Coming up for air / Bravo Maria and Simão!

Oops, I've been so busy I haven't been blogging…but time to get back on the saddle, because there is a lot to write about!

To start off, just a sweet photo of two ESART students, Maria Paixão (entering 3rd year) and Simão Francisco (completed Masters in Teaching in 2017), together in Tomar. As Simão was Maria's teacher, at the Canto Firme School of Music, where he is Professor of Flute and also the Director (!), you can sense in the photo the special connection between students and teachers, and a love for music that is what makes me enjoy teaching so much. 

Shortly after this photo was taken, Maria won 1st Prize in the "Sons de Cabral" competition in Belmonte, and Simão was busy directing the flute ensemble and helping organize the 6th Summer Flute Academy in Tomar—congratulations for two jobs extremely well done!

ESART in Tomar—Maria Paixão and Simão Francisco

ESART in Tomar—Maria Paixão and Simão Francisco

Pedro de Alcantara @ 5th Summer Flute Academy!!

Consider yourself invited to attend our 5th (!) Summer Flute Academy— it promises to be the biggest, craziest and most fun EVER! Don't come to sit there watching, you'll be there to play, play, play, and also do a little listening and lots of trying out of new ideas!

There is really TOO MUCH planned to list it all in one go, so I'll just start in with one hot-off-the press bit of news: Pedro de Alcantara, one of the world's best-known teachers of the Alexander Technique and a wildly creative person, will be present! I'm very excited to announce this as it is not easy to get Pedro, based in Paris, "down" to Portugal, not for lack of interest, but only because he's often busy working in exotic places such as Australia or Japan! 

Pedro is Brazilian, trained in the US and the UK as a cellist, and has lived and worked in Paris for quite some time. He is the author of "Indirect Procedures", a book about the Alexander Technique for musicians published by Oxford University Press, has released several CDs, including improvisations, and is also a writer of novels. Check out his site and blog!

But mostly, he is a wonderful, insightful and unique person, who will bring his own ideas on music-making to all of us at the Academy! Thank you, Pedro, for fitting us into your schedule! "Expect nothing, anticipate anything."

Pedro de Alcantara, musician, writer, thinker, healer, creativity expert

Pedro de Alcantara, musician, writer, thinker, healer, creativity expert

D E D I C A T I O N !!

Yesterday, on my way to rehearsal, I passed by a diplomatic ceremony in front of the Jerónimos Monastery. I was feeling grumpy because I'd had to get off a warm seat on the tram to walk past this "stoppage" and catch another tram on the other side.

Then I saw these colleagues, from the Portuguese Army Band, out on the street, playing at 9:15am, when the temperature—yes, in Lisbon!—was 4º Centigrade (that's 40º F). WOW, guys, that is great for skiing, but COOOOOLD for standing still, let alone playing. Yet there they were, and playing beautifully and somehow even in tune.

My hat's off to these musicians, that's for sure. I hope the diplomats had some appreciation.

We know all the years of practice and dedication it takes to reach professional level, but sometimes it just hits you in the face: you really have to be, and stay, DEDICATED!!

PS: No, Lisbon is not supposed to be this cold (but it is, sometimes)!! PPS: Yes, there were at least 4 flutists in the band—BRAVO!

The Portuguese Army Band, performing with class and distinction in 4ºC weather!

The Portuguese Army Band, performing with class and distinction in 4ºC weather!

Ravel's "Mother Goose" returns to the CCB in December!

Parents and the young-at-heart, take note: "A Minha Mãe Gansa" ("Mother Goose") will be performed on December 16th, Friday, in the Large Auditorium of the CCB at 6pm. It is a wonderful multi-media mix of storytelling and the music of Ravel performed live by the Lisbon Opera House Orchestra.

This production, previously presented in the "Dias da Música", was conceived several years back by Madalena Wallenstein of the Fábrica das Artes at the CCB and myself, with a brilliant and moving script also by Madalena Wallenstein, art/video by André Godinho, and narration in this production—co-produced by the CCB and the Lisbon National Opera—by actress Natália Luiza.

"A Minha Mãe Gansa" is somewhat akin to Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf", but with stunningly beautiful music by Ravel and perhaps more insight into the connections between music composition, the instruments, the "Mother Goose" stories—primarily from 17th and 18th-Century French fairy-tales—and the magic of growing up and realizing your dreams.

We are still some six weeks off, but I recommend purchasing tickets NOW (6€ only!) to secure a good seat for a wonderful pre-Christmas event for all!

Drawing for "A Minha Mãe Gansa" by André Godinho

Drawing for "A Minha Mãe Gansa" by André Godinho

Helianthus—a terrific ensemble!

