Ana Rocha: Who is Vasco Dantas?
Vasco Dantas:A simple Portuguese who has been walking around the world to give concerts and show the best Portugal and Portuguese music – in piano. I’m 25 years old, I’m from Porto and it all started when I was 4 years old, very randomly. I had to accompany my father – because he was very little – to some amateur choir rehearsals. He was there “to the dry”, to listen to the rehearsals and, the teacher of this choir says, Prof. Jose Manuel Pinheiro, in the intervals, I would go to the piano – there was an electronic keyboard – and began to guess the sounds that they were doing. This maestro says that he did some quick tests, some jokes, and that I had talent and could have had absolute pitch. He advised my father to sign up for the song. From there I went to Valentim de Carvalho, in Porto, and it was where it all began.
AR: Are they isolated formations?
VD: Yes , they were always in my case. At one point I went to the Oporto Music Conservatory (I studied with Prof. Rosgard Lingardsson) because they advised me – because the Oporto Music Conservatory was, and still is, one of the most recognized schools in Portugal and in Porto it is the school of reference in music – but I continued in school, as I continued with the extra-curricular activities; the conservatory was one.
AR: What were the others?
VD:A little bit of everything: I did chess championships, I went to the tennis, swimming (Leixões) and I was in football (FC Porto, FC Boavista and Leixões). At some point I had to decide between football and music. I chose the song. Football also took away a lot of time. In High School I enrolled in the Science and Technology course and, at the end of Secondary Education, I enrolled in FEUP.
AR: What course?
VD: I wanted to specialize in Nanotechnology Engineering, so for this specialty, I could do Materials Engineering in Licenciatura. I went to Materials Engineering at FEUP.
AR: You never finished the course, right?
VD:No. I never got it. I froze registration in September because I was also going to start university in London. At the end of the previous year (December 2009) I went to three universities in London to see what happened – Trinity College , Royal College of Musicand Royal Academy of Music – and I ended up in two. In the other I was on the waiting list. As I had at the Royal College of Music the opportunity to join two excellent teachers (Niel Immelman and Dmitri Alexeev), I ended up freezing my tuition here in Portugal and went to London.
AR: How long have you been there?
VD: Four years. The degree in the UK is four years.
AIR:How was the experience of living in London? Scary at first?
VD: It was fantastic. It was not frightening, but there are fears that are transversal to anyone who leaves home for the first time at age 18, and I left home to live in another country: it is another currency, another language, other friends … I knew one or two Portuguese , who were already there, but did not know them very well – later I got to know them better – and in the meantime I made friends, because I was living in the university residence. I advise everyone who goes out to do the same, because you are with your college colleagues, you do not live alone, and this helps a lot the initial integration.
AR: Where do you live now?
VD:I’m living in Germany now. When I finished the degree in London, I went to Germany to Master “in Musik und Kreativit ä t” and yet – I’ve finished the Master – I’m doing a PhD there, with Prof. Heribert Koch. In London, one of the good things about studying in the cosmopolitan city is that you build friendships all over the world. A lot of my friends have left, too, from there. The Royal College of Music boasted of having a class with more than 70 nationalities as students in that year, and never varied much.
AR: When do you start giving concerts?
VD:My first concert was in the Museu do Carro Eléctrico, I was 4 or 5 years old, in a concert by Valentim de Carvalho. That same year, one of my first concerts was at Goucha Square in RTP. I was super wee. There must be recordings of that.
AR: And since then, every year since, has concerts ever since?
VD: Yes. Of course, until the age of 13/14, they were educational concerts, integrated into the school, an examination, or a public presentation that was part of the curriculum, but from then on, I always made several competitions in Portugal and abroad, national and international, and in many of them, when I won a prize, they gave me the opportunity to give a public presentation at a festival.
AIR:When was your first concert seriously ?
VD: That was serious! I was super nervous.
AR: Are you still nervous?
VD: No, not always. Depends on the situation.
AR: The public you do not know is a difficult audience?
VD: No, on the contrary, if I do not know the public I am much more relaxed because, in a way, I have nothing to lose or I do not know what I might have to lose. When I play, for example, for an audience that knows me, knows the parameters and has heard me before, I have to comply with the quality of what they are waiting for.
