Composing with silence: Gregory Emfietzis

Gregory Emfietzis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, and studied in Macedonia and at Huddersfield and Brunel universities. Recent works include the wind quintet Fear (not), winner of an international competition hosted by the Wiener Konzerthaus to mark its 100th season, the chamber opera The Darkness of Mistico and the puppet theatre piece Music Impossible.

I’ve chosen a piece by Greg to include in my Kings Place concert because I wanted to include something music-theatrical. Not over-bearingly so, but enough to open a corridor between ‘standard’ music-music, and non-standard music-theatre. And Greg’s music fits the bill perfectly, drawing on Kagel and Jani Christou, but retaining a light and often humorous touch. In DIY 1: the pianist and the lamp, the interactions between the piano soloist and an on-stage lamp play with our symbolic interpretations of light/dark, sound/silence and content/emptiness.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson: Composing is an anachronistic career choice for the 21st century, isn’t it? Why do you do it?

Gregory Emfietzis: Well … if you consider the size of the advertising and cinematic industry in our day it certainly feels like a very ‘contemporary’ career choice, strongly related to and heavily employed by our modern world. In our particular field, however, I am not sure I can see it as a career rather than (just) as a choice … Despite the many years of studies, countless working hours (not to mention money spent), it still feels more like a professional hobby, which I (just) need to do.

Tim R-J: How do you think composing, being a composer, now is different from 20–30 years ago?

Greg E: Composing itself can’t have changed too much for ages. Yes, different periods could possibly mean different tendencies or trends, the development of instruments and advanced technology in the hands of more composers, even different types of notation; but I see that like any other more or less expected development of any other profession… The ‘logistics’ of being a composer have changed considerably though, because of the considerably greater opportunities to gain experience by working with amateur and professional players from all over the world, and the even greater opportunities to document your work and present it to a wider audience through the Internet.

Tim R-J: What role does silence play in your music?

Greg E: An equally important role as non-silence I’d say. Rather than a moment of emptiness and/or inactiveness, silence feels to me more like an extremely ‘loud’ acoustic timbre, which often carries very strong dramatic elements with it.

DIY 1: the pianist and the lamp performed by Nao Maebayashi, London 2010

Tim R-J: A lot of composition is about ways of proceeding, extending an idea in time. What sort of decisions are you dealing with as you compose?

Greg E: I’d say I’m more interested in stretching time over ideas, in such a way that an audience loses its sense of time. And since ideas don’t appear as ‘just sound’ to me, the theatricality of live music performance comes in too – so I’m very often dealing with time over dramaturgy over sounds over ideas.

DIY 1 extract

Score extract from DIY 1: the pianist and the lamp

 Tim R-J: Here’s a middle C. What do you do now?

Greg E: Surround it with many many many other notes of different sizes. Then circle all of them and draw a vertical line downwards; finally add four shorter diagonal lines downwards: two starting on each side of the vertical line’s middle, and the other two starting at the very end of it. Entitle it: SSSSSSSSShhhhhhh

This post is published as part of a series of composer interviews leading up to a concert of silent and nearly-silent music I am curating at Kings Place, London, on Sunday 22nd September. Full details and booking are here.

If you have enjoyed what you have read here, and elsewhere on the blog, and would like to make a small contribution towards the costs of this concert your interest would be very welcome. Please send your donation (of whatever size) via PayPal to:

I don’t usually ask for money on this blog, but here’s some information on why I am on this occasion.

If you’d like to read some more interviews like this with young composers, why not check out my 10 for ’10 series, on which this post is based.


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