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Author: Tradução de Sara Raposo

09 mar 2017

Filipe Alves in the Staatskapelle Berlin

If he was a football player, Filipe Alves would be known to every Portuguese person. He is, however, at least known to every German. He is one of the few Portuguese people to have played in the Berlin Philharmonic, was also the first Portuguese person to get into the Herbert von Karajan Academy and one of the few who can brag about being led by the conductor Claudio Abbado. He has also worked with the conductors Daniel Barenboim, Sir Simon Rattle, Claudio Abbado, Franz Welser-Möst, Herbert Blomstedt, Christoph Eschenbach, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Semyon Bychkov and Zubin Mehta.

Furthermore, he collaborated with the German Brass and, for three years, was the main trombone soloist in the Philharmoniker Hamburg and the Hamburg State Opera. In April 2015 he won the audition for trombone soloist in the Staatskapelle Berlin.


Da Capo (DC) – How did you start studying music?

Filipe Alves (FA) - I started, like almost everyone playing a brass instrument does, in a band. My brother and my cousin were the only people in our family that played in a band (my brother Paulo still plays the trombone in the National Republican Guard (GNR) band). In my village, almost every teenager played in the band. It was amazing. My mother was a bit insistent and I got excited from watching my cousin playing the trombone, and said that I would like to play that instrument. That's how it happened, I enrolled only to try it out; to me it was for the fun of it.


DC – And when did it become serious?

FA - Modesty aside, people could see if you had the talent; there were older people in my band like Victor Pereira and Nuno Madureira, two clarinet players with a lot of experience as musicians, who advised us to study because they believed we (me and my brother) had talent. With effort, my mother got me in Castelo de Paiva Academy and it was there that I got it in my head, and tried to reach another level.



"what struck me the most was the orchestra's quality [Mahler], the rigor in the work, the professionalism - I needed that"



DC – You also had an active participation in youth orchestras. How much did it contribute towards your musical growth?

FA - I wanted to go to youth orchestras because they were popular. An Orchestra like Mahler's sounds very good, it's a very good level. But after going there it changed my perspective, it motivated me to get out and to be aware of what I wanted.

Of course the environment and the places I visited, while seeing a bit of the world with people my age is amazing, but what struck me the most was the quality of the orchestra, the rigor with work, the professionalism - I needed that.


DC – And then you ended up going to Berlin…

FA - The idea to go to Berlin came up before I finished university, I was a year away from finishing my course. When I was in Mahler's orchestra, a colleague of mine who studied in Berlin encouraged me to take classes with Stefan Schultz, in Berlin. It was a normal conversation between classmates.

In the meanwhile, that classmate of mine invited me to do a program at the school he was attending, where Gabriel Antão was already studying. At the time, there was an important trombone tryout and they had a hard time finding trombonists for the program - Bruckner's Symphony No. 7. I accepted it and immediately thought about taking classes with Stefan Schultz. Once again, I had a bit of luck.

In class with Stefan Schultz, he asked me if I wanted to study with him. I replied that I really wanted to, but I didn't know if I could right away. I choose to finish my course at the Metropolitan Orchestra of Lisbon, but stayed in contact (and took some classes) with Stefan Schultz. In the following year, I applied and entered college.

In that same year, I got in at Remix Ensemble (I was there for two years) and juggled it with Berlin. I came to Portugal to play programs with Remix.



"Of course that playing at the Berlin Philharmonic is amazing. To me that was unthinkable. It was fantastic! My first program was with Abbado - I was lucky to work with him"



DC – Was it then that you got in to Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Academy?

FA - I passed the test in February 2012, but only started in May. I was only there for two months, because in the meanwhile I won the place of soloist at the Hamburg State Opera.


DC – You were the first Portuguese to get in to Berlin Philharmonic Academy. How was that experience?

FA - As to being the first one, doesn’t matter to me. I actually regret being the first one because that means we got there late. Fortunately, others got in right after me.

Of course, playing at the Berlin Philharmonic is amazing. To me that was unthinkable – it was fantastic! My first program was with Abbado - I was lucky to work with him. I didn't have much of a part to play, I only played in the first part. It was amazing. Although he was already physically debilitated, people had great respect for him.

With Claudio Abbado I still got to do an interesting program. He talked to me during the first rehearsal, saying I could put more strength into a small solo I had.



"The opera is a much more complete show, so it becomes more fulfilling"



DC – Was playing opera different for you?

