Thirteen Strings: Alexandre Da Costa takes charge of his own destiny

Alexandre Da Costa. Photo: Alexandre Vovan

Alexandre Da Costa‘s musical talent has taken him a long way … literally.

All the way to the Perth, Australia, in fact, where he is an associate professor at the Western Australian Academy for the Performing Arts.

“I have been there for three and a half years now,” Da Costa said in an interview in advance of his upcoming concert with Thirteen Strings in Ottawa. “It’s a bit far, but it has been a great experience and I love teaching, so I’m happy to do it.”

The classical music scene Down Under is very active, he says.

“There are lots of orchestras and lots of chamber music, all at a high level,” he said. “Last year, for example, I was at the Huntington Estate Music Festival on a major winery in New South Wales. It was an amazing 10 days of chamber music and the public was extremely faithful.

“It’s a beautiful place. It has been good to see a country that is inspiring and I hope that I have inspired my students to think of professional careers in music.”

But his Australian days may be coming to an end as his schedule, which has always been packed, is even busier than before he says.

“I have so much happening in terms of concerts and other opportunities that I really want to do, that I might have to cut it loose. You always have to make choices.”

His Australian adventure does have the benefit of keeping Da Costa in one place for a few months at a time and that offered some stability for his family including a four year old.

“It was important to spend some time with my family in one spot so I bring them with me to Australia. A travelling musician doesn’t always get to spend a lot of time in the same place.”

While he travels around the world to perform, Da Costa always fits in performances with musical friends such as the players in Thirteen Strings.

“Invitations to play come from all over,” he said, but some offers are easier to accept because of the close connections that have been made over the years.

At the time of this interview Da Costa was in Colorado playing with “a friend of mine, Josep Caballé Domenech, who conducts the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. Wherever he brings me in I’m excited … to make music with him. I trust him and respect him and have fun with him. This is very different from being hired to do a ‘job’.”

He feels the same way about Thirteen Strings.

“Every time I play with them, I see familiar faces. When I leave Ottawa I don’t feel that I have been working. I feel that I have been having a good time with colleagues. This means a lot. Definitely if I could always have it my way I would go to play with friends and people I love. But it’s not always like this.”

The concert he is performing in Ottawa on June 3 is a stripped down version of a show Da Costa has put together that features operatic music performed on the violin.

He believes it’s a natural marriage.

“I am a big fan of opera but I never get to play the music because I don’t play in a pit very often. I knew that if I wanted this music to be part of my professional life I would have to make a special effort.”

The violin is very close to the human voice in its essence and so “I can cover repertoire that goes from soprano to tenor,” Da Costa said. “In some ways, I am more flexible than the actual voice.”

He said he has researched this aspect of music making and has found many examples of opera music arranged for a violin soloist.

The research has resulted in a program he calls Stradivarius at the Opera.

Originally he had some 20 pieces arranged. That was whittled down to 12 for a recording he made with the Vienna Symphony. Then he took the idea and brought it to a production company called Spectra Musique.

“They made a big show out of it. This was my first step into a new world of performing.”

It’s a path he wants to pursue in the future, he said.

“I think it is the kind of thing that will attract a new public to the concert hall. As musicians we should always do this sort of thing in a proactive way. Sticking to the classics is one thing but we also need to offer the public something different all the time. We need to convince people that classical music is exciting and it’s actually very beautiful.

“I think this program will be very attractive to people who know about classical music, but it also will be attractive to people getting their first experience in a concert hall. The show makes people realize they are much closer to classical music than they think.”

The new venture also offers Da Costa is a chance to lead an ensemble from the violin.

“I love to do this. In my schedule I love to have a mix of classic solo work with projects such as this. I feel it is very healthy and I also feel that I’m reaching different publics especially younger people.”

In many ways, Da Costa is becoming a music director in his own right. Part of that determination to lead has come from his time in Australia. And it’s also come from running a successful festival in the Mont Tremblant region for the past five years. The Laurentians International Festival runs in July in 10 venues from Mont Tremblant to Mont Laurier.

And perhaps the fact that he is turning 40 is adding impetus to his desire to be fully in charge of his own future.

“I like being the master of my own destiny.

“For a long time other people have been choosing where I should go and what I should do. I felt it was time for me, after 20 years of being a guest soloist playing pieces conductors wanted me to play. … Now I want to be able to propose projects that are different and new and refreshing. It is more satisfying (for me) to be able to say, at the end of the day, I have done more than just played the notes very well. I have done something that has advanced the industry.”

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Thirteen Strings with Alexandre Da Costa, violin
Where: Dominion Chalmers United Church
When: June 3 at 3 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.