Category Archives: Marc Vallon

Meet Filippo Santoro, composer and new music DMA

Before coming to UW-Madison in 2009 as a recipient of a University Fellowship to study composition with Prof. Stephen Dembski, Filippo Santoro studied with renowned Italian composers Luciano Pelosi and Boris Porena and was inspired by teachers Franco Donatoni and Bruno Maderna. A native of Rome, Santoro received a master’s in composition as well as diplomas in piano performance and chamber music from the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome in 1998 and 2007; holds a master’s degree  in music and semiotics from the University of Bologna (2002); and a master’s degree in composition from the State University of New York, Binghamton (2009).  His work Arioso Mistico for soprano and orchestra was a winner of the 2010 UW-Madison Concerto Competition.

Filippo Santoro
Filippo Santoro

Last week, Filippo received his DMA from UW-Madison, with a dissertation project that included writing a collection of new chamber works that engage nearly every corner of the School of Music.  We asked him to talk a bit about his life, his work, and his plans for the future.

Tell us about your dissertation project.
My dissertation is a collection of five works, one hour of music, that I call Modules. They can be seen as a whole or as independent works.

In these works I explore four different notions of modularity that I refer as “dynamic modularity,” “static modularity,” “interactive modularity,” and “on-stage modularity.” The concept of “dynamic modularity” appears in Per Quattro, my work for flute, clarinet, bassoon and double bass, comprised of sections that performers arrange in a different order each time they perform it. In my two pieces entitled Duplum for two cellos and two percussionists (see video below), I use “static modularity” in that there are also unique sections but these sections are performed in a fixed order that creates the overall form of the piece. “Interactive modularity” appears in Re-mote for solo bassoon and applied technology, in which the order of the sections of the piece is determined by the audience in real time through the aid of interactive web-based technology. Finally, I engage “on-stage modularity” in Cleave, a work for two percussionists, flute, bass clarinet, viola, double bass, trumpet, tuba, harp, mandolin, which combines the concepts of static and dynamic modularity.

What inspired you to become a composer?
Becoming a composer was a slow but natural process for me. I started as a performing pianist and I played a lot of chamber music in Italy. I think I became interested in writing music while I was playing with other musicians.

Tell us about a piece or project you have worked on recently.
I have been fortunate to collaborate with several fantastic performers here in Madison. I have been collaborating with Clocks in Motion, the School of Music alumni percussion ensemble and was one of the first composers to be commissioned by the group. It is beautiful to see how truly devoted they are to performing new music and to promoting new works. The commissioned piece is named Duplum and will be featured on their debut album “Escape Velocity” to be released in June. I also had a terrific experience working with Marc Vallon, professor of bassoon here at UW-Madison. I wrote him a long piece in which the audience participates in the performance through the aid of live technology. I am also writing a work for Kostas Tiliakos, visiting professor of oboe, and I am particularly excited since four other faculty professors will participate in this project.

How do you approach the process of starting or writing a piece?
I like to use a metaphor to describe it: imagine that an architect is commissioned to design a building. A good architect will begin by observing the architectural style of the surrounding buildings, the nature of the soils at the building site, how the space is currently used and the building’s proposed purpose. Similarly, a piece of music always develops from a small idea, like a seed, that you may want to take care of even long before it becomes a piece. I strongly believe that the music I write now reflects a biological process and that it somehow resembles the way plants grow. Sometimes I wait until I feel an urgency to write the piece I have in mind. After that, the most interesting part is the collaboration with the performer in which we determine how to convey musically complicated ideas within the score.

Who have been your influences as a composer and why?
Initially everybody! In my years in Rome at Santa Cecilia Conservatory, I had multiple interests. Of course, late Italian music played a role in my understanding of new music such as that of Berio, Sciarrino, Nono and Maderna. I was lucky to study with teachers who believed that there was no understanding of new music without an understanding of composers like Ravel, Bach and even Monteverdi.

How has your work as a composer influenced other parts of your life or vice versa?
Writing music is what I do and therefore I may have the tendency of seeing and finding music in other parts of my life. I think it is called “professional deformation.”

You are not only a composer but also a composition teacher. What is your approach to teaching composition?
I tailor my approach to the needs of the particular student I’m working with. Regardless of who the student is, however, I believe that clarity and transparency are critical components to teaching composition. This is particularly true for the teaching of young students who are looking for models to begin with. With students who are more advanced, I always think of myself as an active observer, who helps the student to find what he/she is looking for. A renowned Italian teacher, Franco Donatoni, said once that composition cannot be taught and that therefore one should strive only to stimulate in the student an attitude of inventiveness. I embrace this fully and I think that stimulation for a composer often means to search for ideas within the scores of other composers.

