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Sergio Cervetti left his native Uruguay in 1962 to study composition in the United States.
In 1966 he attracted international attention when he won the chamber music prize at the Caracas,
Venezuela Music Festival. He was subsequently invited to be composer-in-residence in Berlin,
Germany in 1969-70 after studying with Ernst Krenek and graduating from Peabody Conservatory.
From 1972 to 1997 and 2007-08, Cervetti was Master Teacher of Music at Tisch School of the Arts at
New York University. During this time he composed over 100 works for the concert stage, dance,
theater and film, many of them commissioned, recorded and performed in venues and festivals in the
U.S. and abroad.
Cervetti's works range from the acoustic to the electronic, and deftly blend folk elements, European
tradition and minimalist aesthetics. After an early brush with twelve-tone and minimalism, imbuing
minimalism with melody, for example, in early works such as Guitar Music (the bottom of the
iceberg), Madrigal III and …from the earth…, his current approach is free and flexible. As much of a
traditionalist as an innovator, he continues to straddle musical worlds with new works that showcase
a post-modern synthesis of techniques from diverse periods as well as his rich South American
Sergio Cervetti is a Uruguayan-born American composer. He was born in Dolores on November 9, 1940 to an Italian father who played the clarinet and to a French mother who encouraged piano lessons at an early age. During his teens he played piano and saxophone in a tango-jazz band while earning diplomas in French and piano. He taught French at the Alliance Française and by then had composed his first work, a song for soprano and piano based on poetry by Arthur Rimbaud.
After moving to Montevideo in 1959, he studied piano with Hugo Balzo and José María Martino Rodas, and harmony and counterpoint with Carlos Estrada and Guido Santorsola at the National Conservatory. Encouraged and aided by the Uruguayan diplomat and music critic Washington Roldán, and his brother Horacio Roldán, Cervetti emigrated to Washington, D.C. in 1962, and was sworn a United States citizen in Brooklyn, New York in 1979.
Cervetti graduated from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore in 1967 after studying composition with Ernst Krenek and Stefan Grové, conducting with Laszlo Halasz, and having received scholarships from both Peabody and the Organization of American States. While still a student, he won the III Caracas Venezuela Festival chamber music prize in 1966 for Five Episodes for piano, violin and cello which was also favorably reviewed in Melos by the respected German music critic H. H. Stuckenschmidt as "A host of original ideas, an exemplary piece of music."
Following graduation from Peabody, during a time that witnessed national civil unrest, Zinctum (1967) fortunately saw its premiere on June 24, 1968 given by the Beaux-Arts String Quartet. Immediately after this work's performance that summer evening during the first part of a program at the Library of Congress' Coolidge Auditorium, the remaining works were cut short and the concert was hastily cancelled due to nearby riots in the nation's capital.
In December 1968 Cervetti was enroute to West Berlin at the invitation of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Kunstler program (DAAD) to be composer-in-residence during 1969-70. Berlin at that time was still divided into the East and West by the infamous wall and surrounded by Communist East Germany. There he had the opportunity to meet composers such as Luigi Dallapiccola, Gyorgy Lygeti, Paul Méfano, Krystof Penderecki, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, and painters Alexis Akrithakis and Jorge Castillo. While writing works for performance such as Pulsar for brass sextet and Lux Lucet which won a Gaudeamus Choral Prize in Holland in 1969, he also co-founded the Berlin Dance Ensemble with the choreographer and dancer Kenneth Rinker which debuted on June 22, 1969 at the Akademie der Künste's Gastspiele Tanz und Ballett with Prisons, a collaboration with sets by Akrithakis, that stunned the audience.
On return to Washington, D.C. and after soon taking permanent residence in New York City in May 1970, he taught at Brooklyn College and Pratt Institute, was accompanist for many dance teachers and choreographers including Mary Anthony, Ethel Butler, Dr. Dorothy Madden, Bertram Ross and Anna Sokolow, did archival work for Virgil Thomson, and studied electronic music with Vladimir Ussachevsky and Alcides Lanza at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Studio. This seminal period in his career, during the electronic pioneer days of manual cut-and-splice reel-to-reel tape, initiated an on-going interest in creating synthesizer-driven, computer-generated music. He was also a member of the Composers/Performers Group founded by Alcides Lanza, and actively composed and performed in the New York downtown scene of the 1970's and on tours with works such as Cocktail Party, Oulom, and Alberti Bass-Alberti Bounce. Some of these works were graphic scores, for example Graffiti and Orbitas, that led to Cervetti's participation in the Symposium and Exhibition of Music Notation directed by Friedrich Cerha in Rome, Italy in 1972.
The 1970 orchestral work Plexus, a semi-graphic score, was commissioned by the Pan American Union/Organization of American States and dedicated to its music director, Guillermo Espinosa, for the Fifth Inter-American Music Festival. It premiered in Washington, D.C. on May 18, 1971 with Antonio Tauriello conducting the National Symphony Orchestra and was covered by Newsweek Magazine (5/31/71).
"In the final premiere, 29-year-old Uruguayan Sergio Cervetti's Plexus, the musicians murmured and hissed, breaking at the end into quotations of such slogans as 'Pan Am Makes the Going Great' and 'Geritol for Iron-Poor Blood.' Some of the composers might indeed have preferred computers. One such was Uruguay's Cervetti, whose work had been commissioned for orchestra by the OAS. 'All composers know the difficulty of writing for unwilling musicians' he said, adding that he believes the training of musicians will have to be changed to meet the demands of new music."
