Meet the Most Famous Mallorquin Composer of Our Time
“Music just comes to me. It’s my life.” Joan Valent
Speaking to Mallorquin composer and musician Joan Valent is like chatting with an old friend. He is warm, accessible and passionate about his métier. The fact that he is a world-famous, award-winning composer, musician and arranger makes this warmth all the more endearing, and all the more surprising. In a world of prima donnas, Joan Valent has kept his feet on the ground, and his head in his music. Now he is releasing a new CD, Libro de Bitácora Poético (Poetic Logbook), that will pave the way for a summer tour. But he won’t be gone for long. He plans to dip in and out all summer and will give his final concert of the tour right here on Mallorca for a select group of friends and family. Cool, right?
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May I introduce … #
Joan is a native son of Mallorca. Born in 1964 and raised here on the island in the village of Algaida. He has a certain way about him that only locals possess. It’s an inborn nonchalance born of knowing you are one of the chosen ones, having had the luck to be brought up in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
He is what is commonly called a "prodigy." He started playing piano at age 4 and was composing by age 11. His first stab at arranging music was a reworking of Neil Diamond’s soundtrack to the 1973 film Jonathan Livingston Seagull. From there, he never looked back.
He has been a symphonic composer and music arranger, has scored major films, and conducted orchestras. He has been nominated and won several awards and collaborated with artists such as David Byrne. He is the only living Spaniard signed with German classical music company Deutsche Grammophon. He plays piano and cello.
His career has taken him all over the world including world-famous cities of Barcelona, Los Angeles, Madrid and Mexico. Some of the places he has called home but the lure of the island brought him back. Now he shares this world with his wife, Mariana, and his three step-children, aged 10, 12 and 13.
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Meet the Artist… #
After years living abroad, what is it like to be back on Mallorca full-time?
“I’m really happy here. This is where the music (for the CD) came from.
We lived in Mexico for a long time and it was convenient for my work in Los Angeles, but Mexico was changing and we had three teenagers to consider, so we knew we had to leave. At first, we thought we would go to LA or London, but decided to move to Mallorca. We came here every summer and were happy, so it seemed right to try. All the possibilities are here. We are 15 minutes from an international airport and there are several schools for the children.
Life is very comfortable and beautiful here. It has been an amazing experience for us all. We are all happy. This is very important for me.”
And working from here?
“I have a team of professionals I work with online here and it works really well. I don’t need to move around all the time anymore.”
How much is music a part of your life?
“Music comes to me. It IS my life. My father was an air-traffic controller and he wanted me to be something sensible like an engineer. When I told him I wanted to be a musician, for him it was like, ‘What?! Are you crazy?’ But I knew it was what I wanted.
My first composition was a variation on Neil Diamond’s soundtrack for Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I was 11 years old! (laughs) My parents loved this music. But my father did not want me to become a musician and said it was up to me if that was my path”
So you were on your own from then?
“When my father told me I was on my own if I wanted to pursue music as a career, I had to figure out a way to get to Barcelona for my studies. My father’s brother was the captain of a cargo ship, and every Wednesday morning very early I would leave from Mallorca and go to Barcelona with him. All my classes were between 8h-21h, all in one day. Then I would take the boat back that same evening. This went on for two years.
At first, I was stuck travelling with the crew, but after a time, the officers invited me to join them. I became their ‘mascota’ and it was with them that I composed what would become my first concert. It was at the Villa Mallorquina and I invited them all to come.”
You started playing piano at 4, what made you decide to play cello as well?
“As you can imagine, when I was studying in Barcelona, I could not afford to buy a piano, and had nowhere to keep it anyway, so I switched to cello! This is why. And 5 or 6 years later, when I moved to LA, I still had no money, so I sold my cello to buy a computer! It was the way I had to live then.”
Joan has recently done a video for the first track of his new CD and plays it for me. It is a mix that I find in much of his work… both haunting and playful at once. It is a unique mix and I ask him about it.
Where do you get the inspiration for your music?
“I don’t know! (laughs) I’m not conscious of how it comes out the way it does, it just does. My work is classic, using classical language, but also has a contemporary feel. I sent this video to a friend and he called me crying. He told me it was so beautiful. I don’t know why it brings out such emotion, I’m just happy people enjoy it.”
