Photo: © Paulo Pimenta
Part 1 . Roots & Education
How did music begin to you and where do you identify your music roots?
Fernando C. Lapa: I don’t have music ancestors in my family, either when it comes to education or profession. Yet there are music qualities and artistic taste. My mother is a person with a great artistic sensibility. She is interested a lot in cultural activities, particularly in the popular patrimony. During the years she has maintained countless activities and initiatives and she has always sung very well. I can say that my first informal “school” was at home, whilst singing in choir with my still very little brothers.
Still as a child in Vila Real I had the luck to have as teacher a notable person, Father Minhava, who has recently passed away. He was an unusual musician in his field, with a generous dedication towards the others. An exceptional pedagogue, with an enormous capacity of communication and a true taste for sharing with the others his experience of a multifaceted and refined musician, Father Minhava managed to talk about the most complex topics with the simplicity of the ones who understand the most essential aspects. With him I learnt to read and write my first notes.
Then came the Music Conservatoire in Porto, where I got my education. There the most significant professors were Teresa de Macedo, at the first period, and then, above all Cândido Lima in Composition. With him I graduated from the superior course. He opened me the door to the contemporary music, in a time and country where it was an occupation only for the few - a kind of secret luxury, for the initiated, with contours of a forbidden future.
Which paths led you to composition?
FL: As I wasn’t able to have a systematic path, studying an instrument or in vocal music – things that are more than complicated for a person form the north of Portugal (the Trás-os-Montes province, where only recently have music schools started to exist) – I was almost instinctively developing a certain way of dealing with the sounds and music writing. My capacity of inner listening was gaining more and more importance here. My first attempts were revolving around the poetry by Eugénio de Andrade, within a format somewhat between the Lied and song. At the same time I also started writing my first chords for voices. That is how I was gaining the taste for writing and composing, so when I enrolled at the Music Conservatoire in Porto composition had already been my aim of studying. There, at the Conservatoire, professor Cândido Lima and the contact with the music by Debussy, Bartók, Messiaen, Ligeti, Xenakis or serial music composers, started giving me a lot of what still had been missing.
Part 2 . Influences & Aesthetics
In your opinion what can music discourse express and/or mean?
FL: The aspect of discourse is fundamental in all art, but in an even more decisive form in temporal arts. Some very current concepts, such as narrative or construction in space and above all in time, are always implied in what we designate as formal design. Yet the form can be understood not only as a succession of moments that are more or less articulated between each other, in accordance with more or less consecrated models or stereotypes. It can be perceived as something open and dynamic, capable of inventing a new path at every instant and creating a different space, a different way of seeing and “saying”.
Although it’s possible that something similar to, for example, global apprehension of a volume, a form, a presence or a sculpture can happen in music, in most cases the work is developed in time, assuming something before and after, a kind of path. I would say that this is essential to the condition of music (as well as cinema, theatre, comic books or novels). Therefore the multiple forms of articulating the happenings are, in almost all of the cases, absolutely decisive for the construction of a music work.
Its base materials, either rhythms, successions of sounds, harmonic blocs, dynamic games, timbric treatments, the work with articulations, texture definition, perspectives of orientation and space – all of them constitute, ultimately, its defining elements. A music piece is above all a sound construction created from them, and as a result analysable and understandable from its own internal logic. Obviously we are talking about an abstract art. Nonetheless, when it is perceived with the senses, it carries a potential of expressions and communication, of aesthetic experience. Even though composers wouldn’t imply it, the music work possesses a strong capital for sense and meaning.
However, in many cases, most notoriously when music is articulated with other forms of expression (either words, images or movements) the music discourse is organized with them and, in many cases, by means of them. Their meanings and interpretations are verbalized by the general expressive attitude. Here, although there are always innumerable possibilities for interpretation, the question of sense is somewhat oriented.
When it comes to my perspective, my main concern has always been music carrying within a kind of communication potential, a possibility of sharing emotions and some affective load. On the other hand, I have always been troubled with the rejection that a lot of contemporary music continues to provoke in large sections of the audience, with a dose of injustice, as we all know. In this sense I assume my responsibility in the attempt to help changing this panorama by means of education. This attitude of mine also goes together with my way of composing. I always write with some purpose and for someone, either performer, group, orchestra, institution, audience, city, region or country. I assume my incapacity to write music that is only for me, unconnected from the others. Isolation is what I refuse.
