Gervasoni turns 60: interview and new projects

Gervasoni turns 60: interview and new projects

Italian composer Stefano Gervasoni turns 60 this July 26. Born in Bergamo, he’s spent a lifetime shuttling back and forth between Italy and France. Since 2006 he has taught at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris. In June, look forward to the world premiere of De Tinieblas, performed by SWR Vokalensemble in Italy at Milano Musica, in France at ManiFeste in Paris, and in Stuttgart, Germany.

In this short interview, Gervasoni tells about his works in progress and highlights some of his previous creations.


In Nomine PPP - music by Stefano Gervasoni and video by Paolo Pachini

In nomine PPP - from the video by Paolo Pachini

Interview to Stefano Gervasoni

In June we’ll finally get the chance to hear the world premiere of De Tinieblas, your latest project, for choir, video and electronics. In November there’s the release of In nomine PPP, with video by Paolo Pachini. What does working in the visual dimension mean to you? What does it mean for music? What does it mean in terms of imagery?

My work with Paolo Pachini on De Tinieblas came about by chance. De Tinieblas was never conceived as something to be accompanied by a video. Besides the a cappella choir, there’s this huge amount of vocal polyphony going on, thanks to the electronics. Paolo was focused on the formal and tempo elements of the score, and on the great lyrics by José Angel Valente, and came up with his own video score that accompanies and completes the music. Both music and video are based on utopias. It’s like setting the silence of darkness to music, or putting on display the absence of light. And having them echo together.

De Tinieblas is a 50-minute oratory. In Nomine PPP is an hour-long “cantata” dedicated to Pier Paolo Pasolini, written by Paolo Pachini and myself. A reflection of our shared aims, with shared “formal” and “architectural” rules that each of us was free to interpret in his own way, and in terms of his own kit of expressiveness. Both of us are very much into combining sound and imagery. From my point of view as a composer, the result is an extremely meaningful theatricalization that’s pertinent to my music and its formal and dramaturgical values, its longing – never exhibited ostentatiously, but concealed in the depths of my scores – for expressiveness, and psychological tension that’s in constant movement. It all becomes clear, without having to be expressly pointed out, in Paolo’s video imagery. It unfolds as my music plays. In a way, the video explains the music and provides a narrative for it. To the point where there’s this operatic dimension that’s created, where vocals are fundamental. There are thirty-two voices plus electronics in De Tinieblas, eight voices and sixteen instruments in In Nomine PPP.


Stefano Gervasoni, De Tinieblas - Trailer by IRCAM


Your first work for Ricordi was In Eile Zögernd III for orchestra, in 1987. Can you name three works that you consider most important in terms of your development as a composer?

Least Bee, written a few years later (1990-91), the An - Animato - Antiterra cycle (1992-99), De Tineblas (2019-20). Three Ricordi pieces that show the stages of my evolution in terms of minimalist composition where the focus is on shading and a vocality that’s scrupulously respectful of the values regarding the poetics of an "inclusive" compositional language. One that is formally complex, dynamically and polyphonically richer, denser, more narrative and dramatic, more stylistically and expressively variegated. Integrating at a host of different levels other types of musical language – high - and super highbrow – in search of an in-depth rapport with history, and open to the future. All this has distanced me from a “purified” vision of music, which is so clear in Least Bee. What I’ve sought to do is delve into the problem areas of music, in terms of where I’m going. Music is a vehicle and a message at the same time. It acts on the emotions, eliciting their cognitive value, the propensity for communication. Fourth stage in that evolution – may I? – there’s Dir – in dir (2003-2010), composed when I was with Suvini Zerboni.


Least Bee (1990-91) and An-Animato-Antiterra (1992-99) 


Today, what would you like to go back and listen to?

In die Luft geschrieben, for mezzosoprano, string orchestra, percussion, harp and celesta. It’s a cycle of twenty-one Lieder, with lyrics by Nelly Sachs, that was only ever played once, in 2018. I’m finishing work on a series of thirty-three epitaphs that Nelly Sachs wrote for thirty-three persons who disappeared in Nazi concentration camps, with two cycles, for voice and piano (with electronics). Six or seven Lieder to add to the twenty-one that we already have. The first is almost finished. The second is on the fire.


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Photo: © Olivier Allard