This year’s Portland Winter Light Festival features two performances by Tomás Cotik, assistant professor of violin at Portland State: a video projection of Ombra Musicia II (“musician’s shadow”) at PSU’s Urban Plaza on Feb. 3-4 and a performance of his Trio for Violin, Light and Shadow at the Lincoln Recital Hall on Feb. 11.
Portland State’s Ruben Gil-Herrera spoke with Cotik about these performances, his experience as a professor at Portland State and how the pandemic has shaped his art.
Ruben Gil-Herrera: You are originally from Argentina and have lived in Germany, Toronto, Miami and Texas. What made you decide to leave the warm weather and come to Portland State?
Tomás Cotik: It wasn’t the weather particularly that attracted me to Portland but the city being not too crazy yet — a cultural city that offers everything as well as the peace to create and many interesting collaborators. In music a lot of times we say that the job chooses us. I’m very fortunate to be teaching in this vibrant city and in a university that is so involved with the community and where we are always trying to see how our knowledge and our creative endeavors help the population.
RGH: How did you end up getting involved with the Winter Light Festival?
Cotik: In the last years since I came to Portland, I became interested in interdisciplinary collaborations and those allow us to see how art that is traditionally performed in the concert hall can go to the streets outside the concert hall and be accessible to a lot of people that wouldn’t encounter it otherwise.
I heard about the Portland Winter Light Festival a little bit after arriving in Portland. I think it’s only eight years old, and I came here six years ago. I collaborated in a previous issue of the festival in 2019. We created a large-scale project. It was a three stories high projected silhouette of a musician at the PSU library. That was my first collaboration. I was fascinated by the idea of hundreds of thousands of people walking through the streets, visiting different projects and [I wanted to bring] something unique that not many other projects had, which is the musical component, which, in my world, speaks directly to the heart.
RGH: Can you talk a bit about the two pieces that you are showing this festival, Ombra Musicii II and Trio for Violin, Light and Shadow, and how those speak to the heart?
Cotik: In 2023, I’m collaborating with other artists to bring to life two projects. One is a second issue of that previous project, but it’s completely different. It will be a projection on the fourth floor of a building downtown, accessible to everyone, changing how we perceive architecture that otherwise sits a little bit inert at night, and sharing in the middle of the night in a very cold moment of the year hopeful, warm, energetic music. There’s music that was composed 300 years ago as well as music from where I come from, Astor Piazzolla, and some music from Spain as well.
The other project is going to be inside Lincoln Hall, and it will be a live performance with added elements of projection. There will be shadows generated, digital images that strengthen the music and invite people that may or may not be used to this art form to get fully immersed and experience it in another way.
RGH: What do you hope that the people who show up to see you will take away from the experience?
Cotik: With music it’s ephemeral, only sound waves, but we are trying to touch people. I started playing the violin because I had listened to a vinyl record when I was five years old. That created a lot of emotions within me. That instant that can touch people’s life I think is incredible and I want to share it with people.
Tomas Cotik’s Winter Lights Festival Performances are funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts