Female Composers, Part 4: Francesca Verunelli

Female Composers, Part 4: Francesca Verunelli

For centuries, classical music was mostly composed and performed by men. Luckily this has changed in the past decades. In our series, we are introducing the female composers of our publishing group. This time: Francesca Verunelli.

Francesca Verunelli was born in Italy in a little town near Florence. She began her studies in Florence and Rome later completing the advanced course in composition at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. In 2008 she moved to Paris where she has since worked as a busy composer and researcher at IRCAM. Never losing her Italian roots, in 2010 she won the Leone d’argento in the Venice Biennale with her piece

En Mouvement (Espace Double) which was performed by the Mitteleuropa Orchestra under the direction of Andrea Pestalozza. The following year, she received a commission from IRCAM for a string quartet with electronics, Unfolding, which was performed by the Arditti Quartet at the 2012 Biennale Musiques en scène in Lyon and later at other venues, as well as a joint commission from the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and the Venice Biennale for a music theatre work (Serial Sevens). She has composed various pieces for solo instrument and electronics and others for ensemble (Cinemaolio, Déshabillage impossible, Five Songs are some of her more recent works). As winner of the 2012 Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne Award she received a commission for the orchestral piece Graduale, Disambiguation to be performed by the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester (LSO).

In 2013 Radio France commissioned Ms. Verunelli to write The Narrow Corner for its radio programme ‘Alla breve’ which was recorded by the Orchestre Philharmonique under the direction of Susanna Mälkki, and broadcast in February 2015. She has received other important commissions from the ensemble Court-Circuit, the chamber choir Accentus, the Gmem in Marseilles (where she was composer in residence in the 2014-2015 season), the CIRM in Nice, the Cité de la Musique, and ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble New York). Currently, she is composer in residence at the Casa de Velasquez (Académie de France in Madrid).

Who (if any) are your artistic forebears? Who do you feel closest to?
I was brought up on the more or less recent “classics” of traditional, Western notated music, and a lot of this music – let’s say from Monteverdi to Grisey – continues to fascinate and challenge me. However, I listen to anything and everything, and in fact whatever happens in music interests me – non-written music, other traditions, and other ‘styles’ so to speak. The experience of listening is at the origin of musical thought and I believe that all the sound that surrounds us offers us composers an inexhaustible source of reflection on listening.

Do you prefer writing for small or large orchestras, and, if you have a preference, why?
There are a number of compositional problems that I have been working on for years and I would say that every piece is a sort of concrete “declination” or “manifestation” that comes about as a result of the intersection of these long-term lines of research with a given instrumental world be it a small ensemble or large orchestra. So in reality every instrumental make-up offers a specific sonic universe with which one compares and evaluates certain more general ideas, and vice versa. Some ideas can appear in a certain way because they have been compared with one instrumental world rather than with another.

So every instrumental make-up is an interesting challenge from this point of view. But it’s also true that there are periods in which one make-up suits us better, or the ideas that we’re interested in are better suited to one make-up rather than another. At the present time I would love to write more for large orchestra.

How important is it for you to experiment and how important is it to communicate?
I don’t seek to experiment just for the sake of experimenting nor to communicate just for the sake of communicating. I think about music through and in music. There are compositional and musical “problems” that appear to be very urgent to me and which live constantly in my thoughts. And I seek responses to these questions without placing limits in regard to the compositional “means” that I’ll need to confront them. I don’t place limits on myself in regard to performance difficulty or accessibility a priori, nor do I seek out difficulty for its own sake. I am convinced that it is only by being absolutely respectful in our own listening that we can hope to provoke in others an experience of interesting listening. In the end we only have our own ear with which to evaluate and understand, and we can’t rely on anything other than that.

On 22 January in Munich, as part of the Musica Viva season, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under the direction of Susanna Mälkki will perform the world premiere of The Narrow Corner. Can you tell us something about this piece, about its poetics?
The Radio asked me for a piece divided into five radiophonic “episodes” each one with two minutes of music. And I wanted to find a way to approach these two-minute segments in a way that turned out to be unitary, albeit with the temporal interruptions. The result was five moments that are like five paradoxical perspectives on a single sonic world. The narration that results is elliptical and the elements are contextualised, decontextualised and recontextualised according to the glimpse that the particular point of view that each occasion offers of them. This is the sense of five brief moments, which are not movements but are “in movement”. Five times the image of the whole of which the point of view – “the narrow corner” in fact – prevents a single interpretation can be completed differently. With the result that the overall form is not linear but “in depth”, a sort of permanence of a place through various temporal perspectives.