Gabriel Sivak's 4 essences

Interviews 03.07.2023

Gabriel Sivak, who will be resident at Casa de Velázquez in Madrid for the 2022-2023 season, will be honored on July 4 at the Spanish Institute, where three of his works will be heard, including a new work commissioned by the Fondation Banque Populaire, which marks the Argentinian musician's encounter with Marseille's Musicatreize vocal ensemble.

Gabrielthe voice seems to be an important medium in your composition: is it the primary model for your work?
No, my background is mainly instrumental. For me, writing for the voice has been an adventure that has been enriched by each new experience.

Are you familiar with composing for choirs?
I've already had several experiences in this field, with the Maîtrise de Radio France, Le jeune chœur de Paris and Chœur en scène. My first commission, in 2010, was for children's choir, and I chose a poem by René Char, La patience. I had just one month to write; it was a real challenge. I took risks, but I think that to do things in life, you need a certain degree of recklessness. For me, it was also an opportunity to discover the poetry of René Char, whom I admire enormously.

How did you meet Liliana Bodoc ?
I discovered it through my friend Jessica Dinzelbacher, an Argentinian actress. In her poem 4 esencias, I love the universality of her words; there's also a childlike yet profound side that gives rise to very rich musical images. A few years earlier, I had written a piece for the Maîtrise de Radio France on Voyelles, Rimbaud's famous poem. I think the experience was very fruitful and gave me a lot to contribute to the writing of 4 esencias.

You seek "cultural integration" in your work: how does this manifest itself in 4 esencias and in Uray Purij Mayun (16 voices and piano), which is also on the concert program?
I wouldn't say that the search for "cultural integration" can be understood as an aesthetic manifesto. I'm simply trying to integrate all aspects of my life's journey as an artist into my universe, into this path of which Argentina and Brazil are a part.
In 4 esencias, this orientation remains very discreet, and I only use a few playing modes for the voice, such as the "cuica" sound (the Brazilian percussion instrument that imitates the monkey), voice timbres that imitate shakers (other percussion instruments) or accents that have a slightly South American swing.

These two pieces will feature on the CD to be released in a few weeks' time in association with Casa de Velázquez; how did you complete the program for this disc?
Firstly, Lagrimas de Tahuari, performed by the Orchestre des Pays de la Loire: this piece was inspired by a stay I made last year in the Amazon with the Kuikuro Indians, which was an absolutely memorable experience for me.
Descaminos is my concerto for cello, string orchestra and percussion, featuring the Orchestre de Lutetia and soloist Patrick Langot.
Kathakali is a piece for solo piano inspired by the rhythms of the tablas (Indian percussion) played by David Kadouch. Finally, Suite Capoeira, written for string quartet, is performed by Quatuor Voce.

Considering your work as a whole, where do you like to draw your inspiration from?
In travel, love, life stories, nostalgia or in artists I admire... In a deeper sense, I also think that art is a way of sublimating things and filling gaps; it's an eternal driving force.

Is this your first collaboration with the Marseille-based vocal group?
This is the first time we've worked together, but of course I knew the Musicatreize ensemble. I had met Roland Hayrabedian in Paris some ten years ago, and we had the idea of setting up a project together... which we are now doing. 4 esencias was originally commissioned by the Fondation Banque Populaire for the young choir of the Hamburg Opera, but was cancelled due to the pandemic. So I turned to Musicatreize. As chance would have it....

The program for the concert to be given on July 4 at the Institut Français in Madrid includes Uray Purij Mayun, a piece I composed in Quechua for the Aude choir in Carcassonne. We'll also hear The loveless land, a trio based on a text by Oscar Wilde, written for tenor Carlos Donofrio in Saint Petersburg.

What relationship do you establish between word and sound? Is the word musically "processed" (you mention the presence of a snare drum)? Does the text have to be intelligible?
The piece is divided into four movements according to the four essences (water, earth, fire, air). Each movement corresponds to a specific treatment of the voice.
The first is a soundtrack in which I work solely with the sounds that may arise from the word agua. In Tierra, the text is sometimes broken up to create rhythmic layers, sometimes spoken in a more linear fashion. In Fuego, I work with very low, primitive sonorities, using only one phrase of the text, which comes back transformed each time. In Aire, I use female voices in a harmonic carpet that gradually evolves; on this carpet, the male voices say the text backwards, singing through snare drums that alter the color of the voices. I'm looking for a form of voice saturation as a metaphor for the damage done by man to the ecosystem.

What are your references / models / master(s) in terms of musical writing?
I have a number of them, including Olivier Messiaen, György Ligeti, Gérard Grisey, Giacinto Scelsi, Alberto Ginastera, Egberto Gismonti.....
Grisey 's Vortextemporum has left a deep impression on me, with its idea of the gradual transformation of sound matter ; Giacinto Scelsi 's Uaxuctum for his work on the depth of sound. Olivier Messiaen's colorful, close-to-nature universe is also a major model for me(Quatuor pour la fin du temps, Turangalîla, Saint François d'Assise). Some of Ligeti's works were very revealing, such as Lontano, Atmosphères, the Études pour piano, and the Concertos pour piano et pour violon. Alberto Ginastera is also an important influence, especially in the period when he tried to blend abstract music with Argentine folklore. I would also mention Egberto Gismonti for his Brazilian rhythmic influence. And among today's composers, I love the world of Zad Moultaka and the operas of Francesco Filidei.

Can we consider 4 esencias as a springboard for writing your own opera?
A priori no, but for me each creation is an open book that teaches me lots of lessons. So I'll wait until I've finished the opera to really know what it's all about.

What format do you envisage for this operatic work?
I'm writing the opera for an ensemble of 12 musicians, 6 singers, electronics and video. An orchestra may also be included.

Do you plan to collaborate on the libretto and staging?
Yes, of course. I created the dramaturgical structure of the story and then left it to librettist Alejandro Tantaniàn to write the libretto. Naturally, he enriched each scene with his own universe and the elegance of his writing. I regularly give ideas to the director; for example, by suggesting the use of a futuristic machine that is central to the opera's dramaturgy (this idea comes from an installation on printing that I created in 2018 at the Sorbonne). I also contribute ideas for the video part(the pig, for example).

Could you briefly tell us what your opera is about?
A bourgeois family is the victim of a crime (this fact is recalled by the family members, but does not occur in the scene). This crime gradually transforms the lives and psychology of all its members. External violence penetrates with such force that, in the course of the play, the murderers will no longer be outside the family but inside themselves (I call this "propagation", a working title). Love, represented by a woman, appears as a possible form of salvation, creating a powerful duel between love and death. In the living room of the house is a futuristic printing machine where family members write their diaries, filled with family secrets. One day, one of the family members decides to sell the machine to make a show on Netflix. This decision provokes an internal crisis of epic proportions.

Interview by Michèle Tosi


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