David Cesky, composer

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

Coming from America the land of jazz ( and a jazz pianist myself ) I tend to be excited by rhythms as well as a harmonic language that either influenced or stemmed from Jazz. So I would say Stravinsky, Bartok, Gershwin, Bernstein all fall under that genre.

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

Writing large orchestral works. Writing them is easy but navigating and orchestral world that has a reluctance to program new works is quite frustrating as well as challenging.

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

The only pleasure I get commissioned or non commissioned is actually sitting down and composing. That alone is enough to give me great pleasure.

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

I think getting classical musicians and singers to understand the concepts of syncopated rhythms. Jazz players live in a world of syncopation and thus it’s easy for them to organically play these types of rhythms. Classical players come from a world where the notes are played straight and on the beat. Getting them to be able to play naturally off the beat is something that is alien to their sensibilities. I think conservatories need to put more emphasis on this as the modern world revolves around syncopation in their daily lives.

Of which works are you most proud?

It seems like whatever I am working on at the moment I like the most. Then when finished I am bored, and then it takes me awhile to come back to it and hear it fresh.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

A fusion of everything. I like shifting from tonality to atonality. I like writing a tonal melody with an atonal or polytonal harmonic language against it. I also use the syncopated rhythms the world of jazz and Latin music. My “Abreu Danzas “are a good example of all these forces colliding together.

How do you work?

I sit alone at a desk and just write.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A better question for a psychiatrist….. Success is predicated on expectations rather than accomplishments. But most unfortunately for our mental health we live in the Self World. So part of us can never be liberated from our mother’s nipple and we need someone to tell us that we and our art are loved, as it is one and the same……..It has taken a lifetime to be able to free oneself and see the folly of this illusion of this and just enjoy music for the sake of the music and forget success.

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

To be true to your own voice.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?

From the point of view of someone living in New York, classical music was written a few hundred years ago, for a king sitting on a throne four thousand miles away. It has no relationship to the modern world. Sure we enjoy it, but when we play it we are not creating art, but re-creating someone else’s art. For classical music to be relevant it must reflect the time and culture in which it was created. I composed a RAP symphony for the fun of it to try to reflect contemporary urban culture in New York. When we see someone playing a Tchaikovsky piano concerto with the St. Louis Symphony, whose art is it?

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Being able to be sitting in Central Park

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It sounds so banal but it has been proven true. Health and happiness for your kids and family. Art is only a half a life.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Outside of music I love to ski, kayak race and hike in the mountains, and cook with my kids.

What is your present state of mind?

I don’t know, please ask Marcel……


Three-time Grammy nominee David Chesky has earned great respect for his fresh and unique approach to musical compositions, which span the jazz and classical genres. Captivating audiences around the world, The New York Times raves, “Chesky combines a gritty sophistication with street-level energy and currents of exotic folkishness.” As a composer of orchestral works, operas and ballets, an author of children’s books, a jazz pianist and a world-renowned innovator of audio technologies, Chesky redefines the role of a modern-day renaissance man. Critics describe his music as “highly individualistic,” “memorable,” “dynamic” and “exotic.”

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