The recently published compilation “Beauty and Hope in the 21st Century” contains nine contemporary solo piano pieces from internationally renowned composers. All of the works in the collection draw their inspiration from 20th and 21st-century artworks. Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell spoke with the publisher Nikolas Sideris about the project, who also shared his beliefs about society and the music industry in general.
Sideris and Editions Musica Ferrum generously give access to complete scores of new piano pieces from the compilation that are available to download and print for Piano Street members.
Digital scores to download and print:
No. 7: Aaron Miller: Beyond Icarus Scott
(Available for Piano Street Gold members.)
The complete book is available to order from Editions Musica Ferrum
Listen to the recordings by Myrto Akrivou of all nine pieces here.
Nikolas Sideris is a Greek composer famous for not only his classical compositions but also his work for the soundtracks of popular video games. He currently lives in London, England, and composes and publishes music there. He compared the inspiration he experienced in putting together “Beauty and Hope in the 21st Century” to the state of society and what he sees as a spreading global crisis. Sideris maintains that this crisis stems from the instantaneous dissemination of opinions, both well-reasoned and toxic, that is possible through the Internet. Born in 1977, he has always been interested in the decades of the 1960s and the 1970s. He calls this score of years “the time of absolute heroes¨. During that time, statesmen, top models and movie stars, first-rate popular musicians, and even Nobel laureates had much more of an impact on society than their counterparts today. Sideris says that the great leaders in all categories, not just those he listed, are gone, which has changed the basic direction of society. Now, the general public seeks to lead itself instead of being led. Sideris firmly believes that the public has failed and is now not only dissatisfied with the situation but also with itself.
Interview with Nikolas Sideris
Patrick Jovell: How do you see art in a commercial context?
Nikolas Sideris: We are demanding a sort of international commercial market for the survival of the fittest in a way.
This is again a worldwide problem where you get all kinds of symphonic orchestras closing down – in the U.S, for example. But it almost makes sense, I mean; I can understand the value of art certainly as a composer and a publisher and everything. But, art should have a way to sustain itself on its own. It shouldn’t be dependent on handouts from the government or from funds, and this is what I’m trying to do. I’m completely independent. I don’t have any money coming in from any government or funds or whatever. It’s all based on the quality of what I produce; the physical quality and the aesthetic quality.
PJ: One fact in the crisis of the U.S orchestras is that the sponsor generations now, the rich families have changed preferences. The younger generation of sponsors like rock ‘n’ roll. So, what can be done?
NS: Well, there have been attempts in making some sort of a hybrid mode of classical music and rock ‘n’ roll or merging classical and a little metal, or some rap and so on. I don’t think that his is working truly. We need to have a very clear idea of the major differences between the classical music, live music, and pop music. Pop music is being creative, created and produced to exist as a recorded means. So it’s perfect in any way to listen to it on a CD, in MP3, streaming on your iPad, iPhone, iPod or “iWhatever”. Classical music still goes on being a live event. It’s an event, it’s a social event.
I find it being completely different and two completely different forms of art. We call both music, but it shouldn’t be. How can you compare theatre to cinema or photography to painting? We should clearly distinguish between what is recorded music and what is live music.
PJ: According to worldwide statistics, evidently, the live concert is getting more and more popular compared to recorded music.
NS: Exactly, which is declining constantly. We try to pass it as real music, as real-life music, We use all sorts of techniques in the studio to give the impression that you are in the hall right now listening to that pianist, but it’s not the same and deeply inside I think we understand that and we devalue the recording itself. So there is a strong sense of value in going to listen to a pianist playing live. There is a vital difference, and unless we can actually understand that and respect that, I’m not sure where we’re heading.
PJ: You did fund “Beauty and Hope” through crowd funding like many do these days. Can you tell me a little about that?
NS: I didn’t want to find a sponsor. I wanted people to show their interest in the project. I wanted to get enough money; more like a pre-sale rather than a formal or fixed pattern project on paying something. So, my way was; “I’m going to do this, I have this plan so if you want, just pre-buy this music, the CD or whatever and help me out with this.¨
PJ: Who are the funders, do you know anything about the people supporting you?
NS: Quite a lot, not everybody, but I know a lot through various forums and Facebook and Twitter and through the online communities I’m part of. Also, a few Greek people who were reluctant to use their credit card saw that in the end, in the last day, I was forced to put a few thousand pounds that were given to me hand by hand from people who were not really sure how to do that. So, in total, there were officially 97 people, but actually there were around more than 112 people involved in the total funding.
PJ: You started the Editions Musica Ferrum in 2012, and your intention was that you had to get motivation to keep being a composer yourself. Your aim is to find composers working with you, under your umbrella. How is your philosophy as an editor?
NS: I’m very open to what I publish because I pay attention to small things on my musical criteria, what I love listening to. Something that I would love to listen to or play. Everybody is a living composer, and I’m dealing with around 50 living composers internationally. Composers come from Brazil, Columbia, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, UK, Greece and I need to know that they respect what I do. I respect what they do and so we can communicate.
Once in a while, I try to get a project that will sell well because not everything will start selling, it won’t go off the shelves immediately. I know that it takes an enormous amount of time to get things out there. So I’m being patient, I have a few projects which are running quite well, which generate enough income to keep us going.
PJ: Do you have an emphasis when it comes to chamber music, instrumental or choral music?
NS: It tends to go for piano because I’m a pianist myself. But under no circumstances, I’m just catering to that. For example I published a solo bassoon piece by Fabio Gianolla, and it’s an incredible piece, ancient Italian dances and modern dances. So it has a few dances of the old and a tango and dance from the Aborigines in Australia, and it’s fabulous work. It was worth getting it out. Chamber music or orchestral stuff yes, but again there is a limit in the sense of how much orchestral stuff I can do. Because I know that it won’t sell to the general public unless I can find a way to pitch it to different orchestras, it will not generate money. You have to think about money as well. But of course, I have a few orchestral works and I’m expecting more to come later on. It’s a combination of everything.
