Poster Duo Avila
Duo Avila features pianist Ines Guanchez, left, and violinist Sofia Schutte.

Venezuelan Duo Avila presents 'Portraits of Women in Music'

'Portraits of Women in Music' with the Duo Avila

In 2023, the Venezuelan Dúo Ávila performed a concert in the UBS Forum at Minnesota Public Radio’s headquarters. Listen as violinist Sofia Schutte and pianist Ines Guanchez celebrate Women’s History Month with music from seven women composers from across the world, past and present, in Portraits of Women in Music, featuring host Julie Amacher.

Read Guanchez’s article below as she talks about the concert experience, the background of the composers featured in the program and the visual artists the duo collaborated with.

Wednesday, March 15, was a snowy day. The sky was overcast yet bright, and the sleek black finish of the Yamaha baby grand contrasted beautifully with the smooth snowbanks blanketing the western balcony of the Kling Public Media Center in St. Paul. It was a perfect Minnesota winter day for a concert.

The second performance of the Portraits of Women in Music concert series was held in the intimate UBS Forum at Minnesota Public Radio’s headquarters. The project, which was funded through a Creative Support for Individuals grant awarded by the Minnesota State Arts Board, was the first large-scale project in Minnesota by the Venezuelan Dúo Ávila, made up of violinist Sofia Schutte and myself, pianist Inés Guanchez. The performance was hosted by the incomparable Julie Amacher, who helped guide the audience through the program while setting the stage for us to speak about the composers and their music.

The Dúo Ávila has always strived to bridge the gap between composers past and present through the programming of music by women composers. Portraits of Women in Music was created with the goal of presenting the music from seven women composers from across the globe through an audiovisual experience. Through a collaboration with Costa Rican visual artists Alessandra Sequeira and Magda Cordoba, as well as post-producer and animator Byron Blanco, we created a selection of seven visual art pieces inspired by each composer’s piece. Afterward, Byron took three of these pieces and animated them to match our performances. The result? An engaging multisensory event that we were honored to present to Minnesota audiences.

Costa Rican visual artists Alessandra Sequeira and Magda Cordoba
Costa Rican visual artists Alessandra Sequeira and Magda Cordoba pose in front of their artwork.

The Program

One of the questions we are often asked is how we find music by these composers, which is then followed by the question: How do we decide what to program? The answer to the first question is quite straightforward: We do a lot of research. Our first step is to reach out to composers and performers we know and ask them for their recommendations.

Our second step, however, is where we tend to find our favorite pieces. A quick Google search of the words “women composers database” will reveal that there are many musicologists, institutions and individuals out there who are doing the noble work of compiling music by women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ composers in order to make them more accessible to musicians and listeners.

After scanning through these vast databases, we select the pieces we enjoy, and then we decide which fit our needs for the project. For Portraits of Women in Music, we wanted to choose music that was inspiring to the visual artists we were collaborating with. After presenting them with about two hours of music, they eventually chose the pieces that spoke to them the most, and after some rearranging and negotiating, we created the program we performed on that cloudy March afternoon.

Enjoy a selection of videos from our performance below.

Marion Bauer
Marion Bauer

Marion Bauer (1882-1955)

Up the Ocklawaha is a tone poem for violin and piano composed by American composer and music critic Marion Bauer. The piece was commissioned by virtuoso violinist Maud Powell in 1912 and is based on a poem she wrote about her journey sailing up the Ocklawaha River in Florida. Its premiere is said to have a been a success, with the piece being subject to high praise. Read the poem below and listen to our performance.

“A boat glides up a swift and tortuous river. The bark-stained waters rush darkly through a mighty swamp. Giant cypresses stand knee-deep in the noisome ooze, losing their birthright in the vampire clutch of the deadly Tillandsia (Spanish moss). The trees seem shrouded in death rags. The mournful swish of the dying branches against the Hiawatha as she pushes up stream is the primeval forest’s last whispered appeal to humanity for release from its awful fate.” - Maud Powell

Pauline Viardot-Garcia
Pauline Viardot-Garcia

Pauline Viardot-García (1821-1912)

Spanish-French pedagogue, composer and mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot-García was born in Paris with Spanish heritage. She began her piano and vocal studies at an early age, and was fluent in four languages by 6. The daughter of Spanish actress and soprano Joaquina Sitches, Viardot was encouraged by her mother to build a career in singing instead of piano, the instrument she originally wanted to pursue. It was a decision she would later greatly regret. Despite her change in career path, she would remain a formidable pianist, often playing duets with her friend Frédéric Chopin and receiving high praise from musicians such as Camille Saint-Saëns, Ignaz Moscheles and Franz Liszt, who declared that Viardot was a “woman composer of genius.” Hear the second (Berceuse) and sixth (Tarantella) movements from her Six Morceaux for violin and piano.

Teresa Carreño
Teresa Carreño

Teresa Carreño (1853-1923)

The sixth piece of the program was by Venezuelan virtuosic pianist and composer, María Teresa Gertrudis de Jesús Carreño García. Born in 1853, she was dubbed the “Valkyrie of the Piano” due to her exciting and energetic performances. Her career spanned more than 54 years and included praise by Liszt for her piano work and vocal work that was built upon the pedagogy of Gioacchino Rossini. Carreño composed about 75 works for a variety of instrumentation, including piano, voice, choir and orchestra. She also was a pioneer of Edward MacDowell’s music and had various compositions dedicated to her, including Amy Beach’s Piano Concerto and Edward MacDowell’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Carreño also challenged societal norms of the time by focusing on her career and refusing to adhere to her husband’s expectations. Listen to our performance of Carreño’s Romanza.

The Dúo Ávila would like to thank Minnesota Public Radio for hosting us during our Portraits of Women in Music concert series. We’d like to thank our wonderful audience, as well, and we hope that we’ve inspired you to maybe look up more music by these phenomenal composers. We can’t wait to continue sharing this music with Minnesota and beyond.

Duo Avila Minnesota Orchestra
The Dúo Ávila plays one of three preconcert performances during March at Orchestra Hall.


Events manager: Amy Hyatt

Audio: Eric Romani

Video editing: Peter Ecklund

Digital production: Randy Salas

Host: Julie Amacher

Performers: Inés Guanchez and Sofia Schütte, as Dúo Ávila

Page turner: Ada Tzab

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