Maestro José Atalaya, 93, who excelled in television programs and in “informal concerts” for the dissemination of classical music, died last Friday, a source close to the family told Lusa.
Jose Atalaya joined, in 1951, as musical assistant, in the former Emissora Nacional, where he collaborated with the composer Pedro do Prado (1908-1990) and João da Câmara (1905-1978), and started a dissemination path that extended to RTP and to different national stages, through programs such as “Quinzenário Musical” and “Semanário Musical”, which he maintained for more than 15 years and which, in 1971, in an interview, considered one of his “most passionate” works.
A disciple of composers such as Luís de Freitas Branco and Joly Braga Santos, José Atalaya defended the need to “destroy the barrier between the public and the artist” and to “informalize the concerts” of classical music, suggesting, in the middle of the dictatorship and afterwards, that they should be watched “in shirt sleeves”, in a close inspiration in the famous “Concerts for Young People”, by the American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.
José Atalaya’s wake takes place on Thursday, in the church of Nossa Senhora da Boa-Hora, in Lisbon, between 10 am and 2 pm, followed by the funeral for the Barcarena cemetery, on the outskirts of Lisbon, according to the same family source.
José Atalaya, who was born in Lisbon on December 8, 1927, was a student at Instituto Superior Técnico when, at the age of 19, impressed by the composer Joly Braga Santos, to whom his father had called his attention, he decided to dedicate himself to musical writing, and sought out Luís de Freitas Branco, who had marked the modernity of Portuguese music in the first half of the 20th century, and formed the following generations of composers, such as Fernando Lopes-Graça and Braça Santos.
Atalaya was already a regular listener of Freitas Branco’s programs, in the former channel Programa B e Lisboa 2, of Emissora Nacional, which would give rise to the current Antena 2, of RDP / RTP. From 1947 to 1955, he studied with Freitas Branco, who had left the National Conservatory for political reasons.
Atalaya’s first work, as a composer, was inspired by the book “As Mãos e Frutos”, by Eugénio de Andrade (1923-2005).
With the death of Luís Freitas Branco, in late November 1955, he decided to move away from composition, research in musicology, and became interested in orchestral conducting.
He resumed his interest in composition ten years later, fascinated by the work of French composer Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) who he had interviewed in Basel, Switzerland.
Along his journey, among other personalities, Atalaya worked and lived with the Italian composer Pietro Grossi (1917-2002), pioneer in the use of computers in music, who founded in Florence the Studio of Musical Phonology (S2FM) and the association Vita Musicale Contemporânea.
Grossi accepted Atalaya among his first disciples and, in the 1968 annual concert, at Circolo Incontro, included his “Rhythmic Variants”, about four sinusoidal sounds, usually pointed out as the first electronic work by a Portuguese author, which was released in Portugal in a concert by the former Portuguese Authors Society.
In 1998, Atalaya returned to electroacoustic music, with the creation of Improvises XXI Ensemble, with percussionist Elizabeth Davis, of the Portuguese Symphony, to which later composer and pianist Bruno Belthoise would join.
Atalaya, one of the founders of the Portuguese Musical Youth, in 1948, took courses in conducting orchestras with maestros Félix Prohaska, Hans Swarowsky, Igor Markevich and Piero Bellugi.
He was the first director of the Experimental Chamber Opera Group, which he founded, with support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, before the appearance of the Portuguese Opera Company of the Teatro da Trindade in 1966.
Collaboration with television began in 1956, when RTP still operated at the old Feira Popular, with violinist Leonor Prado (1917-2017) and pianist Nella Maissa (1914-2014). Atalaya maintained his collaboration with public television until 1974, to which he returned years later, always in publicity programs.
In July 1975, he returned to the already designated Radio Difusão Portuguesa (RDP), having been artistic coordinator of three orchestras of the institution.
In 1977, with Maria João Pires, he directed the initiatives that marked the 150th anniversary of the death of Ludwig van Beethoven in Portugal, and became a member of National Council of Music. Among other positions, he was head director of the Porto Symphonic Orchestra, and artistic advisor for “Lisbon, City of Music”, an initiative of the former mayor of the capital Nuno Krus Abcassis.
In 1982 he created the initiative “Música em Diálogo”, in the capital, which in 1986 passed to the neighboring municipality of Oeiras, where it remained until 2009.
Still in 1982, he founded the Classical Orchestra of Porto, at the invitation of the then Secretary of State for Culture, Pedro Santana Lopes. In 1983, he published his first book, “A Cassete Azul”.
Under the patronage of the Secretary of State for Culture, in 1994 he started the record anthology “Cinco Séculos de Música Portuguesa”, having published about 30 titles.
In 1998, with the support of the Fafe City Council, founded an Academy of Music in that city in the district of Braga, which was given its name.