At the Gulbenkian (Foundation), a composer living in the United States of America, pondering about memory (April 11, 2013)
Written by Vítor Belanciano
Published by Público
Andreia Pinto-Correia is based in the United States, and today and tomorrow the Orquestra Gulbenkian will perform her works that are inspired by the concept of memory. She started her career in jazz, but today she is a prominent composer in the concert music field. It is the first time that she is working with the Orchestra Gulbenkian and she does not hide her enthusiasm. “I am delighted because I have been coming to the Gulbenkian Hall since I was a child, and to have my music performed here is a kind of homecoming.” Today and tomorrow at the Grand Auditorium, the Gulbenkian Orchestra directed by conductor Joana Carneiro, and featuring soprano Ana Maria Pinto, will perform three works that form a triptych (Elegia a Al-Mu’tamid, Xántara and Alfama) by Andreia Pinto-Correia, 41 years old, Portuguese composer based in the United States of America, and already distinguished with prestigious composition awards (Alpert Award in the Arts Residency Prize and the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University Commission Award), besides being the first Portuguese to have a work performed at Carnegie Hall. The American press praises the finesse, elegance and the harmonic construction of her music. Curiously, she started in jazz and not in concert music.
When you left to the United States with a scholarship, in the mid-nineties, you went with the expectation of becoming a jazz saxophonist, but today you are a concert music composer. How do you recall those initial years?
I left for the United States in 1994, with a scholarship from the Berklee College of Music in Boston to study jazz saxophone, although I had previously studied classical saxophone in Portugal. I was there only a couple of months, because I suffered an accident (in my right hand) and returned to Portugal, where I was based for six years. After this period I returned to the USA without knowing for sure how would I restart my musical career, since I was unable to perform on my instrument at the highest level. I studied orchestration, conducting, repertoire, and ultimately I followed the composition path. During this initial period I mostly wrote for jazz orchestra which I conducted. Around 2003, when I finished my undergraduate studies, I left Boston for New York, where I met (composer and conductor) Bob Brookmeyer, my first composition teacher, with whom I ended up studying for three years.
When were you aware that you would be a composer?
It was a very natural process. Right after my first composition, I started to receive commissions. When I realized, I had my own jazz orchestra, which I conducted, and I had plenty of concerts of my music. The transition to classical concert music was also natural. Bob Brookmeyer realized very early that my musical thinking process was more appropriate to orchestral concert music, and he encouraged me to follow that path. When I applied to a doctoral program six years ago, I decided to stop working with my jazz orchestra.
From soloist to composition, from jazz to classical music. Did the initial musical period have any influence in the way you write music today, and do you feel that it was an advantage for you to have that kind of background?
Yes. The transition from soloist to composer was harder for me because I had imagined myself as a soloist since I was a child. The transition from jazz to classical music was not hard at all. When I was writing for jazz, I could feel that it was not my natural environment. In 2006 when I wrote for orchestra for the first time, I immediately felt that it was my calling. I had felt a bit inferior during my first festival because I had been coming from such a different background and was next to composers who had started writing concert music at a very early age. But with time, I realized that my eclectic background was full of advantages because I had been a conductor, a soloist, and had even sung in a choir.
The three works that you will be presenting seem to evoke, directly or indirectly, memories from Portugal, something that seems to be a recurrent theme in your music.
Correct, many of my works relate to Portugal in some way. This probably has something to do with the fact that I find myself emerged in a different culture. These three works were written within a period of one year and a half and are somewhat related in terms of technique, harmony, and certain gestures that develop throughout the triptych.
The dimension of memory, not only on a more intimate level, but also at a universal level, is what connects these works?
In my latest works, different aspects of this concept of memory are always present: not only my own personal memory but also a certain historic memory. There is also a certain nostalgia. These three works were written during a time when three very close and important persons in my life had passed away (my grandmother, my mentor Bob Brookmeyer, and my friend Bernardo Sassetti). There is also a certain melancholy and an atmosphere that reflects my own memories, that are inevitably translated for those who hear these works- meaning that each of the listeners in my audience will take away their own meanings and memories.
Your process of creation stems always from an emotional atmosphere, from you own memories of specific people and places?
I think so, although in the case of these three works, the process of creation was very divergent. When I wrote Xántara I was in a most beautiful place, in the middle of a forest, in a house with glass walls and a grand piano (MacDowell Colony, in New Hampshire). I started to become part of my environment, knowing the rhythm of the animals outside. I knew for instance that the wild turkeys would always stop by around 3 pm and so on. I entered that world and atmosphere. Of these three works, Xántara is the only one that reflects an intense exploration at the piano. Before I started the actual work, I spent a large amount of time building webs of harmonies, experimenting with endless possibilities. The remaining two works are more in tune with my normal writing process, that is, slowly developing and building the work.
One of these three works, Alfama, has text, something that is not very common in your works, and you are adding a vocal part for its European premiere. Did you feel a need to add that voice?
I had thought about adding a vocal part previously. Originally this work was built around an imaginary voice. After its world premiere in California, I decided that I really wanted to add that imaginary voice. It will be performed here at the Gulbenkian Foundation with a soloist for the first time.
The second part of the concert will feature American pianist Uri Caine, someone who also positions himself in between jazz and concert music. What does this relationship suggests to you?
I think that in Uri’s music the connection between jazz and concert music is very clear. I think that in my case, that connection is not as direct. He is a fantastic musician and pianist, and I am very pleased to share the concert with him.
Your next big project for this year is Olhos, espelho e luz (Eyes, Mirror, and Light), a work about Priest António Padre Vieira’s Sexagésima Sermon. Would you like to talk about it?
It is a monodrama for tenor voice and symphonic woodwind ensemble and it will be premiered by the University of Minnesota in December followed by several performances at different American universities (…)