FA - To begin with, I really like opera, but I have to admit that I don't like all kinds of operas. Of course, playing the same opera ten times in a season becomes repetitive, and that's what I like the least about being in an opera orchestra.

In a theater, the rehearsals are different, an orchestra has to sacrifice itself to the scenic part, to the singers. The planning is very different. In a symphonic orchestra, every week is the same and it has a set routine, whereas in the opera the routine changes a lot from week to week, no weeks are alike due to scheduling.


DC – As a musician, is it very different to play on stage and in the orchestra pit?

FA - Indeed it is, in a symphonic orchestra I'm more exposed, what's most important is to hear the orchestra and what it's playing, whereas in an opera, the orchestra is in the background, at least to the people listening; they'll even forget we're there playing.

A mistake can go unnoticed, but you have other kinds of difficulties, like keeping up with the singer. It is also amazing the amount of repertoire that you play in an opera, I've been through all kinds of programs, sometimes we have to set up a Strauss opera in only two rehearsals. The opera is a much more complete show, so it becomes more fulfilling.

But I miss playing a symphonic program in my orchestra, although there are things we play that are incredible. I have to mention that in Hamburg we have one of the best ballets in the world! We make excellent productions! Things like these I’d never be able to do in a symphonic orchestra.



"If I go to an audition, I have to think that I'm going win it, that I'm fit to win it. If I don’t think I’m fit, I won’t go."



DC – On a personal level, what does it mean to you to win an audition? It's not easy to win several auditions in different orchestras...

FA - I have to be honest, and admit that it gives me personal satisfaction. It means that I have kept the level or even improved.


DC – In those kinds of tryouts, how do you deal with anxiety and nerves?

FA - Not very well. I can spend two nights without sleeping before the auditions, specially the night before. I get worried, anxious and I want to be playing right away. I want to rest, to sleep, but I can't, I think about the pieces I have to play over and over again, and about what they're going to ask me to play.

If I go to an audition, I have to think I'm going to win it, that I'm fit to win it. If I don’t think I’m fit, I won’t go. My main objective is first place, not second. I put a lot of pressure on myself.

The fact that I already play in an orchestra, and I'm already a professional musician, adds more to my responsibility, which is to show that I have more maturity than a student.



"Did I ever dream of playing with Barenboim or with Zubin Metha when I was in Portugal? It's perfectly normal for me now!"



DC – What do you think has changed in Portugal for the growing international success of its musicians?

FA - It's a bit like fashion. You need two or three people to start it and then everyone wants to do the same. For example, on the trombone, we already have Gabriel Antão in Vienna, Francisco Couto in Helsinki. We're getting results! I believe we serve as example for others to take the leap, to risk it and fight for more.

Did I ever dream of playing with Barenboim or with Zubin Metha when I was in Portugal? It's perfectly normal for me now!

With social networking and globalization everything becomes easier as well. Ten years ago when I was in professional school, we got the information, but not like today and that becomes encouraging.

We also have the mindset that it's better abroad. The current trend in Portugal is to get their Bachelor’s degree there and then do a Master’s in another country.


DC – Is that positive or negative?

FA - It's positive, there's nothing negative about it. Getting to know other cultures and other sets of ideas has nothing of negative, quite the opposite. Even if it's not what people were expecting, it's always a different life experience.



"The trombone scene in Portugal is very good. The problem is a lack of opportunities."



DC – What advice can you give to young trombonists?

FA - The first one is to be humble and work. Then they need to have their minds set, in the sense that they need to know exactly what they want. From a young age I knew what I wanted and worked hard to reach that goal. If they give it their all, they'll accomplish something. I don't believe that those who work hard with humility and sacrifice themselves, can't accomplish something; it might not be what they wanted, but they'll always get something.

Work, dedication and even more work, knowing what they want and fighting for it.


DC – How do you see the trombone's scene in Portugal?

FA - The trombone scene in Portugal is very good. I know there's a lot of talent coming up but talented people have always existed. The problem is a lack of opportunities.


DC – If you had the chance to do a project in Portugal, what would it be?

FA - Maybe there will be news in the future. I have some things in mind but I don't want to put it out there yet.

One thing I would invest in would be in making a record.

On the other hand, if I won the lottery I would open a restaurant, help my family and go to French Polynesia. The Portuguese cuisine is what we have best in Portugal.


Filipe Alves
  • Filipe Alves
  • Filipe Alves
  • Filipe Alves
  • Filipe Alves
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