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PJM

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COMPOSERS

Author: Tradução de Sara Raposo

15 fev 2017

Last update: 21 nov 2018


Andreia Pinto Correia, Composer

 Winner of the award John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in 2015, Andreia Pinto Correia, a Portuguese native, has worked with the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra and Berkeley Symphony Orchestra in the United States. Her compositions, according to Jornal de Letras, are a major contribution to the dissemination of Portugal’s culture and language, perhaps a contribution larger than could ever be imagined.

 

Da Capo (DC) - How did the interest for composition appear? Was this always your dream?

Andreia Pinto Correia (APC) - My interest for composition appeared very late. When I began to study music, I did it because I wanted to be a soloist of a wind instrument (the saxophone). However, I had to suspend my journey because of an accident.

Returning to my studies after a hiatus of about six years, I began to compose and, little by little, the passion for composing was emerging. I could not imagine doing anything else nowadays.

 

 

I may have gotten some less positive comments [but] I always made a point of not wasting time giving too much thought to the reactions of others”  

 

 

DC - When you chose to compose, what was the reaction of the people around you? Was there a less agreeable situation because of that choice?

APC - I may have gotten some less positive comments in the sense that I started composing very late and had learned jazz simultaneously to classical music. The transition from soloist to composer was very slow and it took many years.

Years of waiting, away from the studies in which I read, studied scores, listened to music a lot and matured significantly as a person. But after so many obstacles, my determination to be a composer was very strong and I always made a point of not wasting time giving too much thought to the reactions of others. 

 

 

[at the NEC I had] the freedom to write and to grow focusing on the quality instead of labels”

 

 

DC - Why did you decide to study at the New England Conservatory of Music? What about this University attracted you? 

APC - The main reason why I attended the New England Conservatory (NEC) was because I knew that the composer Bob Brookmeyer taught there. I should add that the NEC is one of the great schools of elite music in the US. Bob Brookmeyer, who passed away in 2011, was a very demanding teacher and very special, not only with a great knowledge of classical music, jazz music, and a great soloist as well. However, due to various circumstances, I ended up changing course and doing my doctorate in classical composition, also at the New England Conservatory. 

First of all, I was impressed by the quality of the institution and by a particular teacher, but I believe that in the general sense, I was also captivated by the variety of choices in the US, meaning there are countless aesthetic schools and there's a place for all of them. In my case, being surrounded by excellent musicians from all over the world, and have the freedom to write and grow focusing on the quality instead of labels.

At the same time, I had to adapt to a very firm idea of self-sufficiency that undoubtedly exists in the US. The always present idea of the self-made man, in which each person trails their way, overcoming obstacles and failures, without being dependent on a great master who’s responsible to build us a career. It’s a different way of looking at things, and that's not so easy to get used to. 

 

DC - How was your class at the university?

APC - At the university I wasn't part of a class. When I did the Masters, I was Bob Brookmeyer’s only full-time student, studying composition solely with him. I had different classes of theory and musicology, but never as part of a fixed class. During the doctorate, I was the only composition student. The doctoral program at the NEC is a very exclusive program with a vast academic aspect. After three years of seminars on music theory and musicology and four dissertations per semester, you move on to the actual orientation phase, of written and oral exams, and the final dissertation. It's a very strict program and therefore very attractive.

 

 

to continue to grow musically, giving my best in every piece I write” 

 

 

DC – As a winner of several awards, among which, the most recent by the League of American Orchestras. How do you get and face these prizes?

APC - I always try to be aware of what the awards may (or may not) represent, trying not to fall on false hopes. An award can bring new responsibilities, opportunities for collaborations hitherto unknown or out of reach, or even a great financial stability, such as the Guggenheim Award.

As you know, there are several composition awards around the world and, if I learned anything by being part of the jury, is to be subjective about the situation. In other words, being aware of the responsibilities that I have and the value of the given institution's confidence in my job, not forgetting the essential: to continue to grow musically, giving my best in every piece I write. 

 

DC - You were and still are the composer-in-residence of some orchestras, such as the Boston and Memphis Symphony Orchestras, among others. What type of work do you have to carry out?

APC - Normally a residency is linked to a commission of a piece and its premiere or it can be related to several performances of already existing pieces. Hence, I spend some time at the place of the residency in rehearsals. Often it also includes giving master classes and participating in conversations to the public, or teaching composition at local universities. It can also include activities involving the patrons of the institution in question, something perhaps less common in Portugal and in Europe in general.

 

DC - In 2013, the Boston Portuguese Festival held a concert exclusively with your music. How was this experience?

APC - It was an extremely rewarding experience, because until then I had never participated in a concert of my music, that was somehow directed to the Portuguese community in the US, in this case in Boston. I also end up being away from our communities due to the kind of music I write, which is a little sad.

