Press Release: Carlos Suriñach and the Creation of Modern Dance in New York

On Monday, March 31st at 6:30 pm, the CUNY Graduate Center’s Foundation for Iberian Music will present a conference exploring the works of composer Carlos Suriñach and his unique contribution to the world of modern dance in the mid-twentieth century. A roundtable discussion exploring the many aspects of Suriñach’s musical personality will be followed by a recital featuring the concert version of Embattled Garden, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of its premiere by the Martha Graham Dance Company on April 3, 1958 at New York’s Adelphi Theater. The conference, which is free and open to the public, takes place in the Baisley Powell Elebash Recital Hall at the Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street.

Candice Agree, weekend evening host on 96.3FM WQXR, the classical station of the New York Times, will be the moderator for a roundtable discussion of dancers, musicians and scholars who knew Suriñach personally and through his work.  The panel includes:

  • Stuart Hodes, dancer, choreographer, teacher, and author was a soloist in the Martha Graham Company from 1947-59, and one of Martha Graham’s most important partners. Mr. Hodes later served as head of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, and has been instrumental in preserving the Graham legacy through teaching, lectures and workshops.

  • Carmen de Lavallade, dancer, choreographer, teacher and actor, was a prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera, and a member of the companies of Lester Horton, Alvin Ailey, and John Butler, among others. As a lead dancer in the John Butler Ballet Company, she created the role of Bathsheba in David and Bathsheba, for which Suriñach wrote the score.

  • Aaron Sherber, Music Director and Conductor of the Martha Graham Company since 1998. Mr. Sherber has prepared new editions of several pieces written for Martha Graham, working from original and intermediate sources. These editions are featured regularly in the Graham Company’s performances.

  • Ninotchka Devorah Bennahum, dance historian and choreographer, is an Associate Professor at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus, where she directs the M.F.A. in New Media Art & Performance and “LIU @ American Ballet Theatre,” a Bachelor’s program for American Ballet Theatre dancers. She is the author of Antonia Mercé, 'La Argentina:’ Flamenco and the Spanish Avant-Garde, published by Wesleyan University Press.

  • Antoni Pizà, Director of the Foundation for Iberian Music.

The recital will feature four works by Carlos Suriñach. Pianist Adam Kent will play one of the Three Spanish Songs and Dances, written in 1950. Mr. Kent will be joined by violinist Airi Yoshioka for Flamenco Cyclothymia, from 1967. The concert will conclude with Perspectives Ensemble performing Ritmo Jondo (1952) and Embattled Garden (1958). Still in the Graham Company’s active repertory, Embattled Garden marks the beginning of a professional relationship and friendship between Martha Graham and Carlos Suriñach that would last more than three decades, until Ms. Graham’s death in 1991. Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times has described Embattled Garden as “a seductive piece of entertainment with a serious theme of redemption.” The work re-imagines the Garden of Eden as an “erotic hotbed,” according to critic Jack Anderson. Adam and Eve’s idyllic domestic bliss is disrupted by The Stranger and by Lilith, Adam’s rather single-minded “starter wife.”

Born in Barcelona, Spain on March 4th, 1915, Carlos Suriñach arrived in the U.S. in 1951, making his home for many years in New York City. Well known and admired throughout Europe as a first-class conductor, he possessed an almost photographic memory, which allowed him to conduct without a score. Feeling his temperament was more suited to composition, Suriñach continued to conduct, but only as a means to support his composing. Once in New York, Suriñach found his style of composition, based on tonality, out of step with the growing trend among American composers toward serialism, a style which had gained academic popularity in Europe and which Suriñach had hoped to evade in the U.S. Suriñach’s compositional style ran counter to what was being presented as “contemporary” in the concert hall; to put it plainly, his melodic re-imaginings of Spanish folkloric traditions, most especially the modal scales and syncopated rhythms found in flamenco, were out of fashion.

Suriñach supported himself by conducting, and by writing music for commercials and cartoons.  In 1952, a performance of Ritmo Jondo at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City attracted the attention of dancer and choreographer Doris Humphrey. Suriñach expanded the work for Ms. Humphrey to use as a dance score. Not long after, more dance commissions came to Suriñach: from Alvin Ailey, Robert Joffrey, John Butler, Pearl Lang, Francisco Moncion, Antonio, and Martha Graham, all of whom found Suriñach to be a generous and talented collaborator. Countless others, including Paul Taylor, Norman Morrice, Garth Fagan, and Doug Varone have created dances to Suriñach’s music.

Suriñach thought that composers should write for the public rather than for themselves. He compared composing to writing a play, and believed audiences adore unpredictability and surprise. His works do not disappoint. His death in 1997 came as a shock to all who knew him. Although he taught only briefly, accepting a very few short-term positions as a visiting professor, he bequeathed his estate to the BMI Foundation. His legacy makes possible a number of awards, in the form of grants and commissions, in Suriñach’s name.

The Graduate Center is the doctorate-granting institution of the City University of New York (CUNY).  The school offers more than thirty doctoral programs, as well as a number of master’s programs, and is also home to more than thirty interdisciplinary research centers and institutes.  The Graduate Center has become a vital part of New York City’s intellectual and cultural life with its extensive array of public lectures, exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical events.  Further information on the Graduate Center and its programs can be found at


My friendship with Carlos Suriñach was full of great moments. In my first European tours, he invited me to play under his direction on numerous occasions, especially during his time in Brussels and later in Paris. It was during those years in Paris that he introduced me to Francis Poulenc, with whom I premiered his Concerto for Two Pianos, performing it with Poulenc at the Palau under the direction of Suriñach. When he left to live in New York, where he spent the rest of his life, we saw each other whenever I was going to play there. Onetime he told me, “I’m composing an inferno, and I will dedicate this inferno to you.” It was his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, which I premiered in Minneapolis November 13, 1974, under the direction of Skrowaczewski. That inferno referred to the third movement, which is very difficult to play.

His music was spontaneous and expansive, as was he himself. He died alone and unexpectedly, and only a few people were at the burial. I’m very pleased that so worthy a tribute to Carlos Suriñach should be organized at last, and am very sorry not to be able to attend this event. Only God knows why this should take place at a time when circumstances still prevent me from traveling.

Barcelona, 2 December 2007


Mi amistad con Carlos Suriñach estuvo llena de grandes momentos. En los inicios de mi carrera por Europa, me invitó a tocar bajo su dirección en numerosas ocasiones, especialmente durante su estancia en Bruselas y posteriormente en París. De aquellos años que pasó en París, me presentó a Francis Poulenc, con quien estrené su Concierto para dos pianos interpretándolo con el mismo Poulenc en el Palau de la Música Catalana bajo la dirección de Suriñach. Cuando se fue a vivir a Nueva York, donde pasó el resto de su vida, nos veíamos muy a menudo cada vez que yo iba a tocar allí. Una vez me dijo: “Estoy componiendo un infierno, y este infierno te lo dedicaré a ti”. Era su Concierto para piano y orquesta que estrené en Minneapolis el 13 de noviembre de 1974 bajo la dirección de Skrowaczewski. Aquél infierno correspondía al tercer movimiento, que es muy difícil de interpretar.

Su música era espontánea y expansiva como él mismo. Murió solo e inesperadamente, y al entierro éramos muy pocas personas. Me alegro mucho de que finalmente se organice un homenaje tan merecido a Carlos Suriñach y siento mucho no poder asistir a este acto. Solo Dios sabe por qué llega cuando la vida ya me impide desplazarme.

Submitted on: MAR 1, 2008

Category: Press Room