Interview with the conductor Danielle Lisboa

Under the baton of a Brazilian:

By Arthur Vianna

The Brazilian community in Canada is proud of the quality of the work and the richness of the conductor Danielle Lisboa’s curriculum. Her first challenge was to earn a well-deserved space as an orchestra conductor, a traditionally male position. As soon as she arrived in Canada in 2008, she became OrchestraToronto’s first apprentice conductor. In just two months, she was appointed assistant conductor, shortly after music director and, finally, the Orchestra’s conductor. Under her baton, OrchestraToronto increased its auditions and became better known, especially among younger audiences. With a doctorate in orchestral conducting, Danielle has received numerous awards and scholarships over the years. Since 2013, she has been living with her family in Edmonton and acts as Assistant Music Professor at Concordia University in the areas of conducting, chamber music and music theory.

Wave – After working for so many years as OrchestraToronto’s conductor, how was the move to Edmonton?

Danielle Lisboa – My family and I took some time to adjust to the new city, but nowadays we feel completely at home. Every change requires a dose of courage and also patience so that, in due time, we can integrate into new professional and friendship circles. I am pleased with the decision we made and I will always have a healthy amount of nostalgia for the time spent in Toronto.

Wave – You have always sought to present other musical activities to the public. This was the case with the Marta Hidy Concerto Competition, the Children’s Concerts and even with the creation of Bellus Barbari, the Toronto Women’s Symphony Orchestra. What are your latest projects?

Danielle Lisboa – In addition to my work as Assistant Professor, I am the principal conductor of two orchestras here in Edmonton: Concordia Symphony Orchestra and Edmonton Philharmonic Orchestra. They are very different orchestras, one is characterized by its innovation in concert format and repertoire, is made up of professional musicians, and holds presentations in theaters like the Winspear Centre for the Arts. Next month, Concordia Symphony will launch a provincial-level competition for young soloists which includes a $1,000.00 prize for the winner and an opportunity to perform in the 19-20 season. On the 15th, we presented to the public in Edmonton, the first audition of a commissioned work by Canadian composer Allan Bevan at the Winspear Centre which comprised of our orchestra, Edmonton Metropolitan Chorus (mixed 100-voice choir), four soloists, multimedia, and two actors.

On the other hand, the Edmonton Philharmonic stands out due to its social mission, holding free concerts and being made up entirely of volunteer musicians from the community. The concerts are aimed at a more vulnerable population, with mobility issues, or children – and the orchestra goes out to meet its public in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. In the near future, we will hold a concert that will welcome children who are sensitive to environmental stimuli and Alzheimer’s patients – so they can dance during the show. It’s a very rewarding job where I have a “conductor-presenter” role with direct contact with the audience. I want to greet everyone, one by one, and to pay special attention to them.

Wave – Your namesake Danielle Groen once wrote a long article about why there are so few women conductors. How can you overcome, if any do exist, the barriers of being a woman, mother, and orchestra conductor?

Danielle Lisboa – This is something we could talk about till the cows come home … we are moving forward, which is positive, but there is certainly no denying the gaps in equity in the profession. We are not yet playing in a level playing field. In 2017, I presented a paper on the subject at the Conference “Women in Leadership” at the University of Porto, Portugal. We are taking strides, breaking taboos, and fundamentally facilitating paths for the next generation of women conductors.

Wave – In Brazil, the legislation that makes music lessons compulsory in schools completed ten years, but unfortunately, it has not yet become a reality. What is the importance of music in a child’s upbringing?

Danielle Lisboa – This law has been expanded to include, in addition to music, visual arts, theater and dance … all the bases are there to make a real change. And everything starts from the bottom up – with a widely based elementary education – a balanced education that, in addition to the exact sciences, also emphasizes the importance of the arts in the individual’s education, as these develop and increase the human sensibility. A well-rounded individual exercises tolerance in all its forms: from tastes, creed, race, gender, and the list goes on … we need to elect leaders with a broad vision and the political will to recognize and nurture an individual’s innermost needs so that these will be reflected in the common good.

Wave – Brazil is well known for its popular music, but not for its classic music. How can we change this situation?

Danielle Lisboa – It’s true … names such as Carlos Gomes, Villa-Lobos and Camargo Guarnieri are perhaps best known to the lay public, but we still have a long way to go in making our national talent known both in Brazil and abroad. I follow the activity of colleagues, active composers in the current Brazilian scenario, and what I see is an abundance of weighty works with artistic depth – which are a social necessity to counterbalance our materialist world. We need to fight, even from afar, to express our indignation and be a voice for the return of the incentive to culture and human sciences in Brazil, by creating laws that foster the sponsorship of cultural experiences for the general public. The intellectual progress and artistic sensitivity of a society go hand in hand with its financial progress – they mirror a country’s prosperity.