Several examples of Cervetti's unorthodox scores, along with other composers of contemporary classical music using new techniques and notational devices, are illustrated in Gardner Read's Compendium of Modern Instrumental Techniques. (Greenwood Press, 1993.)
In 1972 Cervetti joined the faculty of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts where he taught until 1997, and returned in 2007-08. During his tenure as Master Teacher of Music he helped to establish the curriculum of composition and history, choreography, and set up the Theater Program's electronic sound studio. For over twenty-five years he served as mentor to his students, faculty (Stuart Hodes, Deborah Jowitt, Rachel Lampert, Lawrence Rhodes, Linda Tarnay among others) in the manner of an updated Louis Horst.
During this time he composed well over 100 acoustic and electronic works for the concert stage, dance, theater and film that were performed in venues and festivals in the United States and abroad. He continues to straddle musical worlds with new works that are a post-modern synthesis of European tradition, folklore, minimalism, and techniques from diverse periods. Many often reflect his South American heritage as well as literature, painting, and socio-political concerns.
Cervetti's intimate association and extensive collaboration with the dance world, as "a composer favored by many experimental dancers" observed Anna Kisselgoff in The New York Times (12/3/83), includes dozens of commissioned dance scores written for numerous choreographers and dance companies—notably 40 Second/42nd Variations, In Closed Time and Wind Devil which was awarded a Bessie in 1983-84 at the First Annual New York Dance and Performance Awards—and were presented by Dance Theater Workshop, Jacob's Pillow, La Mama, the Joyce, Ballet Hispanico, Sundance, Kennedy Center, Walker Arts Center, Lincoln Center, Akademie der Künste, Holland Festival and three Next Wave Festivals at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. WIND DEVIL & CO./DancElectronics, the Navona CD NV 5930, showcases seven of these works. This CD's Enhanced Content, when played via the computer, lists the choreographers and dance companies with whom he had the privilege to collaborate.
Video documentation of his music for dance and choreographic collaborations, predominantly electroacoustic works, is archived at the New York Public Library's Dance Collection/Dance Theater Workshop Permanent Archives; the BAM/Next Wave Video Archive for Contemporary Performing Arts; and the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute of Ohio State University as part of Rinker-Cervetti Dance & Music, Inc./Kenneth Rinker Dance Company.
Cervetti and Rinker collaborated on over thirty music and dance works since 1966 beginning with Six Sequences for Dance and including 40 Second/42nd Variations; co-founded the Berlin Dance Ensemble in West Berlin, Germany in 1969; and incorporated Rinker-Cervetti Dance & Music, Inc. in New York City in 1979, the foundation which supported their collaborative work up until 1988 and the ballet Rebel Angels commissioned by the Hartford Ballet Company.
Among Cervetti's important early minimalist works are Guitar Music (the bottom of the iceberg), Madrigal III and …from the earth… The latter was conceived as a controlled improvisation for sustaining instruments that borrows five notes from Gustav Mahler's Das Lied Von Der Erde. The piece marked a stylistic shift from Cervetti's 12-tone discipline and aleatoric sound exploration. Recently he fully notated …from the earth… and re-mastered the historic audio and video premiere performance, recorded at the Kitchen in New York in 1975, for a new Navona CD NV5958 of chamber music released in 2014, UNBRIDLED. This fourth Navona Records' all-Cervetti album adds further documentation to his important contributions to the minimalist movement as noted by New Music USA when the previous Navona CD NV5872, NAZCA, was reviewed in 2012 by Frank J. Oteri who concluded his overview of Cervetti's work by adding:
"When a full assessment of the breadth and depth of the minimalist movement in music is made one day, hopefully Cervetti's important contributions will not be overlooked. Now that there is finally some adequate documentation of his music we can be hopeful."
In 1977 Cervetti attended the Primer Festival Latinoamericano de Música Contemporánea de la Ciudad Maracaibo in Venezuela for a performance of Bits & Pieces & Moving Parts scored for chamber ensemble and electronics, and to accept the prize awarded for Concerto for Trumpet and Strings.
On the occasion of Ernst Krenek's 85th birthday celebration at the University of California, San Diego, Cervetti was honored to contribute a work dedicated to his illustrious mentor who was born in 1900 and passed in 1991. Madrigal IV for soprano and chamber ensemble was chosen to open the program of works by fellow composers and former pupils performed on December 7, 1985 as part of A Festschrift Concert for Ernst Krenek.
The Hay Wain is an electroacoustic symphonic poem inspired by the Hieronymus Bosch triptych and was released on a Periodic Music CD in 1987 along with Transatlantic Light. It established his reputation as a composer of electronic music. It is "noteworthy in a sea of fluff that passes for electronic music these days" wrote Mark Sullivan in Option Magazine, May/June 1988, No.20. Selections from The Hay Wain are used in Oliver Stone's 1994 film Natural Born Killers.
For WNYC Radio's 50th Anniversary Concert in 1994 at Alice Tully Hall, produced and hosted by John Schaeffer, Cervetti was among composers Milton Babbitt, John Corigliano, and Philip Glass who were commissioned to set John Ashbery's poem No Longer Very Clear. Cervetti arranged it for soprano, harpsichord and string quartet performed by Cheryl Marshall, Christopher Oldfather, and the Essex String Quartet.
His vocal music's emotional depth is also on display in two song cycles for soprano and piano, and one for soprano and orchestra.
