22-23 HPO Composer Fellow Cadu Verdan‘s new work Convergence premieres at Intimate & Immersive: Our Wondrous World on Friday, October 28, 2022. Read our Q&A with Cadu to learn about his career, composition process and inspiration before we hear his new work live!

Born in 1989 in Brazil, Cadu is a graduate of Illinois State University (M.M.) and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (B.M.), and is currently pursuing a PhD in Music Composition at the University of Western Ontario. In composition, Cadu’s finds “inspiration for composition in the space between one’s most intimate feelings and the various phenomena that trigger them” (visit his website for more), using texture and timbre to express his experience-driven musical ideas.

His work Convergence is born of his own emotional evolution as an isolated international student made even more lonely by the COVID-19 pandemic:

“I left Brazil in August of 2019. It was my first time outside my country and living on my own. I had taught myself English using Duolingo, reading the Harry Potter books, and practicing speaking skills by talking to myself, so my English when I landed in the USA was pretty bad. For the first couple of months, I could barely communicate, and the language and cultural barrier made it really hard to make friends in the beginning. I was far from home, from family, my husband and friends. I could not express myself naturally and be who I am. I felt expressionless – like I was slowly disappearing – and I was deeply lonely, even though I was surrounded by people all the time. On top of everything, the pandemic came in 2020 to the USA, and it made the solitude I was experiencing even more acute.  

So, in a way, I believe that the pieces I have been writing on this topic started with my personal experiences of estrangement and loneliness, later influenced by the pandemic as well. Now that the pandemic has eased, I’m reunited with my husband and I have made friends in Canada, I felt it was time to write a piece about closure. I believe that this is the moment where (almost) all the parts in my life that were separated by my moving to the USA and the pandemic are now converging back to me here in Canada.”

– Cadu Verdan, HPO 22-23 Composer Fellow

Q&A with Cadu Verdan

On career and Convergence

HPO: What are you looking forward to most in your career currently? Do you have any exciting goals or projects you would like to share outside of the HPO Composer Fellowship?  

CADU: I hope to have a similar experience with other Canadian orchestras. I’m new to Canada, so I’m looking forward to finding new music friends here! I’m also really interested in learning more about composing music for video games. I love games, especially indie and fantasy games. I’m currently pursuing that as a side project – I mean, a PhD is a full-time project, right? Games like Zelda and Abzû have always inspired me to try and work in the industry. Let’s see what the future holds for me in that regard here in Canada! 

HPO: Could you share how you are feeling about your new piece Convergence premiering with the HPO this month?  

CADU: This is the second time I’m having one of my works performed by an orchestra. The first time was in Brazil, but the experience was different – I submitted a piece, they rehearsed it for three days, they premiered it, and that’s it. With the HPO I actually learn about the orchestra, about composition and many other aspects of making music professionally. So, there is a lot more to look forward to than just the premiere.  

Having said that, I’m very nervous! Performances always get me really tense, even if I’m not on stage. But I have a deep trust in the musicians taking care of Convergence for me, and I will certainly enjoy the experience. Also, this will be my debut in Canada, so I’m really excited! 

On composition process

HPO: Can you share a bit about your process when composing music? 

CADU: I almost always start with an extramusical idea. I need an external thread to guide me through the construction of the music since my sketches are, to put it lightly, feeble. 

I hope the audience will notice that Convergence, as well as many of my other compositions, lacks a clear melodic line. That is because I strive to strip my music of its private meaning and turn it into a shared experience. In my music, I extract the soul of the body and expose it to the audience. The music is raw and honest. It is to be experienced rather than followed – it is an atmosphere, not a storyteller. 

My notes often contain a pitch collection, a chord, or a motivic cell. Sometimes a mix of everything. The notes are very unclear and with no direction whatsoever of how the composition is going to be. In my mind, I only have a blurry shape, as though I’m trying to discern a shape on the other side of a mist. The composition usually takes shape and is structured as I’m composing, as I keep going back and forth to feel the balance of the piece. 

