Watch: Minnesota-fostered Duo Avila celebrates female composers with Costa Rican concert

Duo Avila -- Ines Guanchez, left, and Sofia Schutte -- presents 'Revisiting the Classics' on Oct. 11, a concert highlighting female composers.Courtesy of artist

October 12, 2020

Editor's note: Ines Guanchez worked as a digital intern at Classical MPR while studying piano performance and mass communications at the University of Minnesota in 2018. When we found out that she had organized a livestreamed concert in Costa Rica to celebrate the music of female composers, we asked her to write about the experience for our listeners. The concert took place Sunday, Oct. 11, but you can watch the archived video below.(There were some technical difficulties during the first work. After the spoken intro, skip ahead to just after the 14-minute mark for uninterrupted music.)

Sofia Schutte and I founded Duo Avila in 2019, because we were disappointed with the lack of female and Latin American composers in classical music programming. Our collaboration — her on violin, me on piano — happened naturally, built upon years of friendship and musical understanding.

Sofia and I met at a summer music camp in 2010 and, being among a handful of Venezuelans attending, forged a strong friendship. In addition, both of our families had moved to Costa Rica for different reasons, and by a quirk of fate, we ended up in the same neighborhood. We've been friends ever since.

We started giving recitals in 2015, and as time went by, we realized a common concern: What could we, two Venezuelan musicians beginning their careers, do to help address the lack of diversity we often witnessed in the Western classical music world?

The answer was simple in concept: We would use our combined musical knowledge, skills and passion to perform the music of female and Latin composers and share it with audiences. For our first concert, we wanted to program music written by female composers whose music, due to the time and society in which they were born, hadn't received the same attention and respect as that of their male counterparts.

But just as we began to plan concert dates and repertoire, the pandemic began.

Needless to say, nobody was prepared for COVID-19, particularly arts organizations and performers, whose futures seemed uncertain. We considered postponing the project until the pandemic was over, trying to envision an imaginary deadline we couldn't even begin to fathom within the current state of the world. We graduated from the University of Minnesota in May and faced a terrifying new reality.

But we eventually came to the same realization: People need music now, perhaps more than ever, and we had to do our best as musicians to bring that music to them.

Our upcoming recital, "Reinventing the Classics," was born.

Through the support of the University of Minnesota's School of Music and Costa Rica's Ministry of Culture and Youth, Duo Avila was able to secure a debut concert at the National Theater of Costa Rica on Oct. 11. The free live-streamed concert will feature Amy Beach's Piano and Violin Sonata, Clara Wieck-Schumann's Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22, and Lili Boulanger's D'un Matin de Printemps.

The concert was created with three primary goals:

First, we wanted to give audiences in Costa Rica and around the world an opportunity to listen to music at a time when attending concerts is difficult, if not impossible. In particular, we wanted to broadcast the concert from the Foyer of the Costa Rican National Theater, a building considered to be one of the most important cultural patrimonies of the country, and a beloved venue that Costa Ricans haven't been able to visit since early March.

Second, we wanted to share the music of female Western classical composers to engage women and girls in the audience. We hope that by seeing themselves represented not only in the performers, but also the composers, these women and girls will be inspired to pursue classical music.

Finally, we hope to inspire other performers to play this music. These works contain musical depth and compositional techniques that have challenged us and helped us grow as musicians. They are pieces that we firmly believe are of a high caliber and deserve to be performed regularly within the classical repertoire.

We hope that one day, orchestras and performers will include more female and Latin composers in their everyday concerts, judging them solely by the unbiased merit of their music. We look forward to a future where this music will be heard in concert halls across the world and performed by students and professionals alike.