Four Fragments of Isadora (1979) is based on letters exchanged between Gordon Craig and Isadora Duncan. It was commissioned by Stuart Hodes for Elizabeth Hodes who premiered the work at NYU's University Theatre, New York City on June 2, 1979.
El Triunfo de la Muerte (The Triumph of Death) (1993) is to poetry by Circe Maia and premiered July 30, 1993 in New York at the Museum of Modern Art's Summergarden concert with Cheryl Marshall soprano and Joel Sachs leading a Julliard School ensemble
Leyenda is a neo-nationalistic tone poem for soprano and orchestra set to fragments from the Uruguayan epic, Tabaré, by Juan Zorrilla San Martín which centers around a Spanish mother's love for her mixed-blood child. It premiered in Montevideo's historic Teatro Solís in 1994 by Julia Clara Usher and the Orquesta Filarmónica of Montevideo conducted by Federico García Vigil.
Rhythmically intricate is Candombe for Orchestra first performed by the Moravian Philharmonic in the Czech Republic in 1997 conducted by Jiri Mikula. It is the 1996 orchestration of Candombe for Harpsichord (1984) which María Teresa Chenlo premiered in 1985 at The Prado Museum in Madrid. Both works pay homage to a national dance of African origins from his native Uruguay which is also recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage.
Neo-nationalistic works, such as Leyenda, both Candombes, Las Indias Olvidadas, El Río de los Pájaros Pintados, Ofrenda para Guyunusa, Exiles, Tres Estudios Australes, and to some extent Nazca, have borders that are rooted in a country's particular history, indigenous culture and legends which may not be common knowledge. However, as these works belong to the universal language of music that trumps nationality, satisfaction comes with the arousal of curiosity and exploration on many levels.
Cervetti witnessed the premature passing of several of his talented NYU students during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. One response came as a work in four epitaphs for violin and viola composed for his students who died young. Sunset at Noon (1995) was premiered by Israel Chorberg, violin, and Harold Coletta, viola, on June 27, 1996 at the Landon Gallery in New York City. The Music Connoisseur (Vol.4, No.3, Fall 1996) wrote:
"The Cervetti work stood head and shoulders above all else–life-affirming, muscular and alive, a 'rage against the dying of the light' fine-tuned and heightened to a kind of Olympian protest. The choice of violin and viola struck me (Marlene Harding) as a metaphor for the teacher-student relationship."
Elegy For A Prince, his first opera and completed in 2005, was premiered on May 12, 2007 in three excerpted scenes by New York City Opera/VOX 2007. Brian Garman conducted City Opera's orchestra and a cast of singers including Julianne Borg, Scott Hogsed, Wayne Hobbs, Malia Bendi Merad, Jeffrey Tucker, and Eric Jordan. It is freely adapted from Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince with a libretto by Elizabeth Esris. Cervetti has loved the story since reading it as a boy. The opera is a sophisticated fairy tale for all ages whose principal characters, the Prince and Swallow, champion compassion and beauty in a cynical world. Its premiere was featured on the PBS39 program Tempo.
In 2011 a Symphonic Suite from Elegy For A Prince was scored in five movements that delivers the opera's musical flesh and dramatic bones. The Suite triumphantly draws to a bittersweet close, as does the opera, with the two characters from the final scene, the Little Match Girl (soprano) and Young Writer (tenor) who echoes Oscar Wilde's words from De Profundis,"If the world is built of sorrow, it was built with hands of love."
YUM!, a one-act chamber opera about two, competitive friends verbally sparing to bake a birthday cake for a mutual friend, is a culinary comedy from 2008, and the second Cervetti-Esris collaboration.
Some Realms I Owned, inspired by Elizabeth Bishop's poem, One Art and the line The art of losing isn't hard to master, is a work for piano in three movements. It was commissioned in 2010 by the Allen Wilkinson Greer family in memory of wife and mother Nancy Carroll Greer. The first public performance was eloquently given by Chiharu Naruse at the PARMA Music Festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on August 14, 2014. The work could be considered a companion piece to Seven Farewells to Paradise, also for piano which was later commissioned in honor of Allen Wilkinson Greer. Its genesis is John Milton's Paradise Lost and drawings by Gustave Doré which illustrate that epic poem, and can be heard on the Navona CD NV5900 Keyboard3 with Cervetti at the keyboard.
Nazca, composed in 2010, is Cervetti's first work for string orchestra. Five movements depict several of the enigmatic geoglyphs discovered in Peru's Atacama desert in the1920's which are recognizable only by soaring above them. Cervetti captures the hummingbird, monkey, spider, hands and a figure thought to be extraterrestrial in a dazzlingly performance given by the Moravian Philharmonic String Orchestra conducted by Petr Vronsky on Navona Records' CD NAZCA.
Martha's Vineyard saw the premiere preview on April 8, 2011 of Valerie Sonnenthal's film of 27,000 still photographs, Visual Diary Project, which is set to electronic soundtracks titled Visual Diary. A kaleidoscopic section is on YouTube. Visual Diary along with the miasmic soundscape The Mouth of Boredom, which is an evocation from the first of Charles Baudelaire's collection of poems Les Fleurs du Mal, showcase Cervetti's signature style and mastery of electronic work on a CD of these two works released in 2009. Critics rightly commented that his electronic music, such as these fourteen tracks, "beat synthesizers at their own game."
