Photos by Núria Codina.
Photos by Chechu Bal.
Everyone carries a story on their backs.
Life is a crossroad full of stories and people, places and events...
My story, as you will read below, is not in many ways the typical story of a girl of good social status who takes classes at the conservatory of her city... You could say I arrived late in the musical world.
What I mean is that I acquired musical skills at a later age than normal. The great advantage was the maturity and determination that I had. To catch up, I needed to understand, both analytically and consciously, the art of playing the violin.
At the age when most students are studying the great violin concertos, I still didn't know what was ahead of me, and if someone asked me what a violin was, I wouldn't know the answer. Even I would say that if someone at that time had traveled to the past and shown me my future, I would have probably burst out laughing while I would carry on serving drinks at the pub.
I grew up in Aguiño, a beautiful fishing village in the Rias Baixas of Galicia, in the province of A Coruña. In Aguiño people are hardworking and humble. My father, for example, has worked since he was nine years old and my mother since she was twelve. I was lucky to have to start working in the pub at fifteen.
Music always accompanied me in my life, although I had never listened to a classical music concert, neither in a concert hall nor on the radio; other types of music were part of my lifehood. It was at fourteen when I had my first impresive musical experience.
Our English teacher at school, Mr. Camilo Rumbao, was the first musician who crossed in my path.
Don Camilo plays the piano and organ, loves music, and when he taught English in the village school he decided to start a small “rondalla” of children with mandolins, lutes and guitars. He made a selection of children between 9 and 12 years old, and I saw with sadness I had been left out of the musical activity. That couldn't be, so I asked him to please let me join the group. And then I had my first audition: singing a popular song in different keys... or at least I think that's what happened, because I didn't know what different keys were, but somehow I followed the piano. A great success!
So I started playing the mandolin. None of us had basic notions of music theory, so Don Camilo invented his own method. First he taught us the names of the notes, which we all put in the frets of the instruments, and then he wrote all the scores with the name of the notes in the following way: "F, E, E__, E, E, E___, F, E, E, C____, ____,C, B, A___, A, G, F___” and so forth. For longer notes, he wrote a line (____ ) below them; well, a very interesting and effective method!I loved playing in the “rondalla”. We played folk songs in church, and medleys of the hits of classical music.
At that point, I started High School, and I wanted to learn more. After a year I asked him if he could teach me to read real music, and he said: “That’s really something, but if you want to do it and are really looking forward to it, I will devote one hour a day to teach you.
I was very happy! That is how I learned to sing sheet music and theory. I have to say that Don Camilo always taught me altruistically and never accepted any payment neither for the lessons nor or for his work with the “rondalla” which all the village enjoyed.
A few months later, Don Camilo appeared for school with a instrument case, a book and a cassette player. He said: “I want you to hear something.” The music started playing was wonderful. “It's a string quartet.” I had no clue about what he was saying. And he showed me the case: “Raquel, do you know what this is? It's a violin. I really love the violin, but I have no time to learn. If you want I can lend it ot you and you can try and play it”.
My dream was beginning to take shape even before I could dream it, all thanks to the genuine generosity of this person.
I will never forget the smell of the violin and the feeling I had the first time I took it in my hands. Its sound... it was so sweet to me, despite all the creaks of the beginning. So at sixteen years old I started to scratch the violin 10 minutes every other day. I loved it, but I didn’t have any sheet music for violin, so I tried to extract the melodies of the songs I liked.
After two years I moved to Santiago de Compostela to study COU (the course before university), where I registered in the Conservatory. My violin lessons were fifteen minutes long, so I had time to tune and little else. In my first year I only had four classes! I wanted to learn more and that was how, after passing the audition for the “Xoven Orquestra de Galicia”, I went on tour with them to South America one month! How amazing! I was sure that what I wanted in my life was to be a musician, but it was so hard! I didn’t have regular teacher, and I saw it as an elusive dream. So I began an English Language and Literature degree while I was playing in the orchestra.There I met Germán Clavijo, back then a violinist (now violist of the London Symphony Orquestra and viola professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama). I heard him play Bach’s Chaconna, and the emotions that I felt were indescribable. He then made me listen to Sibelius’ concerto! My God, how was it possible that something like that could exist? And that is how we became a couple, and after that came Brahms’, Tchaikovsky’s and Prokofiev’s concertos, among others; sonatas; quartets; symphonies, and a lot more works. And he introduced me to his teacher Lev Chistyakov, member of the Moscow virtuosi.
