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Marcio da Silva

Marcio da Silva

Marcio da Silva, music director of the Hastings Philharmonic Choir and the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra

Marcio da Silva, conductor, singer and stage director, talks with HOT’s Chandra Masoliver about his life, music, and his work in Hastings and beyond.

CM: Please tell me about your childhood in Brazil and how music came into your life.

Young Marcio at the piano

Young Marcio at the piano

MdS: I was born in 1983 in Belo Horizonte. I come from a somewhat musical family – my grandfather played the piano and sang in a choir, my grandmother played the piano, and my great-grandfather, Gil Lemos, was a composer. It was mainly my grandmother who made a lot of effort on my behalf, and she started me with the piano.


Marcio with his grandmother

Marcio with his grandmother

I began my singing career when I was nine, which is not so young to start; I sang in a church choir. Then my grandmother created a choir herself. Soon I joined the State Opera Theatre Children’s Choir. We did three operas each year, Tosca was the first I sang in, and it is still my favourite opera. I have done a lot of Puccini.

Then my mother began buying video tapes, and my grandmother wrote to newspapers in Brazil. When I was eleven I did a big solo, Song to Peace, 32,000 people watched it, and a newspaper said they wanted to write a children’s column about me. My grandmother called the music director where she was working, and made a CD with me as soloist and my mother sent the video to the prestigious television chat show Jo Soares.

Marcio sings solo with choir

Marcio sings solo with choir

It all went crazy, the phone didn’t stop ringing for two days, we made CDs, and I went on thirteen TV shows. It really blew up – I loved it! I traveled around with my mother, and we stayed in hotels. Meanwhile I attended a Jesuit school for thirteen years; I was a good student. Our choir became the best children’s choir in Brazil, and in 1997, when I was fourteen, we went to Europe. I had my first girlfriend – this was a good time in my life.

CM: You mentioned going to the United States, could you take your story up from there?

MdS: Before my voice broke, in 1998, my mother was approached by someone in Phoenix, Arizona, we went there – she made sure he paid for our tickets, and I sang solo in the Phoenix Voice Choir. I was given voice lessons, but then I felt the need to go back to Brazil. My voice changed, I kept singing high for a long time, and also I sang in a low register, with a raw immature bass voice, and nothing in the middle.

In New York I met the chairman of the Manhattan School of Music, he wanted me to study there, but I was only fifteen, so he said I should return when I was eighteen. Back in Brazil, I decided to create a vocal ensemble of eight friends, called Grupo Angels. I conducted, and we did well; we worked very hard, rehearsing three times a week. So I sang and conducted until I finished high school. I did less on television – the ensemble was my baby, and my grandmother helped a lot.

Marcio with his mother

Marcio with his mother

As arranged, when I was eighteen I went to New York, I was offered a full scholarship, plus sponsorship. But I felt I needed to be in Brazil, I told my mother, and she actually pleaded on her knees, begging me, but I came back home. It wasn’t very wise.

I didn’t study singing, after some time in Brazil I realised that wasn’t what I wanted – I wanted to go to Europe. First, I went to New York to earn the money for it, but it didn’t work out, I was very poor. I was offered a place at the Manhatten School of Music, but this time it was without sponsorship. At the same time my mother moved to France – she was married to a French man. Meanwhile, I studied Italian, I worked very hard at it, and hoped to study there, but I ended up in Toulouse at the Conservatory where I studied singing for three years, and choral conducting for two years. I learnt a lot, it was a great three years.

Then I had a bad year in Marseille, at the CNIPAL Opera Studio, (Centre nationale d’insertion professionelle d’artistes lyriques), that didn’t go well, and I wanted to focus on conducting. I decided to go to Germany.

Marcio with Professor Thomas Toscanini

Marcio with Professor Thomas Toscano

I studied in Freiburg for three and a half years and got my BA there. I learnt a great deal, Scott Sandmeier was my teacher – sometimes he comes to Hastings to conduct.

Conducted by Scott Sandmeyer Marcios Teacher in Freiburg

Conducted by Scott Sandmeier Marcio’s Teacher in Freiburg

After that I wanted to be in a big city to do my MA. Peter Stark, from the Royal College of Music, invited me to London, and although it was past the deadline for that year, I was accepted. They only take one student for conducting each year, it’s a two-year course, so at any one time there is a lot of opportunity to work, I learnt so much and in 2013 I got my Masters.


CM: And now you are in Hastings, we are very lucky. Why did you decide to live here, and what projects have you been involved in?

