX series at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, showcases new work by five Mexican composers. All five were commissioned by the LA Phil for the CDMX: New Music from Mexico (Contemporary Mexico) and mark world premieres for them as well.
“This is inspired by my own experience as a migrant,” Syrse says of her three-part work. “I have been traveling all different places and have been a migrant for eight years. My work focuses on a woman who migrates to another country and finds herself on the trip. The first part is called Nahual. A nahual is a spirit being closely associated with humans in the Mexican culture. A lot of people believe this spirit works as a shadow or protective spirit. The second part is called The Tower of Babel and the character travels to a different country and she suddenly finds herself in this multicultural environment and relizes her identity has been broken into different pieces to adapt to the new place. The third part is called The Aleph and is inspired by a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. I just thought about this point where you can see everything at the same time – all cultures, all past, all present and future and everything in just one spot. And how this can also represents the different fragments of you.”
It goes without saying that a piece about migrants is certainly topical given the rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric not just in America but around the world. Syrse agrees that the increasing worldwide xenophobia is a problem. “If I as a Mexican migrant can give voice or represent the voice of a minority that is struggling, I think that’s one of the positive things I would like to show in Connected Identities. I think that what makes a migrant is just changing from one place to another. We do not have to be afraid of what is different. You can learn from differences and different parts of the world. Everyone needs to change yourself to go to another place, to become different and to say okay. I left Mexico eight years ago, but I’ve never been so Mexican.”
Absorbing influences from other cultures has been part of Syrse’s education. She has two Masters Degrees. The first is from Cal Arts and the second from the Hochschule für Musik und Theatre, Munchen. She also studied at Indiana University in Bloomington and at the National Schol of Music in Mexico. Syrse plans to continue absorbing as much culture as she can, fully aware that it will influence her work.
“My generation got all these multicultural influences with our own culture and we are doing our own different things. The composers who were invited to CDMX went to Cal Arts or London or Germany or Holland. They studied in different places. If you want to be better you go and have these experiences and come back and do other things and keep creating.”
In the meantime, this festival offers her the opportunity to showcase her music and that of her fellow composers. The end result, Syrse believes, could help stem the xenophobia that inspired her work.
“This music needs to be heard. I really like the idea with these programs of bringing a way to show we are a whole continent and we are together. It sounds like a cliché, but we all live in the same world and we have much more in common than we think. This festival can bring us together. There’s not a better way to bring people together than with concerts, with good art and music and different kinds of experiences.”
Photo Credit: Mario Morales