Stefano Matteucci, Cellist, Singer & Composer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I was inspired by a famous Italian violinist called Uto Ughi.

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

Mostly classical music, but also pop, rock and electronic music of the 70s and 80s.

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

The greatest challenge nowadays is being oneself.

We live in an era where conformism is largely rewarded. Copying what already works is the way to go, if one wants to be heard. Being original is a no no.

I managed to stay myself, and my music is unique. My albums not only differ from what goes on the radio, but they are also different to one another. I like to write what I feel at the moment, without pursuing a specific style, or genre. Exactly like the great composers of the past used to do, they would write for ensemble, orchestra, opera, duets, trio and quartets, sacred music, etc. They might have had their “signature” of course, but they weren’t stuck in a specific genre.

As a performer, which particular works/composers do you think you play best?

I’m better at playing romantic music, and opera, from Tchaikovsky to Puccini.

But I also like to sing Sinatra and Elvis. My voice is very similar to the latter.

To be completely honest though, for the past 10 years I mainly focused on my own music, and that’s what I think I play the best.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

My repertoire is in constant expansion. When I get tired of a piece, I won’t play it for a while, and I add new tracks. Recently, I added a full album (10 tracks), called “AMAMI”, which I’ve been working on since 2018, and released in the summer of 2020.

At the moment I’m working on the great cello concertos, more specifically Saint Saens.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I try to experience life in the deepest way possible. An artist, in order to write, must experience life. That doesn’t mean risking one’s life by doing extreme things, or getting into drugs (as most people seem to think). Not at all. To experience life, one needs to go under the surface. Not to be afraid of loneliness, marginalization, bullying, and pain.

Loving deeply, both people, and nature. Fighting for dreams, for a better world, and being an idealistic. I try to get to know the nature of the people I meet, their ideas and dreams, and I travel a lot. When traveling, I mingle with the locals and strictly avoid hotels.

I also experienced street performances for 5 years – that helped me a lot. When you play in an open square, people aren’t there to listen to you, they didn’t buy a ticket.

It’s demonstrated that people need the right environment in order to pay attention. A few years ago, the American violinist Joshua Bell performed in the subway of a big American city. He played Bach on a 3.5 million dollar violin, but made just $32 dollars! People, except for a 3-year old boy, simply ignored him. The next day he had a sold-out gig in a well known concert hall, where tickets cost around $100.

Street music pushes the artist to the extreme, because people stop and listen to you, only if you get their attention. You must mix well known covers with your own original music, but all must be done in a totally unique way, or people won’t see you at all. I managed to sell many albums of my own original music, travel Europe 3 times, and live comfortably out of street performances. Sometimes, when I see a pretty square, I still go.

You are also a composer. Does performing influence your composing, and vice versa? And if so, how?

Absolutely. For instance, my voice isn’t a rock voice. My first album, though, was kind of rock, with a classical, and pop touch. That wasn’t the perfect match for my voice. Therefore, in time, I changed my composing style in order to better suit my voice, and went more towards operatic, filmy and lyrical music.

How would you characterise your compositional language/musical style?

I play violin and cello, therefore I use strings a lot. If recorded in layers, cello and violin can easily reproduce an ensemble. Therefore, in my music, one will find loads of orchestrations, and strings are quite dominant. I also love instrumentals, probably because as a teenager, I would listen to Alan Parsons Project (a well-known band from the 80s), and I got to like the idea of alternating a song with an instrumental (they used to do that a lot).

I compose on piano (even though I don’t call myself a pianist, but I did study piano at  conservatoire), I write the voice melody line with the harmony I’m looking for, and after I write my orchestrations. The result is often quite filmy, or minimalistic, sometimes electronic, or jazzy, or operatic, or atonal, it really depends on my mood.

Of which works are you most proud?

It’s hard to say. I think I’m influenced by my audience to some extent. I might like something a lot, but if my audience doesn’t respond to it, in time, I also undervalue it. I noticed that a few times. I happen to be enthusiastic by what people seem to like the most of my work, that means my third album “CAMBIERA’”. I liked it before even playing it to the public, but seeing their response to it, I now like it even more. Recently, though, as mentioned before, I released another album (AMAMI), and at the moment, that’s the one I am really proud of. It’s completely different than anything I’ve ever written, it encompasses a large number of emotions, from anger, to joy and loneliness, to desperation and grandness, crossing styles and harmonies, including oriental and contemporary classical.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow and maintain classical music’s audiences?

I consider classical music the best in all aspects, but it has a major defect: there’s no renewal in it. The contemporary classical is more than often really hard to listen to. Too many dissonances, the absence of structure and phrasing, make it really hostile to the audiences. I think we should mix the complexity of classical music, with the richness of timbre that we have nowadays. It’s not written in stone that people can’t focus for more than 3mins when listening to music. In the past people used to go for a 4-hour opera, and the composers made wonderful careers with long and complex compositions. It could be the same today if we really want it to be. If we start using sounds that are more familiar to people, sounds of this time, they would be more encouraged to go to concerts that aren’t necessarily pop. Therefore, to answer your question, I think classical music should embrace new sounds and languages, without losing its richness, depth and complexity.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think success is being able to convey emotions, and to last. When your music moves people and you can survive all the difficulties of the music field (especially if you don’t have a major label backing you), then you are really successful. The important thing, for me, is to be free to express myself without being told how to dress, move, write and think. And especially how my music should sound. In that regard, I think fame can be a real cage. I believe that that’s the reason why so many great artists, when reaching fame, become drug addicts, their music gets worse, and they often die prematurely.

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

It depends on what they want. If they want fame, I’m not the right person to give advice. If they want music to be their life companion, and want to be free to write what they feel, exploring every possible corner and aspect of music, then I’d suggest them to study classical, jazz, listen to different styles, go to concerts as much as possible, and compose as much as possible. I’d tell them to be bold, never being afraid of being different, and find their own language (which is not necessarily a style).

Stefano Matteucci is a cellist, singer and composer. His latest album ‘Amami’ is available now.

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