Francesco Antonioni

«A composer who knows what he wants and how to achieve it» (The Guardian)

Described as «a composer who knows what he wants and how to achieve it» (The Guardian), I am a composer of music for orchestra, voices, chamber ensembles, and electronics.

I thrive on exploring the intersections of different musical styles, constantly seeking new artistic possibilities. 

My compositions have been featured in major theatres, concert halls, and in the media. I received commissions from orchestras and festivals around the world, such as the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Ensemble Modern (Frankfurt), Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (UK), MiTo Settembre Musica (Turin and Milan), the Biennale di Venezia (2001, 2010, 2016), the Albany Symphony Orchestra (USA), and the Bielefeld Opera Theatre (DE). Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of collaborating with internationally acclaimed musicians such as Antonio Pappano, George Benjamin, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Evelyn Glennie, Yuri Bashmet, and Beatrice Rana.

My scores have been published by Ricordi since 2009. I have also composed two full-scale ballets, featuring classically trained performers and electronics.

I was born in 1971 and began taking composition lessons at an early age. After earning both diplomas in Piano and Composition, I pursued a DMA in Composition at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, under the guidance of Azio Corghi. Then, on a Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother scholarship, I went to study with Julian Anderson and George Benjamin at the Royal College of Music in London, where I was also awarded the Marjorie and Dorothy Whyte Memorial Award. Fueling my curiosity and passion for music, I furthered my education and graduated in Philosophy and Aesthetics. Another significant influence on my development as a composer was my role as the composition assistant to Hans Werner Henze for four years.

Establishing myself as a composer took a significant leap forward in 2001, when I received a commission to write a string quartet for the Venice Biennale, performed by the Smith Quartet. The premiere of this work garnered attention, and influential music critic Dino Villatico predicted: «Francesco Antonioni: a composer you will hear a lot about».

My works quickly attracted attention for their ability to seamlessly blend diverse musical styles and traditions. One notable example is my first stage work, Chat-Opera, written for five singers, two actors, amplified ensemble, and a DJ, and inspired by the proliferation of chat rooms on the internet. In 2002, Chat-Opera was the first opera in which a character switches from male to female throughout the story. Staged at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan and the Teatro Regio in Turin, featuring Cristina Zavalloni, Claudio Cavina, Cesare Malfatti as a DJ, and the Sentieri Selvaggi ensemble, conducted by Carlo Boccadoro, under the direction of Francesco Frongia,

Chat-Opera gained international recognition when it was shortlisted at the International Rostrum of Composers and broadcast on radio stations worldwide. This led to further collaborations, such as the visual cantata Codice ovvio for singers, actors, ensemble, and electronics, commissioned by the Ensemble Modern. It is based on the drawings, sketches, and writings of the groundbreaking designer Bruno Munari. Codice Ovvio was conducted by Sian Edwards and staged in 2005 at the Frankfurt Shauspielhaus under the supervision of Heiner Goebbels.

That also led to a longstanding association with the Sentieri Selvaggi ensemble. In 2005, they commissioned Macchine inutili and published it on Cantaloupe Music (USA). Many other groups, like The Knights at the MATA Festival in New York, have played my pieces since then. Both Codice ovvio and Macchine inutili get their names from the inventiveness of Bruno Munari. His work inspired also my most recent piece for ensemble, Da cosa nasce cosa, which was commissioned by Sentieri Selvaggi and performed at the Milan Expo in 2015 and the Venice Biennale in 2016.

Another big step forward happened when thirteen regional orchestras in Italy commissioned and played my music in 2002–2003. Le melodie nascoste attracted a lot of attention, and in 2004, the Rai National Symphony Orchestra presented it at the Settembre Musica festival in Turin, conducted by Jonathan Webb. A few years later, Christophe Manogou promoted it in France with the Orchestre de Piccardie.

Since then, my catalogue has expanded to several works for large orchestra.

Giga, commissioned in celebration of Hans Werner Henze's 80th birthday by the Goethe Institut, the Ernst von Siemens Stiftung, and the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, was performed under Pascal Rophé. It was then played by the Royal Northern College of Music under Roland Boer and the Verdi Orchestra in Milan, conducted by Xian Zhang.

In 2011, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification, the MiTo Settembre Musica festival commissioned Andriessen, Part, Dusapin, Birtwistle, Daugherty, Hosokawa, Sciarrino, and me to write a new piece. Benché'l parlar sia indarno was written for three female voices, a speaker, two orchestras, and myself embedded in the score as the presenter. The Teatro Regio Orchestra performed it in Turin and Milan, under the direction of Daniel Kawka, and the concerts were broadcast live. 

I repeated the experiment while I was a composer-in-residence with the FORM Orchestra. I developed listening guides to Mozart's piano concertos in the form of pieces for speaker and orchestra. I played the role of the presenter and occasionally the pianist, who illustrates the music, which uses Mozart's masterpiece as its foundation. 

