Konstantia Gourzi, composer & conductor

Konstantia Gourzi – YouTube http://www.konstantiagourzi.com

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

Nowadays I believe that everyone and everything in my musical progression had a significant influence. I had a lot of good and a lot of bad experiences in my life. All of them came into my heart with the same intensity, and made a necklace, like a special piece of jewellery. I am grateful for all this because this is how I make music: I take a holistic view but shine different perspectives on it each time.

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

The biggest challenge is believing in yourself and accepting that music is much bigger than the self and not the other way around. This is something you don’t learn in a course or at university, but from life. Being a female composer and conductor in a male-dominated world also caused me a lot of frustration at the beginning of my career. At some point I started to learn from this social and cultural imbalance about the world. Interpreting that, finding my position and specific personal message and making music out of it is now the most important thing for me.

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

A commissioned piece makes me feel grateful for the task. My perception of time becomes different and that means new worlds of experience. I like to discuss and find out with the client in which dramaturgical setting my new piece will be played. This process is usually very creative and also gives me input for new musical ideas.

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

To compose a piece for certain musicians or to conduct an ensemble with musicians who are friends is the best thing that can happen to me. This puts me in a position to consider the specific character of this musician as a person and as an instrumentalist, from the very beginning. I don’t have to find it out at the end, once the piece is ready! This is very helpful in terms of the music speaking the way I have in mind; there are fewer compromises. This makes me very happy and satisfied. Nevertheless, to identify or find out the point of energy to express an idea is always a challenge. I also want that in the performance of a piece, everyone shares a common action and intention: to express music as communally and as deeply as possible.

Of which works are you most proud?

Every work and every concert is like a child to me. Each one paved the way to the next step on my journey writing and performing music. If the preceding work hadn’t existed, the next one would look and sound very different.

One of my pieces is particularly unique for me. This is ‘Transformation’, a staged musical work composed as a statement against child abuse within the Catholic Church. It was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising and the world premiere was performed in Rome in 2018. Facing and feeling the pain of others, especially children, and to go through it and find a sense of healing through the music and the performance on stage was deeply moving and also painful. It remains a very special experience.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

My compositional language combines techniques and scales often from both Western and Eastern music. It brings together sounds of Western classical and traditional instruments and combines melodic and rhythmic elements. Taken together, I’m looking to find new musical forms, sounds and also new modes to perform music. I love to mix musical styles from different cultures and to find a balance between Western and Eastern timbres. My musical language is authentic and sincere. As I wish to communicate with the audience, I have to do it honestly with my whole mind, heart and soul.

How do you work?

I need silence for composing. I also like to have a piano, although it is not absolutely essential. I compose with pencil on paper. A copyist digitally transcribes the manuscript – I need to see my previous day’s work on my table every day, and not have to turn on my computer. I need also a big table and big sheets of paper, to be able to draw or write poems while composing.

When I learn a score to conduct it, I also need silence – and a few coloured pencils.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The success of an artist could be defined by ethos, by stability, by the need for expression, by consistency and by consciousness of the work overtime.

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

That the music is the interpretation of her or his life. Also, that musical creativity is infinite. It can be be fulfilled in many ways other than by occupying a position in an orchestra…but they will find out for themselves what suits them best. It’s important to stay flexible to not ignore the infinite ways in front of them.

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

I think we have to trust listeners more and offer them new ways of performing. We have got to the point where we are all tired of repetitions. The social context of people’s lives today has totally changed, and we have to react to this. We do not need any more performances because we simply want to admire a ‘star’ as such, but rather honest and free musical communication with everyone. In addition, we should do more, take more risks instead of just talking about it. We need courage, and respect for the fact that life is short. Every minute is precious and demands clarity, love and enthusiasm. We no longer need musical stereotypes. Every music from every culture and every time is important to hear and it creates joy and expands our horizon. The quality of a musical interpretation and how to perform are the most important things.

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

Still on this earth

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being in the right place at the right moment

What is your most treasured possession?

My consciousness

What do you enjoy doing most?

Watching the infinite horizon across the sea

What is your present state of mind?

Mainly hopeful

‘Whispers’, music by Konstantia Gourzi performed by Nils Mönkemeyer, viola
William Youn, piano, is available now on the Sony label.

Konstantia Gourzi spans bridges between cultures and epochs across time and space. She does this as a composer, where she finds her voice in unifying elements that seem to have nothing in common; and also as a conductor and teacher, where in consonance with others she constructs a new world of equal opportunities, between male and female, the strange and the familiar.

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