Nerve, soul and memory

David Virelles’s music combines cultural influences from Africa, Western Europe, America and the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. Photograph: José Silva

Jazz lecturer David Virelles on music without labels

David Virelles is a pianist and composer in demand worldwide. Since 2021, he has been teaching jazz piano at ZHdK. We asked the Cuban musician how he labels his music and how he wants students to keep pushing their creative mind.



Lea Ingber: How would you describe your style of music?
David Virelles: My musical upbringing was very diverse. Both my parents are musicians: my father is a “trova” musician and my mother played the flute in a symphony orchestra. Also, growing up in a city as musical as Santiago de Cuba, you cannot help but be exposed to the variety of traditions. Music is a by-product of culture, history and socio-political processes. I have made music for solo piano, piano trios, synths, samplers, orchestral ensembles, traditional percussion instruments, and have also branched out into interdisciplinary projects. I have never believed in labels.

As an artist you are involved in many projects. Could you describe one of these? 
Gnosis” is a piece about transculturation and tradition, and highlights the complex tapestry of Cuba’s music—both its sacred-ritualistic dimension and what is perceived as secular. Strings, woodwinds and percussion all play a role in Gnosis as several families functioning within one and the same unit: this dynamic symbolizes multicultural intersections.

You are a well-known artist. What makes a musician stand out?
An integral part of music for me is being oneself. My music stems from my background and life experiences. If the artist is able to transfer this into an art form, you would most likely end up with something personal. I hope that my audience can engage with my work from a long-term perspective, which is the opposite of the cultural moment we are living in. The qualities that I strive for are honesty and excellence.

How do you want to inspire students with your music?
I hope to encourage students at ZHdK to be themselves and to keep pushing their creative mind. The Toni Campus and the work being carried out here embodies this philosophy. It is one of the things that attracted me to the institution, where we as teachers can be agents of positive change for students from many different places, through art and culture.

David Virelles ( teaches jazz piano at ZHdK. The Cuban musician studied the piano in Cuba, graduated from Humber College in Toronto and studied composition with Henry Threadgill in New York. For many years, he has been a pianist and composer in demand worldwide.
Lea Ingber ( a project manager at ZHdK University Communications.
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