Are there any outside music sources that influence your work in a significant way?
FL: The music that I compose has been since always and more and more situated within a permanent dialogue with diverse artistic areas, in which I have always had a lot of interest. The first one is undoubtedly literature – poetry and above all the great work of Portuguese poets from all the times. Here I should emphasize my natural coexistence with the writings by Sophia, Eugénio de Andrade, Miguel Torga, Jorge de Sena, Alexandre O’Neil, Vasco Graça Moura, José Manuel Mendes, Valter Hugo Mãe, Regina Guimarães, Mia Couto; in addition to Fernando Pessoa, Pascoaes, Florbela Espanca, Antero de Quental or Camões – to mention only some of the poets, with whose works I have already been occupied on some occasion.
The proximity with the theatre and cinema has also been very constant. I’ve composed music for more than half a dozen pieces for theatre and cinema, which includes works for stage, feature and short films, video and other formats. I’ve also composed various instrumental pieces to accompany the narration of stories by diverse renowned authors.
I also feel very close to other artistic expressions, many of them in constant dialogue with the music that I make. Painting, architecture, photography, comic books – all of them have always been many times involved in the way I think of and organize the space: in defining the line or the small gesture and in its relation with the whole; in dealing with the colour; in the notion of the perspective; in the creation of plans and blocs; in the sense of orientation and construction; in managing the plans and volumes (many of the terms are obviously common, as one can understand).
What is more, the memories of times, places, people, happenings are connected with different works of mine. We belong to a time and place and this in different ways marks our way of being, looking at, and seeing the world. Nobody has our eyes. Perhaps one would wish to run away from it and invent oneself differently. Yet it is in our “truth” that our authenticity can reside. I have redoubled my pride when it comes to my origin. And I have always thought that these traces of identity shouldn’t be wiped out (keeping in mind the notable words by Miguel Torga: “the universal means local, without walls”; nothing more nothing less!).
The presence of Portuguese culture, both erudite and popular, is also a constant feature of the music I make. It is obvious that I can’t compose a Portuguese music (and also I think that nobody really knows what it is). Yet there are a lot of elements that come to me together with the sense of belonging to a place and time. It’s not unforgivable that one knows Renaissance polyphony and remains indifferent to it. It’s also not possible not to react to the extraordinary beauty of colour in Júlio Resende; or the absolute adequacy of the verses by Sophia, alone, at the bottom of a page, yet so great and all-embracing! Or to the contrast in the lines and plans, light, yes, always the light, in Siza Vieira! Or to the extraordinary landscape of the Douro valley – in front of our eyes or illuminated by the ever so authentic words by Miguel Torga.
What is more, as I’m from a space where either nobody speaks or wants to know, I have given importance to traditional Portuguese music and principally to the music of my region, Trás-os-Montes (following the path of many great masters and among them the greatest one, Fernando Lopes-Graça). Just like him and many other contemporary composers I’ve composed various series of pieces based on traditional songs, for a capella choir or with diverse instruments, for chamber music ensembles, orchestra, as well as for choir with orchestra.
In the context of Western art music, do you feel close to any composition school or aesthetics from the past or the present?
FL: I have never been a person belonging to clubs, sects, academies or schools. Tolerant by nature (quality that is sometimes my biggest weakness), I have always appreciated my freedom and independence, but I’ve never made of this my flag or militancy. I’m able to live together with different aesthetics or currents, without either any kind of filiation, exclusive fidelity or the need to “sign” a determined “application form”.
I like to place myself in the framework of music with atonal roots. I read it as a more universal trait of the music of our time, yet with linear contours of modal character, specifically within the predominance of vocally inspired gestures (in the dimension, phrasing, contours, and the nature of the gestures). I feel a natural empathy with the world of harmony (somebody would call mine and the next generation as the “time of harmony”). I can’t affirm it in such a radical way, but being associated with this side pleases me. The harmonic colour is a thing that has never been outside my way of writing. That is why I prefer composing for orchestra, choir or for ensembles and groups. In the choice between solo pieces and chamber music I always gravitate towards the second choice.