AR: Do you consider yourself an artist?
VD: Yes, I’m an artist.
AR: How do you define what you do?
VD: I am a musician, I transform written or mental ideas into auditory sensibilities , causing infinite emotions in people who listen.
AR: What do you like to do most?
VD: Performance allied with some pedagogy: 70% performance – concerts and artistic creation – and 30% pedagogy.
AR: What do you imagine doing when you finish PhD?
VD: For now the goal is to continue giving concerts all over the world. While this is possible, I’m happy about it.
AR: Until the age of 65?
VD:This proposal sounds like a job that one day I have to reform so that I can do what I love most … Well, what is work? “Find a job you like and you will not work a day in your life . ” Maybe, at age 65, I find myself wanting to continue to make music on stage -because that’s what I like right now – but obviously it’s my job: I do not have to blame it on liking it. Society should not harm those who work for pleasure. In the artistic and musical world this happens repeatedly.
AR: How do other people see you? Do you see it as a job?
VD:It depends on the country you’re talking about. Here, in Portugal, it depends on the age group and the social class. Ever happened to me everything: ever happened to ask me what I do, I answer that I am a pianist and insist, “but what do you do it?” . They are not expecting to hear this, they are waiting for me to speak in Engineering, Accounting, Medicine, etc. On the other hand, there are other people who almost bow to me because they respect my work as a musician and they recognize me the value and choice of profession.
AR: Do we have to fight for recognition here?
VD:One of the reasons I left here was precisely because recognition here was, and still is, less than in countries like England and Germany. Historically, it has always been – but there are no specific faults in that. The History of Music in Portugal is quite brief and classical music was born in the center of Europe, Germany, Austria and Italy: that’s why they are countries with a gigantic sensitivity. It can not be compared. Portugal is improving a lot. In the last decades, we have improved in the training of musicians, we have improved in the schools of artistic education … It is not a process that changes in a generation.It takes a few generations to create the habit and recognition that must be given to artists. I speak of music but I also speak of other artists: gymnasts, dancers, plastic artists …
AR: In which countries have you already been to this concert?
VD: Around 20. Portugal, Spain, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Kosovo, Sweden, Russia, Morocco, Brazil, USA, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong … Oceania is the only Continent to which I have not yet been. I liked to go.
AR: That romantic idea that whoever is born with a gift does not need to work for, is it true?
VD: That’s just the view of the viewer; is the idea of the public. The image of the icebergis faithful to the truth: what we see of theiceberg is 1/7 of its size, it is only what is on the surface of the water.
AR: What do not people see in your case?
VD: The work, the amount of hours of dedication, the early preparation, the planning, the necessary organization; do not see all the training for several years, the persistence that is necessary and the disappointments that appear and that you have to know how to fight …
AR: What is your favorite pianist?
VD:There are huge pianists and many are fantastic for different reasons … Vladimir Horowitz, a 20th century Ukrainian pianist. He was a genius and was one of the truest pianists. I mean, on recordings I always get the feeling that what I did in terms of interpretation was not previously planned. This was his record. He was a spontaneous artist on stage. This spontaneity made a difference.
AR: Fernando Pessoa wrote that the poet is a pretender …
VD: (…) pretends so completely / that he even pretends to be pain / the pain he really feels …
AR: Is the pianist also a pretender?
VD:The pianist is like the poet, sometimes he has to be able to provoke certain sensations in the audience: the pain, the joy, the drama … Sometimes I am playing and I shudder. It is not my merit, it is merit of the composer who made that song. But I do not like that word.
AR: What word?
VD: Pretending. How does the musician pretend a feeling that is not yours? What I try to do on stage is, rightly, not to pretend.I try, yes, through the interpretive approach I make to the sounds and musical phrases to exaggerate certain nuances so as to be able to elicit in the audience the same sensation I am feeling in that particular passage. I do not know how to touch a feeling that is false.When I read the text of a composer, written hundreds of years ago, and see colors, sounds, and a certain expressive sense in which I had never noticed, probably no element of the public had so little noticed: because I myself had not noticed and did not had still played that way.
AR: Is the piano the best instrument of all?
VD: It depends on the parameter, but it is, yes, the most complete. The piano is capable of replacing an entire orchestra.