Raquel García Tomás: both feet in reality

Interviews 06.10.2022

As a child, she discovered the piano when her teacher decided to set up an after-school music school. At home, seeing that the child was promising, her parents decided to buy a second-hand piano. And today, Raquel García Tomás is already a solid and tenacious composer, with clear ideas and an intense heart. The best proof: her work. In 2020, she received the National Music Award for the interdisciplinary, innovative and daring nature of her compositional language.
Concerned with the social reality that surrounds her, Raquel García Tomás reflects in her creations on the human complexity and this endless universe. Her next opera, Alexina B., to be premiered at the Liceu in 2023, has as its protagonist Adelaide Herculine Barbin, the first intersex person for whom we have a first-person memoir and who we discovered in France in 1978 thanks to Michel Foucault. In doing so, Raquel García Tomás will become the second woman in the history of the great theater of Barcelona to create an opera there.

Did you get here by chance or after a lot of thought?
It was more the result of a lot of work and a certain talent that I must have. There is always a part of chance, you have to know how to be there at the right time when you meet someone you have to work with, but you also have to know how to take advantage of this coincidence. There was chance, of course, but also instinct. And a lot of inner observation, knowing how I want to create, who I am, where I need to go, understanding how I can work more comfortably. And to commit, to fulfill the commissions. If I hadn't worked well, they might not have called me back.

Beyond the plurality of works and projects, what are the constants and concerns that remain in your work?
I like my works (I don't always succeed in doing so) to promote personal and artistic growth, that is, to get feedback on the work I create. There are works, for example the opera I am currently working on, Alexina B, whose subject matter has a strong social charge, which invites me to a deeper inner transformation, because it allows me to discover social realities that are often foreign and unknown to me.

You talk about your new opera Alexina B. libretto by Irene Gayraud, which will premiere in March at the Liceu. You are working again with Marta Pazos, with whom you previously worked in I am Narcissistic in 2018.
Yes, I will work with Marta again, because my experience with her was fantastic. In Alexina B. I could have chosen a director and I thought of her. I did not hesitate for a moment.

How do you work together?
We understand each other very well. I like the way she works during the creative process: her way of communicating, her character, her personality. I also like the final result, because working together makes us both better: with her, I feel like a better composer! 

The two works you worked on together are very different. Je suis narcissiste (2018) is an opera bouffe, Alexina B., on the other hand, is something else entirely: the story of Adélaïde Herculine Barbin, known as Alexina B., a transgender person. The challenge is very different.
Yes, these are two works with very different themes. I am a narcissist I am narcissist is shorter with a current theme, an absurd humor, with a musical treatment that refers to the cinema, clichés, irony, aiming to make us laugh at ourselves. Moreover, it was a fiction. A satire, really. On the other hand, Alexina B. is based on a real event, in the 19th century. She was the first intersex person to write her memoirs. Obviously, there were already intersex people, there have always been intersex people, it's a biological issue. There are medical documents that prove it. But, with Alexina, it happens that it is the first time that someone writes in the first person about her sexuality. So Alexina B. is a serious opera, a drama, with a deep and moving theme. The play lasts about two hours and the cast is larger. And then, as it takes place in the 19th century, I borrow from popular and archaic music.
Let's say it's a more adult work.

In another of your creations, DisPLACE, you dealt with evictions and gentrification; in I am narcissistic, with egocentric individualism. And in Alexina B, about identity. Could it be that you are not interested in art for art's sake? Your works always try to deal with important issues.
Yes, I like to deal with substantive issues, which ultimately allow me to be a better citizen. I remember that at the time of DisPLACE, the term "gentrification" was not yet popular. When we discovered this concept and the way some city councils are trying to let city centers die, we realized that Barcelona had become a paradigmatic city of gentrification. For me, operas always allow me to evaluate and reflect on reality, to have a critical sense, whether it's a comic opera like I'm Narcissistic or a drama like Alexina B.

