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“Us composers, we are like surgeons for peopleʼs souls”
New SUISA member: Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi.
Photo: Markus Ganz
Text by guest author Markus Ganz
Romanian composer Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi attracted international attention at a young age. He moved to Switzerland in 2019 and recently joined SUISA.

The music of Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi doesn’t just fit into one category: Born in 1989, the Romanian composes orchestral works, chamber music and choral works as well as soundtracks for film, theatre and games. He is “a true talent who combines creativity and versatility” reads the argumentation for the 2022 International Classical Music Awards Composer Of The Year Award. Among his many awards is the “Golden Eye” of the International Film Music Competition for the soundtrack to the animated short film “Happiness” – 304 composers from 44 countries had applied.

And yet Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi is modest, even humble, in the interview. “Sometimes I feel really small by having such giants of composers behind me, whose works we are analysing during our training.” He also sometimes felt daunted at festivals for contemporary music, but only in the beginning. “There are unknown composers presenting me with such clever theories and algorithms that I can hardly wait to apply them myself. But then I listen to their music and think to myself that they avoid everything that has anything to do with terms like “soul”, “inspiration” or “feelings”. As a consequence, there is often no communication. And that’s what music is supposed to be all about.”

Search for authenticity

Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi’s credo that he was not on a journey of originality, but one of authenticity, fits in with this. “It is not a search for novelty in terms of sound, but one for the most sincere, eloquent and meaningful musical manifestation.” In the context of talking about musical poetry, Stravinsky once said originality was a monster. For Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi, originality has something dishonest about it, as it is always just a means to an end, a tool to succeed … “Authenticity, on the other hand, involves honesty, honesty in the sense of a journey of self-discovery that raises questions. Who am I? Who am I in relationship to other people? Why am I composing music while other people are saving lives?”

It is questions like these that have been on Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi’s mind all the time, ever since he was in Romania for his first year of studies. “One of my teachers, Dan Voiculescu, said that as composers, we were like surgeons for people’s hearts and souls. That was a bit too poetic for me. But, once in a while, there are people who come up to me after a performance of one of my works and admit that the music moved them, some with tears in their eyes. This kind of reaction is one of the main reasons why I continue writing music and perhaps this is what authenticity is all about.” But he does not hide the fact that composing also has a hedonistic side for him. “Of course, I love the thrill of discovery; for me composing is like writing a story that is unravelling itself to me.”

Wages for compositions

For Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi composing also signifies a struggle to “find meaning in something that is not financially rewarding. The bohemian approach only worked until I got married, became the father of a child – and moved to the most expensive country in the world.” This made it all the more important for him to find a solid solution for his earnings from copyright. “As a composer, the royalties you receive from the performance of your music are essential. After several projects in Switzerland and talking to colleagues who are members of SUISA, I realised that I also wanted to join SUISA.”

In view of the high cost of living in Switzerland, however, the pressure to accept commissioned compositions is also great, explains the Romanian in his small studio, into which the piercing sounds of the dental clinic below sometimes penetrate. “Sometimes, just like now, I’m working on five or six projects at once – it’s insane.” In addition, there is a risk that authenticity would then suffer, which he hates. “That makes it all the more important for me to connect with the person I’m working with. If it’s a movie soundtrack or music for a theatre play, it usually leads to a kind of ping-pong of ideas with the director. If it’s purely a concert piece, then I have to play a kind of ping-pong with myself.”

A nightmare for Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi is, in his own words, to bore people with his music or to use compositional effects to compensate for something that was not there. “After so much education and training, I’ve mastered so many composition techniques that it’s easy for me to make something sound complex.” In fact, not only did he study composition in Romania, Great Britain, and France, but he is also currently finishing a second master’s degree (“Composition for Film, Theater, and Media”) at the Zurich University of the Arts and attended countless master classes by well-known composers. “The greatest joy for me, however, is to combine complexity with simplicity, without falling prey to over-simplification. In other words, that joy occurs when you combine the power of simplicity with what we’ve accumulated in a century of contemporary music.”

Diversity of contemporary music

What remains fundamental to Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi is that he wants the listeners to have a reaction to his music, to not remain inert in the face of his music. “It’s also okay under certain circumstances if they get a little bit angry. But angry as a direct result of them feeling something, something that stirs the very core of their being.” The Romanian is certainly not a radical “Neutöner”, or creator of new sounds, but he did use the sound of a chainsaw in his orchestral piece “Tektonum”. “I didn’t do this to amaze or provoke people. No, in that very moment I had to deal with the musical representation of the end of the world. The entire piece is inspired by our cosmogony, and I had to ultimately represent human nature. Then, by chance, I found this chainsaw sound in my instrument library. So, I thought, yeah, that’s a good symbol for what we’re doing.”

Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi seems to have virtually absorbed the many expressive possibilities of contemporary music. With all this variety, one wonders what is typical about his compositions, whether there are any characteristic features, something unmistakable. The composer hesitates briefly and then says: “You are asking about my style. This was a scary word for me even in Romania, because I felt an academic pressure to ‘find my own voice’. I hated the term even then, because it imposed on me that I could be pigeon-holed, that my music could be labelled as ‘post-structuralist’, ‘influenced by Boulez’, or whatever. I got the feeling that I would have to choose something and then to stick to it and limit myself to that. But that’s not my thing. I want to be able to do everything, to be free. If using multiple styles automatically leads to being perceived as ‘eclectic’ or ‘volatile’ then only time will tell if the pejorative nature of these labels was justified.”

Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi’s music is like a roller coaster, his professor Joe Cutler is said to have once told him. “That was true until about two years ago. However, during my master’s project in Zurich, some lecturers made me question a lot of what I was doing. One of them told me: ‘Sebastian, some of your musical pieces are impressive. But they don’t move me.’ That came as a shock to me and made me question everything.” He said he realised that sometimes he just wanted to please his lecturers. “Stephan Teuwissen, who taught me music dramaturgy in Zurich, told me: ‘Stop looking for dads. I don’t want disciples, I want a challenging adversary.’ So, I must search for my own music in my own way and find the freedom to reinvent myself again and again. If this means that I evolve from one style to the next, then so be it. But if someone asks me what my style is, then the answer is that it is what each piece requires.”, official website of Sebastian Androne-Nakanishi

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