Many people think that being an artist is effortless but it’s not, from a certain championship (…) it gives as much or even more work than being a high-level athlete.
Henrique Portovedo, Aveiro, 2016
Today he is one of the most sought-after saxophone soloists.
He sets contemporary music as the reason of his art.
He is a Portuguese artist without borders, as complete as his passion for music.
He lives intensely what he does but does not like to do the same thing for a long time. That’s why he divides himself between the instrument and the sound design. We sat down to talk with Henrique Portovedo.
Ubber White (UW): Why music and why the saxophone?
Henrique Portovedo (HP): For family reasons. My grandfather who was very fond of music and particularly the instrument, referred me to this kind of learning. I was about 11 or 12 years. I fell in love until today.
UW: How do you find your place in contemporary music?
HP: Contemporary music is just a location of the context in which I move. It doesn’t mean that I don’t work outside of contemporary music.My work is mostly connected to contemporary music because it’s production of musical contents today.
UW: What inspires you?
HP: All people inspire me. Often the inspiration for a particular work comes from the person who is not another artist involved in the production. A major advantage of this context is the proliferation of contacts and the amount of people that we relate to. So, I do not mean anyone in particular, otherwise I could be unfair. But there are a lot of names that , in a lucky and also fortuitous way, I had the pleasure of meeting. And there are artists who inspire me a lot. For example, one of them is Rui Costa who is a photographer.
Because these are the people with whom I most contact with on a daily basis, they are the ones that usually inspire me the most. A chat over coffee or coming up with a sentence or other lead me to think that, perhaps, it is material to do something.
Overall, the inspiration is living. Living with availability to live. That is the greatest source of inspiration that anyone can have.
I think that to live with availability, to be able to share, without fear of what we will get is the greatest source of inspiration.
UW: Your repertoire includes the debut of more than 30 works. That’s a great achievement.
HP: In fact, there are more. Those 30 works were written specifically so I could achieve performance or its debut as an interpreter. In groups, ensembles, groups with more people, I certainly did far more than 30 premieres. But that it is not so important.
The most important thing about that it is being someone who deserves the composers’ trust when they write something. To see the work sprouting, living, it is a very distressing time for the composer, because he is to hand over his work to a person he is going to trust and the public will believe that what the musician did was the work that the composer wrote , created.
Therefore, that number (30) is essentially a reliable validation of the composers.
UW: You are also a sound artist and a sound designer, which allows you to work regularly in television and theater. What is this aspect of your work?
HP: A sound designer is basically a person who programs sound synthesis. That is, the creation of sounds, it’s the manipulation of sound material that is reshaped. It’s often picking up a single frequency and giving it other features so that sound frequency gets richer.
The sound art can consist of musicalizing an advertisement, making music for a movie or a play. Sound art has to do with the manipulation of sounds.
It’s also something that I love to do.
UW: How important are the awards you’ve already received?
HP: Absolutely none. And when I say absolutely none, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like to receive the award, but the award itself doesn’t change anything at the aesthetic way I decide to take at some point. That is, it’s not because I received an award that I will possibly channel an upcoming project towards that area or start thinking that if received an award in this area I must change radically to another.
The importance of the awards is really the weight you end up having in the biography. Because of the award, more people are paying attention to our work. Now, in our business, in the music business it doesn’t have absolutely any importance. It’s something as subjective as art itself. So it isn’t something that is divisive in an artist’s career.
UW: What was your biggest challenge so far?
HP: There was a challenge last year that was premiering a work of a Portuguese composer, Hugo Correia, at the World Saxophone Congress, where I had to play with+ a French orchestra. The Congress was in Strasbourg, the room was huge, with about 2000 people, with the particularity of being full of saxophonists. I confess that it messed me up a bit. I felt a very great weight. Not that this has influenced my performance. At times we walk into the stage, with the experience and practice, playing for three people or a crowd is basically the same. But there were critics there, specifically from this area of action, people who do this professionally. In addition, Hugo had studied in France and never a Portuguese musician had played solo with that band. And if the Portuguese are extremely insightful, the French are much more highly discerning and critical towards who isn’t French. So doing a song that has nothing to do with the current French aesthetic language, nor the most experimental jazz nor the electronic … I knew that, aesthetically, it was something very personal, something I can’t say it’s European or American, it’s Hugo Correia. Being there doing it for the French intimidated me a little.
But the real big challenge is to work every day.
UW: What do you mean?
HP: Many people think that being an artist is effortless but it’s not, from a certain championship.I can only play live, do this kind of work if get an average of 5, 6, 7 hours of study only with the instrument, in addition to all the work of analyzis, contacts, etc that has to be done after. We are talking about people who have a normal working schedule of 8, 9, often 10 hours a day. This is the great challenge.
We all like to have Sundays and Saturdays, but this is not at all possible most of the year, just on vacation.
We don’t speak very much about it, I think.
As much as we like what we do it’s difficult to keep a discipline for so long and the fact of relaxing brings us even disadvantages.
Playing an instrument is something extremely physical. So it gives as much or even more work than being a high-level athlete.There are fingers to be working, in my case there are lips to be functioning. I think it’s more complicated than to practice some sports, we work large muscle groups. In this case, we are working with extremely fine motor skills.
UW: You are the founder and artistic director of Aveiro Sax Fest. How does this festival appear?
HP: Yes, along with João Figueiredo. It’s a festival that exists since 2008, connected to the specialty. There were historical reasons for its creation. The Aveiro music conservatory always had the particularity of having many saxophonists. There was a teacher who was Fernando Valente, a very sui generis person who encouraged many people to follow music and I was still his student.There was a festival in Aveiro which I believe was the Transmusicas, the predecessor of the Outras Músicas (Other Musics) , and that was the first sounds festival of the world in Aveiro. Fernando created a very interesting dynamic in the city. After his death, there was no one that had given continuity to this work. Then I remembered that one of the things we could do, in his honor, would be organizing a saxophone festival that might continue to increase the number of students around the instrument.
In addition, the city is fantastic. It has enough size to look extremely urban, without the complications of a extremely urban city. It is very easy to program the festival with big names, because people want and like to come to Aveiro.
UW: Do you do any specific preparation before each performance?
HP: I do more and more physical training, like a sportsman, particularly in stages where I have concerts with a certain responsibility and that I know they will require more from me, either psychologically or physically. That is, the way I support myself psychologically is increasingly physical, with physical training. So when I have, for example, conferences or solo concerts, when I’m alone on stage, then I do a very rigorous physical preparation.
UW: How do you see Ubber White?
HP: Ubber White found a very funny way to use sneakers as an artistic support, the object that supports the art is the sneaker. When I was explained the concept of the brand, I felt there was something more than the mere commercial aspect and that has to do with the object which allows the art to be enjoyed. Art can exist without support, but it will never be enjoyed if you don’t have a platform which allows an artistic object. In this case, the artistic object is in the feet and goes everywhere. It’s very interesting.
Between notes of kindness and musical scores of stories and projects, much more could be said about Henrique Portovedo.
Nothing like discovering it.