Female composers, part 6: Silvia Colasanti

Female composers, part 6: Silvia Colasanti

As part of our series, we are introducing Italian composer Silvia Colasanti with an interview. 

In your music the dramaturgic component is always very much at the fore. Would you agree with this observation?

Yes, it’s true, this is a characteristic of my music that has often been pointed out. I believe that it’s important, now that we operate within a denser and more complex language, to make sure that the direction of one’s progress on a formal plane is always clear and vital, to recount a story with sound. Some of my works for orchestra manifest all this right from the title: Cede pietati, dolor, for example, calls up the figure of Medea and puts into music an “interior dramaturgy” of her contradictions and afflictions. The Canto di Atropo, for violin and orchestra, deals with the idea of death through another mythological figure, one of the three Fates, Atropos, the one who severs the thread of life.

Still on the subject of dramaturgy, in Florence in 2012 the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino presented your first opera La metamorfosi. Could you tell us a little about that experience?

La metamorfosi allowed me for the first time to confront lyric opera proper, with all the opportunities and challenges that that entails. It has often been claimed that in the second half of the 20th century this genre has not been approached in a direct way, that composers, rather than write a true opera, have very often written things that move “around it”. I myself was determined instead to confront in an authentic manner the genre of the “melodrama”, bringing fully to light what remains its central component, the theatre. Naturally, since what’s involved is a product of our time, it has to draw not just on attainments deriving from our roots but also on those of our more recent past. In the case you refer to I found it very stimulating working with the director Pier'Alli. His dramaturgic and scenic perspective corresponded perfectly with my musical project, and the pairing  of our views produced a cohesive and coherent work.

Il sole, di chi è?, a mini-opera for five actor-singers and ensemble on a libretto by Piumini and dedicated to young audiences, toured widely in Italy, enjoying huge success. Did writing for an as yet not fully-trained audience change the way you wrote?

I love writing for young audiences very much and this certainly influenced how I wrote Sole, as always happens. I believe it’s right for a composer to be concerned about his/her addressee, the end-user of his/her music, not to relinquish his/her own nature and ideas, but to communicate them in a clearer way. In the case of children this absolutely does not mean making “easier” aesthetic choices. On the contrary, it’s perhaps precisely the very young that are more well-disposed towards the language of the present which they live simply as the language of their own time.

You’ve written quite a few orchestral pieces dedicated to important soloists, both Italian and foreign (Massimo Quarta, David Geringas, Yuri Bashmet, Salvatore Accardo, Enrico Dindo, Enrico Bronzi). Have the personalities of these musicians influenced your writing in any way?

Without a doubt. I love writing for great interpreters, and perhaps not so much for the so-called “specialists” of contemporary music. The great musician is always great and he/she is always able to confront different epochs, albeit maintaining, like everybody, his/her own predilections. He/she greatly enriches both the writing phase and the performance phase. While composing my pieces I have often reflected on the peculiarities of the artist that would play them and this has influenced my writing - for the better, obviously. I have had to seek solutions that simultaneously took account of my compositional needs and the particular abilities of the “dedicatees” of the work, with results that I would not otherwise have achieved.

Your works are often performed abroad. Burning, for example, commissioned by the New European Ensemble and performed widely, or the performances in China of Rumbling Gears.         
Yes, it often happens that I hear my music abroad. In France, for instance, which I’ve visited a number of times lately, my melologue Orfeo was performed on tour about twenty times by the Paris Mozart Orchestra with Claire Gibault and a great artist like Natalie Dessay, culminating in a wonderful concert at the Philharmonie in Paris; then, over the last year I have received two commissions from the festivals of Bordeaux and Toulouse. I find that it’s always enriching to be able to experience situations different from our own. Even if we are now in the era of globalisation, I continue to believe not just in a personal but also in a national identity, in which certain traditions and a certain memory always re-emerge in the composer, more or less unconsciously, and in the public too, I believe.

What are your plans for the future?         
I’m working on a new piece for violin, viola and string orchestra. I’ve been asked to write this by Massimo Quarta and Yuri Bashmet, who I’ve written for in the past separately, but who would now like to come together to perform a new work of mine.