For two consecutive tours, September 2011 and January 2012, Cervetti was invited by the Spanish Ministry of Culture to be Professor of Musical Analysis with the Joven Orquesta Nacional de España (JONDE), National Youth Orchestra of Spain. Four works were programmed, recorded and broadcast over Radio Clásica España. Leyenda and Las Indias Olvidadas (The Forgotten Indies for harpsichord and 11 instruments) toured, among other towns, Alicante's 27th Festival of Music where the work premiered in 1992. It was then praised by Carlos Villasol in RITMO (11/92, No. 637) as "an impressive and seductive work full of light and exuberance." This four movement concerto joins the ranks of 20th century literature for the harpsichord among works composed by Manuel de Falla, Bohuslav Martinu, and Francis Poulenc.
JONDE's players were conducted by Jordi Bernàcer with María Teresa Chenlo at the harpsichord and soprano Magdalena Llamas on the first tour. Alejandro Posada conducted Candombe for Orchestra while Cervetti took the podium to conduct the improvisatory chamber work …de la tierra… (…from the earth…) during the second tour. In Listen to the Young, Federico Solano in Alicante's Informacion.es summed it up:
"The [Alicante Festival] program was entertaining. Works by Sergio Cervetti, a composer who has the healthy intention to do what he wants when he wants it, in the noblest sense, occupied the first half of the program with two works of opposite character [Leyenda and Las Indias Olvidadas] as if they were from two composers. Brilliant!"
JONDE's artistic director, José Luis Turina, commented that their goal in conjunction with Fundación BBVA is to "record a collection of Spanish and Latin American composers, in this case a CD dedicated to Sergio Cervetti" with works that celebrate and lament past events from South America's history as they are linked to Spain. During both tours all four works were recorded.
Cervetti's discography of cross-cultural, contemporary American classical music grows with offerings of previously unrecorded works. In 2009 PARMA Recordings, on their premier classical label Navona Records, released Destinations, Orchestral Works from Latin American Composers. It features Chacona para el Martirio de Atahualpa, the second movement from Las Indias Olvidadas.
In early 2011 following Crossover, the radio interview with Jill Pasternak that aired on Philadelphia's WRTI-FM, PARMA Recordings produced superb recordings of Leyenda, Madrigal III, Lux Lucet in Tenebris, In Principio Erat Verbum and Nazca performed by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Kuhn Choir, and soloists such as soprano Alena Hellerova and harpsichordist Monika Knoblochova conducted by Vit Micka and Petr Vronsky. PARMA and their talented team is led by CEO Bob Lord who was singled out by Musical America ("The Influencers", 12.1.15) as one of the most influential people on today's music scene.
In Principio Erat Verbum is an organ prelude in a minimalist-baroque style that quotes one of the most melodic and dramatic moments from Elegy For A Prince. Lux Lucet in Tenebris for a cappella chorus, written in memory of Cervetti's mother in 2002 and titled after the Waldensian Church motto, was recorded in Prague by the exquisite Kuhn Choir conducted by Marek Vorlicek. It is featured on the Navona album NV5939, Foundations, released in January 2014.
2012 saw the release of the Navona CD NAZCA. It is the first recording to exclusively feature Cervetti's vocal and instrumental music. Four works span thirty-five years, 1975-2010. "This is unique, inspiring music written with originality and expertly crafted" wrote the United Kingdom's online New Classics (2/17/15).
- Leyenda (1992) for soprano and orchestra.
- Chacona para el Martirio de Atahualpa (1991) for harpsichord and chamber ensemble.
- Nazca (2010) for string orchestra in five movements.
- Madrigal III (1975) for two sopranos and chamber ensemble set to 15th century Aztec verses is a foray into heterophony that seems to fuse medieval counterpoint with minimalism. At its 1976 premiere Robert Burmister described it as "A work of singular beauty…consciously or not seemed to be a direct linear descendant of the Italian baroque school of string concerto writing perfected by Vivaldi and Corelli." (San Mateo Times, California, 2/26/76)
In Uruguay during 2012, La Escena Vocal presented a scene from Elegy For A Prince while Ofrenda para Guyunusa for harpsichord was premiered in Montevideo by María Teresa Chenlo. Guyunusa was a Charrúa Indian woman who was captured in Uruguay in the early 19th century, and fated to be exhibited in a Paris circus. The harpsichord's crystalline sound evokes the look of a music box figurine who, in stark contrast, is the victim of cruel fate because she is so exotic.
In early 2013 the Navona CD NV5900, Keyboard3, was released with six keyboard works. Two for piano, three for harpsichord, and one for organ are described as a "…a self-portrait that can be startling and yet evinces a spanning of vast musical spaces. This is nothing lightweight; it is quite substantial in brilliance and craft. A good one!" (Grego Appelgate Edwards, Classical-Modern Music Review, 7.2.13).
- Tres Estudios Australes is dynamically played by pianist Karolina Rojahn.
- Seven Farewells to Paradise has Cervetti at the keyboard.
- Alberada, Hard Rock and Candombe are splendidly interpreted by harpsichordist María Teresa Chenlo.
- In Principio Erat Verbum for organ is played by Karel Martinek on the renowned 1745 Michael Engler organ in Olomouc's St. Maurice Church in the Czech Republic.
Autumn 2013 saw the release of WIND DEVIL & Co./DancElectronics and was previewed in August 2013 at the PARMA Music Festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It is an unsurpassed collection of electroacoustic music created for seven dances from 1979 to 1990, and an aural snapshot of Cervetti's active participation in the dance world of New York City during the transitional era of cross-pollination of diverse dance techniques, styles and disciplines. The web's babysue posted online that "Cervetti is a master at his craft, combining elements from dance, classical, and electronic music into one cohesive whole. Killer compositions include Wind Devil, Cantata #84, Out of the Rolling Ocean, and Requiem." Another track, In Closed Time, is a panorama of sound created in 1985 and a masterpiece of electronic music.