In Februray 2014, Sir Antonio Pappano led three highly acclaimed performances of Gli occhi che si fermano by the Santa Cecilia Orchestra. The Corriere della Sera newspaper reviewed them as «the consecration of a composer». The piece was a commission of the Cagliari Lyric Theater and received its premiere in 2009 under Marko Letonja. It was also presented at the 2010 Venice Biennale.

My latest orchestral piece, Nostro mare, won the PlayIt! prize from the Orchestra della Toscana. Francesco Lanzillotta and Daniele Rustioni have conducted it repeatedly.

My writing style for strings has evolved during the years and has received several plaudits: «Whether sensuous or assertive, the string writing is wonderfully assured», wrote The Guardian in 2013.

Many quartets, including the Cassat Quartet (USA), have played Morphing over the years since the Smith Quartet (UK) first performed it at the 2001 Venice Biennale. The Wigmore Hall has commissioned my second quartet for the Castalian Quartet (UK), which will present it in June 2024.

Lorenza Borrani premiered my Violin Concerto in 2002. Later, she gave its US premiere with the Albany Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Alan Miller.  

Ballata, for string octet, commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, was praised by The Times for «the delicately controlled sound and movement and the rigour of the writing». Sir George Benjamin conducted the premiere in 2009, and in its review of the concert, The Guardian defined me as «a composer who knows exactly what he wants and how to achieve it». 

The piece was performed again in 2013 in Birmingham and London at the Wigmore Hall, as part of the celebrations for the "George Benjamin Day". Again, with ravishing reviews: «It was here that real feeling stood centre-stage», wrote The Telegraph.

Following the success of the London performance, Ballata was performed at the Köln Philharmonie as part of the RAI Orchestra's tour, conducted by Juraj Valčuha, in a programme that also included works by Respighi and Berio. The RAI Orchestra had already performed the piece in 2010, and I conducted it in the USA with the Ensemble X at Cornell University and in Italy with the Solisti Aquilani string orchestra. 

In 2014, Yuri Bashmet gave the premiere of Sull'ombra (Upon the Shadow, after John Donne), commissioned by the Moscow Soloists. I recently recorded this piece with the Solisti Aquilani for a forthcoming release by Brilliant Classics.

I also explored period instruments. Anna, Soror is a piece for solo violin and baroque orchestra, commissioned in 2019 by the Academia Montis Regalis and performed by Boris Begelmann.

My latest Concerto for viola, clarinet and strings, Lights, after the Thaw, was conducted and recorded by Vladimir Ashkenazy, with Dimitri Ashkenazy at the clarinet and Ada Meinich at the viola. A recording is available on the Brilliant Classics label. I recently conducted the piece with the Solisti Aquilani, featuring Alessandro Carbonare and Nora Schwarzkopf as soloists.

Initially trained as a concert pianist, I developed a substantial catalogue of solo piano compositions. The series of Preludi Diatonici, composed between 2010 and 2019, has been performed by several renowed pianists, including Emanuele Arciuli, Francesco Libetta, Mariangela Vacatello, Andrea Rebaudengo, Domenico Codispoti, Orazio Sciortino, Francesco Schweitzer, Silvia D'Augello, and the multi award-winning artist Beatrice Rana, at the Tonhalle Zurich, the Auditorium du Louvre, and the Radio France et Montpellier festival. The Preludes were also further performed in Milan, Florence, London, Paris, Dallas (Steinway Hall), Reykjavik, Beijing, and Brazil.

For its rhythmical drive and lyrical character, my music has been also in high demand among choreographers and dancers. In 2007, Demand Me Nothing an orchestral meditation on the character of Iago, opened the ballet season at the Arena di Verona with choreography by Francesco Ventriglia. In 2012, a choreography featuring thirteen female dancers was added to Ballata by Giorgio Rossi.

After its debut in 2016, the full-length ballet Sylphidarium was on tour throughout Europe. The ballet, choreographed by Francesca Pennini and the CollettivOCineticO dance group and performed live with violin, drums, and electronics, won the UBU Prize 2017 as the best dance show of the year. The music is available on the Continuo Records label.

In December 2016, a dance piece choreographed by Simone Sandroni based on Macchine Inutili was sold out at the Bielefeld Opera theatre in Germany. The Bielefeld Opera subsequently commissioned a full-scale ballet, featuring a mixed choir, three electric guitars, and electronics. The resulting work, Puls, went on stage from February to May 2022 and was hailed by ravishing reviews and recurring standing ovations.

As a tenured Professor of Composition since 2006, I currently teach at the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence. I also teach composition at the Accademia di Musica di Pinerolo, in Italy, as part of a master's course in composition and conducting that I designed.

In 2009, I was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Cornell University (USA). In 2013, I taught Advanced Composition at the Dartington International Summer School (UK). In the same year, I was appointed Composer in residence at the Italian Cultural Institute in Paris. I recently gave lectures in composition at Cambridge University and the Royal College of Music in London.

Through my work work as a host and author on radio and television for the RAI, the Italian state broadcaster, and countless lectures and public conferences on music, art, theatre, and poetry, I also established myself as a major cultural presenter and commentator.  

© Copyright 2023 – Francesco Antonioni