Paul Desenne

The New York Times

"Immediately striking...bright, freewheeling and sophisticated."


The Boston Globe
"Marvelously alive to the worlds of colors and glints and shimmers that instruments in combination are waiting to have loosed from them."


The L.A. Times

"Crickets and frogs in the night jungle, a slithering 12-tone snake and a shamanic healer are conjured up. …what makes Desenne's music haunting is the composer's continual off-kilter turns of phrase. You think you know what to expect, the landscape is familiar, but there is always something a little spooky lurking around the corner."
Mark Swed


Steeped in the counterpoint of Bach, music of the 16th century and contemporary techniques, and influenced always by the rich forms of popular and ethnic Latin American music, 2009 Guggenheim Fellow Paul Desenne was born in Caracas, Venezuela on December 7, 1959 to a French father and American mother. He began composition studies at the age of 14 under Greek composer Iannis Ioannidis, and as a cellist, he became a founding member of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in 1977. He moved to Paris to study 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 the 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. His works are performed around the world, with venues and festivals including Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center and Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York, Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Juilliard, MoMA's Summergarden series in New York, 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.


Performers of his works include the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra and the Simón Bolívar Symphonic Orchestra, Kremerata Baltica, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, Boston Classical Orchestra, the Bogotá Philharmonic, I Musici de Montréal, the Miami Symphony, Nederlands Blasers Ensemble, the New Juilliard Ensemble, Ensemble Continuum, Camerata Criolla de Caracas, Camerata de las Américas, members of the Lincoln Center Chamber Society, Mallarmé Chamber Players, Ensamble Gurrufío, Ensamble Onix, the Fodor Quintet, the Verdehr Trio, pianist Gabriela Montero, clarinetists Paquito d’Rivera and Jorge Montilla, flutists Luis Julio Toro, Marco Granados, Javier Montilla, and Jacques Zoon, violinists Alexis Cárdenas, Virginie Robilliard, and Jennifer Curtis, violinist/violist Nicholas Mann, and cellist Iseut Chuat, with conductors including Gustavo Dudamel, Tania Léon, Olivier Grangean, Joel Sachs, Carmen Téllez, Raphael Jiménez, Alondra de la Parra, Yuli Turovsky, Eduardo Marturet, Manuel Hernandez, Alfredo Rugeles, Michael Christie, and George Stelluto.


His compositions appear on recordings with artists including Ensemble Maroa, 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. 2010 sees the release of his La Revoltosa and his Sonata for Clarinet and Piano featuring Jorge Montilla, clarinet (Clarinet Classics, London: La Revoltosa), and Jaguar Songs, a collection of his cello works featuring Nancy Green, cello (Cello Classics, London). Upcoming recordings include the Orquesta Sinfónica Venezuela conducted by Carlos Izcaray.


Desenne has received composition grants from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University (2010), the Guggenheim Foundation (2009), Fundacion Cisneros (2006, 2001, 2000), Civitella Ranieri (2006), 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).


He is a music columnist for Venezuela’s national newspaper El Nacional. He has published satirical essays in Colombia's renowned arts magazine Revista Número, and in 2002-04, he created a weekly political satire for radio that aired in Caracas for 25 weeks. In 2009, he was named Best Actor by San Francisco's Golden Gate Fiction and Documentary Festival for his role in the short film Andante ma non troppo.


Photo: MD Torres


Back to top