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Angélica Meza

Historical Clarinet

By Laura Flores Valle

English translation: G.A. Chaves

Interview completed in January 2021

Published in May 2021

Originally from Corrientes, a province in northeastern Argentina, Angélica Meza grew up in a family with a strong musical sensibility. That environment fostered her desire to explore different instruments before she landed on the clarinet at age ten.

It was love at first sight, she says. She fell for the dark beauty of a sound that was not “as shrill as that of a violin or a flute”—one that offered other advantages to a young girl like her: it was light and easy to carry and, more importantly, very versatile in terms of repertoire.

 

That initial bedazzlement only grew stronger over the years thanks to the opportunities she was presented with and worked so hard to take advantage of. There were also decisive encounters, like meeting the clarinet player from a US wind quintet with whom she took a master class: “That was the spark that started the fire,” she says as she recounts the experience.

 

Suddenly a new world opened up before her: “I realized life was not just about graduating from a conservatory and then teaching there.” Listening to that chamber music was a life-altering experience. She understood then that that’s what she wanted to do.

The twists and turns of life, along with the successive economic crises in her home country and her own restless personality took her to new places like Buenos Aires and then The Hague, where she currently resides.

Angélica first came in contact with the historical clarinet through her sister, who is also a musician. It would lead her to learn and unlearn many things: “The instrument one chooses has a lot to do with one’s character. The role of an instrument in an ensemble has to do with personality. In the case of historical instruments, there’s a constant dialogue with the past, but there’s also a possible reconstruction of that past. It’s a deeper approach to a certain period and its lifestyle, like extracting crystallized figures from a book to feel them closer to us.”

Photo credit: ©renska

While very methodical, Angélica is also very open to experimentation, and she gets excited when thinking about all the things she still has left to unveil in the world of historical music. She claims that the most important thing for a historical performer is flexibility—one has to adapt, learn different tunings, do research, overcome fears and, more than anything, be willing to “step away from the ideas and concepts that they teach you in a conservatory (when you study the modern clarinet), or when they tell you how to play if you are applying for a position in an orchestra. All of those ideas are quite removed from what I believe are the features and qualities needed to play music with historical instruments.”

Far from intimidating her, the new challenges have pushed Angélica to better define her performance goals. That included moving out of Buenos Aires, the city that welcomed her when she was only twenty years old, but that was becoming too limiting for her ambitions. She had to leave Argentina.

When she arrived in Europe, she had the opportunity to take classes for a year with Vincenzo Casale at the Royal Conservatory of Ghent, in Belgium, and play with different ensembles in Switzerland, Belgium, Algeria and Austria. She moved to the Netherlands in 2018 to take a Master’s degree in historical clarinet at The Royal Conservatoire, in The Hague.

 

There she underwent an intense learning process with Eric Hoeprich, a major authority in the world of clarinet and historical music: “He pushes you to become your own teacher and have your own formed opinion on how you want to play. To get the best out of his classes, you need to do a lot of research and bring concrete proposals and well-rounded opinions.”


Angélica also studied under English clarinet player Jane Booth, who moved her deeply not only because of her sensibility and her way of understanding performance but also because, in a markedly masculine world with very few female referents, Booth’s classes were greatly inspiring. “She helped me gain a deeper understanding of performance and of the importance of the body in it, but also to know what sounds to project depending on the story you are trying to tell.”

 

The basset horn, the instrument she wrote her Master’s thesis on, has become Angélica’s main companion on this journey to the past and to historical music. This journey has also been rather personal, as it has allowed Angélica to break free of prejudices and insecurities. “In Argentina, and in general in Latin America, there’s this idea that in order to have a career in music and ‘be somebody’ you have to dedicate yourself exclusively to performing and finding a job in an orchestra. For a long time that made me feel embarrassed to acknowledge that I also built instrument cases. Ridding myself of that notion was very liberating. The feeling of having my artisan work be respected, even by people like my professor Eric Hoeprich, has been very important.”

 

Creativity, curiosity, and her ability to manage her own career are the hallmarks of her talent: “I learned to stitch by looking, exploring, fiddling around, making mistakes. I developed that ability for others, not just for me, and that allowed me to have a second income to sort out the difficulties of living through the pandemic.”

Though she is a multifaceted artist and her interest transcend music, Angélica confides that she is enthralled by the opportunity offered by the Mount Parnassus Foundation to lead a wind quintet under the aegis of the muse Euterpe:

“I met Catalina Guevara Klein in Brazil at FEMUSC, a festival that she organized with her husband. I respect and admire Catalina’s ability to manage and carry out a project like the Mount Parnassus Foundation, which seeks to help young women who work in historical music. I’m excited about leading a wind quintet. It’s a challenge that demands a lot of work and coordination, but I’m motivated and interested to see what will come out of it.”

When asked if she would like to go back to Argentina, Angélica emphatically asserts: “Not to live. I’d go to play concerts, of course—I welcome everything that has to do with music, everywhere. I do not want to go back to my previous life, to the routine of preparing myself for an audition and looking for a steady job in an orchestra. I’m happy freelancing.”

Her goals are clear: create projects, prepare repertoires for chamber music, keep growing her instrument case business, complete her family of historical clarinets and work on her own website, where she plans to publish articles about the historical clarinet in both English and Spanish. But more than anything, she wants to keep playing: “I love playing; that’s my ongoing ambition.”

Angélica claims that her determination, perseverance, and patience are the reasons why she’s made it this far. “I went through many things, but my desire to keep going remained intact. Each moment, each experience I had and each thing that I’ve done was a step towards that objective. There were times when I wasn’t sure what it was; it was rather blurry. But it’s been growing inside me for a long time now.”

Photo credit: ©renska