Indira Quintero Fonseca
By Jill Girgulis
Interview completed in November 2020
Published in December 2020
Photo credit: Pablo Vargas Unfried
Learning a new instrument as a professional is no easy task, something oboist Indira Quintero Fonseca knows all too well. Originally focused on the modern oboe, Fonseca decided to take up the baroque variant of her instrument in 2016.
“I noticed that the repertoire for baroque oboe is very prolific — it was the golden age for oboe,” she explains.
At the time, Fonseca, originally from Costa Rica, was living in Switzerland and had completed her master’s degree in music pedagogy for oboe at Haute Ecole de Musique in Geneva.
When faced with the option of auditioning for modern oboe orchestral positions in order to stay in Switzerland, her home for eight years at that point, Fonseca chose instead to expand her training and immerse herself in historical performance.
“I realized that I was there, having the opportunity to study with a very good professor, and be part of good ensembles, it didn’t make sense not to do this,” she says. “So, I began another master’s degree, this time for baroque oboe!”
She completed this subsequent degree in 2019 at the same institution, but her journey from modern to baroque oboe was certainly not an easy one.
“I discovered first-hand that it’s very hard to pass from one instrument to another. When you are a professional musician, and you start this new instrument, even if it is in the same family, you feel like you are learning for the first time,” Fonseca laughs. “Your sound is not good, and nothing is good, so it is very challenging when you have high expectations, or you imagine how it should sound, but then you are not able to replicate that.”
Courage and persistence are the key to a manageable transition, according to Fonseca. Despite the hardship and discouragement and vulnerability, Fonseca believes the decision was worthwhile in order to properly understand the music that was composed for the baroque oboe.
“You have to be humble...there’s a learning about yourself, and the way you approach the instrument,” she advises. “There is historical research to do, so it’s not just a matter of ‘I am going to play this because I want to, or because the professor told me this is the right way’...No, you have to really go in between the lines, beyond the instrument, and consider why you are approaching it in this manner.”
All in all, Fonseca can summarize her first three years on baroque oboe with a simple metaphor: “The first year was just hell, and then the second, it was like being in purgatory, and now I’m in heaven!”
Another element of historical performance that appealed to Fonseca was the inherent collaboration element embedded in a lot of the repertoire.
“The baroque oboe is a partner for the other instruments — it wasn’t like the oboe nowadays, with more solo repertoire. There are of course, concertos and sonatas, but the partnership with other instruments is always present,” she says. “This is very nice, because when you learn to play, and even if the sound is not good at all, and you feel awful, you can still go and play with others. This has a significant richness about what it is to be a musician.”
In her experience, Fonseca found that “with the modern approach, you start playing by yourself, practicing your scales, and trying to dominate the instrument, whereas in baroque, the obligation to start to make music with others is earlier.” She considers this chamber music a sort of ‘group therapy’ in the process of learning a new instrument.
“It was very supportive,” Fonseca says. “I noticed that those who made more chamber music were able to produce a better sound with better technique faster than musicians who were maybe more shy about playing with others in the early stages.”
With so many years of post-secondary training under her belt, it’s difficult to imagine that there was ever a time when Fonseca wasn’t even certain that it was an option to pursue music in university.
“Here in our country, to be a musician is not a very recognized profession — people say you have to study something that really matters — thankfully I had the support of my family, but despite that, there was still this little voice in my head saying that I should choose a ‘real’ profession.”
She can thank one of the professors at the University of Costa Rica for bringing music education back into her awareness and encouraging her studies along the way.
Upon completion of her most recent degree, Fonseca had freelanced and then accepted a music administrative position at the conservatory, a job involving both modern and baroque oboe. She worked in this role up until Swiss citizenship regulations complicated her ability to remain in the country as a non-European.
“I tried to stay, but then I thought, with all I have lived and learned, maybe I can come back to Costa Rica and try to do something for my country,” she says. “And try to open the possibilities and the minds of those who want to learn not only oboe, but music, or anything about what it’s like being a musician over there after coming from a Latin American country.”
Fonseca has been back in Costa Rica since January of 2020, which was initially quite the whirlwind — “I was full of energy and trying to contact everybody because I hadn’t been back in a decade” — but has been a different experience since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was not the perfect time to come back,” she acknowledges. “But here I am, and trying to make the most of it, and contribute to something.”
Her plans for being back in the country where she grew up include expanding the baroque music community, hopefully one day creating an area of the university dedicated to historical performance. She also aims to share her experiences studying in Europe.
“The more people are playing baroque, the more the public will be interested,” she says. “I think it will be amazing, I think there is the possibility to do it, but it takes a lot of work.”
Currently, Fonseca is teaching oboe and music at a local school, but with the new modalities of the learning process brought by the pandemic — like giving lessons through Zoom — she has been presented with new obstacles to overcome.
“Teaching from home is hard, and weird, because music, above all, is contact, is hearing, so when the hearing is through a computer or a phone, it’s distorted in some way,” she says. “And you have to look at the student to see if they’re breathing correctly, if they have the correct position, and it’s almost impossible with the phone.”
She still remains optimistic about the situation, however. “Despite it all, I think they are doing a great job and learning in a very particular way how to be as autonomous as possible, which is a great musical aspect to practice.”
It’s this tireless dedication to furthering historical performance that helped connect Fonseca with the Mount Parnassus Foundation. She hadn’t crossed paths with MPF’s founder, Catalina Guevara Klein, since they’d collaborated approximately 10 years prior, but, “in music, what‘s nice is that when you make very good friends, or you have very good colleagues, time passes, and then they call you one day with an idea...”
Fonseca is looking forward to reassuming her chamber music and solo concerts both with the baroque and modern oboe that were cancelled because of the quarantine.
“With the current perilous situation of being an artist in Costa Rica and all around the world, to continue making music, teaching and developing artistic projects is the best way to resist and bring light in darkest periods.”
Photo credit: Pablo Vargas Unfried