PJ: Are you an acting part when the composer is receiving commissions, or is it handled by the composer himself/herself?
NS: Well, the composer is more inclined generally because that would be a job for an agent and I’m not an agent by any means. I can’t be an agent of 50 people, especially as I’m a publisher and a composer myself. But for example, “The Beauty and Hope in the 21st century Score” was a commission from me to another eight composers plus myself. And there are a couple of more projects and ideas coming on which are invitations for more composers to take part. So, that also works.
PJ: Let’s talk about the pianist in the project; Myrto Akrivou. I understand that you knew her from years back?
NS: Not too many years. I moved back to Athens – I was in London from 2004 to 2008 – I did my PhD. When I got back, I realized that there are no opportunities for composers in Greece, and because I really wanted to present my music in the best possible way, I launched Musica Ferrum. Amidst launching it and trying to get it presented to more people, I started going to concerts and this is where I met with Myrto through this friend. We started working on some duets of mine which I call ¨Piano Stories¨ and they eventually got an award in Luxembourg in 2013 (in an International composition competition), so that went well.
Then I had this idea that it’s going to be a grand project, we’re going to get Myrto to Athens, and we’re going to do the recording, we’re going to do the CD, and they are going to be not so very hard pieces. Maybe I lied, I mean, they are definitely hard to play (laughs). She was reluctant at first, but then she gave in. She was a real collaborator because we worked in many different ways together. She wasn’t just the pianist, and she got the gig to do the recording. This is what I really wanted Myrto, because I knew that we would work really close together.
No. 3: “The Voice of the People” Carlos Alvarez Torno performed by Myrto Akrivou:
PJ: The contact between the music and the performer, I guess you gave this link free between the two to explore the material?
NS: I did obviously, I did ask them actually to keep it relatively slow, didn’t work really. But I did say at least try to keep pieces below 7 or 8 minutes in length so don’t write a 20-minute rhapsody (laughs). Besides you will not have enough time to learn it and it will be unfair to the rest, and there won’t be enough space in the CD. So limit yourseves. This commissioned the artists, the sketch artists came first, and I had received 8 out of the 9 illustrations. Because I had done the music before and art afterwards, I wanted to give a fair opportunity to the artists to fully express themselves and then add the music.
PJ: Also the sketch artists, they were working from different angles, didn’t they?
NS: Completely. I knew all three artists. We have worked together in the past and I knew for example that there’ll be a Pawlikowska (she’s an architect), so I knew she would go with that kind of way. I knew that William Chajin is a Colombian artist who was living in Japan, and he has a very political mind. So this goes to show in his art, and then Piero Pierini, I know his imagination and fantasy, also very political, but he went in a different way. A bit more social and philosophical maybe in his art. So it worked great as a correlation of everything.
PJ: So the main source is actually an idea which comes out from an artistic picture, a picturesque interpretation of the project so to speak.
NS: Then the music came. But again, I knew, and I trusted the artists, I trusted everything and the composers and the pianist. And I knew that I wouldn’t get a picture and make some music that goes to the picture, very descriptive and end it there. They were much more open about how to compose and I’m very proud of the result.
PJ: What were they inspired by in the artwork? Did you get any reactions on that?
NS: I had 8 out of the 9 illustrations and there were 9 composers and I couldn’t wait any longer, so I got all the images in an inviting website and I sent an email to all and told them: “Go on, register and pick the one you want¨. I was going to be left with the last. I didn’t know what it was going to be.
Then I also got an idea from which illustrations were sold because we were also selling the original sketches. So I got to know the public through which illustrations they were going after. In terms of the composers, I know who finished first, and their thoughts on the subject and some of them were really clear in what they were doing. I also can sense what Carlos Álvarez Torno did in his “The Voice of the People” and I have a very clear idea of what he was going after. It was very successful. It is clear what Christos Papageorgiou did with his 9/11, he is following the image quite strictly in a sense itself. I’m trying to get clear on what the composers do because I don’t want to influence them too much. I guess that I’m already influencing them by being their publisher, their friend and commissioning everything.
PJ: That’s a very fine line I guess?
NS: Yes, it’s a fine line, so I’m really trying to keep away from that, it’s what I do with most works because I met with Ben Crosland, a composer, last week in his home and he was asking all those questions. I told him: “You know, I don’t want to give you a very solid opinion on things because I want this work to be your own. I can give you some suggestions, but that’s as far as I’ll go. I don’t want to get into your domain, that’s your music¨. So I’m trying really hard to keep the teacher aspect out of it.
PJ: When you get the title like “9/11″ you have certain demands or expectations, while other kinds of situations or scenery will not trigger the same series of associations?
NS: That’s another point I was trying to make with this project that because of my indication, my PhD and everything, I did notice that most composers – at least from the people I know – tend to be very apolitical beings. They bother a lot about the new sonata and the new technique they may have discovered, stuff like that, but I don’t hear a lot of social art music. I’m not sure if it’s out there and I’m not getting it. Exactly like this is a political statement from the beginning to the end. That’s not present in the classical music world anymore.
You don’t get a revolutionary attitude, you don’t get heroic ideas and you don’t get the comments about what’s happening today. We don’t care as composers? We should care more. So I wanted to do something that shows that indeed we care. We do have thoughts about that.
PJ: Sure, this alludes to what Schumann said about Chopin’s music: “cannons concealed amongst flowers…”