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"The piano was my first choice, but then I fell in love with the cello"

Catarina Gonçalves, who has been a member of the Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra for the last four years, cannot hide her pride and happiness in working side by side with some of the teachers from her school days. The piano was her first passion, but when she first heard her teacher play the cello she surrendered. On the 30th anniversary of Metropolitana, today we talk to the young lady from Braga who still finds it strange when she is called “teacher”.

You have been with Metropolitana since 2018. How was the journey to get here?
I started studying the cello at the age of ten at Conservatório de Música Calouste Gulbenkian, in Braga. I did my course there until the eighth grade. And it was from that point on that I joined the National Academy of Advanced Orchestral Studies. Those were times of great learning.

And what do you make of these four years in the orchestra, plus the time you studied at ANSO?
It has been a very positive balance, extremely gratifying. When I finished my degree, there was a period when I was abroad, in Germany, but after I came back to Portugal I auditioned for the orchestra.

And you got in…
Fortunately I made it and it’s been very good, because, apart from being in the house where I grew up, so to speak, I am amongst colleagues, friends, some of them the teachers from my school days.

It must be a strange feeling, that of now playing alongside former teachers…
Yes, at the beginning it was a bit strange, but now they are colleagues and it is natural to establish a relationship with them that is more than strictly professional.

And you continue to learn from them…
Yes, of course, and that is very stimulating for someone of my generation. Basically, every day I share the vision of these professionals who have been working in the orchestra and teaching for so many years. I now have the privilege of having them as colleagues and being able to learn from them, now more directly and more personally.

And to learn in various dimensions, because it’s not only the orchestral dimension…
Exactly, we have the opportunity to do chamber music, which is always a different, more intimate way of experiencing music. It’s really an added value.

“To hear ‘good morning, teatcher’ is a strange feeling”

But this is not only learning, it is also teaching and sharing what you know, because you are already on the other side of the “barricade”, as a teacher. What is that process like? Don’t you think it’s all happening too fast?
Well, it’s not easy at all. You gain experience, the years go by, but it’s a difficult adaptation, I admit.

Do you still find it strange when they call you teacher?
A little bit, a little bit. At the moment I’m not giving lessons, I’m really just in the orchestra, but I’ve actually given lessons in other years, when I went back to Metropolitana. I even taught at the Conservatory and, really, I have to confess that entering the building where I studied and suddenly hearing “hello, teacher”, is a very strange feeling. But it’s part of the growing process.

Let’s go back a little to your origins in Braga. How was your passion for music? Was it immediate?
My family always instilled in me a taste for music, even though my parents were not musicians. My father likes music very much, he is an amateur, and he always instilled in me this taste for music.

Classical or other music?
No, it was other kind of music. More guitar or singing in choirs [laughs]. I always grew up surrounded by music and so it was relatively natural. My parents enrolled me in the Conservatoire at the time and it was a natural evolutionary path.

So you already knew what to expect.
Yes, yes, that’s right. I’d already had some lessons, so I had some musical notions. I’d also had some piano lessons. In fact, when I enrolled at the Conservatoire, I actually wanted piano…

And why didn’t you continue?
Because there were no more vacancies for piano. And I ended up choosing the cello.

So the piano was your first passion…
Yes, the piano was my initial choice. The very first passion, but then I fell in love with the cello.

It’s not quite the same, neither in technique nor in sound.
It’s true, but I always say that it’s good to have played the piano because it gives me a more harmonious notion of the whole musical process. In fact, I think it’s good that children can play several instruments at the Conservatory, so that they can choose the instrument they want or the one that suits them best.

Your life would eventually link you to the cello. Do you remember the first time you played this instrument?
Honestly, I don’t remember when it was the first time I played the cello, but I remember the first time my teacher played it for me. And I vividly remember the room and that I became fascinated by the sound of the cello.

So she was an outstanding teacher. What’s her name?
Raquel Alves.

Are you and her still connected?
Yes, yes. She was my godmother at my wedding and everything [laughs]. I have great admiration for her and she continues to be a great influence on me. And way beyond the cello. At this moment, it’s a more personal influence, at the level of human relationships.

“I hope to continue to be part of Metropolitana’s growth”.

Metropolitana is celebrating its 30th anniversary. That is your age, which is a funny coincidence. How do you face this anniversary?
I look at it with a lot of optimism. We all know the difficulties that Metropolitana has been through, but despite all that, it is an institution that renews itself, that reinvents itself at every moment. It is a pleasure for me to be living these very important years. And I hope to continue to be part of this growth of the institution.

It’s been 20 years since you entered the Music Conservatory, back in Braga. What’s left of that little girl?
What’s left? Well, there’s nothing left, but there’s still so much missing. I have so much to learn.

We’ll rephrase our question: what is there in the 30-year-old Catarina today that was already there in the ten-year-old girl?
This is a very profound question [laughs]. I don’t know, maybe the naivety, sometimes, the capacity to dream, to grow. There’s the ambition to valorise myself more.

If you enjoyed meeting Catarina Gonçalves, you can also read the interview with Diana Tzonkova, the most long-standing member of Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra.