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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 10, No. 3

Alexandre Da Costa - Coming Home

by Réjean Beaucage / November 2, 2004

Version française...

Violinist Alexandre Da Costa is coming back to Canada this month for a number of concerts and the release of a new CD of works for solo violin. This recording -- his fifth with Disques XXI-21 -- gives us a chance to hear, in all its splendour, the Baumgartner Stradivarius loaned to him by the Canada Council for the Arts. The new release includes Bach's Sonata No. 1 and Ysaye's Sonata No. 2, as well as André Prévost's Improvisation and Robert Lafond's Solitario, the latter being the title of the CD.

?"I've worked on almost all Ysaye's sonatas, and of course, I plan to do an album of just his works in the near future, even though his music isn't the most accessible. For example, I could do the six sonatas, but that isn't a program that everyone would appreciate. Ideally, each violinist would want to do all of Bach, Paganini, and Ysaye. To be practical, however, you have to concentrate on one of them and I've chosen Ysaye. I find that he shares many of Bach's and Paganini's qualities. This CD has a Bach piece on it as well as André Prévost's Improvisation, which I've played for years and which I brought with me to Vienna, Spain, and France--in fact almost everywhere. It was important to have it with me. And then there's a brand-new Robert Lafond piece, composed just for me, which I'm very happy with."

?After a number of years giving concerts in Europe, where he's achieved much success, the Montreal musician is looking to recapture the Canadian market. "I've been in Europe for five years. My agents are mainly in Europe, but now I have a new agreement with an agent here. When I left at the age of eighteen, I played both piano and violin, but it's as a violinist that I want to get myself known now. I've had the pleasure of working with Europe's best teacher, Zakhar Bron, at the Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofia de Madrid [Maxim Vengerov and Vadim Repin's teacher] and this is what I'd like to share with audiences."

?Da Costa is equally at home on the piano and violin, something fairly rare for professional level musicians. His very first CD, with Amberola, included pieces by Robert Schumann and Pierre-Max Dubois played on piano, and others by Pablo de Sarasate, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Vittorio Monti played on the violin. "I studied both instruments seriously, but above all, I studied music, and learning one helped to learn the other. Now, from a technical standpoint, I'm really specializing in violin. I've had the help of a great master and I think I can say without boasting that I'm ready to perform everything one can expect from a soloist." Indeed, at age twenty-five Da Costa has now reached a truly exceptional performance level as can be heard on his CD released last year. "I recorded it with Christian Frohn, who is the first viola player and soloist with the Vienna Philharmonic. He is an excellent musician with whom I performed Mozart's Symphonie Concertante in Sarajevo. For that CD we recorded arrangements of music from The Magic Flute and two Mozart duos (KV 413 and 424), as well as the Passacaille by Handel and Halvorsen."


Da Costa's persevering approach has earned him major recognition from the Canada Council for the Arts who rewarded him with a three-year loan of a magnificent violin--the Baumgartner Stradivarius of 1689. "It's a fabulous instrument!" says Da Costa. "It is helping my career on more than one level. I now get more attention from some conductors who wouldn't have thought of me before. My previous violin, an 1842 Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, was also a very good instrument, and worth far more than I could afford. Each violin has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, the two instruments differ in power. Of course the Stradivarius is now my preferred instrument. I'll certainly feel a bit sad to have to give it back at the end of the three-year loan! Contrary to what you might think, it's not an easy instrument to play. In Vienna, where I live, some of my friends were curious and wanted to try it. They were really surprised to find it difficult."

?Although audiences don't often think about the way instruments get passed around, it is a reality soloists at the start of their careers have to reckon with. "At first I said to myself, 'Wow! A violin worth three million dollars!' I treated it with extreme care, left it at home, and so on. But it's my working instrument and I have to have it with me at all times, in the street, the metro, the plane, or coming back to the hotel after a concert. I come from an artistic background: my mother is a painter and my father is in the theatre. It's not a milieu where there's a lot of money, and I would never have been able to pay for an instrument that would enable me to make a career in music. Therefore, I started with a modern Canadian violin provided by a foundation, and that's what I took to Europe. My teacher introduced me to a number of people and eventually I was able to get a superb Ruggieri for six months. It had belonged to Yan Kubelik. Then I was lent a Balestrieri. Following a concert in Montreal, a music-lover decided to help and bought the Vuillaume in order to lend it to me. Then I entered the competition for the Canada Council instrument bank, and here I am with a Stradivarius [and a Sartory bow, lent by the Canimex Foundation, which Da Costa uses with one of the 300 varieties of string provided by the Thomastik Company]. Things move quickly in the music world!"

Working with the greats

Da Costa's homecoming is well orchestrated. Between May 15 and July 15 2004, he appeared on stage eight times. Guest soloist for the sixtieth anniversary of the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal held at the Place des Arts, he then participated in the Stradivarius evening at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival before giving a recital with Marika Bournaki at the Domaine Forget. These numerous appearances reinstated him in the eyes of his Canadian public.

?In October Da Costa was invited to play with the Extremadura Symphony Orchestra in Spain for three programs, during which he gave a rare performance of the Concerto for Violin (1916) by Portuguese composer Luis de Freitas Branco. He later made the first-ever recording of Branco's work, which will be released by Disques XXI-21. On November 11th, he will perform as soloist in Vivaldi's Four Seasons, appearing in Spain's largest concert hall, the National Auditorium of Spain in Madrid, with the Cordoba Symphony conducted by Gloria Isabel Ramos Triano.

The day after this concert, Da Costa returns to Canada to give three recitals. His program includes Brahms's Third Sonata, Manuel de Falla's Popular Songs, an Ysaye sonata, and works by Kreisler and Sarasate. These will be given on November 17th at the Rivière-du-Loup Cultural Centre, on November 20th at the Salle Albert-Dumouchel in Valleyfield, Quebec, and on November 26th at the Central United Church in St. Thomas, Ontario. Two days later, he will appear at a benefit concert at the Salle Claude-Champagne in Montreal marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the music program at Pierre-Laporte High School... and its possible disappearance! The prospect touches a sensitive nerve in Da Costa. "It was my school! The proposed cuts are, in my humble opinion, a cultural disaster, and I'm committed to defending the program that enabled me to develop and gave me the time and the environment to do research and pursue artistic excellence. It would be very sad to see this unique program abandoned. To shut down a program that is open to all, whatever their financial status, will also confirm a false belief, which is that classical music is only for rich people. It's just the opposite, and I'm a perfect example of this. The Pierre-Laporte School is one of the organizations, along with the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, that allowed me to get a top-ranking musical education that was financially accessible."

?Da Costa will "rest" in the early part of 2005. "January and February are a very important time in my concert schedule. This is the time I give myself to prepare the new repertoire for my spring and fall series."

?His agenda for the months following is impressive. "In early March 2005, I'm expected in Vienna for two concerts at the Château Laxenburg and a recording session with the Vienna Symphony's chamber orchestra conducted by Christian Schulz. I'll do the Four Seasons. A few days later I'll begin a five-concert tour in northwest Germany with the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonic conducted by Camil Marinescu. Bruch's Concerto is on the program. In April, I have two highly technical performances of Paganini's Concerto No. 2 on my schedule: on April 16 with the Malaga Symphony conducted by Francisco de Gálvez, and on April 24 with the Hamburg Symphony at the Musikhalle, conducted by Martin Haselbeck. In June 2005 I'll be performing Tchaikovsky's Concerto at the Baden Casino in Austria with the Baden Sinfonietta, and I'll make my début at the famous Musikverein in Vienna. I'll be playing the Four Seasons again with the Vienna Symphony."

?Da Costa's increasingly frequent trips home have begun to stimulate offers. "Last summer I took part in the Canada Music Competition, which is important for me because that's where I began [by winning first prize in the violin and piano categories!]. I also took part in the Jeunesses Musicales gala in Trois-Rivières and at the music camp in the Laurentians where I was invited to teach by Raymond Dessaints and Johanne Arel, my teachers at the Conservatoire. I'm honoured that my former teachers have shown their confidence by letting me teach their pupils for two weeks! People have seen that I'm coming back to Quebec and word has got around. Emails have started arriving. For the moment there's talk of a concert with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra for the 2005-2006 season. I'm already doing these kinds of concerts in Europe, but I'm very pleased with the invitation to do it on my home turf. I hope people will realize that I'm a big boy now!"

[Translated by Jane Brierley]

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