What a pleasure to hear the Helianthus Ensemble at the Music Room of the Queluz Palace on Friday evening! Aside from the perfectly balanced combination of period instruments—late 18th Century— and the fact of the concert being in a "period" concert hall, as well, it was simply wonderful to hear great players enjoying playing together! 

The give-and-take of chamber music was present at every moment, whether it be in the cellist's delight in the bass line, or the violin's discreet agitation of sixteenths in an accompaniment passage giving way to "stealing" the tune from the flutist! The harpsichordist (it was really a cembalo, I believe, with metal strings but hammer-action rather than plucked—I need an expert to sort that out for me, please!) was duly discreet UNTIL it was his moment to shine. Which was actually a lot, especially in the Mozart Concerto Op. 107, with real Mozart cadenzas as a bonus!

My favorites were perhaps the Danzi, of wind quintet and Flute Concerto fame, and the Haydn Trio for Flute, Cello and piano/cembalo. For the flutist (Laura Pontecorvo, see previous blog!) both were full of fancy filigree and rhythmic gestures contrasting with the most expressive, soaring melodic lines. Ditto for the others; it was a sort of musical game of chess—pure Haydn-esque fun, and delightfully executed!

Bravo to the Helianthus members, and come back soon!

Laura Pontecorvo, flute, Guido Morini, cembalo, Iskrena Yordanova, violin, and Marco Ceccato, cello— Helianthus Ensemble

Laura Pontecorvo, flute, Guido Morini, cembalo, Iskrena Yordanova, violin, and Marco Ceccato, cello—Helianthus Ensemble

Back in the saddle!

I've been enjoying the last gasp of Summer, before things really get rolling next week! Of course practicing anyway, but also had a short trip out of town to catch up with my European cousins and stock up on inspiration!

As we all get "back in the saddle" (Wild-West terminology still in the language!) here's some advice I even hope to follow myself: spend not too much time in the "comfort" zone, nor too much time in the "impossible, panic-inducing" zone, focussing instead on the "learning" zone in between these two extremes, where we push ourselves without causing panic (and extra tensions). Go steady, enjoy even the mistakes, and progress will come!

Here's a little angel to watch over us all, found on my travels:

Bas-relief by Eleonore Blount

Bas-relief by Eleonore Blount

Zen and the Art of Returning to Practice

It is September! A new season beckons, full of plans as well as many unscheduled surprises! The feeling of "back-to-school" permeates the air, and in spite of the implied work, it is somehow invigorating!

A rather Zen-style tactic that I find helpful after some rest is to focus not on the audible results of my playing straight away, but rather to disconnect from the goal and focus on the elements that will help me to arrive at that goal: good posture and body use, relaxed breathing, generous blowing, making corrections to any errors encountered with a low-stress attitude, and connecting to the pleasure of music-making through improvisation or sight-reading. Even while gradually adding in the "menu" of required exercises, studies or pieces, this Zen attitude can be encouraged and you may be surprised by…the results!

Here's a photo to remind us of the joy and wonder of making music!

"What is making that noise?"

"What is making that noise?"

Indulge! (It's August 31st…)

All of a sudden it is the last day of August—how did that happen? I would like to say that I did the European thing of taking the month off, but to be honest, musicians rarely take a month off without "paying for it". Do we all know the classic joke? Here goes:

"If you take one day off, you will notice. If you take two days off, your wife will notice. If you take three days off, the whole world will notice." 

So how about we split the difference, we hard-working musicians who appear (I emphasize the word "APPEAR") to just get up and play, and INDULGE ourselves in whatever counts in your book as an indulgence? It could even be a healthy indulgence (though I think that should count less, no?), but here's the remainder of my little indulgence for the day. Tomorrow is September, and I'm gonna need all the boost I can get!

It's amazing how good these still are…

It's amazing how good these still are…

Art, Humanity and Progress

On my excursion to the North of Portugal, I was finally able to visit the Museum of "Arte Rupestre" (Prehistoric Rock Art) of the Valley of Foz Côa. This remarkable archeological site was discovered during excavations for an eventual dam, that luckily was never built, due to the importance of the site, named as World Patrimony in 1998. I remember all this excitement but had never gotten around to visiting.

Well, what a treasure trove of art! Spanning thousands of years during the Palaeolithic ages, dating as far back as 25,000 years B.C. and encompassing an extended area, the drawings (engravings) show changes in style and technique and are notable for their profusion—like a musical fugue: one drawing overlaps with several others. The archaeological work done in the last 20 years is astounding.

In the Museum—a handsome architectural monument—this quote, from a famous French archaeologist resonated: "The history of art and humanity are indissociable". To be artistic is to be human. The drawings to the left of the quote are from Picasso (1946, far left) and from the Foz Côa rock art (c. 22,000 B.C, near left). With all due respect for Picasso…so much for progress in art! 

From the Museum at Foz Côa

From the Museum at Foz Côa