Roberto David Rusconi, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

My grandfather was a huge inspiration for me. He was an extraordinary violin player and played under Toscanini at l’Arena di Verona for many years. During World War II he became blind and he started relying more and more on his hearing, living in a realm made of sounds, reverberations, reflections and perception of ‘entities hidden behind the veil’. He mentored me from the age of three and even if I just wanted to play the violin, he wanted to play with me so I took up piano as well. Our days of interminable work purely involved listening and improvising a lot; fugues, counterpoint and toccatas. To him I owe my ability to absorb styles and techniques almost on the spot. My mother instead encouraged me to listen to as many different kinds of music as possible, and to play as many different styles as possible. This is how I was able to earn a living during my studies: hard bop and free jazz, standards and evergreen were as familiar to me as Schumann, Schubert and Haydn.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

There have not been many honestly; being taken to listen to Nono’s Prometeo at the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice with Claudio Abbado and Experimentalstudio was a shock at my young age. I said to my grandfather: ;these are warlocks not musicians’! Studying conducting with Carlo Maria Giulini was also a real life changing experience when I was just 16, but I guess my real and long lasting love will always be the music of the polyphonic masters in Basilica di San Marco. The voices, the resonances, the words and the organ’s subtleties travelling across space and time have always been a spiritual journey for me. Still nowadays, my dream is to be able to write for specialised choirs in a large ritualistic iconic space like Artangel. Music is a journey of the soul.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

The biggest challenge has been giving up performing on stage and dedicating my life to composing. I miss playing so much sometimes it makes me sick. My greatest and most rewarding joy so far has been hearing my opera Dionysos Rising performed in a fully immersive surround sound by L-Acoustics. I will be grateful forever to the producers Matthias Losek, Valeria Told and Michael Scheidl for trusting my vision. Finding the right producers to collaborate with is always an enormous frustration, particularly at the moment as I am still searching for the final producers for my new ballet KIRKE with choreographer Sandrine Monin.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I believe music must be sustainable so if nobody wants my work it means it is not needed. When I get a commission I ask for complete artistic freedom and full control on the musical aspect only. This means fighting hard to find the right performers. Especially with opera, you envision the characters you are writing in your mind; their vocal lines, their articulations, their poetic approach. All aspects of the character are designed in a writer’s mind like a bespoke dress; therefore not everybody can wear it. The final nightmare is the deadline, and trying to be sure that you have a plan B, C and even D, especially when you work with surround sound or live electronics; you never know what may be hidden under a faulty wire or an incompatible update.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

I love working with performers and interpreters. Every aspect of the process is a complete rediscovery of my work. As with my previous analogy, it is like having designed a unique dress, but then having to really tailor it to the body of the person who is going to wear it. You must be ready to adjust, shape and listen to suggestions. Directors – I really have a lot of difficulty with them, but they make things happen so I prefer to disappear when they work on my creations.

How do you work?

I have ADHD, so I sleep very, very little. I work during the night in total silence, trying to see structures along a time-frame as a distant picture of a still unchartered territory. Than I equally divide my work across desk writing (usually choosing materials and defining directionalities), computer and audio simulation of specific passages and sound scenarios (especially when writing for full surround) and finally score/part editing. I like to supervise my editing work down to the very last articulation: the map is not the territory …still it helps a lot not to get lost. Often I do testing: I admire enormously the R&D (research and development) process, so sharing, receiving feedback and making adjustments are nothing to be ashamed of, it is part of the process. I always use as an example Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. Michelangelo sculptured the masterpiece when he was still very young, but at the end of his life, he modified its posture reshaping his knee and back: marble!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I love every musician I am working with. As a composer I enormously respect the maestri of the past early vocal renaissance: Palestrina, Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Di Lasso, De Victoria, Ockeghem and Schulz.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is a strange word; I do not really like it honestly.

In professional life it means you able to make a living out of your work.

In life … it is impossible to define.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be humble and study the past, history.

What is your present state of mind?

I am constantly possessed by what I feel and hear. It is a daily struggle not to lose my sanity. From melancholia to ecstasy, catharsis and metamorphosis, I often get lost in my thoughts!


On 17th May, the Minguet Quartet will premiere Roberto David Rusconi’s new work Variazioni Tiepolo at the Purcell Room at London’s Southbank Centre.

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