I then began my regular violin studies. I travelled nine hours by bus every weekend to receive classes from him. A wonderful teacher, very dedicated, who despite my low level for my age (I was 21), trusted my ability, and in two years he prepared me to enter the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The level I achieved thanks to his classes allowed me to play in several professional orchestras to save money and fulfill my dream: to continue studying violin and become a good professional. Meanwhile, I continued with my English degree, which came in handy when I went to study in London.
Before my audition for the Guildhall I had classes with several teachers. They were so different... each one focused on different aspects and they all had very interesting methods of work. Detlef Hahn was one of those teachers that I loved and with whom I wanted to study at the Guildhall. I passed the audition and so I began my higher studies violin. My first two years were very hard. I saw that the level was very high, and I felt that maybe I couldn't reach it... but being a stubborn Galician, and supported by the confidence that Detlef had in me, I always studied when my job (in the library) left me time - I didn’t get a scholarship, so I had to make a living too. In my second year I got a scholarship and I felt calmer. Detlef, a great violinist, told me a lot about expressiveness, about telling a story through playing, about imagination and good body awareness to do all this. In those years I began to give my first violin and piano recitals in Spain and England and experienced the warmth of the audience.
My third course in the Guildhall was a takeoff. Detlef asked me what I would like to play. My dream was Sibelius’ concerto, and he said: go for it!
Phew! I couldn't stop studying. My whole time was devoted to the concert. It was a dream come true, and it helped me to take off and start flying and feeling the music and the violin in a different way. Despite everything I saw I had ahead, I was really enjoying it! I had no doubt, this was my thing.
That summer I went to Salzburg to do a summer course. I was not sure who with, but someone had recommended a teacher named Mauricio Fuks. I went to my first class and I was nervous, there were many people listening. Moreover, this teacher had a strong and special presence.
I started playing, and after a while I made a mistake and stopped. He stood up and said: “My dear, why did you stop? We are all enjoying it, please start enjoying it as well.” The class was amazing and changed the course of my future. I couldn't stop listening to his classes and learning many things. As the week passed, I was moved by the art, passion and knowledge in his teaching and the dedication he had for his students. I wanted to study with this great teacher. I was more than clear to me.
In one of the course breaks I approached him and asked him for two minutes of his time. I said: “Maestro, I want to study with you, would it be possible? What should I do?” He told me: “Well, the truth is that my college hours are full, but if you want you can come for private lessons”.
Of course! I had to find the way. From that time until my first trip to Bloomington I never stopped thinking about my goal. So I studied, finished my BA in London, saved and crossed the ocean.
Here begins the third stop on my journey. I arrived in Bloomington, in the state of Indiana. The best time of year for the views: autumn, full of trees with leaves of all colours; great people with a beautiful campus, and many students with an international and marvellous atmosphere.
I started my classes and a new road opened up in front of me. I listened to all the classes I could, and I learned a lot. I could not afford to take classes regularly; I had one every three weeks or so, and spent the rest of the time studying and listening to other classes. I loved everything that I was living: the experience of my new feelings with the violin, as well as the level of the students I listened to, and marvelled to see their progress.
After a few months, I auditioned for College. After the audition, Professor Fuks had a talk with me in which he told me that he thought that I had good qualities as a teacher, so as well as having lessons with him, the asked me to work with some of his students. He guided me and told me how to do it. So, I began my Performer Diploma with the experience of teaching that would mark and important part of my professional future. I then continued with a master’s degree in Music, in which I had my first experiences as a soloist and continued giving recitals. In those years I met Yuval Gotlibovich, now my husband (who at that time was a student and later was also appointed professor of viola) and constant source of inspiration.
With Professor Fuks I have not only grown as a violinist and teacher, but also as a person. I will always appreciate all the trust he has placed in me and the opportunities he has offered me.
In my final year of my master’s degree, I did audition to be a teacher in Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (Catalonia higher music conservatory), and after being selected, I started my job at the school in September 2004.
During these ten years I have learned a lot from my students, and I am very happy and proud of all the work each has done and is doing. Although I am often strict, they stand up to it, and each one of their achievements is also mine.
In these ten years I've had many and varied experiences playing with great artists who have inspired and enriched me, encouraging me to continue enjoying and sharing music with the public.
If my short story has anything to offer, it is that sometimes the logical step to take is one that is illogical. You must swim against the tide if you see that you can’t swim with it.I am eternally grateful to all the people I have mentioned above, for their faith in me and the doors they have opened for me, teaching me so much about art and life. I assure you that everything is engraved ond me and is now part of my understanding of music and people.
I am eternally grateful to all those people who I cannot mention because their names are still unknown to me right now, and will continue to inspire me and be part of my journey in the future.
Photos by Giovanni Bettinello.
Interviews Faro de Vigo & La Voz de Galícia