Thus I have always felt close to composers or works that are defined with a clear harmonic perspective, that is within the large spectrum of French music, from Debussy, Ravel or Messiaen, until the more current spectral music.
My fascination with Bartók’s music originates in the first audition, with the score in front of me, of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, still in the times of the Conservatoire. Even today it’s still a fascinating and radically original work. After listening to it I bought a lot of scores and listened to a lot of different CDs
Another 20th century music aspects that have marked me and still influence me are undoubtedly Schönberg’s, Berg’s and Webern’s serial aesthetics (it’s necessary to listen again and with clean ears to the great music of these composers, as one concentrates too much on clichés, many times without truly knowing the music…). The more I explained and lectured about their works, the grater my admiration for them became.
Berio, Ligeti, Takemitsu or Xenakis are also present references, although I appreciate quite different characteristics in the music of each one of them. I don’t die of love towards minimalist aesthetics, yet I appreciate Reich. The perspective of Arvo Pärt touches me, even though I wouldn’t sign it in full, and I like a lot the music by Magnus Lindberg.
From other periods of Music History I would like to emphasize my fascination with Renaissance polyphony, particularly Portuguese music; the omnipresent J. S. Bach, who has always been a permanent lesson in everything that he composed; the great poet of the small form – Schumann; the expression of the miracle and grace that I can find in the whole work by Mozart. Yet how could I leave behind Beethoven or Stravinsky; Brahms or Mahler; Britten or Cage?
Some personalities from the history of Portuguese music also tell me a lot – starting with Fernando Lopes Graça, Cláudio Carneyro, Freitas Branco or Joly Braga Santos. I would also like to highlight the figures of Jorge Peixinho and Cândido Lima. And I feel particularly happy to belong to an exceptionally significant and active generation of composers, who has been appointed as the new Portuguese Renaissance.
What does the word “avant-garde” mean to you and what in your opinion can nowadays be described with it?
FL: To truly create means to invent something that one doesn’t know what it exactly is and how it’s made. This art’s original state, with or without sin, is the matrix of our Western culture. That is why the change, the transformation, the possibility of transgression, the conversion are inscribed in the genes of our cultural perspective: the things can change, the things change (as Camões tells us in a lapidary manner). The whole Western art is built upon this concept.
Yet it’s easier to say that the majority of the great works of art from the past and the present incorporates a great percentage of data, elements, technical processes, grammar rules that are in great part a heritage. They constitute the tradition. Equally, one can state that the smashing part of these great works was constructed upon this attitude of modesty, this acquired and comprehensible mode of expression. Also this and perhaps only this would be the knowledge.
Nowadays to much importance is given to the concept of the avant-garde, often creating an excessive cleavage between true innovation and what the self-entitled avant-gardists pejoratively designate as tradition (and what can be called as neoclassical, neo-tonal, neoromantic, impressionist, modal, even tonal, among many other alternatives). It’s good to understand that this is only dangerous, when one aims at transforming the innovation into a new regularity. This is truly impossible. One isn’t creator only because one decides. And it’s also not a status. Apart from that it isn’t also very adequate to consider as avant-garde – as sometimes we hear and read – languages, processes, aesthetics, whose background has today nearly a century.
It’s better to think that every period has its own forms of expression, its languages and aesthetics. They always include an effort towards reinvention and research – thus experimentation and reflection – but also an immense majority of inherited and consolidated data. With all this, one articulates the smallest, individual contribution that brings change, the projection towards the unknown, the new. All the periods of music history give testimony of this reality. The perspective of belonging to any avant-garde movement has never been for me an essential concern. It’s sufficient to look a little distractedly on the history in order to understand that there are only few moments of the “radically new” and that they consist of very little, despite the major implications that they could have in the future. To be radically different isn’t achievable every day. And above all it gives a lot of work.
