Soloist, chamber musician, conductor, pedagogue, composer, arranger, and editor. Emilio Colón is always a very busy artist, but he takes the time to answer a few questions and convey some of his enthusiasm.
When did you start playing and why did you choose the cello?
I started the cello at age 6 after having played the piano for 3 years. Pablo Casals created a children’s program at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music and my sister wanted to take violin. While we were there waiting for my sister, I found myself stuck in the car with my mother! I immediately wanted to play the violin, too. At that moment someone walked outside with a big instrument in a brown bag and my mother asked what it was. They said “a cello!” And thus began my lifelong relationship with this glorious instrument!
Which teachers were the most decisive in your training, and from which points of view? When you look back at your studies, are you satisfied or, if you could go back, would you change something?
Every teacher with whom I came in contact had a powerful influence on my life. In my early training, I studied with Joaquin Vidaechea. After studying with Gaspar Cassado, Vidaechea came to Puerto Rico to study with Pablo Casals. He gave me a foundation in string playing that led to studies with Andre Navarra in Siena & Antonio Janigro in Salzburg. After graduating from the Conservatory in Puerto Rico, I then came to Indiana University to study with Janos Starker & while there had the additional influences of Josef Gingold, Menahem Pressler, Franco Gulli, and Helga Winold. This time period afforded me the opportunity to develop critical thinking and a new technical approach to cello playing. This required a complete understanding of how the body worked in relationship to the instrument in order to reach the ultimate goal of using the technique as the means of serving the greater cause of music-making.
When and where did you play in public for the first time? What was the moment of your career that gave you more?
I started playing in public almost immediately. Every day is a new moment of reflection, as I am always finding new ways to serve music-making & humanity as a whole.
Do you prefer to direct, play, compose or teach?
I love everything about music. I embrace every possibility that allows me to convey a positive message and build possibilities for a better musical future. As a performer, pedagogue, conductor, and composer, I am committed to continual growth, collaboration across disciplines and nations, and keeping classical music relevant and dynamic. I am an artist-teacher. Both forms of artistry feed each other, providing daily fuel that drives my desire for growth. In the studio, I teach music both as an art form and as a catalyst for social change. I carry these principles onto the stage and into the world. My students study performance as well as participate in teaching and outreach events, as I advocate for their development as well-equipped teachers while instilling a sense of responsibility for promoting classical music and social responsibility to future generations.
When you perform in concert, do you prefer to perform alone, in a duo with a piano, in a quartet, as a soloist with the orchestra, or in a group with many other cellos, or …?
I love making music and thrive in the joy of being on stage playing a Bach Suite, in chamber music, as a soloist with orchestra, or with 176 cellos!
Do you think that a composer, through his compositions, must express his emotions or should try to give shape to the emotions of the world around him, or should do… something else?
A great composer tells a story that transcends generations, allowing others the possibility of experiencing it in their own way. Technique and fantasy. Can they live without each other? The technique can be studied, but can fantasy be taught? Tough question! Some say that fantasy is a part of the talent that is innate. However, I believe that if people are immersed at an early age in the language of music-making and with direction, a person can develop the skills to feel the fantasy in music.
[to be continued⇒]
Dear Maestro Miranda, thank you for your availability for this interview with Mycello.it. Welcome to you on our pages.
Why the profession of a musician? Were there musicians in your family? If so, how much have they influenced your future choices?
First of all, I would like to thank Mycello.it for this opportunity to talk about my music.
I have a family background regarding music. My grandmother was a classical singer (soprano) and she also graduated in the piano course at the Lisbon National Conservatory. My grandfather played the Cello (he also studied at the Conservatory) although he didn’t follow an artistic career. I also had a cousin that was a composition teacher in a US University. I have several good memories from my childhood regarding music so it was a natural step for me to become a musician.
Can we briefly know the period of your training as a musician? Where did you study and with whom?
My initial music training was given by my grandmother. She taught me music theory and piano. Later on, I started to study music at Academia de Amadores de Música, where I had music theory and piano lessons. I studied there for two years and then I was admitted to the Lisbon National Conservatory where I graduated. I was really lucky of having great teachers there that taught me a lot and that passed me their passion for music.
Just to name a few, I studied piano with the pianist António Toscano, music theory with Gabriela Canavilhas, composition with Jorge Machado, and choir singing with conductor and composer Paulo Brandão. I also had private composition lessons with Sérgio Azevedo and orchestration with Paulo Brandão.
When was this awareness of becoming a composer born? Which teacher accompanied you at the beginning and supported this choice?
