Daniela Mastrandrea, pianist, composer & arranger

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music?

I was five years old when my aunt took me to my first music school. She convinced me to take piano lessons and my mother was given the hardest of the tasks… she had to persevere in order to make me persevere! And that’s what I did! Although I didn’t want to know anything about the piano at first, she, with perseverance and tenacity, sat down next to me and made sure I studied. It is natural that while growing up certain things about us change and mature. The instrument that I initially hated turned out to be my best friend, and the moment when that first melody took shape in my head, then between my fingers and then onto paper… it was something significant that I can’t explain! I still remember that day. I was nine years old, and we were about to leave the house. Amongst all this, meeting a variety of people was fundamental to my early development and I was lucky enough to work with teachers who opened my mind and heart. The thing that motivated me most of all to carry on playing the piano was composing.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I am heavily influenced by the music and life that surrounds me. My first compositions unintentionally expressed themselves with those musical and technical devices that the first educational texts illustrated and suggested. The more I went on, the more the writing evolved, above all through classical studies, by technique and by language. Beyond that, I believe that transcription has also had its influence. I loved transcribing onto paper notes of songs that I really loved. Alongside this, I have always transcribed, read and played all kinds of music and this diversity of genres I believe has crept into my compositional styles, sounds and harmonies.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Making a living out of playing music today is quite difficult, choosing to live by one’s own music is an even greater challenge! Many things I have longed for, but more than ever writing new music and hoping that this music finds its own space and place in the world. Making records as an artist is not easy and very often can be a burden. I’m not talking about thinking and conceiving music, it’s more the practical and concrete aspects of what makes music attractive to others. The Web Talent Video Interactive Talent Awards conceived and organised by my distributor Believe Digital have been a great opportunity for me: I wanted so much to win the record production award that was up for grabs that I gave all of myself to make it happen (and it did!). For the past year, all my energies have been focused on achieving this challenge and this comes down to fulfilling my initial desire – writing more new music!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I can’t really say which of my recordings I’m more proud of! If there is one thing I adore in music and composition, it’s probably the timbre inherent to each instrument. “Fluide Risonanze”, my previous album before the new release “Lo Specchio”, was a record that I strongly wanted in quartet formation (flute, violin, cello and piano) just so that I could play around with the timbres of each of the instruments. It was really fun to mix them in the score, as if they were colours; even more to live them, listening to them on the monitor while recording and also played live. It is a record that I am very proud of and that I always invite people to listen to, maybe because of its wide musical scope. Music is music and, beyond my particular inclination towards orchestral music, the simplicity and sonic completeness of the solo piano has its charm too. For this reason, “Lo Specchio” considers the dialogue between each of the 88 keys, creating a direct intimacy, both introspective and contemplative, with the listener.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Since I perform mostly my own compositions, you could say it is my repertoire that chooses me! Some of the songs played in my set are linked musically and others are just part of a natural path I am following. Of course, there are songs that I keep in my repertoire because they can give me something new and different each time I play them in front of an audience, but, as new compositions are created, the old take a back seat to make room for the new. You cannot keep everything going, and in this case the choice is sometimes easily made!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I love house concerts (a popular form of performance in Italy): they always create a particular sense of closeness with the listener. There are of course much more prestigious and larger venues one can perform in, but the intimacy of my music has always been a fundamental ingredient. I also like to play in traditional concert venues but the depth of emotion that you can achieve in a private concert is so personal. Bringing home that energy, which is so strong and intimate, is an emotion much more intense for me, which you don’t often experience in large venues, where personal interaction takes a back seat. I would like to perform in one of those events at sunrise or sunset, overlooking the sea or immersed in a stretch of green. I would be at peace with myself and would find the right balance to play my music, the perfect setting o mix natural landscapes and music.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Depending on how I feel, I listen to different types of music. The romantic period in music is my favorite, even if my track “Volo Di Gabbiani” (“Flight of Seagulls”) makes you think of Debussy (or at least this is what many people said to me after listening to it), but also the baroque and the classical period and a lot of other music too. I often listen to Enrico Pieranunzi and jazz in general, as it is a musical language that has always fascinated me. I do not like to classify or identify a composer, performer or a style that I prefer. I do not have any favourite musicians, I love to listen to different music made by different musicians at specific times, depending of the mood I’m in. All music, if executed well, is beautiful. I love Rachmaninov (who doesn’t adore him?!), Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Bach, Ravel, Chopin, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Schubert… the list goes on!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Each concert is memorable in itself and what strikes me is the reaction from the audience. At the end of the concert, people come up to me to share their experience with me and this is my impetus to create more more. Local to me in Italy, I have come to expect that sort of reaction, but in other countries, perhaps where audience members are there by chance or if they read something about me in the press and come along to see me perform, it’s a different thing entirely. Once in March 2017, at a concert Padua, the ensemble I Solisti Veneti performed “La sorgente”, a composition of mine, arranged for string orchestra, oboe and bassoon. It was an honour for me to listen to an orchestra like this one, famous all over the world, performing my own composition… this is one of the most beautiful experiences for any composer. I remember that at the end of the concert I couldn’t get through the auditorium to get to the stage. I wanted to say hello to Maestro Scimone but I was surrounded by people who were pleasantly overwhelmed by the piece and wanted to share their reactions with me. It was only much later when everyone had left that I could finally go and say hello to the Maestro!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being able to do what I love 24hrs a day, which is having the opportunity to write music, especially for film scores. I always tie my music to images, sensations, places. Being able to do it for real, not just in a conceptual way, would be a truly coveted goal. Until now little things, short films, but the great cinema is my dream still in the drawer. I want my music to reach people’s hearts in a direct way, without any filters, and this, for me, represents the greatest.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Always believe in yourself and in what you do, even if this involves a big sacrifice, as it often does. In the past, I would get discouraged and it will almost certainly happen again (we couldn’t not call ourselves human if it didn’t). Falling down is natural, getting back up is the real challenge. When you get up after a fall you are stronger than ever before! As Friedrich Nietzsche said “What does not kill you, fortifies you“, and he is right! Always pick yourself up and keep getting stronger!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I believe happiness is something you have inside regardless of where you are and the people you are with. It is certainly something that you carry in your heart and, even if outside there is a ferocious storm, you remain calm because you know that you are your whole world: your head, your feelings, your thoughts, which nobody can take away. For me, my music represents a solid anchor, and I know with certainty that even on a desert island I would still compose, even without a piano.

Daniela Mastrandrea will release her debut album Lo specchio (‘The Mirror’) for solo piano is released on 18 May 2018 (digital release).

Born in Puglia, Daniela began composing from a young age, later drawing influences from jazz, classical and film music when she went on to study piano at the Academy of Music in Monopoli. A prolific composer and arranger, in 2013 Daniela was nominated for the Women in Music Foundation for her piece Leggiadra carezza, which was performed across Italy by the Ragazzoni Piano Duo. 
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