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General News

Alexandros Darna – Music Is the Poetry of the Soul

December 27, 2022

NEW YORK – Alexandros Darna became the first Cypriot composer (and only the second Cypriot after the tenor Andreas Aroditis) to be accepted into the esteemed graduate program at the Juilliard School in New York. He was also fortunate to receive a scholarship from the Vergottis Foundation to support his studies at this prestigious music conservatory. His work ‘Minnaloushe’ for violin, piano, and percussion recently won the New York Federation of Music Club’s Israel Prize and was presented in a concert by The Society for New Music at St. Paul’s, in Syracuse, NY. Alexandros Darna spoke with The National Herald about his dream journey in the world of music from Nicosia, where he grew up, through Cuba, where his father is from, to New York.

TNH: How did you decide to pursue a career or better, a life, in music?

Alexandros Darna: The decision to pursue music was an easy one. I simply could not imagine myself doing anything else. Music has been my very being since the unforgettable moment my father played the songs he wrote for my mother on the guitar. I have always hoped to touch people emotionally just as my father did. From that point on, my heart, blood, sweat and tears poured into my art. But, like all success stories, I faced countless hardships along the way to pursue my dreams and aspirations.

A career in music presents many challenges. It is reported that Nadia Boulanger, the renowned French music educator who trained many of the leading composers of the 20th century, told her Wednesday class that “being a composer is too difficult, too hard, and if you can do anything else, you must.” Unfortunately, since my teenage years, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Music is an endless source of creativity and inspiration for me. It allows me to connect with others and share my feelings, my point of view, and my ideas with the world. I am constantly seeking to learn, and improve as a composer and musician. Music is a fundamental part of who I am and a crucial part of my life that I cannot part with. I remember one of my professors who, rightly so, I think, repeated that “excellence in music also promotes excellence in other academic subjects and other parts of life.” I was fortunate to have good teachers, who helped me develop both as a musician and as a person.

TNH: How did your particular interest in classical music come about?

AD: I started piano lessons at a young age, around six. At the time, I wasn’t particularly interested in it. I naturally preferred to play football and ride my bike. A few years later, I started taking guitar lessons. I loved singing with my guitar, just as I loved studying classical pieces. My passion for composition began around the age of 15, while I was studying at Nicosia’s Music High School as a guitar student. I had no idea at the time how this decision would shape my future.

The guitar was my gateway to the world of classical music, which I grew to love. Classical music is the poetry of the soul. It expresses the deepest feelings and desires of the human heart. It has the power to inspire us, lift our spirits, calm our troubled minds and expand them, transport us to other worlds, and bring joy to all who are willing to listen. It is a timeless art form that continues to resonate with people of all ages. Classical music, and more specifically contemporary classical music, challenges the listener to think deeply and perceive the world in new ways.

Composer Alexandros Darna with his diploma from the Manhattan School of Music. (Photo by Fotios Kaliampakos)

TNH: How did you get to New York? What does studying at a top conservatory like The Juilliard School mean to you?

AD: In 2017, I took a very bold step for me at the time to travel to Cuba on a journey of self-discovery. My goal was to learn more about the cultural heritage of my father’s homeland and to meet the rest of my family. Traveling to Havana to study composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) was a major turning point in my life.

After a short period in Cuba, I arrived in New York where I began my studies at the Manhattan School of Music. In New York, I had, and certainly have now at Juilliard, the opportunity to work with some of the most talented and respected composers, musicians, and educators in the world. I have access to state-of-the-art facilities, including recording studios and performance venues, which help me bring my compositions to life. It’s a fantastic opportunity to grow as an artist and become part of a vibrant and supportive community of musicians. All in all, studying music in New York is a unique and unparalleled experience. As the cultural capital of the United States, New York is home to some of the most prestigious music academies and institutions in the world.

It is a great honor to study at Juilliard; it is a school with a rich and illustrious history. The students exhibit a high level of mastery in their subjects, and the courses require a lot of hard work and dedication. I also benefit from the city’s diverse and vibrant cultural scene, which offers many opportunities to explore new music. The school is in very close proximity to the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall; institutions with which Juilliard closely cooperates. I come from a small village outside of Nicosia, so the fast-paced life in New York is really quite a contrast! I love how New York is always bustling with artistic activity, with daily performances and events waiting to be “gobbled up”. And these are not just any random shows or exhibitions. They are truly exceptional and of the highest caliber! Studying at Juilliard is truly an incredible experience. It’s like a dream.

TNH: What is your creative process? How do you compose?

AD: Every piece I write is a dynamic and continuous process of discovery, experimentation, and refinement. A composer’s creative process is like a journey into the unknown. Each composition brings its own unique set of challenges, and the process of creating it is always unique. However, there are some commonalities in the process. Initially, a composer usually has a general idea or concept for a piece of music, which they can sketch out in a rough form. Then, this idea gets developed into a full composition with the use of a variety of tools and techniques to create the music.

The creative process begins with a spark of inspiration, a glimmer of an idea that ignites the imagination and illuminates the composer’s mind. From this seed, the music begins to grow, branching out and taking shape as the composer explores and experiments with different melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. It becomes a living, breathing thing that resonates with the listeners and touches their hearts.

There is, unfortunately, or fortunately, no formula for creating a work of art. But usually what I do is this: I try to find a theme or an idea or an image or something extra-musical that influences me musically. I sit at the piano and experiment, writing my ideas on manuscript paper with a pencil. This pre-compositional sketch phase usually takes several days or even weeks. Gradually, the form of the piece becomes clearer in my mind, enabling me to piece together my ideas and put them in a sequence. I’m often inspired by something extra-musical that prompts me to create music: it could be a conversation I had, an image, a word, a poem, an idea, or a dream. At other times I simply sit at the piano and improvise. The idea for the piece comes afterward as I continue to explore and experiment with different musical ideas.

Melody is at the heart of my music. I always try to craft the most appropriate melodies, just as I seek out different ways to interpret what we call tonal harmony. I put a lot of care and thought into getting them just right. I often like to take inspiration from Afro-Cuban rhythms, melodies from Cypriot traditional songs, church hymns, and traditional dances. My music is constantly evolving, as it is shaped and influenced by the events and experiences happening around me.

Alexandros Darna. (Photo: Courtesy of Alexandros Darna)

TNH: What are your latest compositions and what are your future plans?

AD: My most recent symphonic work, Solus, was performed under the baton of Kyle Ritenauer at Neidorff-Karpati Hall. In this piece, I aimed to capture the various emotional outbursts that can arise during times of isolation. I intended to create a musical reflection on loneliness and the impact it can have on people.

I have just finished writing a piece for clarinet, viola, and piano which will be premiered in Cyprus at the beginning of January; and hopefully, also performed in New York next year. I have been drawn to working with the human voice lately, and so I am currently in the process of composing a song cycle for soprano and piano with poetry in English. I am excited to see how this song cycle develops and to see where it takes me creatively. I have plans to create a piece for orchestra this year, which is always at the center of my musical interests. In the coming year as part of my studies, I also plan to delve into the world of opera, ballet, and film music. I am excited to see where these new ventures will take me and what I will learn through the process.

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