Francesco Filidei: new signing. Interview

Francesco Filidei: new signing. Interview

We are pleased to announce that starting in 2018 Francesco Filidei’s new compositions will be published by Casa Ricordi.

Short biography

  • He graduated from the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, and from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris
  • As an organist and composer, he has been invited to participate in major contemporary music festivals internationally
  • He has played with a number world-class orchestras, including WDR, SWR, RSO Wien, Bayerischen Rundfunk
  • Prizes (selection): Salzburg Music Forderpreistrager 2006 / Prix Takefu 2007 / Forderpreistrager Siemens 2009 / Medaglia UNESCO Picasso-Miro del Rostrum of Composers 2011 / Charles Cros 2016 / Fondation Simone et Cino Del Duca 2018
  • In 2016 he was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture
  • He joined the I Teatri Foundation of Reggio Emilia (Italy) as music consultant in 2018

Interview with the Composer

You’re an organist. How much has your training as an organist influenced you as a composer, if at all? Does it show in your compositions?
For centuries, it was fairly common for composers to be organists – people like Frescobaldi, Bach, Frank, Messiaen. The history of western music is brimming with big names like these, along with the likes of organists Rameau and Bruckner, who wrote music that has little or nothing to do with the organ. The organ also played no small part in the musical education of Beethoven and Chopin; Mozart and Liszt played the organ, too. Then there’s Italy. Although I think we can thank our lucky stars that cities like Soragna, Lucca and Oneglia gave the world Verdi, Puccini and Berio – what’s three organists less? And don’t think they didn’t risk winding up as organists, either out of family tradition or due to a question of personal finances. Yet none of these composers ever forgot what they had seen from the upper galleries – the cheap seats in a theater. It’s easy enough to hear traces of those sounds in their works. But besides the big guns, there’s an endless throng of composers that make ends meet with masses, weddings and funerals. I was one of them. I see in one of the essential elements of any church, the organ, something that contributed to the birth of a strongly ritualistic aspect, which is present in my works, and to titles dedicated to the esteemed Giordano Bruno and the Messa dell’Homme Armé, with written parts for actual firearms. The organ also made me consider aspects of listening in a pretty unusual way. Often, it’s like organists are hidden inside the belly of their instrument, immersed in the amniotic fluid of its sounds. At which point, the mechanics, tracker action, the noises made by this enormous monster nestled in the church, all become present, creaking like stiff bones. I would also say that the use of the long pedal (Girolamo Frescobaldi), the exploration of extremely low- and high-pitched sounds (Messiaen), “terraced” orchestration (César Franck), the imitation of mutation stops in the orchestra (Ravel), are all part of my own personal musical baggage, thanks to the organ. Having continued to study and play music by other composers gave me the chance to put not only my head into others’ works, but my hands (and feet) as well! Something concrete.

You’ve got quite an array of compositions to your credit, with music for all kinds of formations – chamber groups, ensembles, orchestras. Your first work in musical theater, Giordano Bruno, came out in 2015. How was it that your interest in musical theater hadn’t been sparked earlier?
Actually, I’ve always been interested in musical theater. I just never had the opportunity to do something on a scale large enough, in recognizable forms. Sometimes when you’re up against a lack of funding and restrictions, alternative solutions can be found. I remember thinking back in 1999 in Pisa that if I didn’t have a real theater to stage my operas in, I could always create an imaginary one. In Antinoo, earplugs were a must once you got in that theater, and the score contained sounds of saliva, arteries pulsating with blood, teeth chattering; lighting came with blinks and movements of the pupils that were tightly controlled – upending the custom of organizing external sounds while leaving internal sounds free. This created a curious situation, where music’s social function was stripped bare. It had to be reconstructed from within, the number of performers would grow, as would audiences. Without a doubt, in this case my relationship with the organ led me along, guided the way. Besides the ritualistic aspect of the work, there was the inversion in listening I mentioned earlier. In everything I’ve written, there’s a basic ambiguity that’s connected to gestures, which at times takes the performance aspect into consideration. I made my way to the more standard form of opera step by step. From N.N., which is almost in the style of Banchieri, to Opera (forse), an opera compressed into a few minutes, with birdcalls instead of singers, and the opera-retable Giordano Bruno. I want to continue with new experiences that are even closer to the classic definition of opera.

Among various commissions over the next few years, you’ve got two operas in the works. The first of which premieres next year at the Opéra Comique in Paris. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
It’s entitled Inondation, with book by director Joël Pommerat. It’s based on a short story by Yevgeny Zamyatin, “The Flood”, originally published in 1929. It’s an opera in two acts. Joël and I worked closely on it for over a year. The necessary singers were with us month after month. Basically, I would be handed a new scene every morning, and I’d have to work out the essential lines in two days’ time – rushing through the vocal parts, improvising some accompaniment on the piano. The Atelier recordings did a lot to help complete the actual composition.

How would you define opera today? Does it need a connection to the past? What, if anything, should it be saying to audiences?
Opera is a form that reached its utmost splendor ages ago. But that’s where its strength lies – it’s inevitably an instrument of the past. Would there be any sense otherwise, in a world ruled by the Web? Why gather in an Italian-style theater to listen to non-amplified singing that smacks of centuries gone by? The idea is to start from the beginning, destroy that scenario in a ritual that sparks renewal. That’s why Giordano Bruno makes use of what at first seems to be traditional language. But it’s placed within a dodecaphonic framework that, when you take a good look at it, is like an installation in a contemporary art museum, a collage of old paintings. The orchestration of Inondation follows suit – a voice reminiscent of Pelléas amid the gritty grating of the recording, speeded up and slowed down by the whims of an old gramophone, breaking the thread. When I write, whether it’s an opera or anything else, I just jot down whatever comes to me. While I’m doing that, I try to envision myself doing it. I see the continuity at first, followed by contradictions, reaffermations. I try to do my best to transmit myself back to me. In the same way, I would say that opera should transmit audiences back to themselves.

What are you working on now, and what have we got to look forward to?
If I survive the premieres of these two operas, we shall see!

Photo by Jean Radel