I prefer to put this question in other terms. The ruptures can happen at any time. And everything can change. The question is always to know what, why, how, for what reason and with what results. Seen from the inside, the experimentation and consolidation of new codes has passed through the questions connected with the sound matter (sound sources and processes related to production and sound emission); microtonality as well as systems of tuning and tempering; forms of defining and articulating the sounds in time; the whole panoply of extended techniques (within a perspective that seems to suggest or demand the invention of new instruments); the causal logics of elements’ succession (or the eternal perspectives of continuity and rupture); the orientation of gestures and movements; the particular grammar of electronics and its interactions with the conventional means; the dialogue and interaction with the other areas of expression, that is with the other stage arts; the performer’s role and ways of music presentation; and finally, the questions relative to the sound representation and music notation. The art of our time has also created here diverse myths – the major part of them in a perfectly artificial and unnecessary way. They juggle the composers too much, particularly the younger ones, putting on their shoulders very heavy responsibilities. They are expected to always surprise us, to work on what is unusual, to be unique, to invent not only the work, but also frequently the language, the means, the way of construction, the code and the writing. As one can easily understand, never has anybody been able to do so much, and alone.
Part 3 . Language & Music Practice
Are there any music genres/styles, towards which you have particular taste?
FL: I have already composed works for almost all genres. Their dimension, number, reach and ensembles have many times depended on the context of creation, the character of the commission, the composition’s occasion and the performer’s suggestion. A significant part of my works results either from the requests of the performers and groups or institutional commissions. I have written diverse works for orchestra, some concertos, a lot of chamber music in most cases for medium size formations, some pieces for solo instrument, a lot of pieces for duo with piano, music for theatre and cinema or with narration, among many others.
As I like poetry a lot and I’m an assiduous reader, I have an inevitable tendency to try to express it musically. A lot of works that I composed for voices were born from the naturalness of this contact (the list of poems or texts that I have already used or that I keep for future music adventures is also very long). Vocal music, including choral music, has thus a weight with considerable meaning in the framework of my work. In my catalogue there are: cycles of pieces for solo voice and piano with varied instrumental ensembles, including the orchestra; pieces for a capella choir or with the most varied accompaniments (piano, organ, string quartet, brass quintet, diverse ensembles and orchestra); two Magnificats; two works for choir and orchestra on traditional melodies; two operas; two large works for choir and orchestra; a lot of harmonisations of traditional melodies for choir and different instruments, among many others.
I should also mention that in the set of works that I’ve composed one should also count a considerable number of “community” works, appealing to the participation of large vocal and instrumental sound masses, integrating in large numbers and diverse ways, musicians or amateur groups, playing traditional instruments or singing in choirs. In almost all cases the composition of these works was encouraged through the institutional invitations. Yet these projects also correspond to a way of intervention that I particularly appreciate, as they tend to broaden the horizons of the ones participating in the workmanship of our concerts, democratizing the access to the fruition of determined cultural programmes, being transformed in privileged moments of music education for all. Four of them have been particularly important:
The opera a demolição – a história que ides ver (2001), commissioned by the Porto 2001 European Capital of Culture, a kind of garage opera, for a qualified number of professionals and a significant number of amateurs in choirs and some group roles; premiered in the galleries of Casa da Música parking lot, still in its initial construction phase.
da primeira liberdade (2004), based on the poems by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, for a large group of hundreds of participants (Casa da Música Porto Symphony Orchestra; a 250-voice choir of children from music schools; 5 “improvising” groups of pupils from general schools of all education levels, from infantries to secondary schools, in punctual dialogues with the great choir and orchestra). The work was premiered in the main hall at Casa da Música, Sala Suggia.
O luar da minha terra (2014), on the text excerpts by Teixeira de Pascoaes, initially for choirs and percussion, joining amateur choirs and the Drumming Percussion Group; in its final format as a large piece for choir and orchestra, joining 7 mostly amateur choirs and the Northern Orchestra at the closing of the Sons do Românico project, at the Pombeiro Monastery.
Então ficamos (2012), the closing performance of the Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture, a great collective work created in the partnership with diverse composers from the areas outside classical music and with a choral group, instrumentalists and “actors” on stage as well as hundreds of people, again joining professionals and amateurs.
