Antonio Oyarzábal

Unveiling the Hidden Gems of Female Composers

by Irene Urrutia Martín (16.02.2023)

The London-based Basque pianist talks about his latest album "El Fin del Silencio" (The End Of Silence) of works by Latin American women composers and the challenges he has faced in his career in finding repertoire and scores by women composers. He also talks about his work taking his repertoire of women's music to prestigious concert halls such as the Palacio Euskalduna in Bilbao, George's Hall in Bristol, the Philharmonic Society of Gran Canaria, festivals such as the Wimbledon International Festival and the Leicester International Festival. And his appointment as ambassador for Donne, Women in Music.

About Antonio |

Antonio Oyarzábal is a Basque solo and chamber pianist based in London, where he obtained his Masters and Artist Diploma at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has performed in major venues such as the Barbican Hall and LSO St Luke's in London, and has performed at festivals and concert halls in several European countries. Antonio has given numerous concerts as a soloist with orchestra, including Mozart's Concerto No. 20 with the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra and conductor Juanjo Mena. The promotion and diffusion of pieces composed by women is a fundamental part of his career as a pianist, which has led him to be appointed ambassador of the organisation Donne, Women in Music.

Donne, Women in Music. |

How would you introduce yourself?

As a Basque pianist residing in London, focused on performing, recording, researching, and teaching repertoire written by female composers.

You have just released your album "El Fin del Silencio" with music by Latin American female composers, but it’s not the first album you have recorded with works by female composers. What inspired you to record these last two albums exclusively with works by female composers?

I have always wondered where they were; creators who did not appear in books, who almost no one taught us in class, and yet their presence was felt. In the most natural way and when the time has deemed it appropriate, and surely motivated by the great influence of women in all areas of my life, I open my particular Pandora's box of research and thus "La Muse Oubliée" (The Forgotten Muse) begins to take shape, the first of these projects.

The album 'El fin del Silencio' (The End Of Silence) is a way to confirm my commitment and specialization in the repertoire written by women, making visible female musical productions of the last two centuries. Some of the pieces on this album have been recorded for the first time.

I dream of a day when we don't have to measure the percentage of works written by women included in classical music programs; a day when it will be absolutely natural to listen to concerts with music by female composers for at least half the program. It will mean normalization. Until then, there is much work to be done, and it largely depends on us performers to build the change.

For all these reasons, I am dedicated to this project with passion. If this album helps a little more in amplifying and making visible all that great music left in a dark room, it will make me very happy.

HerStory: The Piano Collection

HerStory: The Piano Collection

HerStory: The Piano Collection presents invaluable repertoire by remarkable female composers across the ages.

Was it difficult for you to find the repertoire and corresponding scores? Is it more difficult to find repertoire written by women?

Many of the works have been quite difficult to find, as they are not currently published or edited, even though they may have been in the past or not. I had to spend many hours behind the computer or in archives like the National Library of London researching, although I have also had help from generous and professional people for providing me with data for the location of certain works, or in some cases, even sending them to me.

What differences have you experienced in the research, creation, and/or interpretative process of this new album compared to "La Muse Oubliée"?

The works in the repertoire used in “La Muse Oubliée” speak for themselves as pianistic gems, and belong to authors who for the most part had (or have recently had) greater visibility than the composers of “El Fin del Silencio”.

The purpose of this new album is a little more to act as a catalog, and it is less focused on presenting an album that could function as a concert recital, and more focused on putting the emphasis very specifically on the pianistic production of 21 Latin American composers of classical music of the last 150 years, vindicating their importance and sonic idiosyncrasy.

Do you think that playing works by women has somehow harmed or benefited your musical career? Is it easier to be successful with more mainstream works?

I don't think it has harmed or benefited me. I feel a very special calling to continue on this particular path that I find so important and that gives me so much professionally and personally. In that respect, I feel very satisfied with the effort I put into trying to do this with honesty and my best efforts, and that is the greatest "benefit."

On the other hand, feeling this responsibility and commitment does not mean that I do not play music written by male composers. For example, in November, I will be playing Ravel's Concerto in G (my favorite concerto) at Cadogan Hall in London, where I recently debuted with Poulenc's Concerto, another male composer's work.

You have performed in venues such as the Botín Foundation, the March Foundation, the International Festival of Paxos, and at the Euskalduna Palace in Bilbao under the direction of Juanjo Mena. Furthermore, to what extent can you incorporate research on repertoire by female composers into larger concerts?

To the extent that I am allowed, and when the larger venues trust my work. For example, I feel very fortunate to have been able to bring my entire repertoire of female composers to venues such as the Euskalduna Palace in Bilbao, St George's Hall in Bristol, the Philharmonic Society of Gran Canaria, festivals such as the Wimbledon International Festival or the Leicester International Festival, and in the coming months, I am lucky enough to bring it to the Arriaga in Bilbao, the Philharmonic Society of Valencia, the Finding a Voice Festival in Ireland, or the University of California and Florida.

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What is the work that you have played that you are most proud of? Do you regret playing any work or composer?

I don't regret playing any work. Some result in more pleasant experiences than others, but I have learned from everything. I don't know if "proud" is the right word, but I remember with fondness and a lot of personal satisfaction the hard work I did to prepare Mozart's Concerto in D minor for my debut with the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra and Juanjo Mena a couple of years ago.

As an ambassador of the British Donne Foundation, could you tell us more about who or what Donne is and what this role means to you?

Donne, Women in Music is a leading organization in its support and visibility of music written by women, and women musicians in general. They commission works, organize concerts, support artists, have a list with information on more than 5000 female composers, and many other activities. Because of my particular work in this area, they named me one of their ambassadors. It was a very special recognition for me.

Some people could find it a bit confusing to see a man as an ambassador of a foundation that supports women. What could you say about this?

I don't understand in what sense it can be confusing. From my point of view, there is a lot of work to be done to bring to light a repertoire that has been unfairly silenced throughout history, and I firmly believe that it doesn't matter the gender of the person who wants to help. What matters is that there are people, women and men, who join in this work.

How do you see the shift from physical to digital format? Has it ever made it easier for you to find sheet music in PDF format? Do you prefer one format over the other?

Yes! It's very helpful in certain situations, for example when time is tight and a project is approaching, being able to buy sheet music in downloadable PDF format. There have been situations where the only possibility for me was to buy a piece that came from the United States, and considering the distance and that everything has slowed down enormously with Brexit, I could have waited for months!

Women Composers

Women Composers

A progressive compendium of educational literature with a broad repertoire from the 17th century to the present day.

In the past, women have written under the names of men in order to be able to publish their works. Do you think prejudices regarding women performers and composers persist?

Many women had to write under pseudonyms to be able to publish and be considered in the musical field. Obviously, things have changed, but there is still a lot to do. Just take a look at the percentages of works by female composers programmed by orchestras, or at the contracts of women performers in orchestras such as the Wiener Philharmoniker, which did not admit any women until 1997, or any female conductor until 2005.

What is your favorite work written by a female composer?

It's very difficult to choose one, but the Vieille Priére Bouddhique for orchestra, choir and tenor soloist by Lili Boulanger is undoubtedly one of my favorites. It is absolutely enormous and magical.

Thank you very much, Antonio, for taking the time to do this interview!

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