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Composer Helena Cánovas Parés was this afternoon awarded the Carmen Mateu Young Artist European Award, Opera & Dance. Awarded by the Castell de Peralada Foundation, the award in this second year was open to young opera composers. It carries with it a €30,000 commission for a new chamber opera, to be staged for the first time at the Castell de Peralada Festival 2024 and subsequently as part of the programmes of the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and the Theatre Royal in Madrid, as co-producers of the opera.

Launched in 2019 with aim of providing support to creation by emerging artists in the fields of dance and opera, the Carmen Mateu Young Artist European Award is a prestigious multidisciplinary prize that is awarded yearly alternating the two principal art forms of the Castell de Peralada Festival. The award also pays homage to the memory and legacy of Carmen Mateu, sponsor and original moving spirit of the Festival.

In her address, President of the Castell de Peralada Foundation Isabel Suqué Mateu, said “with this prize we pay homage to the memory and legacy of an enthusiastic cultural patron of the arts, but we are also carrying on a family project that advocates for art as an engine of communication in society.” She went on to add: “Although recent months have been hard for the cultural sector, we have continued to work in the belief that now more than ever we cannot afford to abandon projects that – like this one – contribute to the development of the career of a young artist.”

In its second year, the submission period for applications for the award ran from 27 November 2020 until 28 February 2021. The eminent jury was made up of composer and winner of the National Music Prize 2020, Raquel García Thomas; Joan Matabosch, Artistic Director of Madrid’s Royal Theatre; Musical Director of the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Honorary Director of the National Orchestra of Spain and winner of the National Music Prize 1999, Josep Pons; and Mexican composer and soprano and winner of the City of Munich Music Prize (Landeshauptstadt München), Diana Syrse.

The jury selected Helena Cánovas from among 39 candidates from 15 countries, particularly praising her capacity to generate an original language of composition with a distinctive voice in opera and in particular in creating a relationship between music and text, as well as her theatrical and stage vision. The jury also singled out her exceptional talent and evident potential with an approach characterised by her sensitivity, freshness, commitment and charisma. They believed that in the future, her way of understanding things could become an important voice in the world of opera that will carry considerable weight.

Born in Tona (Barcelona) in 1994, Helena Cánovas Parés lives in Cologne in Germany where she is pursuing her professional development. She recently finished the opera Das Mädchen-All days future, commissioned by the Bielefeld Theatre, and since 2020 she has been artistic director of the Avantgarden Festival (Liedberg, Germany). In her acceptance speech, Cánovas celebrated the fact that the prize was looking to the future: “A prize created to invest in ideas and dreams. I am grateful to those who believe in growth and who give opportunities to people like me knowing that it will be an adventure and knowing that things may not turn out as expected.” And she added: “I am happy with the things that I have been able to achieve, and I am completely euphoric that today we are celebrating my receipt of a prize, but what I think about most in my daily life is what is to come. Not the prize itself, but the opera. Everything I want to do and everything I want to learn. The mistakes I will yet make. Everything that is left to do.”

Once she had received from Isabel Suqué Mateu the sculptural piece created by artist Santi Moix, inspired by the camellia in memory of Carmen Mateu and made by creative jewellers Bagués Masriera, the prize-winner spoke to Raquel García Tomás about her style of composition, her career to date, the challenges facing young composers and also about her new composition to be performed for the first time as part of the Castell de Peralada Festival.

In relation to the work, it will involve a number of soloists for two to five voices and an instrumental group of three to seven musicians, as agreed with the Castell de Peralada Festival. Cánovas explained that she often turns to history, society and customs for themes for her work, but that she sometimes finds it strange to talk about those issues in a country that is not her own. For that reason, she started to research existing texts that she could use or that could provide her with context or a story. “While I was looking, I felt the need to want to discover for myself but also to reveal to the audience some lost treasure and that set me off actively engaging with the work of dramatists and writers until I discovered the Countess of San Luis.” But she didn’t just focus on the Countess, she also discovered a very interesting group of women who wrote for the theatre in Spain in the 1920s and 30s. “While I was reading about them, a picture was forming in my mind of what those women would have been like, how they would relate to people, how they spoke, the places they went. At the same time, the title of a work by the Countess of San Luis stuck in my mind: ‘Don Juan does not exist’.” Cánovas has not so far been able to find the work, which seems to have disappeared, but she already feels a profound connection with those women and so the work does exist in her imagination. A text that doesn’t yet have a librettist is already becoming opera: “The opera I want to create is centred on ‘Don Juan does not exist’ but it is also about the Countess of San Luis and all those women writers and being and disappearing, existing in fiction like Don Juan or existing on the Internet like the Countess – who seems to have vanished completely, leaving behind only her Wikipedia entry.”

During the award ceremony, the Leos Quartet and baritone Ferran Albrich gave the first performance of Amarga Once Again, a new composition by Helena Cánovas that they called “a process of recycling starting from an old piece where composing is not just thinking up notes and rhythms.”

The award represents a renewal of the commitment of the Castell de Peralada Foundation and the Castell de Peralada Festival to new creation, a commitment that has given a free space for creation and music to many composers. Many of those composers were also at the ceremony, such as Alberto García Demestres – Winner of the Medal of Honour of the Castell de Peralada Festival – with whom Helena Cánovas will be giving a masterclass; Joan Magrané; Albert Guinovart; Agustí Charles; and Frenchman Philippe Fénélon. Alex Ollé and Carlus Padrissa of La Fura dels Baus, directors Francesc Prat and Dani Espasa and countertenor Xavier Sabata were also in attendance.

Vice-President of the European Festivals Association, Paul Dujardin, also took part in the event and praised the spirit of creativity and support for young talent of the Castell de Peralada Foundation and Festival. Oriol Aguilà, Director of the Castell de Peralada Festival likewise spoke of young people’s need for opportunities and said that the prize is aimed at transformation and “making the impossible possible, making dreams possible.”


The Castell de Peralada Foundation works with Opera Europe and the European Festivals Association (EFA) to publicise the prize.

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