When it comes to your creative practice, do you develop your music from and embryo-idea or after having elaborated the global form? In other words, do you start from the micro towards the macro-form or is it the other way round? How is this process developed?
FL: I don’t have a model process and I’m not really concerned with it. The way of organizing and developing the work happens in quite different ways, always depending on the object and the context. It’s obvious that, if there’s a text, a poem, a screenplay, a libretto, a painting, a video, then everything is born from here. In these cases the fundamental options are made after a lot of work on the original materials. In many of them one also works in a team (opera, theatre, cinema).
Many times I know very well what I want to do regarding the profile, discourse, general orientation as well as the management of continuities and ruptures. I create graphics and sketches with plans and drawings. I also make calculations, when it comes to the durations, amplitudes, eliminations, expansions, paths, densities and saturations.
Yet many times I also start working with a completely blank page. I’ve never had significant blockages connected with it: I accept my condition as wanderer, knowing that later one step gives origin to another, and so on. And so the process is developed, already not from the zero point, but the choice between various hypotheses.
It has already happened to me to write the core of a work and to develop my work from it, expanding, enlarging, adding new layers, concentrating, suppressing, repeating, modifying, colouring, “modulating”, opposing, evolving, regressing, diverging (among many other verbs describing more possible and natural actions when one’s constructing something).
What also happens sometimes is marking out a work in some previously defined elements, in the diverse parameters that I intend to take into consideration in the construction, either at the level of the base interval material, predetermined rhythmic treatments, the nature of the sound gestures, the simplicity or complexity of the harmonic aggregates, the variety of the gestures and textures, the nature of the discourse, or the directions of the construction.
And still, on other occasions there are two or three data (a certain chord, the appearance of a given register, the surprise of a baffling gesture) that mark the path of a work – they’re unique points of a determined process. Everything else can be deducted with the appearance of these magical places.
The capacity of interior audition, which was “self-trained” in the times as student, has since very early been my essential tool to design everything: points, lines, plans, blocks, movements, texture, colours and dynamics.
In the initial and central phase of the composition of a work, I normally work in a conventional way, on paper (and more and more with a permanent ink pen, which I’ve always adored). In other words, I draw on paper with a lot of taste. In the more advanced, and above all in the final phase, I only work with the computer.
(I must stress that the initial part of my work, more than 100 pieces, are still written in hand, as computers and above all the editing software wasn’t available…)
How in your music practice do you determine the relation between the reasoning and the “creative impulses” or “inspiration”?
FL: I’ve never separated the instinct from the rationality. The rigour and risk have always coexisted well within me. I can’t separate this double facet of the artistic experience. Being emotional with an expressive design is at the same time being able to define it in a precise way. And I can’t distinguish the days when I make calculations and graphics, from the weeks, when I experiment and put on paper gestures and drawings.
Yet there are two apparently diverse or even contradictory aspects, with which I deal every day. The first one is a kind of expressive design inspiring the significant part of the music that I compose and that carries a great need for communication and the interpellation of the others – either performers or listeners. It could be summed up in this triple division: truth, goodness and beauty. I already mentioned it a long time ago, but it’s curious that Pope Francis has recently expressed exactly the same concepts during a meeting with journalists. The music that I make only accepts darkness for the light to emerge from it. I’m intentionally and modestly a kind of messenger of the spring. I create music that intends to bring something there inside, where the expression is essential. And so I have taste towards colour, harmony, and the tangle of the polyphonies, the orientation of the discourse, the management of repetitions and ruptures, the “construction of scenes”, the management of sounds in space.
Yet on the other hand I’ve always spent a lot of time to come across the exact form of a line, the perfect duration of a harmonic aggregate, the weight of the calculated silence. More than an analytical spirit, putting emphasis on what is singular and individual, I give value to the spirit of synthesis that finds bridges and compatibilities between everything, even when the points of departure and arrival or the terms of comparison are on the opposite sides. In this sense I search for perfection that is increasingly another way of expressing simplicity: as those simple verses by Sophia at the bottom of a page, that are able to express everything in so little content. I have always felt this facet in Mozart’s divine music. So essential and unique that it seems very easy. Simple as evidence. The major part of time that I spend on composing has to do with these insignificancies.