Cervetti finished a wave of new works in 2014.
- Two for harpsichord, What's in a Name?and Sunday Boogie for harpsichord four-hands.
- Three Oscar Wilde fairy tales prompted The Remarquable Rocket for clarinet and piano.
- Intergalactic Tango for piano was written for Nicolas Horvath and his marathon concert in Paris on April 11, 2014 which he repeated in variation at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 2015.
- Three Pieces for Marimba (Marimbadrone, Marimbamor, Marimbamia) were composed with Juan Alamo in mind after meeting and hearing this virtuoso play the marimba with panache.
- Tres Tristes Tigres (Three Sad Tigers) for marimba, piano and cajón, is a Spanish language tongue-twister whose title hints at how technically demanding the music is.
- The title of I Can't Breathe for piano and electronics is the plea that Eric Garner uttered before his death while being subdued by police in Staten Island, New York in July 2014, and was composed in his memory.
- Chimère is written for piano. Chimera in Greek mythology is represented as a fabulous, fire-breathing monster having a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail; and is also meant to represent an impossible or fiendish task.
The XVIII Festival Latinoamericano de Música in Caracas, Venezuela invited Cervetti to participate with performances of his work in May and October 2014 which included the premiere of the string quartet, Unbridled, and a performance of Candombe for Orchestra that concluded the festival. A prize awarded at this festival back in 1966 helped Cervetti gain international attention. Superb performances by both the Cuarteto de Cuerdas Teresa Carreño and Orquesta Sinfónica de Juventudes Francisco de Miranda conducted by Felipe Izcaray can be seen on YouTube.
Navona Records' album NV5958 UNBRIDLED which features four chamber works that span forty-one years including an early minimalist work from 1972 was released in 2014.
- The title track, Unbridled for string quartet written in 2013, is a discourse on the calamity caused by financial institutions who were fiddling with America's purse strings that heralded a repeat of the Great Depression.
- Plegaria y Danza for violin, 1994, is dedicated to the memory of a friend and the wife of the violinist, Israel Chorberg, who passionately plays this prayer and dance on his Stradivarius.
- Mémoires du Paradis for piano trio from 2012 is a musical figment that uniquely renders five of Salvador Dali's scenes distilling John Milton's Paradise Lost, and collectively suggests what constitutes paradise is mankind's practice and experience of the arts which are civilization's deeds to Eden and Earth's reminders of Paradise.
- The improvisatory …from the earth… was conceived in 1972 for any number of sustaining instruments with which an ensemble melodically expands five notes borrowed from Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. This CD features the historic 1975 video of the premiere, programmed Music Within the Music at the Kitchen, conducted by Cervetti who also plays the electric organ.
Videos, such as the complete 1975 performance of …from the earth… on UNBRIDLED, and an interview with Cervetti on NAZCA, are an outstanding feature of Navona Records' compact discs when played on the computer. They also offer printable scores, photos and extensive biographical and background notes on the artists and works featured on the albums.
Spain's preeminent music magazine, RITMO, published an interview with Cervetti in the July/August 2014 issue (No. 876) and reviewed UNBRIDLED in October 2014 (No. 878). In part the English translation of the latter reads:
"Sergio Cervetti is a markedly independent composer. Almost an 'outsider'…capable of straddling apparently distant musical worlds that range from the most formal serialism to repetitive music without disdaining a healthy influence of folklore. Four works make an exceptional calling card for those who do not know him…transporting us to other musical worlds of distinct originality and poetry. A boundless creator. Nevertheless also challenging. No listener will remain indifferent. Highly recommended."
In October 2014, after having graduated from Peabody Conservatory back in 1967, Cervetti was pleased to meet with Jennifer Ottervik, Peabody's head librarian and archivist, in Baltimore to donate nearly sixty works to his alma mater, primarily scores but also audiovisual material. These works are available at The Arthur Friedheim Library and Archives at The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University.
2015 was a year of new compositions and recordings, various performances in the U.S. and abroad, and several in-depth radio programs.
The new CD TRANSITS-Minimal to Mayhem was released on May 12th. This fifth Navona Records' all-Cervetti album is an abridged sequence of five works from a set time and concrete place that maps Cervetti's creative progression over four decades of composing from 1975 to 2013.
- Concertino for piano, woodwinds and timpani from 2013 is a rowdy, raucous, three-movement array of South American rhythms tempered by a tender quote from Gustav Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. Commanding the piano is Karolina Rojahn accompanied by Boston area musicians conducted by Geoffrey McDonald.
- Exiles (1980), one of Cervetti's last minimalist works, was created on the Synclavier and begins with a slow piano rendition of the tune from a Uruguayan patriotic song, Mi Bandera (My Flag), which is soon overwhelmed by electronic textures.
- In contrast what follows is Guitar Music (the bottom of the iceberg), an early minimalist work for solo guitar from 1975 and a nuanced tour-de-force with a soupçon of flamenco by virtue of the instrument's ancestry, and played with riveting intensity by Stuart Fox. This piece was one of Cervetti's experiments in "restricted pitch-classes" as noted when first released on vinyl in 1977 (Composers Recordings Inc., CRI 359).
The two works that complete TRANSITS-Minimal to Mayhem are based on the history and culture of the Río de la Plata where Cervetti was born and raised.