MdS: In December 2015 I got my job in Hastings, as music director of the Hastings Philharmonic Choir (HPC), and also with the Grange Choral Society in Dorset, which was founded by Peter Stark’s father. I decided to live in Hastings because I felt there is a great artistic momentum, and I could do a lot here; I felt welcomed by the choir, and there was a very good chemistry between us. Property prices were reasonable, and by then I had two children – my son Antonio was born in 2013, and my daughter Lara in October 2015. My ex-wife is the violinist Aysen Ulucan.

When Aysen played the Sibelius Violin Concerto here in 2015 Brian Hicks wrote a review where he suggested we do an orchestral concert, so the idea of the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra (HPO) was born. It took a commitment of a hundred percent, and a lot of support and daring and craziness, and in 2016-17 we had our first season.

They say that if you last for five seasons you’ve made it, we’re on our fourth. We need lots of sponsorship, that’s what pays – small donations, and the Friends scheme, and most of all, the audience. I dare anyone to find an orchestra that survives on so little.

CM: Are you involved in other projects beyond Hastings?

MdS: Yes, as well as my work here in Hastings and in Dorset. From 2012 until its final year in 2018 I was also the music director of the Woodhouse Opera Festival in Surrey. This offered an opportunity for young opera singers, and I conducted and stage directed over twenty operas there, both well-known ones and some that are less often performed. I loved doing this, it was an opportunity given to me by Monika Saunders, who passed away last year. She was the creator of the festival.

Ensemble OrQuesta

Ensemble OrQuesta

I am also artistic, music, and stage director for the Ensemble OrQuesta, which I founded in 2013, it’s dedicated to performing baroque music. We’ve performed at the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre and the Cockpit. I consider myself a conductor, a singer and a stage director.

Music has been part of who I am for all my life, so it’s difficult to look at it as a separate thing. Now, a lot of my work doesn’t directly have to do with music, but with administration. However, I try to bring music into my everyday life. I’ve picked up on the Baroque recorder, I like to challenge myself, I’m always practicing – the guitar and the harpsichord as well. I also compose music, it’s not a big part of my life because it takes so much time, though I am proud of some things I’ve written. For me, the main thing about music is the creative part, I don’t do that only in music, but mainly so, because that is who I am.

CM: What is the secret of making anything you conduct or direct so exciting?

MdS: If I have a secret, it is that I always think of the audience. I am not a purist. Making things interesting is my great priority, I try to make anything I work on both coherent and exciting.

I rely a hundred percent on trust, and therefore we are able to improve. I consider myself extremely strict. Here in Hastings we may spend half an hour on a single bar, though it takes less time now because we have been working together for so long.

At my first interview my teacher Peter Stark asked me “Who do you think is the most important person?” If I was humble, I would say the composer, but I don’t agree with that, I think the audience is the most important, and the piece itself. I feel free to take liberties if I feel at home with a certain style, I don’t think twice about changing things for today’s audience. Temperament is important.

CM: When you conduct at times you almost dance, as if you ‘are’ the music.

MdS: You should have seen me some years ago! I now fight against being too extreme. To do that job well you must be in control, if you allow yourself to ‘be’ the music a hundred percent, you lose both control and contact with the orchestra. I have to find a compromise, I have to inspire people, not to watch me but to do it with me.

My stage directing has a lot to do with dancing, since I approach baroque operas in a stylised way.

CM: Please tell me a bit about how you choose your repertoire, you seem to have made very international choices.

MdS: With HPC I like a mixture of standard works and more unknown works. I think the audience needs a mixture. When I was younger I would only think about what I like to perform, now I’m also starting to think about what people want to hear.

Mustapha Kemal Ataturk Composition Competition

Mustapha Kemal Ataturk Composition Competition

I am an international person, I have no choice about that. In the ‘Magic Flute’ this summer Sarastro was Turkish and Papageno Brazilian, as became clear during the spoken parts. Another example was the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk Composition Competition for young composers. In that my interest was to unite the artistic world in Hastings around a universal cause and an international figure.

This year I really want to spread the word about the HP, we will be in Robertsbridge, Etchingham, Winchelsea and Rye, as part of our first tour of the South East.

CM: Your little daughter Lara comes to many of your concerts, is she musical too?

MdS: Both my children learn the violin, and with their mother Aysen Ulucan, they performed in last year’s Christmas Concert, and they will play a solo this year too. When I take Lara with me people only want to talk about her! Antonio and Lara have very different approaches to their playing the violin, I don’t push them.

Fumiya Koido

Fumiya Koido with HPO at St Mary in the Castle – 11 October

Images supplied by Marcio da Silva

Posted 16:08 Sunday, Sep 29, 2019 In: Music & Sound

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