What do you see as the most important skills for a composer to have?
I’d say the ability to nurture curiosity in the listener. The role of a composer/artist is always to reveal something beyond what we already know.

What do you want your students to take away?
I want my students to understand, first and foremost, that what they do as composers should express something of who they are as individuals. All the rest should come naturally.

What do you hope to achieve through your music?
Basically, my music reflects the way I see the world, but I hope that it can also reflect and/or enhance the way others see their own.

Why do you think people have difficulty in understanding contemporary music?
This is something that has always sounded paradoxical to me. Understanding contemporary music shouldn’t be more difficult than understanding contemporary painting or architecture. The question for me is how to make new music available to be “explained” in the same way other form of arts are. If more so-called “classical” concerts programmed contemporary works alongside other less recent works, the audience would begin to see contemporary music as the product of a natural musical evolution. Doesn’t that happen to anybody who goes to a museum and walks from one historical island to another? Naturally, this person will begin thinking about connections and relationships between different artistic eras. I think performers and composers have a moral responsibility to encourage such an approach in their audiences. I believe new music should be “by definition” more interesting than any other music since it depicts where we are coming from, who we are in the moment and where we are possibly going in the future.

What are your plans now?
I intend to continue to work with ensembles and performers who are engaged in my music language and I am keen to explore and promote new avenues for composer and audience interaction through technology. Based on the concepts described in my dissertation, I plan to start working on a book that describes the integration of compositional methods and theories of natural systems. I also plan to publish analyses of the late works of Franco Donatoni to further explore the concepts of figura and growth.

 

 

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Student profile: Sergio Acosta, flutist-turned-bassoonist

Sergio Acosta
Sergio Acosta and his favorite instrument

It’s the time of year to consider all the fine progress of our students at the UW-Madison School of Music. We have a few stories to share. Our first begins today, with the interesting career journey of Sergio Acosta, who just received his masters degree in bassoon after earning his undergrad on flute. His story came to us from UW-Professor of Bassoon, Marc Vallon.

Marc writes:

Sergio joined the School of Music as an undergraduate in 2006 as a flute player and made himself immediately noticed by extraordinary musical talent and his friendly personality. The course of his studies took an unexpected turn when he fell in love with the bassoon during a woodwind fundamentals course. His uncommon natural ability on the instrument allowed him such lightning-fast progress that he enrolled as a master’s candidate in 2010, only two years after playing his first notes on a bassoon. Sergio’s degree has been partially funded thanks to the Advanced Opportunity Fellowship program that supports access to higher education for minority students.

We asked Sergio a few questions.

What caused you to change instruments? 

I started on violin in 6th grade and in 7th grade began to learn oboe, flute and clarinet. (My middle school teacher would not let me try the bassoon.) Throughout high school I dabbled with different instruments, including baritone sax, and participated in Wisconsin School Music Association solo/ensemble competitions on flute, sax, and clarinet. I became most proficient on flute, so I decided to have flute be my undergrad focus.

But, after taking the bassoon fundamentals class in spring 2008 and playing it for a couple months I completely fell in love with it; it came naturally to me. I felt happy and I was able to communicate musically, after some practicing, on bassoon what I couldn’t on flute.

In a seating audition at UW-Madison, Mr. (James) Smith, our orchestra conductor, who had already heard me on flute for three years, said, “I think you found your instrument. You have a really great voice for it.” This meant a lot and really made me work hard. I then auditioned with Marc Vallon and he accepted me into his studio.

How was it different for you?

The weirdest thing about changing focus in instruments was the change in practice habits, repertoire and mindset. On flute, I focused on practicing sound and tone, whereas with bassoon I focused on technique and facility. I also had to get used to playing different styles of music and having a different role. The flute typically has very high melodic lines, whereas the bassoon has lower solo, but many times supporting roles for other instruments. Plus,I needed to get into the habit of making reeds! There are no reeds on flute.

I realized I would have to work harder than I was used to. Flute was second nature to me, so I was mostly just fine-tuning, while on bassoon I really needed to establish basics.  Eventually, my technical ability caught up to my musicality but sometimes I still need to think a little more about my bassoon playing than on the flute. It’ll take some time before bassoon is as “second nature” as flute is.

It has been an exciting journey that I knew I would not want to give up on. It just had to be. It helped to have a wonderful supportive teacher and mentor like Prof. Marc Vallon who was patient, supportive and kept inspiring me.

Where will you go now?

Throughout 2013-2014, I will be in Madison working. I plan on taking auditions for orchestral jobs around the country and perhaps eventually in other countries, such as Germany. I do plan on teaching more students and teaching as much as possible. I will be playing gigs as often as I can.