- El Río de los Pájaros Pintados (1979) seamlessly integrates the bandoneón, played by the master René Marino Rivero, with electronics. Its title is the Spanish translation of the native Guarani Indian word "Uru-Guay" meaning "The River of the Painted Birds."
- Candombe for Orchestra (1996) has Jiri Mikula conducting the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra.
The following is what critics had to say about these works on TRANSITS-Minimal to Mayhem.
"These are very worthwhile works, performed in the main quite well, but in any case some high points in Cervetti's compositional oeuvre over the past 40 years, give or take. They stand out with distinction and show us his essential qualities as melodist and colorist, his rhythmic vitality and harmonically modern sophistication. I was taken by this anthology and will certainly come back to it to savor the originality and lively pointedness of Cervetti at his best. I recommend you hear it too."
- Grego Applegate Edwards from the online Gapplegate Classsical-Modern Music Review, June 5, 2015.
"Never has the combination of North American minimalism infused with South American influences functioned so marvelously as in the Concertino for piano, woodwinds and timpani on this CD released by Navona; these South American folk influences have always been at the center of Sergio Cervetti's music. With piano and saxophone in the foreground, it pulls the rest of the orchestra in winding pathways and thunderous landings. It is followed by three older works dating back to the late seventies. Exiles opens with the piano playing a patriotic Uruguayan theme that suddenly leaves the soundscape to a comforting tapestry of floating electronic sounds. This also dominates El Río de los Pájaros Pintados this time accompanying and merging with the sound of the bandoneon. Guitar Music is perhaps the most minimal of this series of pieces, everything played in the guitaristic phrasing continues pressing until the end, rarely deviating from the direct route that was mapped out. Candombe from 1996 closed the CD where the composer elaborates the syncopated rhythms of a Uruguayan dance in a driving and sparkling orchestral crescendo: an exclamation point to a CD that is rich, colorful and intense."
- KATHODIK, July 6, 2015, Filippo Focosi.
In Spain last December 2015 Las Indias Olvidadas - The Forgotten Indies was released on the NIBIUS CD label. Exuberant performances by the National Youth Orchestra of Spain (JONDE) with soloists María Teresa Chenlo, Magdalena Llamas, and conductors Jordi Bernàcer and Alejandro Posada were recorded during Cervetti's two tours with JONDE in 2011-12 as previously noted. Las Indias Olvidadas for Harpsichord and 11 Instruments, Candombe for Orchestra, Candombe for Harpsichord, Leyenda, and …de la tierra… makeup the disc's recital.
This JONDE/NIBIUS CD, engineered by José Miguel Martínez and produced by JONDE's Artistic Director, José Luis Turina de Santos, affords today's listener of contemporary music a rare opportunity to hear other interpretations of Cervetti's works. Leyenda and Candombe for Orchestra, for example, can be heard performed by other interpreters on Navona CD's, NAZCA and TRANSITS: Minimal to Mayhem respectively. A new rendition of …de la tierra… conducted by Cervetti on the NIBIUS CD differs from the 1975 live-recording and premiere of …from the earth… on Navona's CD UNBRIDLED which features the ensemble in a controlled-improvisation. There is also a third electronic version played by Cervetti on the Kurzweil synthesizer available on the CD The Triumph of Death.
The premiere of The Remarquable Rocket written in 2013 for B-flat clarinet and piano was given on May 3rd by Federico Palacios, clarinet, and Celia Schmitt, piano in Sarre-Union, France. Among other 2015 performances were Intergalactic Tango played by Nicolas Horvath in Carneige Hall on January 9th; Guitar Music (the bottom of the iceberg) performed by Colin McAllister in Colorado (2/4/15) and at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks' New Music Festival on February 7th; and Pronto se irá el invierno from The Triumph of Death was sung by Lucia Leite with Andrea Cruz Fostik at the piano on May 28th in Montevideo at a Teatro Solís concert sponsored by Mujeres en Música Filial Uruguay.
Marvin Rosen, who is the unquestioned champion of new music on the airwaves bar none, interviewed Cervetti on August 5th during his two-hour program "Classical Discoveries" which airs on Princeton NJ's radio station WPRB.fm. WFMT in Chicago broadcast "The Music of Sergio Cervetti" on the program "FIESTA" hosted by Elbio Barilari on December 26th. He pointed out that Cervetti began to freely compose in both acoustic and electronic mediums in view of a rigid avant-garde during the late sixties and early seventies.
During the course of 2015 Cervetti composed several new works.
- O Mort, vieux Capitaine, a poem from Les Fleurs du Mal by Baudelaire, gave the impetus to compose a Piano Quintet for string quartet and piano. Bach's last chorale, Vor deinen Thron, is woven into the third and final movement titled with Baudelaire's line au fond de l'inconnu pour trouver du nouveau.
- Two solo piano pieces, Scylla and Charibdis, join the 2014 work, Chimère, as a trilogy. Scylla and Charibdis were immortal monsters who beset the narrow waters traversed by the hero, Odysseus, during his wanderings described in Homer's Odyssey.
- Cervetti re-orchestrated and transcribed to FINALE the Concerto for Trumpet and Strings originally composed in 1974 that also won a prize at the 1977 Maracaibo Festival.
- The Red Circle for piano refers to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who drew a circle with a piece of red chalk and said: “When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day they will inevitably come together in the red circle.”
- Las Puertas for piano and viola is in seven fiendish, little sections that are inspired by the puzzling "H" blocks and stones of chiseled precision unearthed at Bolivia's archaeological site, Puma Punku.
