"Song of the Black Swan" celebrates the meeting of two renowned artists on the global classical music scene, at the height of their extraordinary careers. Their paths crossed when they took part in a production of a TV series about composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, performing this composer's "Song of the Black Swan". They immediately noticed a rare musical affinity between them, and their duo was born.
About the musicians:
Claudio Cruz began his violin studies with his father - luthier João Cruz. He continued to study violin, as well as music theory and conducting. He has been principal conductor of the Orchestra of the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro and the Symphonic Orchestra of Ribeirão Preto and Campinas. He is a Latin Grammy award winner, a 2012 Grammy nominee, and has received numerous other rewards. He was the concertmaster of the São Paulo State Symphonic Orchestra (OSESP) for twenty-four years. He is currently the first violin in the Carlos Gomes Quartet, and conductor and musical director of the São Paulo State Youth Orchestra. He performs internationally as a violin soloist and guest conductor, including in Brazil, Europe, Asia, and the United States.
Marcelo Bratke was fourteen when he began his piano studies, debuting with the São Paulo Symphonic Orchestra at the age of sixteen. He later studied at the Julliard School of Music in New York, returning to Brazil to complete his studies. He has become one of the most prominent pianists in Brazil, and has been honoured with awards such as the First Prize at the Concorso Internazionale di Musica Tradate in Italy, the Carlos Gomes Prize, the Classic Discoveries Award in England, and the Brazil in Germany 2006 Award. In 2017, he received the Order of Cultural Merit by the Ministry of Culture and the Federal Government in Brazil. He is a radio and television program presenter passionate about promoting classical music, including having produced a series of documentaries about Villa-Lobos.
Read on for the interview!
How was your musical duo formed?
Marcelo: I had played with Claudio as a soloist before and the result was marvellous, so I always wanted to perform with him in a piano/violin duo. The opportunity came later when I was directing and presenting a series of 8 documentaries about Villa-Lobos for TV. I invited Claudio to participate - giving interviews and performing Villa-Lobos with me in one of the episodes. I remember he was travelling and arrived on set to perform Villa-Lobos’ “Song of the Black Swan”, but we didn’t have the chance to rehearse. We went on stage and, without any rehearsal, began to play the piece. This very first take was the one chosen for the TV series! Without ever having played together before in our lives, like magic, it was as though we had been performing together for our entire lives.
Claudio: I've known Marcelo's work for many years; I've always had great admiration for his work, which was why I invited him to play as a soloist a few years ago. After we had played Villa-Lobos' "Black Swan", I became very much interested in playing and recording with Marcelo.
What do you think are the most important elements when forming a musical partnership?
Claudio: Without a doubt, a great personal and musical empathy such as between Marcelo and I, along with great and mutual respect.
Marcelo: Musical quality. If you admire your partner as a musician, the rest will happen on its own.
You have both developed successful musical careers as individuals; what are some of the highlights so far in your careers?
Claudio: I have a well-established career as a violinist since my teens. From the age of 30, I also started a good career as a conductor. One of the highlights has been the awards and nominations from the Grammy and Latino Awards, as well as various tours performed in the US, Europe, and Asia throughout my career. With great personal satisfaction, I include the work performed as a soloist with the São Paulo State Youth Orchestra since 2012.
Marcelo: As a pianist, I was very lucky to perform at some of the world’s most coveted stages: Carnegie Hall in New York, Wigmore Hall in London, Suntory Hall in Tokyo, and the Salzburg Festival, amongst others. I created a project to promote Villa-Lobos internationally that includes includes the recording of the composer’s complete solo piano works, concerts in America, Europe and Asia, a weekly radio program broadcasted by Cultura FM and a series of 8 documentaries about Villa-Lobos for TV. Twelve years ago, I founded Camerata Brasil - a social project that professionalises young musicians coming from underprivileged areas of Brazilian society; this project has toured 12 countries. As a TV presenter, I conceived, directed, and presented the series “Música no meu Jardim” about Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin for the channel Arte 1, vignettes with classical music for Band TV, and a new project entitled “Minuto Musical” for TV Cultura. The Federal Government of Brazil awarded me the Order of Cultural Merit as a Commander. I received 6 awards in Brazil and abroad in recognition of my career which began at the age of sixteen as a soloist with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) conducted by Eleazar de Carvalho.