I only use the piano when I’m sketching – I never use it when I’m writing the music – the piano just distracts me. 

HPO: Can you expand on what ‘musical ideas’ can come out of different feelings you wish to express and can we hear an example of this in any of your work?

CADU: Fragile things is a work about being alone when memories are all you have to comfort you. My intention in this composition was to create a vaporous, dream-like atmosphere where one picture morphs into the other. I wanted the music to be gentle, subjective and at the edge of conscience. Like a dream that lingers at the brink of waking up. 

Listen to Fragile things on Cadu’s Soundcloud page.

On inspiration and personality

HPO: Your biography states that you are “inspired by feelings or events that are part of the human experience [and] … interested in the use of texture and timbre to express musical ideas.” Where do you think this inspiration comes from?

CADU: At the beginning of my undergraduate years in 2011, I wanted to be like Brahms and compose “music for music.” I quickly learned that I was not like that. Music comes to me only when I experience something, or when I observe something that deeply touches me. At first, I found a way to express those feelings with the Romantic composers, but it didn’t take long for me to get tired of their deeply personal ways to produce expression. They are too direct for me now (I still love Brahms though). 

It was only after falling in love with Debussy and Ravel that I started looking for a different way to express what I wanted to express. I developed a great interest in subtlety, subjectivity and suggestiveness in music. From the Impressionists, I naturally discovered spectral music and finally the music of Hans Abrahamsen, a Danish composer who has been my greatest inspiration for years now. 

I am an introvert, and as such, I tend to be silent most of the time, observing rather than interacting with others. I’m more of a thinker and listener than a talker. Some things just linger within me for much longer than they usually would with others, I believe. 

HPO: Is your influence from these feelings and events that are part of the human experience based on what you perceive around you, or are you mostly looking inward? 

CADU: What inspires me the most to start working on a new piece is primarily my own experiences. My hope in exposing glimpses of my own feelings is to commune, to evoke, and to reveal what is to be me, and ultimately, what it is to be human. So, it definitely starts with me, but as soon as I mull over it, I clean all the particularities of that feeling, that experience, and try to make it communal. Or at least, that’s what I think I’m doing. But as I said, I can’t help being an uncontrollable full-on introvert – introspection is all I am. 

On musical influences

HPO: What are some of your favourite works that have inspired your own compositions and why do you love them? 

CADU: Debussy, Nuages 
This was the first work that made me want to shift my compositional style. I just love how the music simply moves calmly at a distance, not seemingly knowing if it’s going to fade or linger there forever. 

Hans Abrahamsen, let me tell you 
This was the first piece I heard by Hans Abrahamsen, and the one that made me fall in love with his work. I love how the textures and timbres are so delicate and very rich. The soprano just floats and weaves in and around the orchestra, which sounds like a wintry mirage. 

Hans Abrahamsen, Liebeslied 
This is just the purest form to express love. Period. Not the love from the Romantics, but like a picture of the actual feeling. 

HPO: How about orchestral works you love that may not have anything to do with your own style? 

CADU: Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 4 
I mean, what is not special there? Confession: I easily break into tears with the last movement. 

Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 2  and his Piano Concerto No. 5 
They are in the same league for me. One is grotesque and macabre, and the other is pure fun! 

HPO: Outside of the orchestral world, what type of music do you listen to? Who are some of your all-time favourite artists and a current favourite song?  

CADU: I love rock! System of a Down, Evanescence, Nightwish, Linkin Park and many more. Evanescence and Nightwish are what brought me to classical music, actually. But I also love Fairouz, a very famous Lebanese singer, and some traditional Turkish songs. I have been listening non-stop to the song Nassam Alayna El Hawa by Fairouz. It’s insanely beautiful and emotional! 

Convergence by Cadu Verdan premieres at the HPO concert Intimate & Immersive: Our Wondrous World on Friday, October 28, 2022 at 7:30pm.