Conductor Carmen Helena Téllez has been called "a quiet force behind contemporary Music in the United States today" by the online music journal Sequenza 21. She has also earned enthusiastic reviews as an expert in the performance of contemporary music. She was born in 1955 in Caracas, Venezuela, where she completed conservatory studies in piano and composition. She won an Ayacucho Foundation scholarship to pursue studies in the United States, where she earned her Doctor of Music degree at Indiana University in 1988.

Since the beginning of her professional career in 1985, she has been a regular guest conductor of professional and academic orchestras and choruses as well as in international music festivals in Latin America, Europe and the United States, with which she has developed a special emphasis on contemporary repertoire, Latin American composers, and on genres that explore the relationship of music with other arts.

In 1992, she joined the faculty at the Indiana University School of Music where she is now Professor of Choral Conducting. She is also the Director of the Indiana University Latin American Music Center and of the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble.

During the 2001-2002 she became the Music Director of the Contemporary Chamber Players of Chicago, conducting the second performance ever of the oratorio Praise by the eminent American composer Ralph Shapey; and the Midwest premiere of Stephen Hartke's Pulitzer finalist work Tituli. In the 2002-2003 season she conducted the Midwest premiere of John Adams' El Niño in her own semi-staged production, as well as the premiere of John Eaton's opera inasmuch... in New York City.

Téllez is also one of the founders and creative directors of Aguavá New Music Studio, a creative group of artists dedicated to the promotion of contemporary composers. She has toured the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Israel with Aguavá and has been the producer of their three recordings.

In the meantime, she has continued to pursue a successful international guest conducting career. Her most recent projects include the commission and world premiere of Cary Boyce's cantata Ave Maris Stella at the Festival Cervantino in Mexico.She was the featured artist of the online journal Musica-Femina. She just conducted specially commissioned concert of contemporary music with Aguavá New Music Studio at the prestigious concert series of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

In 2005, Téllez initated Aguavante, a non-profit organization dedicated to the innovative inter-disciplinary presentation of new music to audiences, in order to enhance the connection of composers with the concerns and rituals of present-day society.

Visit Carmen Helena Téllez Web Site
Monday, June 20, 2005
Greetings, Sequenza/ 21 Bloggers

It has taken me a few days to follow through on Jerry's invitation to initiate a blog focused on the issues faced by conductors of contemporary music. I hope, first of all, that the composers will participate with some of their ideas about our conducting art, even as they keep up with their discussions on creating music. Naturally, I hope other conductors will join the conversations in this excellent site.

I apologize in advance that I do not have the wit displayed by my colleagues here, and still, I will go on and open with some reflections about the conversations that have taken place recently in Sequenza/21 on the character of composers, and how it may reflect or not on their reception. I mention this topic because conductors, more often than not, have a say on programming some of the most substantial music (in terms of length or ensemble complexity) that composers produce.

You will all be reassured to know that in the end, the quality of the composer's voice, its intrinsic beauty and originality, do count the most. But--I must also say that the networks of our field bring about the opportunities and sometimes the expediency of programming music by visitors, well-publicized colleagues, fellow faculty members, etc, etc. In short, connections and collegiality do help to get the works initially performed. We all know that, don't we? However, the outstanding networking skill of the composer will not do much for the lasting impact of the work. Conversely, I wonder if a lack of people-skills of a composer may impede those first performances which will lead to lasting recognition. At least now one can hire publicists!

I worked with Ralph Shapey in 2002 the year before his death. I was asked, given the nature of my professional experience, to tackle the second-ever performance of his oratorio "Praise,"which he wrote for the celebration of the 50 years of the foundation of Israel, but had not been performed again. The work was incredibly difficult and paradoxically Handelian at the same time. Shapey and I had many conversations about the piece, and also, about conducting new music. At all times he was a model of charm and generosity in sharing his knowledge. He was also very open in his praise for the young singers who performed, and kind and uncritical all along, allowing us to come to terms with the work in our own way, even though he had composed and premiered it, and naturally knew all its intricacies.

Shapey's reputation preceded him nonetheless, and it was, let's say, gnarly. This taught me that reputations may be static, but the attitudes of people are never monolithic. I felt fortunate that his openness allowed me a fabulous learning experience.

Throughout my career I have always hoped that the composer will be generous enough with the performers to establish a dialogue tempered by some compassion. In the case of choruses, for example, the learning curve for complex contemporary works can be steep, given the high proportion of students and amateurs who comprise most choral groups.

I would love to hear some of the experiences of the composers, and what made a difference in their happy or unhappy rapport with a conductor.