The Algarve’s emerging great composer

By: Caroline Cunha

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THIRTY-SEVEN-year-old Cristóvão Silva is a classical composer from Portimão. Last month the Orquestra do Algarve (OQ) performed his music in the first ever concert to be staged at the Assembleia do República in Lisbon (houses of parliament). The Resident’s Caroline Cunha met the rising star of Portugal’s classical music scene to find out more about his work and hopes for the future.

The Resident: What drew you to become a composer?

Cristóvão Silva: It was always my dream, ever since I was around nine or 10-years-old. I began playing the piano at the age of 15. I began composing at the same age and when I was 16 or 17, I was writing music for my teachers to use for dictation exercises in class. Although I enjoy playing the piano, it does not give me the same joy I feel when composing and my music teachers always saw me as being a composer.

TR: Are there many classical composers in the Algarve?

CS: No, I believe just one or perhaps two.

TR: Is there much support for aspiring composers?

CS: There is zero support for composers actually, both in the Algarve and Portugal as a whole! At the time of Salazar, there were grants and subsidies for composers, but this was abolished following the Revolution! Nowadays, the only support that exists is through requisitions for music from public entities such as the Ministry for Culture and câmaras. It is very rare for the Ministry of Culture to place an order and when it does, it always approaches the same composers that already have a name in the industry.

TR: What courses are available in the Algarve?CS: There are no advanced level courses available in the Algarve, only introduction courses for school students aged between 15 and 17. These are offered at the Academia de Música de Lagos and the Conservatório de Música de Faro. It is generally considered, and is also my opinion, that the best senior level composition course is offered in Lisbon at the Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa. The teachers are excellent and it has a reputation on a par with the music schools of Paris and London. I chose to study at this school in Lisbon. Senior level courses are also offered in Porto, Aveiro (30 mins south of Porto) and Évora (Alentejo).

TR: Where do you draw your inspiration for composing?

CS: My inspiration mainly comes from the sea and its movement. I love to sit at cafés in front of the Algarve’s many beaches, watching the sea. I compose at home in Portimão in my study.  I love the diversityof Portimão and the tourists who bring colour and animation to our streets.

TR: How did you feel when your music, Quatro Estações: Primavera (Four Seasons: Spring) was performed by Orquestra do Algarve at the Assembleia do República in January?

CS: It was an honour for me and it gave me great happiness. To be the first Portuguese composer to have their music played there was special. 

TR: Can you explain the background to Quatro Estações?

CS: The idea is to create a musical work whose construction is slowly presented in parts, which evolves as I listen to it being performed. It is called the Four Seasons, but it is not my intent to describe them in their physical aspects as Vivaldi did. They are psychological images of suggested environments, atmospheres and experiences that I have in my memory; states of mind and spirit. It is divided into four distinct parts, which include: the enjoyment of the sea breeze near the Fortaleza de Santa Catarina, the anguish of a nightmare during childhood in Praia da Rocha, an erotic dream during adolescence and an unforgettable walk in Termas de Monchique.

TR: When will the public be able to hear the rest of Quatro Estações?

CS: Each part: summer, autumn and winter will be performed on a different date at a different location. On March 23 at Audotorium Municipal de Lagoa, on March 24 at Igrega do Carmo, Tavira (both summer) on May 25 at Centro Cultural de Lagos (autumn) and on July 7 at Zona Ribeirinha, Portimão (winter).

TR: How did your relationship with Orquestra do Algarve come about?

CS: Portimão Câmara invited me to write a piece of music for orchestra entitled Imagens (images) and dedicated to Manuel Teixeira Gomes, a Portimão born former President of Portugal. The music was given to conductor, Osvaldo Ferreira and the orchestra played it in January 2006. Then, at the beginning of December last year, I received a call from Orquestra do Algarve’s new artistic director, Césario Costa, who invited me to become OQ’s resident composer for 2007 (a voluntary position) and to compose a major piece for the orchestra.I had around six weeks to compose the first part (spring) in time for the concert at Assembleia da República.

TR: Who are your favourite composers?

CS: Górecki, Arvo Part, Astor Piazzolla, Stravinsky, Schmidt and Ligetti. These are the ones I most relate to. In terms of Portuguese composers, I most admire Fernando Lopes Graça and Jolly Braga Santos.

TR: As well as a composer, you are a teacher of music, where do you teach?

CS: I teach music at the Dom Afonso III school in Faro to pupils aged between 13 and 15. I teach them to play instruments and perform traditional music and songs from various countries. I also teach pupils aged 16 to 18 at the Academia de Música de Lagos.

TR: I understand you also play in a musical group.

CS: Yes, I play the piano as part of the Trio Mediterrâneo, which was formed in 2002, with two Italian friends of mine, a cellist and  flautist. We perform concerts mainly in the Lagos, Portimão and Albufeira areas.

TR: Is any of your music available to buy on CD or download?

CS: No, not at the moment. However, Orquestra do Algarve has plans to record a CD of music by various composers sometime this year and this recording will feature some of my music.

TR: What are your aspirations for the long-term?

CS: To be a full time composer, but this will be very difficult. Nearly all professional musicians and composers here need to teach or find other work to survive. Another dream of mine is to compose music for films.

To contact Cristóvão Silva email [email protected] or  call 962 874 320