What is the importance of space and timbre in your music?
FL: As one can understand through the emphasis that I put on the whole, on the treatment of masses and volumes and on the definition and work with the harmonic materials, the space and timbre are essential elements, even when the music is conceptually less ambitious or in music environment of simpler manifestation. The interaction of the registers is an element of first importance in my works for orchestra or ensemble, just as in solo works – for piano or for smaller groups. The change in the registers, the freedom and its use and management, the surprise of its sequence, are factors of great importance in the way the music discourse evolves. The same can be said in the management of the expressive capital of the diverse instruments: in the definition of a colour, in the creation of a “character”, in the interaction between the plans, in the diversity and richness of the lines and textures, in the work’s evolution.
Diverse works that I’ve written also give a clear attention to the “space” component, not only through playing with the instrumentation our the innumerable places and paths, which they suggest, but also, and above all, through the place where the sounds are produced and through the form, in which we listen to them in a concert space. In any concert the space is always an important component. Where there’s music there’s also action (if it isn’t in another way it is in the manner, in which the lines are related, in the direction of innumerable movements, in the way block and rhythms are articulated and opposed, in the sections’ orientation). Where there is a stage there is also inevitably space, presence, movement, direction and light. The important thing is that these features can be taken into account and valued in the ways of presenting music. This has different implications in the programming of the sound sources disposition on the stage or the performance space (either instruments, voices, groups, sections, blocks or sectors). Therefore, I think it’s more and more important that a concerto is also a kind of representation or a theatre of sounds. Bearing in mind these performance features that any performer on stage inevitably takes into consideration, it seems to me a natural consequence of what a music score already explicitly constitutes. It seems natural that the performers think about the way they present themselves, the place, where they perform, the way the sound evolves among the audience, or the lighting of the performance space. It’s also natural that the composer wishes to take into account all these aspects in the way he or she directs the architecture of a work. As in the end the most important part of space management is already in the score. Even as a drawing.
Which of your works can you consider as turning points in your path?
FL: I wouldn’t necessarily speak of turning points, as my music has been developing in a relatively peaceful manner, as a flat and serene river, which doesn’t necessarily aim towards revolution or rupture. However it is subject to transformation, as everything that is alive, thinks and desires.
In spite of this I can list some more significant titles that signalize particular approaches:
In nomine – para um manifesto contra a violência (1996) is a piece for my preferred quintet (fl., cl., vln., vc. and piano), being a raw and excessive gesture, acting against its opposition. This piece corresponds to another simpler one, Quasi ostinato (1994) for choir and piano, based upon the verses of E. Melo e Castro.
Tenebrae factae sunt (2001) - a motet on the text from one of the Holy Week responsories, written for an 8-part chamber choir and organ. It’s a very dramatic work and, at the same time, very internal, possessing an undisguised expressivity.
Variações em oiro e azul (2006) built upon some of my choices, normally not expressed, concerning people, places, environments and attitudes. It’s a kind of quick kaleidoscope, where one articulates environments and writings illustrating the work's diverse references.
Storyboard – 6 miniaturas para piano a 4 mãos (2003) was the smallest form challenge in a piece with orchestral strength, constructed as a succession od short stories without solution towards continuity. It’s almost a cinema in the smallest size.
Variações sobre o nome da Paz (1999), a meeting with luminous looks and referential writings. It’s the only time, when there are two quotations in my work: a passage from the B minor Mass by Bach, Et in terra Pax; and a short phrase from Trois Petites Liturgies… by Messiaen. This work represents for me the first clear conscious expression of the priority of the truth, of beauty and goodness. I’m aware that they’re not in fashion, even less in the world of contemporary art. But they constitute a summary of what seems to me most important, nowadays and always. They have the potential to change ideas and hearts. The other path is the disaster that I reject. Almost words, almost chanting.