You have worked with several big movie directors such as Álex de la Iglesia, Antonio Chavarrías, and Agustí Villaronga. What is it like working on films?
“Working on films… it is a very dynamic way to do work. It is also a lot of hard work. It got to be like work at a factory, though. My CD took 1½ years to create for 1½ hours of music for a concert. A film got done in three weeks. I found I was no longer a composer, but a music maker,,, and a music maker for people who weren’t really thinking about the music. I realized it was not the direction I wanted to be going in, so I took a break.”
© Garcia Alix
What about your time in Los Angeles?
“I was a student of classical composition, conducting and film scoring at UCLA. I enjoyed my time in LA very much. They were some of the best years of my life. In fact, I was offered a job teaching at [Cal State University] Northridge, with a house and a regular salary. Finally, I turned it down. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I just kept thinking about the drive from my house to job and back every day and I knew it wasn’t the life I wanted for myself. Life is short, and you fight making these decisions. I had to look at myself and decide where my ceiling was. To say, ‘This is as high as I can go,’ and go for that. Once you stop comparing yourself to other people and only compete with yourself, your life becomes a whole lot easier. You go from being a loser to a winner. And when I reached what I thought was my ceiling and went beyond it, it was clear I had made the right choices.”
You were artistic director of the Pollença Music Festival. Did you enjoy that?
Yes! I did this for 5 years, and really liked doing it. I’m not a part of it anymore though. When I first started there was no budget, and I had to fight to bring it up in quality. I called in friends (like Daniel Hope, Ravi Shankar, and Michael Nyman), who would normally work for hundreds of thousands, and worked for me for €15! Now the festival has found success and have taken a new direction. Its ok, but for me it has lost its soul.”
At this point, Joan’s strikingly beautiful wife, Mariana arrives and gently reminds him they have a lunch date. She knows her husband well and tells me to have him on his way in 10 minutes. She knows better than to ask him to mind the time, when Joan talks about his music, he loses track of it. We promise we are wrapping up, after just a few more questions.
How did you and Mariana meet?
“In Colombia at an art festival. I was doing a conference on music, and she was presenting her poetry. The rest is history! This was 7 or 8 years ago.”
Tell us about the new CD
“The CD is a musical journey of two worlds, one literary and one geographical.
The disc begins with the Ciaccona "Punta Campanella", a place on the Amalfi coast, and where, according to the legend, Ulysses went up against the Sirens. There the trip begins, and each port we visit has orchestral variations of that first theme, ports where, in some way, have touched my life and have led me to write this music, this emotional journey. "Swansea" (Wales), is the place where Dylan Thomas was born, "Porto Cristo" (Mallorca) is where the only armed confrontation took place during the Spanish civil war, and where after a hard crossing of Mallorca by motorcycle, George Bernanos tries to rescue his son, who was fighting on the island. "Porto Antico" is a port in Genoa where Ramon Llull left for his last trip to Tunis to die ruined, just after writing his last work "Logica Nova". "Puerto de las Nieves", Gran Canaria, is the place of origin of the pianist Ivan Martin, a brilliant interpreter of that variation.
The selection of the poems responds to reflections at a particular moment in my life about love and death. The first, "Areia Escrita" by the Menorcan poet Pons Ponc, is a nostalgic eulogy to solitude. "Verra la morte e avra i tuoi occhi" by Cesare Pavese is a sweet and painful song of death. The next poem is "Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas, a bittersweet farewell to his father. "To feel", is the story of a love separated by seas, a place to lose oneself and always return. "Serás amor" and "Si me llaras", both poems by Pedro Salinas, were two musical challenges that I wanted to attempt, as he is one of the poets who elevated love most in his poetry. Finally, I chose "I'd die for you" by Robert Grave. It is a song for the poet who chose Mallorca as the paradise for his life and death.
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What would you like to do that you haven’t already done?
I would someday like the time to be able to sit on the porch with a book and not think of anything else. Just to be at peace. Enjoy life as it is. Be here. Not to think about what is next. If I could do this, I would be very a very happy man.
“I love to cook. Sometime you’ll have to come for lunch with my family!”
Who wouldn’t adore this man!
Name: Joan Valent
Nationality: Spanish- Mallorquin
Signature Phrase: “Music is my life”
By Stephanie Horsman
12 March, 2019