Luminous Music (April 1, 2013)
Written by Manuela Paraíso
Published by Up Magazine – Tap Portugal
Composer Andreia Pinto-Correia has created a multi-coloured body of work rooted in various traditions, which has earned her several prestigious awards in the United States. A body of work that disseminates Portuguese language and culture every time it is played in American concert halls, such as Carnegie Hall. A reference in the creation of erudite Portuguese music, Lisbon will have the opportunity to hear her work in April at the (European) premiere of three of her works. The American press has praised the delicateness and elegance of her music, its harmonic construction and her sound technical mastery, as she collects some of the most prestigious awards.
It was jazz and the prospect of a career as a saxophonist that led Andreia Pinto-Correia, armed with a scholarship, to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. However, an accident to her right hand changed both her academic and career path, and she then dedicated herself to jazz composition, as well as to creating and conducting a big band that only played her works. Some years later, Andreia, who in her native Lisbon had been interested in literature, popular traditions and various types of music, went on to choose a different language. “Being on stage and conducting a jazz orchestra was as much fun as playing, but I spent more time organizing rehearsals and concerts than I did conducting (…) There was little room for improvisation and more and more non-jazz instruments were used. Choosing to compose for a symphony orchestra was a gradual process.” Today, looking back six years later, it seems that was indubitably the path to take. Even if we take into consideration the number of jazz works that have been commissioned of her, two of which by the European Union Presidency (one of them, Cidade Imersa, is of great sentimental importance as she set to music a text written by her father, the lecturer and writer João David Pinto-Correia). Writing music for the cinema could also have been an option, following a degree in this area that would later culminate in composing a work in 2008 for the short film by Daniel Blaufuks, The Square in Marrakesh. But two consecutive merit awards at the New England Conservatory and the encouragement of the legendary Bob Brookmeyer, who supervised her master’s degree and even played some of her works, paved the way for the creation of a unique musical identity, modeled on Andreia’s many references – apart from jazz, European-style classical music, folklore from Iberia and other places, she is also influenced by literature, the visual arts and the cinema. The American press has praised the delicateness and elegance of her music, its harmonic construction and her sound technical mastery, as she collects some of the most prestigious awards for musical composition in the United States.
The success scale
It was in October 2011 that she truly made a name for herself upon her debut at Carnegie Hall, the first-ever by a Portuguese composer. The American Composers Orchestra, where Andreia had carried out a residency, played her piece Elegia a Al-Mu’tamid during the opening concert for SONiC, a new contemporary music festival. Up until then, she was already composing commissioned works only (although they were often works she had applied for) and one distinction followed another as she was chosen for various residencies with orchestras such as the Boston, Memphis and Minnesota Symphony Orchestras. Nowadays, several of the works commissioned under the scope of composition residencies are the result of direct nomination, such as the recent awards from the American League of Orchestras and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra – which premiered Alfama in February in California, a piece it co-commissioned with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The work is part of the triptych that, on 11 and 12 April, will be performed in Lisbon by the Gulbenkian Orchestra, once again under the baton of Maestra Joana Carneiro, music director of the Berkeley Symphony. “The idea of a triptych came from thedirector of Gulbenkian Música, Risto Nieminen, and three pieces were grouped together that evoke memories, each of them with musical gestures that have repercussions on their course.” In the case of Alfama, there is the emotional memory of the place, the origins and roots that weave the work of this composer, and which are also evident in the Portuguese names she gives to almost all of her works. Perhaps this why some of the musicians from around the world who have played her pieces try to discover what the titles mean. This happened with Aldeias, a brass ensemble piece that premiered at the 2010 4th July celebrations in Tanglewood (USA), where Andreia Pinto-Correia evokes the popular traditions of a festive day in a Portuguese village. Quite apart from the symbolic importance of having one of her pieces performed on this American national holiday, there was also the nervous anticipation of sharing the concert programme with the reference name in erudite contemporary music, Elliot Carter – who was sitting behind the young composer throughout the entire performance.“I thought he was going to say something unpleasant about my music, and that I would be traumatized and my career would end there and then. But after my premiere, he tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a big kiss. We spent a good while talking, he was very friendly, and it’s a wonderful memory that I cherish.”
Andreia Pinto-Correia’s American experience has led to encounters with artists from various disciplines with whom she has worked, such as Russian painter Darina Karpov and the Angolan writer Ondjaki. The latter is now a great friend of hers and she has dedicated a solo trumpet piece to him, and is presently working on a current project, the creation of the opera O Búfalo Mágico (Souba et le Yak), a co-commission by Drumming GP and the Companhia Ópera do Castelo. Another opera is being built, with libretto by the American playwright of Palestinian origin, Betty Shamieh. They met during an artist residency at the historic MacDowell Colony, a farm in a natural park where such notable names as Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland isolated themselves in order to compose. “She was surprised I had read literature from the Middle East, and there was an immediate empathy between us. She gave me two plays she had written; I read them that very night and really enjoyed the dramatic pace. We started working together, first on the work that premiered in Boston last year, Delihah’s Last Love, and then on the opera, Territories, from which we premiered a suite, for voice and string quartet, in Princeton – which went over very well, with a sold-out concert hall.” Although Andreia’s entire personal history is intricately tied to the literary milieu, as a result of the direct influence of her parents (both of whom are professors), writing music with text is a relatively recent practice that has arisen from various commissions and it has awakened a new way of communicating through music. One of the pieces she is currently working on, Olhos, Espelho e Luz, for tenor soloist and woodwind ensemble, is built on texts by the seventeenth-century priest Padre António Vieira. “It was an old idea of mine, and I got the chance to make it happen when, after a concert where one of my works had premiered, a representative from the University of Minnesota was so excited that he came up to me and commissioned an extended 30-minute piece. They gave me free reign to choose the text. It will premiere in December, with an art residency that involves conferences.” However, before that, in July, Boston will be home to the premiere of a work inspired by the Santa Maria songs of mockery and slander.
Although her music is mostly heard in America, the country that welcomed her over 10 years ago, it has also been performed in Portugal in concerts by OrchestrUtópica, Sond’ar-te Electric Ensemble, and the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa, as well as by soloists such as tuba virtuoso Sérgio Carolino and the pianist Joana Gama. At this key moment in her life, when her work is recognised by important American musical institutions, and she receives great commissions as she nears the end of her doctorate, Andreia Pinto-Correia plans to continue living between Portugal, where she spends a few months every year, and the United States, where work opportunities abound and she is able to stir up interest in her country’s culture. “I have been treated very well by the American musical community; there’s a history of respect for all the foreigners who have built the American musical scene, such as Schoenberg and Stravinsky. I’ve always felt very welcome, and there’s a lot of curiosity about where I come from. I feel a sense of educational responsibility; there’s very little information about Portugal, about what’s happening here. There are people with great merit, who compose and perform very well, and I feel I represent them in some way.”