Never have the words "America the Beautiful" seemed more perplexing than when I wrote my variation, in 2020. I am a Mexican immigrant to the United States and, for me and countless other people, the four years from 2016 to 2020, when Trump was president, made the country some call "America" look less beautiful than ever before. Still, as I write these words, we can begin to hope again.
Samuel Zyman, a long-time New York-based Professor of Music Theory and Analysis at the Juilliard School, is acknowledged as one of the leading Mexican composers on the international scene today. Since 2019, Zyman is also a Professor of Composition and Music Theory at the Blair School of Music of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Zyman’s music is characterized by intense and vigorous rhythmic energy, expressive lyricism, and the frequent use of near-jazzy imitative counterpoint. His musical language often displays both his Mexican and his Jewish heritage. Zyman’s best known composition is his Sonata for Flute and Piano # 1, a work that has entered the standard repertoire. Zyman’s catalogue lists over 70 works in a wide variety of genres. His music, published by the Theodore Presser Company, has been performed around the world.
The year 2018 saw the premiere of Zyman’s work Sefarad, a concerto for guitar and orchestra inspired by and based on Sephardic-like themes from the suite for solo guitar, also entitled Sefarad, by Sergio Bross. The premiere was given by the Royal Symphony Orchestra of Seville under its music director John Axelrod, with guitar soloist José María Gallardo del Rey. Also in 2018, Zyman composed the 35 minute-long score (for chorus, percussion quartet, and piano) for a modern dance piece, Sacrifixio, by Colombian choreographer Alvaro Restrepo, conceived to celebrate the peace accord signed by the rebels and the government of Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who received the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for this accomplishment. The piece was premiered in Bogotá, with president Santos in attendance. In 2016, cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Carlos Prieto premiered Zyman’s 30-minute work An Ode to Music (Canto a la Música), for two solo cellos, youth chorus, and youth orchestra, in Mexico City, with the National Esperanza Azteca Youth Orchestra and Chorus under the baton of Music Director Julio Saldaña, a work that highlights the involvement of young people in Mexico in the performance of classical music and the significance of music for all people. Zyman composed the original symphonic score for the critically acclaimed movie The Other Conquest, directed by Salvador Carrasco and produced by Alvaro Domingo. This score includes Zyman’s aria “Mater Aeterna,” performed by Plácido Domingo.
Samuel Zyman was born in 1956 in Mexico City, where he studied piano and conducting at the National Conservatory of Music with María Teresa Castrillón and Francisco Savín, respectively. Privately, he studied counterpoint and analysis with Mexican composer Humberto Hernández Medrano. He also studied piano with the legendary Mexican jazz pianist Juan José Calatayud and with Héctor Jaramillo. He received MM and DMA degrees in composition from The Juilliard School, studying with the American composers Stanley Wolfe, Roger Sessions, and David Diamond. He is the recipient of numerous commissions and awards, including the Diploma from the Mexican Society of Theater and Music Critics of Mexico (1992), the Mozart Medal (1998), and the Medal of Merit in the Arts (2014), awarded by the Mexico City Legislature for his contributions to art and culture in Mexico City.
As the artistic director of Center for Musical Excellence, I am always on the look out for new and undiscovered talents. They come to me, sometimes, by my colleagues’ recommendations and other times through young artists’ own research about our organization. Tyson Davis and Andrew Bambridge are currently on our roster of CME Young Artists, whom we mentor. Patricio Molina is a CME alumnus. Theo Chandler, Ji-Young Ko, and Daniel Newman-Lessler applied for our Grant program, and I got to know their work through that process. I decide on young artists when I notice a deep passion and drive within them, plus a certain kind of sparkle in the personality and lots of humility. In addition to musical talents, I believe these are the qualities that will take the young artists far. CME’s motto is "Moving Musicians Forward". I’ve chosen our Discovery Composers based on these qualities, whom we felt we could easily move forward.
- Min Kwon