You probably know this, but may I point it out, just for context. Most of those flattering biographies you read in concert programmes and websites have been written by the subject himself. All that awestruck contemplation of his ground-breaking discoveries, all those admiring revelations on how early in life he started writing novels, all that conviction in declaring his uncontested position as one of his country’s most outstanding artist – all that acclaim is, in fact, self-awarded. It would be more honest to remove the veil of coyness and to write in the first person, but one would feel uncomfortably vain to do so, even after a discreet sprinkling of the requisite word “humble” in the text. We are, alas, the children of our time, and I am no exception. I will, therefore, give you some nuggets of information about my life, and I will do so, humbly, in the third person.
Agustín Fernández was born in Bolivia in 1958. Most of his professional life he spent in Japan (1980-03) and in the United Kingdom (1984-2019).
Following an early start as a folk musician (1969-72), which involved singing and playing in folk clubs such as Ernesto Cavour’s Peña Naira and winning Charango de oro in an interprovincial charango competition, he studied composition in La Paz with Alberto Villalpando while working as a violinist at the National Symphony Orchestra. He then spent three years in Japan, studying composition with Akira Ifukube and violin with Takeshi Kobayashi and supporting himself with jobs at the Bolivian Embassy and as a language teacher. In Britain he studied at Liverpool University for an MMus and at London’s City University for a PhD. After a four-year spell as Composer-in-Residence at Queen’s University, Belfast, he taught at Dartington College of Arts, before being appointed lecturer in composition at Newcastle University in 1996 and, since 2007, Professor of Composition. He was head of music at Newcastle 2011-2014, thereafter remaining with the institution until his resignation in 2019.
He retains an active presence in Bolivia, returning for masterclasses and creative projects, such as a series of folk arrangements for the foundation Bolivia Clásica which, after its première in La Paz under Jaime Laredo, have become a recurrent presence in the orchestral repertoire.
He has also strong links with Romania, having made visits to Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca for performances and teaching engagements. In 2018 the Academy of Music Gheorghe Dima in Cluj-Napoca awarded an honorary doctorate.
His commissions in Britain have included projects with London International Opera Festival, Royal Opera House’s Garden Venture, Park Lane Group, Royal Northern Sinfonia and others. International commissions have included, among others, two from New Juilliard Ensemble and a Koussevitzky Commission for String Quartet No. 2 ‘Sin tiempo’, which was premièred and continued to be performed by the Momenta Quartet in the USA and abroad. His work is published by Filarmonika (Fort Worth, Texas), Tritó (Barcelona) and Tre Media (Karlsruhe).
A personal tragedy forced him to resign his academic post and abandon his artistic projects to concentrate on a judicial battle. It is ongoing.