- The clarinet quintet with the title, And The Huddled Masses, not only evokes the classic image of 19th century immigrants being greeted by the Statue of Liberty's silent promise of hope for a brighter future, but also today's migrants and refugees fleeing their war-torn homelands. The third and final movement is dedicated to twelve-year old Noemí Alvarez Quillay who, in 2014, committed suicide after being arrested at the border in her attempt to join her parents who were illegal aliens from Ecuador already living in the United States. Mozart's canon, Ach, zu kurz ist unsers Leben Lauf, is appropriately quoted in this movement of remembrance about the brevity of life and how suddenly it can be extinguished.
The highlight among 2016 projects included a trip in April to Havana, Cuba sponsored by PARMA Recordings as part of a cultural exchange, and to record the clarinet quintet And the Huddled Masses. It is significant that this so-titled Quintet was recorded at a moment in U.S.-Cuban history when borders are opening up following restoration of diplomatic relations in 2014 after a long period of acrimonious isolation. The work is a testimonial for today's unwelcome migrants and refugees who are often confronted by closed borders with tragic consequences in their pursuit of a dream of freedom in other lands. And the Huddled Masses was released in 2016 on PARMA Recordings' new label Ansonica Records, INTERSECTIONS, Cross-Cultural Collaborations in Sound.
“The clarinet quintet, And the Huddled Masses (2015), has a special resonance today…Somehow the music (of three movements I. The Tired, the Poor, and the Huddled Masses; II. Haves, deguenilles; III. Noemi Alvarez Quillay) seems to move beautifully through this sense of anxiety to a final moment of hope at a new life” writes Cinemusical, 2/27/17.
Recording sessions during 2016 also took place in the Czech Republic, Philadelphia, and Boston. Among performances were the premieres of the two devilish piano pieces, Scylla and Charibdis, performed by Charles Abramovic at Temple University in Philadelphia in October; and Three Pieces for Marimba (Marimbamia!, Marimbamor, Marimbadrone) given by Juan Alamo in Virginia, Brazil and Spain. His commanding performance is featured on Albany Records' Pursuing Freedom released in 2016.
SUNSET AT NOON – Six Works In Memory Of was released in February 2017. Six diverse works composed between 1995 and 2015 remember the untimely passing of individuals who lost their lives to terminal illness, or were the victims of mankind's indifference, prejudice and neglect.
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review (2/6/17) describes them as written by “an individual modern American composer of character…sobering, pointedly life-critical tone poetry expressions that question loss and commemorate the victims and their suffering.”
- Some Realms I Owned is performed by the composer at the piano.
- And the Huddled Masses is in company with the album's shared theme of reflection yet celebration in the shadow of lives passed.
- Ofrenda para Guyunusa is skillfully interpreted by harpsichordist María Teresa Chenlo.
- Sunset at Noon, a neo-romantic-minimalistic glimpse of young students lost to AIDS in the early days of the epidemic, is expressively played by Vit Muzik, violin and Dominika Muzikova, viola.
- I Can't Breathe for piano and percussion is dedicated to a victim of police brutality which is “rhythmic, shatteringly brittle modernism” says Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review (2/6/17).
- Lux Lucet In Tenebris exquisitely sung by the Kuhn Choir conducted by Marek Vorlicek comes as a sacred benediction to close this memorial program of secular works. “It is simply put, gorgeous, and wraps up this disc very well” praises Cinemusical, 2/27/17.
Ready for release in May 2017 is Navona Records' PASSAGE, Contemporary Works for Orchestra which opens with the award-winning (Maracaibo, Venezuela Festival 1977) Concerto for Trumpet, Strings and Timpani given a tumultuous performance by Ondřej Jurčeka on trumpet with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Petr Vronsky.
Cervetti regards the work subtitled Septem Tubae as an aria for trumpet which holds sovereign sway over the strings and timpani. In mind was “And the seventh angel sounded the trumpet” from the Book of Revelation, chapter XI, verse 15. Passages about the Apocalypse made a frightening impression on Cervetti as a youngster when his French grandfather read them to him. Those images blazed again, while composing years later, when he envisioned a vast canvas with streaks of vibrant hues. Three sections unfold in a faceted continuum. The first, introduced by a menacing trumpet solo, is foreboding and violent. The second is a tumultuous interplay between the timpani and trumpet. The final section recalls the Voices of Heaven in the violas and celli, later in company with the timpani and trumpet which leads to an apocalyptic crescendo.
This minimalist-leaning Concerto composed in 1973 also opens and sets the tone for the album TRIPTYCH REVELATION in which Cervetti navigates distant musical worlds from acoustic to electronic. Release is June 2017. Three compelling works (Concerto for Trumpet, Strings and Timpani, Piano Quintet-Toward the Abyss, The Hay Wain) reveal the range, sound palette and periods from his body of work from over four decades, and display evolutionary exploration, synthesis, techniques, and skills tailored to suit curiosity and fulfill creative ideas. He treats a shared apocalyptic theme drawn from the New Testament as noted, 19th century French literature, and Flemish art of the 16th century; in addition to German Baroque music and technological advancements in electronic music since his work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Studio in New York City during the 1970's. A gallery of works depicts three renditions of what has been foretold since the beginning of time: Mankind's day of reckoning will come.