In the same vein, during the months of strict confinement, L'Auditori offered you a commission, and Suite of Myself was born; a work based on various fragments of Bach's music, accompanied by a luminous and solemn text like Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." How did it come about?
Since L'Auditori wanted a work inspired by Bach and I like to experiment, I accepted the commission. The choir members were amateurs and I thought that this text would help them memorize the melodic lines of each voice. So I started working with Whitman's text. I selected the poems or verses that moved me the most, but I also chose the fragments that I thought would be most moving in a health emergency as particular as the one we were experiencing, with the aim of creating a work in keeping with that period. And, in this sense, I thought that Whitman's poems were the right choice, for the magnanimous and spiritual breath that they spread, for the transcendence that they give off, beyond the fact that they are not strictly religious texts. They were a perfect match for Bach's music.

On October 7, you will present a new piece, Sightings, commissioned by the Mixtur Festival, the Ramon Llull Foundation and Hemisphere Sound, performed by the young German ensemble Via Nova, in Barcelona, with Pere Ginard, filmmaker and illustrator. Tell me, both of you, how did this collaboration begin? Pere?
Pere Ginard: We met at the Auditori, in 2016, around a project called Històries Elèctriques. They contacted us through different channels and for different purposes: me to propose live animations during the show, and Raquel to compose the themes. And that was the beginning of our collaboration. We don't usually work on common projects, but on this occasion I happened to have received a grant from the city council for an experimental animated short film about the underwater world, an imaginary world that appeals to me. I was thinking about it and suddenly the proposal to do a piece for Mixtur in 2022 came up. So we decided to create something that would complement each other.
Raquel: Mixtur commissioned me to do a piece with video. I thought about it and contacted Pere, with whom I had already worked "off-line", because he had put images on one of my works afterwards. But for Sightings (premiered at the Kunstfest in Weimar on September 5 ), the piece being in concert format, we started to work in a different way, looking for a dialogue between the two disciplines. 

And how did this joint work go?
Pere: I began to assemble images, to prepare a scenario on the imaginary of the mythical underwater world, which I have already told you seduces and fascinates me.

Mermaids, giant squids...?
Pere: Yes, yes, monsters, newts and a long etcetera. Finally, to give a structure to all this, we invented a narrative.
Raquel: Exactly. I had never collaborated with filmmakers or video artists before, I was not used to it. For me, the interest of this project with Pere was to rethink the process we were building. I'm a perfectionist and until something convinces me, I don't move on. On the other hand, in this work, it was the other way around, because Pere presented me with images that were not yet definitive so that I could rethink the work we were doing, as an open process, going back and forth.
We fed each other.

Raquel: Yes, we are talking about a work with live music, although there is a pre-recorded electronic base. In cinema, we normally work the other way around: first we focus on the images, then on the soundtrack. But in this creation, everything had to be quantified in a tempo; that's why everything happens to the second, it's synchronized. If Pere had introduced images first, and then I had composed the music to link them, perhaps the instrumentalists would not have been able to intuitively follow the rhythm that Pere had proposed. The easiest way was for me to first propose a sound discourse with chords, and then for Pere to work on the basis of these chords, synchronizing them to facilitate the work of the interpreters.    

And how do you want the public to receive this work?
Raquel: While it is true that the aesthetics of this creation are dark, it is at the same time light and fresh. In fact, it can be seen as fun, a slightly strange story that arouses amusement, healthy curiosity and noble perplexity.
Pere: Yes, I agree. From the third minute, we know that we are witnessing a story of explorers. However, the meaning of this quest, whatever it is, is much more open.

Interview by Txema Seglers 

On October 7, 2022 at the Mixtur festival, at the Fabra i Coats:
- meeting at 3pm with Raquel García Tomás and Pere Ginard at the Fabra i Coats
- Sightings by Raquel García Tomás and Pere Ginard with the Via Nova ensemble at 8 pm

Photo Raquel Garcia Tomas © May Zircus
Photo Irène Gayraud © Mihai Tranca
Photo Marta Pazos © Vanessa Rabade


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