How did the “Song of the Black Swan” album project come about?
Claudio: In the last decade, I have dedicated myself to a lot of recordings. As an example, this year alone, I had five albums submitted to the Latin Grammys. For some time, I had the long desire to record an album with a few select pieces - beautiful works, some of my favourites. In that sense, I was thinking about which pianist should I record with; Marcelo was, without a doubt, an excellent option.
Marcelo: During the pandemic period, Claudio approached me with the idea of putting together an album with the most beautiful music ever written for violin and piano. Pieces by various composers from different cultures and different periods. So, we designed a musical “promenade" together, revisiting these crème de la crème works of the violin/piano duo repertoire.
Composer Heitor Villa-Lobos
How did you select the works recorded for this project?
Claudio: These are pieces I've played for many years. The project includes Brazilian music, which I love for its importance, beauty, and specificity. I also did a tribute to my father, who was an important violin maker and amateur musician.
Marcelo: These are pieces that Claudio has played for a long time, but we had never experimented on them together. The idea was that each piece would speak for itself without any need of explanation about why they were placed in that order on the album. It seems simple, but the secret was to establish a musical dialogue between the pieces to be able to create a “narrative” logic.
What was this album creation experience like - planning, rehearsing, recording?
Claudio: We rehearsed a lot for a couple of months! But we ended up recording everything in a few days at Estúdio Arsis, which is an excellent studio.
Marcelo: Like I said, it was a very interesting artistic experience in which, after the curatorial side of the album had been defined, the rehearsals happened smoothly. We rehearsed a lot - more than I ever did in a duo, but we did that for the pleasure of plunging into the music! It was always as if it were the first time we played together - meaning: no need to talk, just play, just let the music guide us. I felt (and I suppose Claudio may had the same feeling) more like a tool or channel - transporting a pure musical experience to the listener.
Is there a particular track that you enjoyed recording the most?
Claudio: The whole repertoire is very special to me, but, for obvious reasons, my dad's composition makes me really emotional.
Marcelo: From a performance point of view, not really; as I mentioned, we sequenced the pieces with the logic of a bigger musical line. But, of course, as individual pieces, there are some that I miss playing with Claudio, pieces that stayed in my affective memory, such as: Gluck's "Orfeo ed Eurydice", Villa-Lobos’ "Song of the Black Swan", Tchaikovsky's "Andante Cantabile", or "Memórias de um Luthier" written by Claudio’s father, who was a great luthier!
What do you hope listeners will gain from listening to this album?
Marcelo: To be a part of the immersive musical experience we experienced together.
What are your plans for the future of your duo?
Claudio: Marcelo is in London now. But as soon as he returns to Brazil, we will play some recitals. I would also like to present our work as a duo in other countries….
Marcelo: To be able to perform this album live in order to experience the exchange of energy with the public.
What would you say to someone who is not familiar with classical music but would like to get started?
Claudio: Classical music is unforgettable! Once it connects to the emotions of each interpreter and listener, it becomes transformative. It always demands a deep reflection on our lives in the process of existence.
Marcelo: Just enjoy. Nothing else!
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Villa-Lobos: Song of the Black Swan
Claudio: This song gives me a feeling of hope.
Marcelo: Musically, it is when Brazilian music crosses its borders to open a dialogue with the French like Saint Saëns. But the DNA of the piece takes the Brazilian soul under my skin.
Kreisler: 3 Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen: III. Schön Rosmarin
Claudio: I remember my childhood, beginning of my music studies; my father had some recordings of this piece with legendary violinists.
Marcelo: For me, it suggests a perfect Viennese encore!
Liszt: Consolation No. 3 in D-Flat Major, S. 172
Claudio: Milstein made an excellent adaptation of this piece (originally for solo pinao) for violin and piano.