That’s a good question! Honestly, I don’t know where this passion for composition came from. I remember that in my first piano recital at the Academia de Amadores de Música I asked my teacher if I could play a piece I wrote, it was called Noturno in G minor (unfortunately the manuscript sheet music was lost!). At the Conservatory, I already had a passion for writing music before starting the composition classes and later my composition teacher, Jorge Machado, encouraged me to follow that passion.
Our website is dedicated to the cello: what is your relationship with this instrument? What importance does it have in your compositions?
I can say that the cello is one of my favorite instruments. I think it’s an instrument that has amazing versatility. In an orchestra, the low register can carry very well the harmony and its high register has a lyrical and tremendous carrying power that can really stand out.
A few years ago, I wrote a Romance for Violin, Cello & Orchestra where violin and cello act as soloists and share an interesting dialog in terms of melodic themes. It was a real joy to write this piece.
You are a musician born in Portugal: how much did your thinking about music influence European music (in a general sense) and how much the Portuguese tradition, obviously meaning “fado”?
I need to be honest, I’m not a big fan of Fado! I enjoy listening to it in live performances but I never bought a fado CD or have it in my playlists. It’s almost a shame a Portuguese saying this, but, well…is the truth!
European music, especially in terms of “classical” music, has a strong influence on my work as I studied the scores of European composers like Mahler, R. Strauss, Rossini, Beethoven…
Which Portuguese composers and musicians do you want to remind us? What do they mean to you? But we are also talking about other composers not strictly Portuguese who have influenced your character as a music writer.
We had a few great composers in the past, like João Domingos Bomtempo, Luís de Freitas Branco, José Vianna da Motta, but strangely, when studying composition at the Conservatory, I didn’t have much contact with their music, so I can’t say they had a major influence on me as a composer.
In terms of contemporary music (atonal music, twelve-tone music, etc.) there are some Portuguese composers that had and still have a solid career, but, honestly, is a style of music that I’m not really fond of.
There are Portuguese musicians that are really good, at the piano, Maria João Pires and Artur Pizarro are good examples.
In terms of composers that had, and still have, a big influence on my music I would mainly name Gustav Mahler (I learned a lot with his music, especially about orchestration and harmony), Richard Strauss (another amazing orchestrator and composer), Elgar and Beethoven.
Talking about film music I really like the music of Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, John Barry, James Horner, Hans Zimmer…
What can you tell us about cultured music in Portugal today? Meaning not only classical but also of the popular tradition.
Unfortunately, I would say that classical music is a niche market in Portugal, and, mainly for composers, a very difficult market to enter. However, I think that in the last years we have been experiencing a new interest, especially from younger people, in orchestral music. I believe that this is, in part, due to the fact that younger people are discovering orchestral music by listening to soundtracks and neo-classical composers.
For instance, before the COVID19 pandemic situation, Gulbenkian Orchestra (one of Portugal’s most prestigious orchestras) had in their annual season a concert series dedicated to film music, where the orchestra performed the soundtrack while the movie was being projected. These concerts were a huge success and were always sold out. Also, concerts performed by Ólafur Arnalds and his ensemble were a big success here. So, I believe that these kinds of events are bringing more people to the classical music world.
“Hollywood Suite”: Can you tell us about this symphonic work you wrote and what did it represent for you?
I have always been fond of film music because it brings together two things I really like: music and cinema.
When I was in my last year at the Conservatory, I applied for the film music course at Berklee College of Music. In order to apply for a scholarship, I had to submit a musical work, so, I decided to write the Hollywood Suite. This symphonic work is divided into four movements each one representing a style of music normally associated with movie scenes: Adventure, Romantic, Action, Dramatic. I first wrote it for piano and then orchestrated it. It was a work that gave a tremendous joy to write and granted me a scholarship at Berklee, although I ended up not going there.
“Adagio lamentoso”: the Berliner Soloists brought this piece on their tour. Would you like to describe this adage? Both in your writing and in the emotional and sentimental aspect of listening to it?
The “Adagio”, probably is my favorite work and is dedicated to my favorite composer: Gustav Mahler. With this work, written for string orchestra, I wanted to evoke the slow movements of Mahler’s symphonies. The orchestration, with a lot of divisi, is typical of Mahler, but instead of being just a composition exercise of writing “in Mahler’s style” I wanted to give it my personal touch. I think the Adagio is my intimate and emotional work!