 

DC - Do you receive commissions from the Portuguese cultural institutions?

APC - Yes, I do. I have several commissions from Portuguese cultural institutions for the upcoming years, which I can't speak of yet because they have not been officially announced. But of course, most of my commissions are made through international institutions.

 

 

"I feel a great affinity towards orchestral writing, I believe that to be my greatest passion”

 

 

DC - How would you define your writing? What genres do you prefer to compose? Why?

APC - This is the question I am asked most often and I think the best answer is to talk about what worries me. I have a great attention to detail, timbre, harmony, and orchestration. I feel a great affinity towards orchestral writing, I believe that to be my greatest passion. In this case, it would not be about the genre but the instrumental training. Due to the possibility of choosing the level of timbre, the color palette, and the endless possibilities. 

 

DC - How's the critic's reactions to your pieces? Have you received derogatory remarks by the fact of being a "female" composer?

APC - I have been fortunate to receive very good reviews, some by renowned critics, but I have also received the occasional less positive review. I believe that is part of the journey for those who expose themselves to an audience. But I'm always aware that – and in particular with regard to contemporary music – when a work is heard for the first time, the general public not only doesn't know the journey of the composer in question, but also does not have the comparative recordings of the same work.

I can say that I have a very keen sense of self-criticism and I have to say I only know one or two people whose input I truly care about – whether they are positive or negative. These people, as composers who I greatly admire, also know very well my music and my journey. I try to take from the reviews that which seems sensible to me, while remaining very focused on my work, the work that I have to write, and aspects that I want to improve in my writing.

In regards to the second part of your question: unfortunately, I have received bad reviews for being a female composer. However, interestingly, in the United States, such situation has never happened to me, perhaps because there is a higher percentage of women in conservatories and universities, and a constant presence of older female composers, with great pieces written. But I emphasize what I said in a previous question about criticism: I always try to focus on what I can actually control, that is, in the quality of my music, which is what really concerns me. 

 

 

Sérgio Carolino was a huge promoter of my music in my early years of writing”

 

 

DC - Are your works often published and recorded?

APC - My decision to have a bigger control over the recordings is due to wanting to attain a certain maturity in my writing and, therefore, wanting to wait for works that were, in my opinion, complete. Of course, this statement throws new questions such as "when do you know that the work is complete", this because I also see each of my works as a bridge for what comes next. But this would be a topic for another conversation. I have, in fact, several works recorded and, in Portugal, for example, I have to say that Sérgio Carolino was a huge promoter of my music in my early years of writing. A great musician and a great colleague. 

Each project takes its own time to mature and I always feel an enormous responsibility to my music. That said, I'm going to record two monographic CDs over the next few years, both of chamber works. I can't reveal more than that. But my biggest obstacle, if I can put it that way, is to write orchestral music. In the US, it is very complicated to record a monographic CD with a large orchestra, because of the way the institutions operate legally and the protection by the unions. The costs are unimaginable and, as we all know, the market is saturated on some levels. This situation does not cease to be a problem, since I write mainly for large orchestras. But I am hopeful that this situation will change soon.

 

 

When I think about success, I believe in doing what I like”

 

 

DC - Would you like to come back to Portugal? Do you think you would also have success if you had done your musical journey here?

APC - What success means to me or to someone else is very subjective. When I think of success, I believe in doing what I like, do it the best way I can, and have top musicians playing my music. Portugal has extraordinary musicians and, in that regard, it would also be exciting to work in my country. I would probably have had a different path, but I don't think it would have been of more or less significance. Just different.  

The Peruvian writer Mário Vargas Llosa has a very interesting essay about that topic, in which he talks about the existence of a cultural exile (not affiliated with exiles for political and economic reasons). Llosa talks about the reasons why a writer – in this case, I make a parallelism with a composer – choose another base other than their home country, and how those decisions create expectations in relation to the individual and to the reception of their work, both in the home country and in the host country. Thus, all of these are questions I face daily.

On the other hand, in our time, it is possible to travel, be more connected with what's happening on other continents and, although I'm not the best person to speak on technological matters, because I have a great fondness of my pencil, my paper, and my solitude (in the sense of "solitude" and not of "loneliness", a sensible distinction I read recently in a wonderful essay by Professor João Lobo Antunes), the fact is that it's not so important to be in a particular place.

In my case, I studied composition in the United States but I never did it in Portugal, and that's why I don't have that disciple connection to a particular "school" or master in our country. I developed very lasting professional relationships with soloists, ensembles, orchestras and institutions in the United States. And I also have some relationships that I value a lot in Portugal. 

But to answer your question: I come to Portugal several times a year. My family, my good friends, the great musicians who I have collaborated with over the years are all here. I have been lucky enough to have increasingly more work in Europe, which helps maintaining contact with Portugal. Would I like to come back one day? Of course, I don't dismiss this possibility, but all in good time. Everything will depend on the circumstances and conditions. Until then, the door is open.