Marcelo: One of the most touching melodies created by Liszt. Romanticism in its element.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky: String Quartet Op. 11: II. Andante Cantabile (Arr. for Violin and Piano by Fritz Kreisler)
Claudio: I played the original version for string quartet a few times and also recorded the version for cello and strings, it's a very special piece, like a prayer.
Marcelo: One of my favourites! It translates the deepest side of Tchaikovsky.
Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 17 in F Minor
Claudio: This is also one of the pieces I loved to hear in my teenage years, I particularly liked the recording by violinist Ruggiero Ricci.
Marcelo: When I watch Claudio playing the violin during this piece, I see the gypsy soul that exists inside of him!
Mignone: Valsa de Esquina No. 2 in B Minor
Claudio: Mignone's "Valsas de Esquina" reminds us of the melancholy that permeates the environment of Rio de Janeiro. They are originally for solo piano; in this adaptation made by the composer himself, I highlight the very high register of some passages for the violin.
Marcelo: This is the “deep Brazil” translated into the violin and piano tradition.
Manuel de Falla
de Falla: La Vida Breve: Spanish Dance No. 1
Claudio: In this piece we seek to develop a truly Spanish interpretation.
Massenet: Méditation de Thaïs
Claudio: I played this piece in one of the first recitals I performed in my adolescence, at Teatro Municipal de São Paulo! I always have many memories of playing it….
Marcelo: This is when music can stop the passage of time.
Claudio: I decided to perform a relatively classic interpretation of this piece. It is played many times with an excess of freedoms…
Marcelo: We decided to bring this piece, which has been much too distorted in terms of its musical language, back to its original style and integrity.
Christoph Willibald Gluck
Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice, Wq. 30: Melodie (Arr. for Violin and Piano by Fritz Kreisler)
Claudio: The first time I heard this piece was in a recording by the legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz. It touched me deeply; I still feel emotional playing it today.
Marcelo: I learned to play this piece in its piano version with the great Brazilian pianist Guiomar Novaes and tried to transport this experience to the violin and piano language.
Dvořák: Slavonic Dance No. 2, Op. 72
Claudio: I played and conducted these Slavic dances several times in the orchestral version. In this arrangement for violin and piano, we imprint the specific traditions of orchestral performances.
Marcelo: A difficult piece to translate from its orchestral version. This was the challenge we plunged into to try to render this piece in the way it deserves.
Villa-Lobos: Improviso No. 7, W096
Claudio: Villa-Lobos was a really brilliant composer, and, above all, a great melodist! We prove this in this improvisation.
Marcelo: This is Villa-Lobos exploring the language of improvisation. And, as Gershwin said: “Life is like jazz. It is better if you improvise!”
Chopin: Nocturne No. 20 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. Posth.
Claudio: In this nocturne, I feel a great introspection; in the interpretation I tried to diversify the sound and the dynamics.
Marcelo: I tried to bring to the piano part a bit of Rubinstein’s straight musical language which, in my opinion, makes Chopin a translation of truth. This also helps the violin to fly freely in its idiom.
Paganini: Cantabile in D Major, Op. 17, MS 109
Claudio: In this Cantabile we can see the professionalism of Paganini when composing for violin.
Marcelo: A fine example of how the piano should behave to give the violin freedom of expression.
Kreisler: 3 Old Viennese Dances: II. Liebesleid
Claudio: Fritz Kreisler was an excellent violinist and an interesting composer; his compositions remind us of Austrian traditions.
Marcelo: The difficulty here is to get the subjective flavour of the Austrian watlz - exposing its true and original format and movement.
Cruz: Sentimentos de um Luthier
Claudio: I grew up listening to my father play this song; he tried all his new violins playing this piece. Later, he asked me to play it…. it brings me good memories.
Marcelo: This rather mysterious piece reminded me the power of music - bringing me to the world of a person who devoted his entire life to music and the violin. And all with just a few, but very expressive, notes!
The album is available on all major streaming platforms.