Since her first performance at Laus Polyphoniae twenty years ago, the Spanish soprano Raquel Andueza has been a popular guest on stage at AMUZ and Laus Polyphoniae. She will be present in various capacities during the unusual 2020 edition. AMUZ spoke to her about her professional career over the last twenty years and how she has overcome her recent problems with her voice.
AMUZ: How did it all start, Raquel?
Raquel Andueza: I grew up in a musical family, although my parents weren’t musicians. They did love music and sent their four children to music school. I am the youngest of the four, and there has been music in our house since I was born. My sister played the piano, and my brothers played the accordion, double bass, trumpet and clarinet. They all sang in a choir as well. As a child, I sang from morning to night. So it went without saying that I would go to choir with my brothers and sister once I turned six. I didn’t consciously decide to sing; the singing just happened, as if it had always been part of me. I haven’t stopped singing ever since.
From the age of fourteen onwards, I took singing lessons at music school. My teachers wanted me to sing Puccini and Verdi arias, but my voice wasn’t big enough. What is more, I preferred baroque music. I have been crazy about Handel, Monteverdi and Bach since I was little.
My parents encouraged me to study a subject I would enjoy, and although I would also have loved to become a psychiatrist, my heart was even closer to music. So I went to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
AMUZ: And then?
Raquel Andueza: Then there was the IYAP (International Young Artist’s Presentation – Ed.). A few other Spanish students and I had set up La Trulla de Bozes in London in 1998 to sing 16th century Spanish polyphony. In the summer of 2000, we decided to give the International Young Artists’ Presentation in Antwerp a go, and tried our chances at the early music competition in Bruges. So it was fantastic that we won both! (In the earliest years of the IYAP, there was a winner selected by a jury – Ed.) Catherine Bott’s coaching during the IYAP was a real bonus. Even though Spanish Renaissance polyphony was not her speciality, she gave us plenty of useful tips on things such as phrasing and the self-assured impression we needed to try to present on stage – we were still very young and inexperienced on the professional scene at that point. That week in Antwerp was wonderful. I have many great memories of it. So it is no surprise that I always love coming back to Antwerp so much.
Because we won the IYAP, we got the chance to record our first CD, which was a fantastic calling card for the group. The CD was distributed internationally, our music was played on the radio and we got a lot of invitations to give concerts. It was a tremendous springboard for the group and resulted in five busy years for La Trulla de Bozes. So the IYAP really did boost my career. That’s how it all started for me.
AMUZ: Later you sang in Josep Cabré’s vocal quartet La Colombina.
Raquel Andueza: The ensemble existed long before I joined. I knew of it as a teenager and went to their concerts back then. I got to know the tenor of La Colombina during a concert where we sang together, and he told me they were looking for a new soprano for their quartet. I rehearsed with them for three days as a test, and it totally clicked. Because the collaboration within a quartet is really intense, you need a personal bond as well as musical compatibility. My years with La Colombina taught me so much, because the other three singers were so experienced. After several years, the others started to focus more and more on teaching and unfortunately the ensemble petered out.
AMUZ: But you were busier than ever.
Raquel Andueza: It’s true that I was singing in more and more projects with other ensembles by then, and also getting more offers to perform as a soloist. But as you grow within your discipline, you set your own criteria more and you get a clearer idea of what you want and don’t want. By then I was performing regularly with the theorbo player Jesús Fernández Baena and it made sense to expand the duo into our own ensemble: La Galanía. With the ensemble, we had the freedom to devote ourselves to music we chose for ourselves: in particular 17th century music from Italy and Spain, and often unknown compositions as well, on the condition that they were good pieces, of course. Next year La Galanía will be celebrating its tenth anniversary.
AMUZ: You have been an IYAP coach for several years now, with Peter Van Heyghen. It looks like teaching appeals to you.
Raquel Andueza: Yes, I love coaching young musicians and singers and helping them to develop their style. Things like how you can add ornaments to your score, in a baroque da capo aria for example. I used to be a bit hesitant about teaching singers technique, but since I lost my voice a couple of years ago, I am much more aware of how the voice works or doesn’t work and I can offer young singers far more specific solutions. They notice that it works for them, so the demand for more teaching is increasing. I do love teaching, but I am trying to balance it with my other activities by keeping periods free in my schedule for teaching, studying, relaxing or concerts and CD recordings.
AMUZ: Would you mind telling us more about losing your voice?
Raquel Andueza: Oh, sure! It is too often a taboo among singers to talk about problems with their voice, but it happens frequently and it doesn’t have to mean the end of your singing career. It was terrible but great as well, because it really changed me both in terms of my music and vocal technique and at a personal level.
Three years ago, I was involved in a minor traffic accident that resulted in whiplash. I was examined and no permanent damage was found, my stiff neck got better after a while and I forgot about the entire incident. Some time later I started having problems with my voice, especially in the high register. I went to voice doctors who examined my vocal cords with a camera, but they appeared to be in perfect condition. “There’s nothing wrong”, was their verdict. They told me not to focus on it too much, because it could be more of a psychological issue. It wasn’t until months later, after I had seen many specialists who couldn’t find anything wrong, that I ended up with a doctor in Pamplona, an amateur soprano herself, who checked my vocal cords again. She concluded that there was nothing wrong with them as well, but she put her hand on my neck, manipulated it a bit and asked whether I had been in a traffic accident. To be honest I had forgotten all about that accident a year before. She realised that my larynx had twisted slightly because of the whiplash, and returned it to its proper position. But forcing my voice and overcompensating for a year had ruined it.
I went to various singing teachers but nobody could help, until I found two singing teachers in Northern Italy, Lisa Paglin and Marianna Brilla. They helped me to deconstruct my voice until I had the voice of a six-year-old girl again, and then built it back up step by step with the colours and range I need. I can honestly say that the process was entirely completed by last February and that my voice is ready to sing again. It was a difficult period but I am also extremely grateful for all I have learned: about myself and about my singing technique, which is also much better than before. There used to be quite a lot of breath in my voice. I thought that was my voice’s natural colour, but it turned out that I was using my voice wrongly. As a young singer, your voice is very flexible and it can take a lot, but over time wrong use starts to take its toll, so I’m glad I’ve dealt with it now. What is more, it is really valuable to be able to pass on all that knowledge about use of the voice and vocal technique to other singers.
AMUZ: You recently also started running one of the oldest music festivals in Navarra.
Raquel Andueza: The choir I sang with as a child used to perform at the Semana de Música Antigua de Estella, and I’ve since been there several times as a guest soloist as well. A vacancy opened up for the position of artistic director of the festival in the spring, and I took part in a blind selection procedure. I received the news that they wanted me to be their artistic director in the middle of the lockdown. That was fantastic, but quite stressful as well because the next edition is supposed to be held at the beginning of September. We still have to wait and see what the situation will be with Covid-19 in Navarra in September, but in the worst-case scenario we will be streaming all the concerts without a live audience. Because a lot of concerts in the autumn have been cancelled due to the pandemic, all the musicians I contacted were suddenly free to participate in the Semana in Navarra. So that was an unexpected piece of good luck. We are planning 21 activities in one week, so I am quite nervous about my first edition but also really pleased and honoured to have been given this opportunity.