Stefano Gervasoni | Componer es una forma de conocerme a mí mismo

Ruth Prieto, for ComposerSpeaks, interviews composer Stefano Gervasoni

Paris, November 2014

Composing is a way of discovering myself

"… composing is very important for me because discovering is a way of knowing new things, myself….exploring not only sound but also the universe of ideas..."

1. Ruth Prieto: What is composition for you in this day and age?

Stefano Gervasoni: This question is very difficult but I will try … composing is very important for me because composing is a way of discovering new things, myself….exploring not only sound but also the universe of ideas. This is special because for composing you have to have intuition, ideas…. things that are objective but there is a lot of work involved in transforming these ‘invisible things‘ in music into something solid that you can see and hear. Music is a complete experience of life made with very a specialized way of writing to make it real.

2. Ruth Prieto: What inspires you as a composer?

Stefano Gervasoni: At the beginning it was especially poetry…now it is a little bit more complex … it is about the way in which I position myself in life, problems and pleasures, I would say, but not in a romantic way. Listening to my inner feelings inspires me. In any case, composing is related to life in a cultural sense. Before my music, life is the first filter. It is the starting point. There is always a filter between life, the feeling of the experience and the music.

"Listening to my inner feelings inspires me. In any case, composing is related to life in a cultural sense"

3. Ruth Prieto: Can you define contemporary?

Stefano Gervasoni: Contemporary is living. For me, life is important, the way you try to have in art an active position. Then there is also creativity. For me, a composer writing contemporary music has to be creative, not only for one piece or several pieces, not only for a short period of your life. You are a contemporary composer living in your present time. Sometimes I see ‘academic’ composers, conservative, writing as it used to be done decades ago according to old techniques and then they do not express creativity. It is like a museum … it might be beautiful but there is no creativity. It is not something alive. They tell us what they are capable of doing but not their position in life.

"For me life is not a museum, music is not a museum. It is not only a question of technique, is also a question of creativity."

4. Ruth Prieto:
What is your main obsession when you are working?

Stefano Gervasoni: There are two different kinds of obsession. The first is to capture the sounds in my mind, to catch them and to be careful about how to write them, and the second to transmit the idea as well as possible to the musicians and find the best musicians to understand and play these sounds. For example I have been very obsessed by whistles since my first compositions and then there is an obsession to find a nice ‘quality of voice’ for my music. Also the content is very important: when we cry or whistle or sing we are expressing a content but we cannot do it with words: this content has to be expressed in a musical written way. It is necessary to find this ‘translation’ and a language without words.

5. R.P.: Which characteristics define you best?

Stefano Gervasoni: I do not know exactly because it is a very difficult task to define myself. I have some obsessions, and maybe these obsessions define me. I do not have a precise idea about the way in which I compose … I go step by step … but when the idea is clear for me, it is easy so I try not to write anything until everything is clear in my head and I know what I to do. Otherwise it would be like going to visit a place as a tourist but I need to explore, to get lost before I can begin a piece of music.

"it is a very difficult task to define myself. I have some obsessions, and maybe these obsessions define me."

6. R.P.: What are you working on now?

Stefano Gervasoni: I have just finished my third String Quartet and I have also been working on some Madrigals

7. R.P.: Which are your musical roots, real or imaginary?

Stefano Gervasoni: Real there are some biographic elements that I can mention you because they are important for my musical discovery. Meeting Luigi Nono was very important for me because I was very young, I was sixteen, it was like a kind of initiation to compose and after that I decided to study composition at the Conservatoire. Then I met Helmut Lachemann, he was a pupil of Luigi Nono and I was a professional composer at that time but it was again like a second initiation for me. I was trying to find my personal way of composing and meeting Lachemann. He was very important because he not only innovates in music but he also has a very deep knowledge of history so, for me, his music is a perfect match between history, music and new ideas, new territories to discover.
On other hand, I have to say that I am very passionate about Baroque music, above all Monteverdi … in a way these are my roots because I feel very close to Monteverdi’s aesthetics. For me, Monteverdi is a very modern composer. Sometimes, he is like a minimalist composer and the way in which he wrote emotions with the voice is very modern for me.

8. R.P.: Have you got a composer of reference?

Stefano Gervasoni: It could be Monteverdi because I like how he is essentially synthetic, which is very important for me. In my music, I like being synthetic and  precise. And also I like a bit of ambiguity. I like to write dark and light moments together in order to create this ambiguity situation.

9. R.P.: Which musician or work has made an impression on you as a composer?

Stefano Gervasoni: In the sense of ambiguity, Debussy is a great master. I see at the same time sad and happy, static and movement, old and modern. Also Webern….but for me now he is a little bit dry, but Webern stays in my mind in a different way: it is a permanent eco in my mind…

10. R.P.:
What would be your advice to a young composer?

Stefano Gervasoni: A young composer should have good ears and listen a lot from the past and from now, know a lot of techniques, and after that he or she should make choices in order to find a personal style, an inner voice.

11. R.P.: How is your creative process?

Stefano Gervasoni: It is always changing. I usually spend some days or weeks thinking but not in a direct way… letting my mind work in the background … then I begin to do sketches by writing and I try to follow these clues, to match them and discover the path to the form of the music that I want to visit.
And then the process speeds up very quick and I start to write. So, the beginning is a very long process, not so productive but when I begin to write, things go very quickly. But in general I am not a very productive composer, sometimes I have to stop, I need to stop.

12. R.P.:
Who would you rescue from the past?

Stefano Gervasoni: All the good composers…. there are a lot……difficult to choose! Music is so rich! Because maybe a whole life is not enough to discover all these wonderful composers.

13. R.P.: What’s interesting about the present?

Stefano Gervasoni: Technology is important. We depend a lot on technology but I would like not to lose the poetic strength which cannot come from technology. But technology should be used in a poetic way. We must not lose our inner voice.

14. R.P.: What do you expect from the future?

Stefano Gervasoni: Fewer wars…but it is impossible unfortunately and now that I am 50 years old I would like that civilization could increase consciousness: we should become better and better but finally I imagine that this is not possible…and also try to convince people that contemporary music is not something perverse … it is a really deep and necessary form of expression. After one century, we are still in the same situation as Schoenberg and his contemporaries were and in the field of culture nothing much has changed…sometimes discouraging, but as composers, as citizens we should not stop. It is a kind of fight.

Stefano Gervasoni, Paris, November 2014
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