In the words of composer John Adams, “The music of Javier Alvarez reveals influences of popular cultures that go beyond the borders of our own time and place.” Alvarez is one of the best-known Mexican composers of his generation and many of the works in his prolific oeuvre combine the intricacies of music technology with diverse instruments and influences from around the world.
Born in Mexico City in 1956, Alvarez studied clarinet and composition with Mario Lavista before moving to the United States in the early 80’s and subsequently to Great Britain, where he attended the Royal College of Music and the City University in London. His first electroacoustic works date from this time, such as Temazcal (1984). In this contemporary classic, Alvarez unexpectedly pits a pair of maracas against a complex electroacoustic backdrop. Mannam (1992) takes its inspiration from the other side of the globe and the ancient Korean zither, kayagum. Winner of a 1993 Prix Ars Electronica distiinction, Mannam blends and juxtaposes elements of Korean music with materials and performance techniques drawn from the Mexican folk harp. Offrande (2001), a more recent work, offers an intriguing mix of Caribbean steel pans and electronically processed rhythmic patterns.
A number of Alvarez’s works incorporate elements from Latin American dance genres, like the mambo. In Mambo a la Braque (1991), he creates an electroacoustic collage of musical segments drawn from Cuban mambo composer Dámaso Perez Prado’s “Caballo Negro” (Black Horse). On a larger scale, Alvarez’s Papalotl (1987), for piano and electroacoustic sounds, makes reference to the wider world of dance through its use of complex rhythmic patterns in a carefully synchronized duet between pianist and electroacoustics. The resulting vibrant toccata won its composer the 1987 ICEM Prize in Paris as well as awards from the Bourges International Festival and Austria’s Prix Ars Electronica. Amongst his orchestral and concerti output, Geometría Foliada (2003), written as a concerto for the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, reminisces on the vernacular, but assimilates its influences in an evocative self-invented imaginary folklore.
In 1993 Alvarez became a Fellow of the Mexican Endowment for the Arts and Culture, an award he held until 1999. He has also received a Mendelssohn Scholarship, the Lionel Robbins Award and a Gemini Fellowship in England, where he settled in 1982. He has held teaching positions at the University of Hertfordshire and the Malmö Music Academy in Sweden, having also taught composition and computer music technology at the City University, Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music in London. He was a founder member of Sonic Arts Network and, during the 1993 Season, he was Artistic Director of the Society for the Promotion of New Music. After 25 years living in England he returned to Mexico where he became the founding director of the Musical Arts Department of the Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatán. After a period serving as Deanof the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, Michoacán, he is now living in Mérida, in Yucatan, combining activities as a freelance composer and project animateur.
Alvarez’s music has won performances from, amongst others, Taller Sonoro, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Lontano, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, Music Projects London, L’Itinéraire, the Mexico City Philharmonic, and the Chicago Symphony New Music Ensemble. He is currently working on several composition projects that include works for Instrumenta, the Orchestre Nationale de France, and clarinetist Luis Humberto Ramos and Cuarteto White.