Brazilian PIANIST Heloísa Fernandes
Dança do Renascimento (Renaissance Dance)
Sunday, June 27th @ 4:15 PM EST
Brazilian pianist and composer Heloísa Fernandes paints her musical pictures with contrasts – driving rhythm and delicacy, joyous dance and quiet introspection, playfulness and elegance – and in doing so has been compared to the legendary Egberto Gismonti. She loves the challenge of playing solo and for this performance will draw from four albums worth of her own compositions as well as those by major Brazilian composers such as Hermeto Pascoal. As for everyone in the world, the pandemic has had a profound effect on her life and, in particular, her thoughts about the meaning of music. To acknowledge and honor the need for humanity to heal and move forward, she has named this performance Dança do Renascimento (Renaissance Dance).
The performance will be given from her new home in São Luiz do Paraitinga, a city in the eastern part of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. The majesty of the nearby mountains inspires hope for the possibilities of humanity’s future to which her music is in tribute.
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Pianist and composer Heloísa Fernandes was born in the city of Presidente Prudente in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, and took up the piano at age five. She went on to study with Paulo Gori and Gilberto Tinetti, with whom she cultivated her taste for classical music, and graduated with degrees in piano performance from the Conservatório Dramático e Musical de São Paulo, in conducting from the Centro de Estudos Tom Jobim, and in composition from the University of São Paulo. Her repertoire focuses on instrumental interpretations of popular Brazilian music.
In 2001, she was one of five finalists in Brazil’s leading musical competition – the Prêmio Visa de Música Brasileira – recognition that brought her to national attention. She released her premiere recording, Fruto, in 2005 on Brazil’s Maritaca label with repertoire of her own compositions as well as her arrangements of works by Pixinguinha and Caetano Veloso. Her musical collaborators included some of Brazil’s finest musicians — percussionist Naná Vasconcelos, bassist Zeca Assumpcão, and musical director Gil Jardim. In 2008, she made her international debut to critical acclaim at Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina.
For the next phase of her composing work, Fernandes organized the project Melodias do Brasil – Identidade e Transformação. Over the course of twelve months, she studied the research of Mário de Andrade and his colleagues who had documented Brazilian folkloric melodies in the years 1936 to 1938. They transcribed melodies from all parts of the country and published 570 of them in Melodias Registradas por Meios Não-Mecânicos in 1946, the first edited material about folklore in Brazil.
Andrade believed that Brazilian composers could find the soul of Brazil in the melodies of its people, and that these melodies could be inspiration to create new works. His collection included candomblé, maracatú, cateretê, samba, toada, and more. Fernandes chose a group of these melodies to be the spirits of new compositions. Their transformation into new works surprised people because they are not typical of the way Brazilian folklore is handled by today’s musicians. Rather than emulating their strong colors, pulse, and rhythms, Fernandes created a delicate and introspective world. Arranged, performed, and recorded with her colleagues Zeca Assumpção (double bass) and Ari Colares (percussion), this collection was released in 2009 as the album Candeias, and was presented by the trio on stages in Brazil and in Braga, Portugal, where the trio made its European debut.
Her next recording was born out of an encounter with an extraordinary piano – a Fazioli on the stage of PianoForte Studios in Chicago where she performed in 2014. “What happened to us in that room was transformative,” studio owner Thomas Zoells said, “No one had ever coaxed such sounds out of our Fazioli piano nor had such a poetic and affecting voice.” He offered her the opportunity to record a new album on the instrument. Her plan to do so in 2015 was nearly cancelled as she became ill enough to require hospitalization. She recovered but was left with little time to prepare for the scheduled dates. Her recording engineer, André Magalhães, urged her to press on with the plan and, persuaded by his reasoning, she plunged into the composing process but with a changed perspective. Her brush with death had taught her to value every new day, to embrace all that each moment may offer. Unaware of its influence, this perspective drove her musical thinking. She wanted the album to have the edge and risk-taking of an improvised concert, to be thoroughly in the moment. She built themes, each named for an emotion, and developed ideas about what she might do with them in performance. Looking back at the finished album, entitled Faces and released in 2016, she saw that the act of making it completed what her life’s events had provoked. “I lived a process of transformation, deep in pain and joy. Creating the album was the last part of this transformative journey.”
Inspiration for her most recent album, Inzu (2019), came from the biographical novel The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga. Of Kinyarwanda origin, the word inzu means ancestral dwelling, a traditional type of dwelling in Rwanda. In the author’s account, inzu safeguards the motherly and feminine spirit that gives strength to her mother, Stefania, to face the condition of exile that devastated the family during ethnic conflicts in the country. In the center of the dwelling it was necessary to keep the fire burning, never extinguished. “In the inzu,” reads the text, “Mother said it is not the eyes that guide us, but the heart.” Fernandes composed three new works for the album – Inzu, Urugori, and Stefania – recorded in duo with saxophonist Mané Silveira.
The Symphony Orchestra of the University of São Paulo commissioned Fernandes to write arrangements for orchestra and piano of four of her compositions which she premiered with the Orchestra in 2019. Filmmaker José Alberto Cotta commissioned her to compose and perform solo piano music for Exile – The Poesis of Imre Kertész, a documentary about the Hungarian writer and Nobel Prize laureate released in 2020.
In 2020 she received a commission unlike any of the others. The advertising agency Almap BBDO of São Paulo wanted to create a project to honor International Women’s Day. A book about letters exchanged between Maria Anna Mozart and her younger brother, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave rise to an idea. These letters as well as ninety pages of Maria Anna’s diary reveal that she was a musical talent of her brother’s caliber and that the two of them concertized in Europe together. Because of the customs of her time, at the age of sixteen Maria Anna ceased to tour with Wolfgang due to her obligation to find a husband and get married, though she continued to compose. Among Wolfgang’s comments in the letters was his admiration for her compositions whose scores, unfortunately, have not survived.
Project Ms. Mozart set out to imagine what one of those compositions might have sounded like. Based on the idea that a person’s speech is intimately related to the way one expresses himself or herself in composing music, her letters were read aloud and then translated into musical pitches by computer software. The motifs that resulted were given to Fernandes who was commissioned to create a work from them in the style of the period and to perform it at the piano, a composition that might have been written by Maria Anna Mozart. “What was really interesting to me, “ says Fernandes, “was that process of identification as a woman. Living today, almost 300 years after her, the space for women is so limited. There’s so much less than there could be. Just imagine her life. All that talent and being unable to live it to the utmost. Women know perfectly well what that’s like. So that was the first thing. And the second thing was feeling that this project is so generous because it honors women, it values them, and it’s bringing back someone who was lost in time and space.” The project won London’s 2021 D&AD award in the category of Original Composition in Sound Design & Use of Music.
To her performance work as a soloist recitalist and with her trio, Fernandes has created a new duo with Brazilian flutist Toninho Carrasqueira. The range of their repertoire reaches from the traditional to the contemporary and includes works by Moacir Santos, Sivuca, Dominguinhos, Maurice Ravel, and Claude Debussy. Tradition and modernity flow together to stimulate spontaneous creation.