Piano Quintet-Toward the Abyss is a masterful 2015 work rendered from Charles Baudelaire's (1821-1867) transcendent poetry that reverently culminates in a glimpse of J. S. Bach (1685-1750). The key lines are from the seventh poem Le Voyage. Dive into the abyss…so as to discover something new in the depths of the unknown…Hell or Heaven, what does it matter?
The Piano Quintet seamlessly advances through the mysterious bewildering first movement, into the wistful second, and on to the third movement when a brief quote from Vor deinem Thron tret ich hiermit appears. This last chorale by Bach, Before thy Throne I now appear written as he contemplated mortality, foreshadows the Quintet's evanescent conclusion. After a shimmering hesitation it consummates in a meditative sequence of ascending lines given first to the violins then followed by the piano as though a flame extinguished and fused with eternity. The way in which the final movement draws to a close was impacted by the anticipated death of the composer's sister.
The prism through which Le Voyage is heard without words possibly translates as a treadmill of dreams. Life flashes by to cease at the moment of passage from light to dark. Ushered by the Creator's resplendence, reality also passes into history shed for an inevitable voyage. This post-minimalist work of mature dexterity, following nearly 150 works composed over four decades, epitomizes the salient aesthetic means such as scattered 12-tone rows, minimalism, glimmers of melody, and music's iconic legacy by which the Quintet's synthesis of suspense in tone and material was fashioned. It is given a spot-on performance by Karolina Rojahn, piano; Omar Chen Guey, violin I; Rohan Gregory, violin II; Peter Sulski, viola; Jacques Lee Wood, cello; conducted by John Page.
In contrast to these chamber works, The Hay Wain is an electroacoustic tone poem from 1987 inspired by Hieronymus Bosch's haunting and grotesque imagery of human folly and perdition that await Judgement Day. The triptych painted by Bosch and its fantastic images inspired this electronic work, and established Cervetti's reputation as a major composer of this medium when it was first released by Periodic Music in 1987.
Cervetti mines Bosch's terroir of universal representations of world forms using a virtual orchestra and a battery of sampled sounds redolent of Bosch's brush. They are hammers of fate that depict Mankind's blind, mad progression among the false delights of life on earth, hastening in ecstasy and torment from the Garden of Eden into Hell. Cervetti comments that “Nothing short of that cataclysmic assessment could be more appropriate for Bosch's artistic observation of 16th century life in his Haywain that parallels the lunacy of these troubling times of the early 21st Century.”
Four movements target details in Bosch's narrative panels.
- I. Fall of the Rebel Angels in the upper left panel is depicted as insects falling to earth like confetti.
- II. The Lovers sit in bliss, in the central panel, on top of the wagon mounded by hay singing and playing the lute oblivious of the abyss towards which they are being driven. Their guardian angel prays on one side. On the other the devil intrudes his music by blowing his nose into an extended horn.
- III. Demons Construct the Tower, in the right panel, shows dwellings being constructed by sinners built from the stones of damned souls. Characterized by the kingfisher, this is a tower of human pride.
- IV. The Procession, in the central panel, passes by a wagon laden with hay drawn by semi-human, semi-animal monsters followed by a cavalcade of ecclesiastical and lay dignitaries. It underscores the Flemish proverb “The world is a pile of hay and everyone takes whatever he can grab.”
It is worth noting that during Cervetti's first visit to Madrid in 1967, in order to attend the European premiere of Five Episodes for Piano Trio, he became fascinated by Bosch's mystical paintings at the Prado Museum. The Haywain soon became a favorite. Inspired by the universality of this triptych he then decided to write music celebrating it. His first rendition on the subject was composed in 1967, The Hay Wagon, Six Fragments of Hieronymus Bosch for full orchestra and speaking chorus. Twenty years later he decided to revisit The Haywain and mine its wealth of bizarre and often comic imagery, and give Bosch's fantastic subject another try by utilizing the electronic medium. Technology by 1987 had become fairly sophisticated beyond the primitive days of manual cut and splice. MIDI and sampling were readily available, and several MIDI-fitted synthesizers allowed to create and program what was called at the time a “Virtual Orchestra.”
Among 2017 performances are …from the earth… performed by the Vermont Philharmonic conducted by Louis Kosma in March, and in August the Uruguayan premiere of Candombe for Orchestra given by the OSSODRE Orchestra conducted by Roberto Tibiriçá in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Currently Cervetti is either perfecting or sketching both acoustic and electronic compositions including an orchestral work. After recently becoming acquainted with the Aghori doctrines of India that maintain all opposites are ultimately illusory, it renewed his fond interest in Indian music. Back in 1971/72 he composed a series of Ragas for trombone and electronic tape performed by James Fulkerson here and abroad. Today he returns to that coupled form to create a piece for electronic sounds and clarinet. Aghori Mantra is slated for a premiere and recording in France by clarinetist Federico Palacios.
Over the years Cervetti has served as a panelist or judge, among others, for the 2013 PARMA Student Composer Competition, Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society 2013 8th Annual Guitar Competion, Juventudes Musicales del Uruguay Primer Concurso Iberoamericano de Composición “Mtro. Héctor Tosar” 2013, Fulbright Commission 1995-96, BMI Student Composer Competition 1970-73, Meet the Composer, and Creative Artist Program 1971.
Cervetti's work has been supported by foundations, corporations, and institutions such as the American Composers Forum/Philadelphia Chapter, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, American Music Center, Meet the Composer, the Joyce-Mertz Gillmore Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Exxon Foundation, Mobil Foundation, Warren-Gorham-Lamont, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Puffin Foundation, and by the generous contributions from many supportive individuals.
KPR, April 2017