Estudos sobre a luz (2008) for piano. It’s a rejection of the world of shadows and darkness, or forms of being able to design the light with more intensity. They are also a kind of black and white exercise, focused in an angle, in a line, in the contrast, in the drawing, in the path, in the movement. It has thus to do with the space, texture, dynamics and time. Almost canvas.
Quatro versos de olhar suspenso (2012) is a piece that is born from my immense love towards my land and people, the fantastic reality of the Douro region. With diverse nuances, the four pieces are reflections of the fascination with geometry, of the vineyards, with the illuminated and open landscape, with the serenity of the water, with the light. Almost photos.
Então ficamos (2012), a great collective work created in partnership with diverse composers from other areas of current non-classical music and with a massive choral, instrumental group as well as “actors” on stage (hundreds of people). I’m the author of about one third of the performance’s music, orchestrator of the whole score and the performance’s music director, in partnership with José Mário Branco. The work was created for the closing performance of the Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture. Almost an opera.
Part 4 . Portuguese Music
Try to evaluate the present situation in Portuguese music.
FL: My opinion is very positive, above all if we compare it with what was happening not so long time ago. The schools have continued to play their role: in consequence the number of pupils, who have made their licentiate, master and doctoral degrees at superior schools has increased considerably. Presently, there are many Portuguese pupils circulating throughout Europe, completing their studies, or making doctorates. There’s major number of chamber music and orchestral ensembles with regular programmes (although it seems to me that the number of Portuguese works in the programmes hasn’t increased). The festivals integrate formations and national musicians. There’s a group of excellent performers, experienced in contemporary music. Many pupils from the superior schools (and not only) have the opportunity to perform contemporary works in the course of their education. Some institutions, groups, performers are capable of maintaining initiatives. The Casa da Música and the extraordinary Remix Ensemble, for example; the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the CCB. There are also diverse local initiatives of great interest that don’t appear in the mainstream media.
Yet inexplicably (or perhaps not) there is still no music critique; the promotion of Portuguese contemporary music is very weak and it always remains very close to the establishment of the process (in other words, close to the ones that already know it and are only a few); there’s no programming worthy of this name, with the exception of Antena 2. Also the RTP 2 gives some space (I mean to particular programmes with contemporary music).
What, in your opinion, distinguishes Portuguese music internationally?
FL: I don’t think that there is a distinctive trace, affirming a culture or people – both in Portuguese music as in any other one. In a little while neither the music of Britannic or American roots will distinguish itself from the German, Finnish, Croatian or Vietnamese. They will constitute more or less the same thing. Just as jeans or cars. Gradually, the same things are made in the same way. The means are in the reach of everyone. Everybody uses the same tools. The facility of divulgation and communication between “people and goods” causes that the boarders don’t mean much and the marks of authenticity and origin are progressively lost. From the strict point of view of the possibilities of circulation and integration, all of this is excellent; when it comes to culture, it’s dramatic. Not even the languages will preserve their spaces of origin, with a majority of works being written in English, even in countries with relevant cultural history.
No, I don’t think there is anything particular in Portuguese music, unless the composers write fado… But I don’t think that’s what it is about.
In your understanding, is it possible to identify any transversal aspect in Portuguese contemporary music?
FL: As consequence of a more homogenous education in all the schools, and a major circulation of information, we note today some global references that are being shared by more Portuguese composers: there’s much more “literacy” in studying electronics (on the contrary to what was happening before), encouraging a more significant number of composers to use electronic elements in their works. This literacy is extendable to many other education domains, that is, to the knowledge and study of styles, currents, languages, processes and techniques. The schools live in a climate of relative plurality. There is an increasing number of active composers, as well as diverse emerging projects and associations – in many cases they’re the consequence of the state institutions’ poor capacity to respond to the existing potential. There are diverse generations of active composers. There is a much greater number of published and recorded works (what is actually almost nothing, when compared twith what still needs to be done). We also see some works by Portuguese authors in the programmes of circulating performers, yet it’s far from corresponding to the volume of “production”.