Laurentius Dinca (the first violin from the Berliner Philharmoniker string quintet) asked me if I could write a string quintet version of the Adagio to be performed in their Japan tour. It was a challenge to write a string quintet version and maintain the original emotion of the work, especially because of the divisi sections of the original version, but it gave me enormous pleasure to revisit this work and write this arrangement. The Berliner Soloists performed it beautifully! I think they will be performing the Adagio lamentoso, in 2022, in their Spanish tour.
Now would you talk about some of your other compositions?
I like to write different styles of music; I have compositions written in a film music style (“Hollywood Suite” and “Farewell” are good examples), in a more “classical” style (“Adagio lamentoso”, “Romance for Violin, Cello and Orchestra”, my choral works are also more traditional).
In my album “It may not always be so”, I explored a bit the world of minimal music. This is an album of music inspired by poems written by E. E. Cummings (my favorite poet) and it gave me great satisfaction to write. Only one of the 10 songs of the album is written for string orchestra, the others are written for piano quintet (piano and string quartet) and for piano solo. So, is an album with a very intimate sound, where I tried to describe, through music, the feelings and emotions brought by Cummings’ poems.
“Romance for Violin, Cello and Orchestra” is a piece written in a very “classical” form and style, where the two soloists instruments take the leading role in the piece.
The first time I traveled to Brazil, I was so impressed by the contagious rhythm of their music (especially the Samba) that when I returned to Portugal, I composed the “Brazilian Rhapsody”, a work written for a big symphonic orchestra and with a section of Brazilian percussion. It’s a very joyful piece! I also wrote another piece that evokes those travels to Brazil, a piano solo work named “Memories from Brazil”.
I also like very much to write choral music. For instance, “Libera me” is a cappella piece that was performed by the French choir Maîtrise de Garçons de Colmar when they came to Lisbon for a series of concerts. I have several choral pieces that are still unpublished but are on my future plans to publish and record them.
Do you know Italy? Had our country any influence on your work?
Yes, I have been to Italy (in Rome and Florence) several times and I really love it! I think a composer is frequently influenced by the work of other composers and Italy has a lot of great composers. I studied the works of Rossini, Puccini, Verdi (just to name a few) and they taught me a lot.
How do you compose your music: with pencil and paper or do you use a pc? If in this last way, this tool helps your creativity?
Until two or three years ago, I was writing all my works in the old fashion way, with pencil and paper. Maybe because I have a classical music background, I felt more comfortable composing that way. However, this method consumed me a lot of time, because after composing the piece I would have to input all the notes, instrument by instrument, in a notation software so I could print it and prepare the parts for the players.
Nowadays, the method I use depends on the type of work I’m writing. For piano solo and choral works, I prefer to write at the piano with pencil and paper. For larger ensembles or orchestral works, I prefer to use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) for composing.
I usually write a sketch in 9 or 10 tracks (this sketch has about 50% of the orchestration done) and after finishing it I start the orchestration part by using a notation software. At the same time, I record the orchestrated parts in the DAW so I can get a mockup of the final result.
Regarding the creativity question, I would say that both methods have advantages and disadvantages. Composing with a DAW gives me the opportunity to experiment with new sounds and the ability to have on my fingers an orchestra, but, sometimes, I find myself trying a lot of stuff that makes me lose precious time. When composing at the piano, with pencil and paper, I’m only focused on the piano but that can also limit the sound pallet that I’m searching for.
Do you know the cellist Guilhermina Suggia? What is your opinion about this important cellist, a prominent figure in the international music of the period?
I remember once, in a class of Music History at the Conservatory, her name being mentioned as one of the greatest cellists of her time. I read that Suggia and Pablo Casals (with whom she studied) were considered the best cellists in their time. That’s quite an achievement! Unfortunately, there are almost no recordings of her playing and maybe because of it most of the Portuguese people (including me!) don´t know much about her work.
Only if is it possible: what are you working on now and what are your future plans as a composer?
Right now, I’m finishing the orchestration of a 13-minute-long symphonic piece that will be part of my new album. This album will be more diverse in terms of instrumentation than the previous one, since it will also have pieces written for orchestra, besides piano and piano quintet. I was planning to release the album at the end of this year but, meanwhile, I started writing the soundtrack for a film. The film director, Miguel Gaudêncio, asked me for a purely orchestral score, featuring also a choir, so, it’s giving me a great pleasure to write.
The film is set to be premiered in December 2022. Let’s see if the shootings will not suffer more delays caused by the pandemic situation!
I also would like to have time to finish a string quartet that I started to write some time ago (the first and second movements are already finished).
Dear Maestro Bruno Miranda, a heartfelt thanks for your availability for this interview. I wish you a future full of professional successes but also for all other aspects of your life.
Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my music! It was a real pleasure!