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Johnian magazine issue 46, autumn 2020

Nacho Mañá Mesas: one to watch

Written by Nacho Mañá Mesas (2017)

3 min read

Nacho writes about finishing his degree and graduating in absentia this year because of the pandemic, alongside pursuing his career as a saxophonist and composer.

My passion for music emerged at an early age. I first started playing the saxophone when I was six, and my interest in composition was shaped simultaneously by the short tunes I wrote for myself to play on the recorder or the saxophone. A few years later, I also took up the piano, which became a crucial work tool to explore and sketch out a range of compositional ideas.

My creative vocation took me on a long and sinuous path across different countries after my graduation from Ponferrada’s conservatoire. From my hometown in the northwest of Spain, I travelled to Manchester, Cambridge and eventually London, including occasional excursions to France and the United States.

My musical training in Spain effectively laid the foundations of my performing career, and my experiences as a student of Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester crucially influenced my development as a composer.

I performed, premiered and conducted my works at some of Manchester’s finest venues, such as the Bridgewater Hall and Stoller Hall, and with a fellow student I gave a TEDx Talk that featured some of my film scores and a live performance of one of my compositions.

After concluding my studies at Chetham’s, I received offers and scholarships from prestigious institutions, such as the Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

The seclusion of lockdown has allowed me to step back and think about my future.

I chose to read Music at Cambridge because I valued the opportunities afforded by a well-rounded education at university, and because I wanted to become part of the multicultural and diverse student community of St John’s.

The most rewarding aspect of my Cambridge degree was the exploration of a wide range of sensibilities and interdisciplinary approaches to the study and appreciation of music, which I have incorporated and developed in my academic writing, performances and compositions.

Studying at Cambridge also allowed me to build relationships with fascinating people in other fields of knowledge, many of whom had a profound impact on my personal and professional development.

The best example of this cross fertilisation is my orchestral work Elegy. This piece is a tribute to the memory of Professor Sir Christopher Dobson, who always attended my concerts, provided encouragement and positively reinforced my career. The formal structure of Elegy features a trajectory from the white to the black notes of the piano, which metaphorically implies the gradual transition from life to death and the acceptance of the latter as a natural step in the life cycle.

Despite the grief, solitude and uncertainty that many of us have experienced under the shadow of this deadly pandemic, the seclusion of lockdown has allowed me to step back and think about my future, focus on my academic learning and envision new ambitious projects.The seclusion of lockdown has allowed me to step back and think about my future.

In particular, I have written an opera, which will be premiered on 16 January in Spain and which blends a heterogeneous palette of music styles, comprising Galician folk music and contemporary classical music. This project applies the findings of ethnomusicological research I conducted on the Galician bagpipe, and it integrates an array of choreographic, theatrical and cinematic elements in conjunction with the prestigious Spanish filmmaker Sigfrid Monleón.

I am very interested in stylistic fusion, and I believe that this will play an important role in many of my upcoming artistic projects. Since the beginning of the pandemic I have broadened my knowledge of music genres other than classical music by listening to more folk music, jazz, electronic music and film music.

I am passionate about film scoring, and in September I embarked on a Master’s degree in Composition for the Screen at the Royal College of Music in London.

Not everything in my life is music, though. I love reading and writing, going to the cinema, spending time with my friends and playing sports. In particular, I hike and run as often as possible, as these physical activities help me to de stress, relax and recharge the batteries before getting back to work.

During my time at Cambridge, when I was feeling overwhelmed by assignments, rehearsals, concerts or exams, I often went running with one or two friends for an hour in the evening and discussed my anxieties and concerns.

Running is the perfect complement to my music career.

This dynamic running therapy effectively allowed me to stay away from the desk and workstation for a while, getting some fresh air and reinvigorating my productivity. Running around the St John’s playing fields became an intrinsic part of my daily routine during lockdown, offering a restorative form of escapism.

I believe that it is very important to keep a balance between work and leisure – epitomised by the well-known Latin proverb mens sana in corpore sano – and running is the perfect complement to my music career as a saxophonist and composer.

Visit Nacho’s website for updates on his career.

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Nacho began his Master’s degree in Composition for the Screen at the Royal College of Music in London in 2020 after finishing his degree and graduating from St John’s during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alongside his studies, Nacho has a successful early career as a saxophonist and composer.