One should regret many things: the lack of score publications of many composed and circulating works (what is strange here, is the alienation of almost all the institutions with responsibilities in the sector); the lack of articulated programming between many venues, where one can make performances and concerts (this sector is moving really slowly); one should regret the lack of enlightened programmers and with projects for this area; finally one regrets the whimsy budget for culture in a country with our history and potential (regarding the creators as well as talented performers, increasingly giving concerts abroad…)
How do you define the composer’s role nowadays?
FL: It’s not very far from what it has always been: the music is a way of reading the world and an active source of its transformation. I think that it is with the art that we start to pose questions that are at the beginning of any change (because it’s inevitable to change, especially today). And the role of artists is mainly the one of not renouncing their identity card and affirming the principles of freedom and the universal values concerning peace, justice, equality (democracy, tolerance, solidarity and friendship); facing a world that today values more and more what is ephemeral, the image, the packing and appearance.
The artists read the world and ask us who we are, what we do and project – above all when they are faithful to their point of view, their way of seeing. It’s their singularity that makes them universal, as it has always happened with the great creators, in any time, style, artistic discipline, latitude. For this, it’s not necessary to finish courses or give lessons. Art speaks for itself.
Part 5 . Present & Future
What are your present and future projects?
FL: The most important is the opera Mátria with the libretto by Eduarda Freitas, based on Miguel Torga’s literature. It’s a 2-act opera, lasting around 1 hour and 45 minutes, for seven singers, chamber choir, an ensemble of 20 instrumentalists and the possibility of punctual integration of a large choir and a musical band. The score is finished (as much as a work of this nature still not premiered can be), waiting now for the difficult task of lifting up such a complex spectacle, both in scenic and musical terms. The dates are still undefined.
In March I finished a new piece, a menina, a lua e o mar (inspired in an excerpt of a story by Mia Couto). It’s a work for quartet (flute, viola, cello and piano) for the project ENTREculturalidades / INTERtextualidades. It was premiered in the end of April, still awaiting many performances.
I’m in the course of composing a trio for flute, viola and piano to be premiered at a concert integrated in the Porto Music Conservatoire's Centenary.
On the same occasion I’m also composing a new work for the Portuguese Guitar and Mandolin Orchestra, which will be premiered in autumn.
I also plan the extension of the Estudos sobre a luz, for piano, by at least three pieces; as well as of Storyboard for piano for 4 hands.
I continue making transcriptions of various older works of mine, responding to diverse requests from instrumentalists and ensembles.
I’m thinking of making revisions of some of the pieces – the ones that should be recorded on CD or published.
Yet I have many other projects for the future: Plural XII for violin and piano; a stage piece based on the text by Alexandra Lucas Coelho; a mass for choir and organ; a set of pieces for voices and string quartet; some collective music pieces for children or for schools; a new string quintet; other works for piano for 4 hands; a brass quintet; pieces for ensembles with guitar… (for all of these projects for years I have accumulated various sketches and notes).
How do you see the future of art music?
FL: We live in a time increasingly threatened with the velocity of the happenings, information and change. We don’t have time. Everything is made in a flash and it instantly disappears, substituted by another thing that in the mean time appeared. Fashion dictates everything. The cult of visuals, image, appearance, cover photography, has spread everywhere. This simplifying, consumerist and easy access logic brings us some new qualities, but above all a lot of collateral risk. The gravest one is the superficiality of many products, without consistency and content.
Facing this state of things, it’s high time time to think. To imagine and to invent, what we still don’t know. It’s necessary to have time to read The Name of the Rose (without resumes) or to see the canvas by Amadeo, to listen to Ligeti’s string quartets, to see a film by Bergman, the serenity and perenniality of the Miranda do Douro mountains and highlands (“the blue peace in every creature”, as Miguel Torga says, in a unique expression).
Art is also a lesson on invention. On what we don’t know. Art teaches us to change. It makes a change (the children and young from our artistic schools experience this every day). For this reason, it will be also with the art that all of us will need to learn to make a different world. We don’t know which, we don’t know how, but it will happen. Because it’s urgent (as Eugénio de Andrade says). The art is one of the motors for change, of innovation. As it’s the most transcendent of our possibilities. Perhaps another light.
This is why art is essential in any world and at any time. Art is always the future.
Fernando C. Lapa, April 2017