Paul Desenne

Paul Desenne

Fellow: Awarded 2009
Field of Study: Music Composition

Competition: Latin America & Caribbean

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, on December 7, 1959, to a French father and American mother, Paul Desenne began composition studies at the age of 14 under Greek composer Iannis Ioannidis. As a cellist, he became a founding member of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in 1977. He moved to Paris, turning down the opportunity to prepare for philosophy studies at l’Ecole Normale Supérieure, and studied cello with Michel Strauss and Philippe Muller; composition with Marc-Olivier Dupin (later director of the Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris), and Luc Ferrari; mediaeval music with Marc Robert; chamber music with Gérard Caussé, Alain Meunier, Jean Mouillère, and Maurice Bourgue; and baroque music with William Christie. He won first prize in cello performance at the Conservatoire National de Région de Boulogne Billancourt, and first prize in cello performance at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris—the dean of the jury was the great Pierre Fournier.

In Paris, he began to compose his first concert works, and performed classical and tango music as well as adapting the elaborate musical figures and ideas of popular South American music to chamber formats with musicians from Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, and the Caribbean. Returning to Caracas in 1986, he performed with the Simón Bolívar Symphonic Orchestra for four years and taught cello performance and chamber music studies at the Simón Bolívar Conservatory, where he was head of its strings department. He performed classical works and contemporary Latin American music, including his own compositions, throughout the Americas and in Europe, with appearances at the Barbican Centre in London, Weill Recital Hall in New York, Festival de Montpellier in France, Festival Cervantino in Mexico, and others.

Steeped in the counterpoint of Bach, music of the sixteenth century, and contemporary techniques, and influenced always by the rich forms of popular and ethnic Latin American music, his works are performed around the world, with venues including Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Juilliard, the MoMa Summergarden Series, the Sonic Boom Festival, Focus! Festival, Caramoor, Faneuil Hall in Boston, International Clarinet and Flute Conventions in the United States, Place des Arts/Théâtre Maisonneuve in Montréal, the Concertgebouw and the Paradiso in Amsterdam, the Doelen in Rotterdam, the Paris Conservatory, Festival de Montpellier and the Cello Festival of Beauvais in France, Theater Lübeck in Germany, London’s Royal Academy of Music, the Contemporary Music Festival in Mongolia, Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas, Aula Magna de la Universidad Central de Venezuela, the International Contemporary Music Festival of Caracas, Festival Cervantino in Mexico, the Cartagena International Music Festival in Colombia, and Sala Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango and Auditorio León de Greiff in Bogotá.

His work was lauded in the New York Times as "immediately striking . . . bright, freewheeling and sophisticated” and as "marvelously alive to the worlds of colors and glints and shimmers that instruments in combination are waiting to have loosed from them" by the Boston Globe.

Artists who have performed his works include the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra and the Simón Bolívar Symphonic Orchestra in Caracas, Orquesta Sinfónica de Lara, Camerata Criolla de Caracas, Ensamble Gurrufío, the New Juilliard Ensemble, the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Bogotá Philharmonic, I Musici de Montréal, Nederlands Blasers Ensemble, Ensemble Continuum, Camerata de las Américas, members of the Lincoln Center Chamber Society, cellist Iseut Chute, flutist Jacques Zoon, the Boston Classical Orchestra, the Fodor Quintet, Mallarmé Chamber Players, clarinetists Paquito d’Rivera and Jorge Montilla, the Miami Symphony, flutists Luis Julio Toro, Marco Granados, and Javier Montilla, violinists Alexis Cárdenas, Virginie Robilliard and Jennifer Curtis, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic under Michael Christie (in January 2009), with conductors including Tania Léon, Joel Sachs, Raphael Jiménez, Alondra de la Parra, Eduardo Marturet, Manuel Hernandez, Alfredo Rugeles, and Olivier Grangean.

His compositions appear on twelve recordings, with artists including Ensemble Maroa, Paquito d’Rivera, Camerata de las Américas conducted by Joel Sachs, Ensamble Gurrufío, Orquesta Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho, Alonso Toro, Camerata Criolla, Luis Julio Toro, and the Caracas Clarinet Quartet. Three upcoming recordings feature cellist Nancy Green, violinist Tai Murray (for the BBC in London), and the Orquesta Sinfónica Venezuela conducted by Carlos Izcaray.

He has received composition grants from Fundacion Cisneros, New York (2006, 2001, 2000), El Sistema, Caracas (2004, 2000), CONAC/Venezuelan Ministry of Culture (2002, 1993), Fundacion Banco Mercantil, Caracas (1998), Fundacion Beracasa, Caracas (1998), Meet the Composer, New York (1995), and INCIBA/Venezuelan Institute for Culture and the Arts (1974-76), and was a 2006 Civitella Ranieri Composer in Residence in Umbria, Italy.

In 2002-04 he created a weekly political satire for radio, which aired in Caracas for twenty-five weeks. He has published satirical essays in Colombia’s renowned magazine Revista Número.



Profile photograph by Rosemary Holland.


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