Review Fix chats with Andree-Ann Deschenes, who discusses her new “Villa-Lobos / Castro” album, breaking down the inspiration for it, as well as her goals moving forward.
About Andree-Ann Deschenes:
The award-winning and critically-acclaimed performer, known for her exploration of cross cultural composers, offers a unique and adept interpretation of these two great artists. A special bonus track features percussion by Calixto Oviedo, one of Cuba’s most influential musicians.
Villa-Lobos / Castro is a natural progression in Deschenes’ catalogue as well an indication of her interest in playing lesser-known works. “Villa-Lobos is a huge name for guitar repertoire, yet his piano pieces are not often heard. As for Juan Castro, the pieces are very clear iterations of the tango rhythms, but the harmonies are crispier which gives them an interesting character,” Deschenes explained. This created the perfect crossover between something purely Latin American and modern classical keyboard repertoire.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
Andree-Ann Deschenes: It all started when I was a kid. I didn’t come from a musical family, but my mother had taken music classes in her younger years and that kind of always stuck with her. She loved music, would always listen to music and sing around the house. So one day I came back from school and there was a piano at home. Nothing fancy – it was an electric piano – but I was so intrigued. I would sit at it and pretend to play. Then my mom taught me a scale and I would just play that scale over and over until finally my parents signed me up for lessons. Ironically, I didn’t actually like it all that much and stopped after about 6 months. After that, I took recorder lessons because I thought it’d be fun. I eventually came back to piano a few years later and with the right teacher, kept on going. From then, I got involved in anything related to music I could find; I did festivals, competitions, took part in the musicals at school, played in the wind ensemble in high school, did summer camp, everything! It was really never a question of what I would want to study in college, or what I wanted to do when I grew up; music was it.
Review Fix: What makes this project special to you?
Deschenes: I honestly am so proud of “Villa-Lobos / Castro” and I really think it’s my best effort yet. I’ve gotten deeply attached to the pieces themselves and I love performing them. It’s my third album, but I think it’s also the first album in which I really found my footing and it shows. I was lucky to work with some amazing people at every step of this production, including the amazing Calixto Oviedo on percussion on the last track. I’m also super happy with Steph Nowotarski’s art piece on the cover and Valentina Socci’s photo. And, of course, working with Paul Tavenner at Big City Recording studio is always great! I think overall what makes it special is the collaboration between everybody who participated, and this specific choice of repertoire. It’s my best musical work so far and I hope it’ll keep on getting better from there!
Review Fix: Why did you feel these two artists were worthy of your time?
Deschenes: To me, the question is how did I think I was worthy of their music! The bulk of the album is music from Heitor Villa-Lobos and Juan Jose Castro, from Brazil and Argentina respectively. They are two very big names in Latin American piano repertoire, and I think their style is the perfect mixture of folk and classical. You can tell by listening to it that they were classically trained composers, of course, but also that they felt deeply connected and proud of the music from their respective country. “Ciclo Brasileiro” (Villa-Lobos) allowed me to showcase some virtuosic chops, while the Tangos (Castro) have a much more subdued vibe to them, with quirky harmonies and a few well-placed quotes from pre-existing tangos – “La Cumparsita” and “9 de Julio”, for example. I think the contrast between the two works, what they represent within the scheme of piano repertoire coming from Latin America, and just the fact that they sound amazing and are so fun to work through, are all reasons why I chose them. And, of course, let’s not forget the last piece, “Festiva” by Jose Maria Vitier, from Cuba! I always loved this piece, and finally got the opportunity to record it with one of the best percussionists in the world, so it was a no-brainer to include it. It’s a nice sonic surprise at the end of the album, kind of like an “encore” to go out with a bang.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy this work the most?
Deschenes: I think everyone will be able to enjoy this. I’ve had people who aren’t even classical music fans tell me that they really liked the music and they felt it was different than what they expected, but I’ve also had hardcore classical listeners who have told me the repertoire was really refreshing and led them to listen to even more music from Latin American countries. Ultimately, this kind of music isn’t for one particular audience. I’m really hoping that it helps connect music fans from different backgrounds, whether it’s classical or not. I think the variety of the repertoire helps people to connect with it regardless of their usual musical preferences, and the percussion duet at the end really ties it in for a lot of people – even the kids!
Review Fix: What’s your favorite track on the LP? Why?
Deschenes: That depends on how I feel on any particular day, haha! I think “Danca do indio branco,” “Nostalgico,” and “Festiva” are up there for me. They’re super fun to perform even though they’re particularly challenging, and they’re very different. “Danca do indio branco” is just this fast-paced, kinda crazy, piece that still has a very pretty melody on top somehow, and I really enjoy the contrast between those two elements. “Nostalgico” is quirky and interesting; those bandoneon-sounding chords at the end are beautiful and are a really nice ending to the whole Tangos. I really also love the mysterious opening with the descending chromatic line in the right hand. Finally, “Festiva” is just a great piece from a living composer that combines jazz and classical playing so well, and the addition of percussion really makes it stand out from everything else on the record.
Review Fix: What’s one thing you would tell a potential new listener about your work?
Deschenes: I think the main thing is to go into it with an open mind. You might not be familiar with this kind of music, and that’s ok – that’s even better actually! – but there’s something to be enjoyed in those pieces regardless of whether you have heard them before or not, or whether you’re a classical guy (or girl) in general. There’s something for everyone in there, so just close your eyes, relax, and enjoy the ride!
Review Fix: What’s next?
Deschenes: I’m currently planning to record all of Ignacio Cervantes’ Danzas in the next year or so, so that’s what I’m working on at the moment. It’s a pretty big undertaking since there’s around 40 of them! It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now, and I’m finally sitting down and working on it, so it’s pretty exciting for me!
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Deschenes: Obviously, I’d like for everyone reading this to check out “Villa-Lobos / Castro”! It’s available in digital and physical format through the usual big retailers (iTunes, Amazon, etc) and CDBaby directly. I’m also pretty active on social media and I love to hear back from people who listened to my stuff, so don’t hesitate to connect!