A musical duo for life

Music collaborators, Eshantha Peiris and Brazilian flautist Celina Charlier will perform for the first time in Sri Lanka at a concert where a piece composed for Celina will have its world premiere too
By Smriti Daniel, Pix by M.A Pushpakumara

Brazilian flautist Celina Charlier is in Sri Lanka for a month – and it’s going to be a full one. Here to play a concert with her friend and music collaborator pianist Eshantha J. Peiris, Celina says she’s been spending time at Musicmatters , the institute for music education launched by Eshantha and Sumudi Suraweera. “Not only have I visited Musicmatters, but I already got involved in many of their activities, ‘jamming’ with some of the teachers, rehearsing for some of their regular concerts in which I will take part, conducting a workshop and collaborating in several music activities with the students.”

The highlight of her trip, however, is to be a concert at the Lionel Wendt. ‘Clear Waters’ is the latest chapter in a partnership that has produced two CDs and several performances. It’s also evidence that Celina and Eshantha are in this for the long run. “We intend to keep our duo throughout our lives, independent of geographic distance,” says Celina, confidently.

Excerpts from an email interview:

Q: How did the two of you meet?

Eshantha (E): It must have been around 2004: I had just joined New York University as an undergraduate in piano performance, and Celina was doing her doctorate in flute performance. I had been called in to play piano for a mass at the university parish church, which happened to be the mass for which Celina regularly played flute. It then took another year or so before we managed to meet up again to play some music together.

Celina (C): At that mass, we enjoyed each other's musicianship so much that we decided to form a duo. However our New York musicians' lives were too busy at the moment. Meanwhile, we ended up playing together in other music contexts, like recording sessions for film music.

Q:. What do you most enjoy about performing together?

E: a) Attention to musical detail during the rehearsal process. b) Exposure to different styles of music c) Approaching different styles of music from with an 'insider knowledge' of the styles in question d) Celina's mastery of her instrument, and her expertise and experience as a collaborative musician.

Q:What is it like to play together again after a break?

C: Every time we play together, it seems the last time was just yesterday... A beautiful story from our first rehearsal as a duo... The very first piece we played in that rehearsal was ‘Clear Waters’ by Brazilian composer Edmundo Villani-Cortes. When we started playing, Eshantha was playing all the correct notes, but was not familiar with the music style. So I stopped and said: "Eshantha, these are not waters of the sea, they are the waters of a river." Then we played the music piece again, and it sounded exactly as it was meant to sound.

Most commonly, in music rehearsals, when working details we work on music elements such as tempo (speed), dynamics (volume), articulations, and other music components. Yet, when we played ‘Clear Waters’, without discussing any specific music elements, somehow I knew he was thinking sea instead of river, and he knew how to translate into music the feeling of a river instead of the sea. This shows we have a very high level degree of non-verbal communication, which is so important for music. At that moment, I knew that our duo would work well together.

Q:Tell us a little about your selection of music for the concert

E: We're playing some music by the Brazilian composer Edmundo Villani-Cortes. Celina is a friend of Villani's, and this is music that she knows well. We have also released two CDs of our duo performing Villani's music. We're also playing compositions by two other contemporary Brazilian composers: Ricardo Tacuchian and Ronaldo Miranda. I guess we figured that having a Brazilian flautist in town is one of the best ways to introduce Brazilian classical music to local audiences.?

We are also playing a virtuosic piece titled 'Carmen Fantaisie'. I'm sure local audiences will recognize the main tunes from Bizet's opera 'Carmen'. Also on the programme is Astor Piazzolla's 'History of Tango'. Argentinian tango is a totally new style for me, but Celina has been training me to think like an Argentinian! We are also performing the piece 'For the Love of Heaven', which American composer Ira Newborn transcribed especially for our duo.

Q: 'Alumbramentos' by Ronaldo Miranda will have its world premiere at your concert - could you tell us a little about the composer, the composition and how you came to be performing it in Sri Lanka?
E: 'Alumbramentos' (which roughly translates as 'inspiration' or 'insight') was originally composed for trumpet and piano in 2009, but hasn't yet been performed in this version.

The version for flute and piano was written last year for Celina, especially for her to play its world premiere in Sri Lanka.

C: Ronaldo Miranda is one of the most prominent Brazilian composers of his generation, with worldwide renown within the classical music environment. He is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Music, the highest honour within Brazilian classical music milieu.

I looked for him when I was 19 years old, and had decided to perform a solo flute recital of Brazilian premieres as my final recital for my Baccalaureate in Flute Performance at Sao Paulo State University...Throughout music history, friendship and collaboration between performers and composers resulted in the most beautiful and important pieces of the repertoire...

By looking for 14 prominent composers and asking them to compose a flute piece for me to premiere, I intended to contribute to the repertoire of my instrument and of my country- aware of the performer's role within historical context. Ronaldo was very open and generous and graciously composed a music piece for me. That was the beginning of a friendship and music collaboration throughout the years.

When Eshantha invited me to come to Sri Lanka, and I knew this piece had not yet been premiered, I thought it would be great to premiere it here in Colombo- as a tribute to this wonderful country that is welcoming me as a person and as a musician.

The concert

‘Clear Waters’ will be on February 20 at 7 p.m. at the Lionel Wendt Theatre. Tickets are available at Musicmatters (Borella, behind the Baseline Road Commercial Bank. Tel: 2686615. Open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. onwards).

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