Piano concerto to debut C of C grad’s teacher to play

Composer Florencia Di Concilio

Florencia Di Concilio is a Uruguayan pianist and composer and a graduate of the College of Charleston. She was enrolled at the college 1997-2001 and studied piano with Enrique Graf. In 2003, she moved to Paris.

At 34, she is gaining a reputation as a composer of film music. She wrote the music for “Dark Blood,” a movie starring the late River Phoenix that finally premiered as an official selection of the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival. She has written many other film scores, as well as music in various other genres.

Di Concilio’s new piano concert receives its U.S. premiere Tuesday at the Dock Street Theatre, played by Enrique Graf and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Yuriy Bekker.

The Post and Courier reached her last week to discuss her music, Charleston experiences and more.

Q: Your piano concerto has a certain neo-Romantic feel. It’s big and expressive, with many moments of virtuoso flash. Is this typical of your style? Do you even have a typical style? I understand you work in various genres, including film and television music. What are the roots of your particular musical language, and how best do you prefer to express that language?

A: When it comes to film scoring, I have to adapt to whatever style fits the film (being a classically trained musician with a jazz and popular music background helps), and when I am writing for performers, I can’t help but thinking of their playing, which will inevitably influence what I write. Nevertheless, I do have a personal sound, a result of my constant search for an original harmonic language, not necessarily trying to sound “new” or “different” but trying to find more sophisticated, complex, fine syntax in order to create my own harmonic idiom.

Of course, you can also hear in my music my own preferences in composers, and some of the piano concerto sections are purposely reminiscent of Rachmaninoff, a composer I just adore. Speaking of reminiscences, I also cite literally a theme by Carlos Gardel, the Uruguayan born tango singer and composer; nothing to do with Rachmaninoff except for its powerful, frank and undeniably beautiful melodic vein.

Maybe as a result of my upbringing and my roots, I love Italian opera, especially Puccini, and also love Bill Evans, so the not-so-contradictory qualities of powerful lyricism and the sophistication of harmonic subtleties are the main element of my musical explorations.

I write for my own taste, what I like to listen to, and sometimes it luckily happens to be what other people might enjoy hearing.

Q: You were a music student at the College of Charleston. What was that experience like, and how did it inform your music-making?

A: My time at the College of Charleston was sincerely one of the most beautiful and fruitful periods of my life. The warmth of people surrounding me, my teacher, Enrique Graf, my sponsors (I think of John Zeigler), classmates and Charlestonians in general left an indelible print in my life and music making. As a young performer, I can’t think of a better place to be. Seldom a student gets that many opportunities to perform for an audience or for visiting with world-class artists.

Q: You are known not only for your compositions but also for being a fine pianist. Was music always part of your life, even as a child? Besides classical, what kinds of music do you like to play (and listen to)?

A: I come from a musical family. My mother, although a nonmusician, has always been a music lover with very fine taste; my father is a jazz and tango pianist; my uncle is the double bass soloist in the national orchestra, as well as a performer of popular music as a sideman to many great musicians; and my grandmother was a very fine pianist herself. I was raised listening to both jazz and classical music and learned to appreciate popular and “academic” music equally.

Nowadays, I like to listen to jazz, from Earl Hines to Joey Calderazzo, and to classical music ... Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Mozart, Bach, Josquin Desprez, Dowland. ... I would not be able to make a comprehensive list!

Q: Your new piano concerto was well-received in Uruguay when it was premiered by the Montevideo Philharmonic and Enrique Graf. (On Tuesday) it will receive its U.S. premiere at the historic Dock Street Theatre, also played by Graf. What’s it like working with Graf? Did you write this piece with him in mind?

A: The premiere of the piano concerto in Uruguay was a moving experience for me. First of all, I hadn’t gone back to my homecountry for nearly 10 years, and it was the first time the Montevideo Philharmonic had commissioned a piece from me.

The theater where the piece was performed is this magnificent, huge theater called the “Solis,” where I would go listen to the Philharmonic when I was a kid and a teenager. It’s the place where I learned to love music and where I would daydream about becoming a composer, and maybe one day have my own music performed there.

Little did I know that my own teacher would eventually premiere my piano concerto! I should say, his piano concerto, though, because every single note was written thinking of his playing, his sound, his phrasing, his personal musicality.

I will never forget the first time I heard him play it in rehearsals: It was a completely miraculous experience to listen to what had been in your mind for months, exactly the way you imagined it! I cannot think of a more perfect bliss for a composer. I had intended to tell him he had a complete freedom to do what he wanted with the piece, interpretation-wise, but I didn’t need to say anything: He performed exactly the way I conceived it.