ListN Up: Darlene Castro Ortiz (April 29, 2022)

ListN Up is a weekly series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Darlene Castro Ortiz (b.1993) is a Mexican-American composer and classical guitarist based in Chicago. Her interest in music began at a young age with the violin, first in a youth mariachi band, then in a classical orchestra setting. She completed her Bachelors in music composition at the University of Utah and is currently working on her PhD in composition at the University of Chicago.

Hi everyone! My name is Darlene Castro Ortiz, and I am a composer based in Chicago. I most recently finished a piece for the fabulous Fonema Consort, and this playlist is a good representation of the types of sound worlds I immersed myself in for this project. I am starting another piece for them soon, so all this music has been particularly at the forefront of my mind still. All these tracks are tied together by the use of the feminine voice, a timbre and medium that I absolutely adore. They span a wide range of musical eras and locations, but all share similar sensitive musicality, expressivity of text, and magical sound worlds. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy!

“Her Voice is Full of Money (A Deathless Song): Daisy Buchanan” from Voices from the Killing Jar by Kate Soper, performed by Kate Soper and Wet Ink Ensemble

When I first heard this movement, I was absolutely stunned. Incredibly beautiful and delicate and such a great interpretation of text. I’ve been a big fan of Kate Soper for a while now, and love the breadth of her work, her playfulness with audience “lectures,” and her dramatic narratives. I am currently teaching an undergraduate composition class, and this was the first thing that came to mind when lesson planning for text-setting!

Formwela 2 by Esperanza Spalding, feat. Ganavya Doraiswamy

Spalding writes: “Formwela 2: to be discreetly played as background-music. This song is designed to fill the room with a subtle vibrational-atmosphere that envelops and de-escalates interpersonal aggression.” Ganavya’s low velvety voice floats amidst the ostinatos and small flutters of sound that make this track a truly magical world to be enveloped in — especially the climax at around 5:30. Highly recommend listening to all three Formwelas together.

Te Guardo by Silvana Estrada

I was just coming off of a Natalia Lafourcade binge and came across Silvana Estrada because she shares a (fairly rare) name with my older sister. Her vocal inflections and caressing of words immediately captured me, and I’ve been a big fan ever since. I love her thoughtful and sensitive musical layering and phrasing!

Echos by Beatriz Ferreyra

I taught an undergraduate music class during the pandemic and was desperately looking for new repertoire when I came across Ferreyra’s work. Her disembodiment of voice and disorientation of the listener is breathtaking. Though she worked in mid-century France, her work feels so fresh — I was certainly surprised that she was a contemporary of Pierre Schaeffer!

Soledad y El Mar by Natalia Lafourcade

One of the many gems on Lafroucade’s album, Musas, this song is utterly captivating in orchestration and lyrics. I had recently been going through a small “Boleroglam” phase (modern rewritings of Latin American oldies) and this album quenched my thirst. I am forever grateful to a fellow classmate who put her on my radar!

Benedicamus trope: Congaudeant Catholici, performed by Anonymous 4

Calligraphy and music are two areas of my life that I constantly try to bring together. Early music, with its ornate and illuminated manuscripts, naturally, is of great interest to me. In my undergrad, I took a course on the history of Western music notation and had to transcribe from this manuscript, the Codex Calixtinus. I love the lightness of the polyphony, the twisting melodies, and the modal color. I secretly wish I could go back in time to be a medieval nun, albeit with antibiotics, indoor plumbing, and civil/worker rights…

Invocation VI by Beat Furrer, performed by Petra Hoffmann and Eva Furrer

The breathlessness of this movement is intoxicating, and the seamless way in which the voice and flute cross into the other’s worlds is such masterful instrumentation. I first heard this piece in my undergrad and find myself returning to it all these years later. It was definitely a pivotal moment in expanding my compositional horizons!


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