 

DC - What's your opinion about the composition done in Portugal?

APC - I try to accompany as much as I can from a distance and, when I'm in Portugal, I love going to the concerts of my colleagues, listening to ensembles, and orchestras. I like to know what you do. I have extraordinary colleagues in Portugal, people with a lot of talent, with great skills. I also see that the new generations arrive in force, with opportunities that would have been unthinkable ten or twenty years ago, and, more importantly, they know to seize these opportunities with a lot of work and dedication.

 

 

that Orchestra [Minnesota Symphony Orchestra] 'understood' my music in a very deep way, and played it with great respect"

 

 

DC - What are the most memorable moments of your career?

APC - The most memorable moments of my career are, no doubt, those concerning the people that helped me grow, my masters: Bob Brookmeyer, John Harbison and Elliott Carter, a composer who I met in his final years of life.

Afterwards I had other experiences that marked me in another way, in the sense of confirming a passion: to have heard my first orchestral work, and have worked with conductor Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, an experience that marked me in a very positive way. For being one of the best professional experiences I had, for feeling that the Orchestra "understood" my music in a very deep way, and played it with great respect.

 

DC - Can you tell us a little about the projects in which you are involved in?

APC - Currently, I'm scheduling works until 2021, therefore it can become hard to talk about the present. Overall, I have commissions for several orchestral works, a concerto for orchestra and soloist, a monodrama, a cycle of songs also for orchestra and soloist, a string quartet, and various smaller works for soloists and chamber ensembles scheduled. 

 

DC - Do you have a favorite composer or work?

APC - There are certain works or composers which were important to me in various stages of my journey. I love Mahler, which surprises a lot of people. Ten years ago, I spent months comparing the first manuscript of Symphonia no. 1, with the final version written ten years later. I learned a lot about Mahler, his writing process, the importance of what is deleted and what stays.

Messiaen, Stravinsky, Debussy, Bartók, Ravel, Ligeti, Dutilleux, and also Haas, Donatoni, Sciarrino, Beat Furrer, and Birtwistle are some of the composers that have influenced my music in one way or another. But there are many others. And, of course, Bach. As for American composers: Elliott Carter, Jacob Druckman, and John Harbison influenced me the most.

 

DC - How do you organize your life, your leisure, your technical preparation, rehearsals and travels?

APC - Fortunately, right now, I have a person who helps me organize my life and my schedule, which is great. The most complicated might be to run my own publisher. I have three people working for me part-time and I'm connected to a printing house in Boston with another team I work with. In other words, a lot of mail, a lot of paperwork, and little spare time. But I read a lot, I am constantly studying scores, I swim when I can, I learn new languages, and every week I try to go to exhibitions, concerts, theater. New York is the ideal place to live in that regard. 

Travels always represent a break of routine, which is sometimes complicated, especially when you have deadlines. I really like my space and my studio, where I have my books, my walls, my silence. I can write elsewhere and be equally productive, but there's nothing like my own space.  

 

 

my biggest obstacle was being away from my studies for many years and starting to compose late”

 

 

DC - What sacrifices have you had to make to give yourself to music? Did you have to give up on your personal life? 

APC - Leaving Portugal, which was a decision made many years ago. Later, staying in the US, which was a very weighted decision influenced by many life experiences. I feel a great attachment to Portugal and, sometimes, it's not easy being away from everything familiar. Steinbeck said the place of origin is always a location with a plurality of building memories, some of which are contradictory.

Memories of experiences, memories of what a place represented at some point in our lives. And, for all this, the place of origin, this place with which we feel this deep and unique link, lacks objectivity. This response also has to do with the question you asked me earlier about a possible return, whether or not I have a coherent perspective of how I see my country. 

But, returning to your initial question, I believe that my biggest obstacle was being away from my studies for many years and starting to compose late due to health issues. In that sense, I've given up years of studies and experiences that would be important for my growth as a young woman. But I also won in other aspects, such as a greater determination and, as they say in good Portuguese, a "drive”, which is always helpful when in a bind. I make and have made sacrifices, but I also know that I have a dream life: I write music, I travel to fabulous places where I'm very well treated, and collaborate with extraordinary musicians. 

 

DC - Projects for the near future?

APC - At the moment, I'm preparing for the premiere of Dalla Legend aurea, a work commissioned by Winsor Music and Peggy Pearson, an amazing American oboist. The work, for Oboe Quartet (oboe, violin, viola, cello), is inspired in the frescoes of Piero della Francesca Capella Maggiore in Arezzo, Italy.

I'm completing a work for Brass Quintet for the soloists of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which had already been commissioned a few years ago, and with its debut set for the next season. Then, I will write a work commissioned by a magnificent Piano Trio from New York 

  

Andreia Pinto Correia
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