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Interview | "Piano for the new generations"

Artur Tavares | Carbon Uomo, 22.10.18

Go to magazine website [PT]


The Portuguese Vasco Mendonça disembarks in Brazil to present his first piano concerto in Sala São Paulo.

Sala São Paulo presents, Nov  22 to 24, STEP RIGHT UP, the first piano concerto of Portuguese composer Vasco Mendonça. STEP RIGHT UP was commissioned by the Gulbenkian Foundation, in partnership with the São Paulo Symphony 
Orchestra (...).

STEP RIGHT UP is your first piano concerto. What was the challenge of composing such a piece, after devoting yourself in recent years to the composition of three chamber operas?

My interest in the concert genre, in particular the piano concerto, isn´t new. The initial dramatic tension of a concerto is always the opposition between man and the world. In a sense, one of the compositional challenges was to develop a consistent dramaturgy, in order to create an unstable and exciting relationship between piano and orchestra.

To what extent is the piano important in your operas, and how was it to have it as the central element in the composition of SRU?
Although my catalog does not have many piano works, it is an instrument that I feel very close to: the precision of the mechanism, the percussive character, its "orchestral" nature, all these characteristics place it within a very particular place in the instrumental pantheon. Apart from JERUSALEM, which is a particular piece, none of my operas has piano. In general, in chamber ensembles, it seems to me that the homogeneity of the piano somehow neutralizes the timbral diversity at the composer's disposal.

After touching the refugees issue in BOSCH BEACH, what was the inspiration for SRU? What does the composition deal with, what feelings and impressions do you express through this piano concert?
SRU is an interjection used to draw people to an attraction or a variety number, for example at countryside fairs. It pleases me because it evokes the communal nature of the artistic act, and it is associated with the idea of illusion. Each of the movements is a particular form of ritual, a millimetrically synchronized collective experience, with the precision of a Swiss watch.

The project sounds grand, and was conceived with the Gulbenkian Foundation, your longtime partner, and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. Is the connection between Brazil and Portugal also expressed in the piece (...)?
Not in a conscious manner. Oddly enough, after finishing the piece, I think there is a festive energy to it, and a way of using the percussion - an exteriority, so to speak - that perhaps has some affinities with Brazilian culture.

 Another fundamental partner for this project was Rolex, which helped in your artistic development in recent years, through its Mentor & Protégé scheme. Can you tell me something about the time you´ve spent with the scheme?
The Rolex Mentor and Protégé scheme is a unique program, at all levels. First, it allows for two artists from different generations to be in contact for a period of time, supporting them generously, without any restriction, leaving to the artists the definition of what their shared course will be. Then, because it brings together different generations and cycles, it promotes the exchange between an ever larger group of exceptional artists, creating an artistic community of absolutely unique characteristics.


And what can you tell me about Kaija Saariaho? Has your musical style changed after the mentoring?
Kaija is a remarkable artist and person. To witness her availability and humbleness, during our time together, to all those around her, was inspiring. Just as it was inspiring to be exposed to a series of premieres and presentations of her music - whose aesthetics are substantially different from mine - allowing me to discover entry points for my own ideas in unexpected sound universes. I would not say that my style has changed, but it was certainly enriched. (...)

It will be the second time SRU is be presented, soon after its premiere in Portugal in June. How was the premiere? Will something change for the Brazilian performances?
The world premiere in Lisbon with [pianist] Roger Muraro and the Gulbenkian Orchestra was very gratifying. From what I know of OSESP and Giancarlo Guerrero, I anticipate a beautiful American premiere.

This concerto will be released on CD by Naxos. Will there be other performances (...)?
I would be very happy if that happened. At this point, contacts are being made to this effect.

What is your next project? Creating a piano concerto gave you the inspiration to work hard with another instrument, or will you return to the opera world?
I'm leaving the concert hall and entering the museum. My next work will be a multimedia piece for percussion, closer to the performance territory.