Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
Let me begin with the obligatory master composers whom I listen to most – Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Ravel, Satie and Ralph Vaughan Williams. There are some key film composers to be mentioned as well – Thomas Newman, Alexandre Desplat, Jóhann Jóhannsson and John Williams, to name a few. Jazz also plays a large role in influencing the way my fingers move and compose music on the keyboard – Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Miles Davis… However, now, as I enter mid life, there is an awakening that I turn to, which is life’s simple offerings – family, loved ones, romance, passion… these are the elements that make my blood boil, and where I find boundless inspiration in every day life.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
The constant struggle to be true to yourself as a composer/artist versus the struggle of music/art as commerce. Deep down inside, most of us strive and desire immortality in our work throughout the creation of our opus – the pursuit of remaining true to your soul throughout all of this is my biggest challenge. Often times, the truth disrupts things and can make people uncomfortable.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
Like a true architect, the biggest challenge is striking a balance between appeasing your artistic soul and satisfying the client. Magic happens when the client stretches the composer ‘just enough’ to get them out of their comfort zone – that ‘magic’ is called ‘growth’.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?
Great question and a difficult one to answer thoughtfully as every artist, musician, singer and orchestra bring their own challenges and benefits. On the positive side, I do get the privilege of working with some of the world’s best musicians – the challenge at times is ensuring I am composing something to highlight their strengths, because many of the world class talent I work with often can execute many things… With regard to orchestras, I forever remain humbled upon the first ‘read through’ of a piece – it is nothing short of amazing to sit and listen to an orchestra play your music.
Of which works are you most proud?
Hands down, the ‘Olympic Suite’ I composed for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. It is an opus and a piece of its own. I composed approximately 257 cues for television. Essentially that is over 200 themes and variations based on one theme/melody. As an anthem, it has over the years woven itself into the fabric our Canadian national cultural history. It is rare to have the opportunity to compose music in one’s lifetime for the Olympics.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
Versatile. I am a student of all genres of music from early classical to contemporary film scores to pop music. Therefore, my harmonic and melodic language is vast, and I apply the style necessary to the current project I am working on at the time. As I mention, in answering one of your other thoughtful questions, everyone from Bach to Debussy to Chopin to Thomas Newman to Bill Evans and Miles Davis find their way into my compositional vocabulary.
How do you work?
Typically in great solitude when it comes to my solo piano music. Orchestral writing is also a lonely existence, and a necessary one. When I am involved in writing and producing contemporary pop music, it’s much more of a collaborative effort between myself and the other artists/musicians in the room.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Above all, the ability to move people emotionally and make people feel alive through music defines the ultimate success for me living a life devoted to creating music. I have been privileged to compose pieces that have reached the masses globally, at times in the billions. I am very proud of these accomplishments, however it does not necessarily equate to these pieces and/or compositions being my ‘best’ ones. Some of what I think is my best work, has yet to be released, some of it sitting on a shelf undiscovered, unheard beyond my studio walls. Lastly, another way to define ’success’ in music, is the ability to sustain oneself and make a living at it, by living one’s passions.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Be steadfast, disciplined, believe in yourself and your ideas, work ridiculously hard, constantly keep an open mind (especially as you entrench yourself in classical studies in conservatories worldwide that can often stifle your views). Work at it daily – no different than an athlete who trains their muscles, one would also needs to train their musical muscles that are dedicated to the craft.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
Great question, one that I am passionate about and constantly seeking solutions to. From my perspective as a classical musician first, and a pop musician second, I try to inject many classical ingredients into my pop writing. For example, a song which I co-wrote for Miley Cyrus called ‘Wrecking Ball’, is essentially a classical piece of music if broken down at the piano. Obviously, there are elements contributed by the record label with regard to the marketing of their artists – bringing a sense of rock’n’roll to the images, fashion, to boost and enhance classical music’s appeal and energy and help seduce younger audiences at times. Classical music does not need to be interpreted as an elitist art form – these composers are some of the greatest minds ever, and we need to remind people and younger audiences that it is ‘cool’ to be intelligent and smart, especially in this new world. Lastly, the concert experience, there are so many more elements we can explore from lighting, to mood, ambience, the venue – there no longer needs to be this wall between the performer and the audience. If we can find ways to enhance the experience, and add more visual elements to the live element, I believe we will witness a surge in classical music. Clearly, we have time to think about it with the current state of the world and the global pandemic we are living through.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I no longer believe in the ‘ideal’ of perfect happiness; however, having the ability to wake up and execute your passion comes pretty close to happiness…
What is your most treasured possession?
My creative spirit and drive, as well as my sense of wonder and creativity, are all things I cherish deeply – I no longer place value on material things…
What do you enjoy doing most?
Living a creative life with people you love…
What is your present state of mind?
Reduction, removing all unnecessary things in life and in composition.
After writing chart-topping hits for the likes of The Weeknd, Miley Cyrus, Céline Dion and Avril Lavigne, multiple Grammy and Academy Award-nominated composer, songwriter and producer Stephan Moccio releases his debut album on Decca Records, ‘Tales of Solace’, out now. Since the release of his first single ‘Fracture’ in mid-April, Stephan’s songs have racked up over 32M streams.