Francesco Taskayali is a pianist and composer based in Rome. He started writing music for piano at the age of 13 and is currently working on a third album. He has performed in London, Berlin, Rome, and Jakarta amongst other places as well as with the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela.
Could you talk me through the track E’ Sera which you were kind enough to play live for Fluid Radio (see above video)?
It is a track I wrote when I was 13. It is part of my first album, Emre (2010), which is my Turkish middle name. I was born in Rome from a Turkish father and an Italian mother. Emre is a collection of tracks I wrote for piano solo in my adolescence.
I sealed off the album only after I returned to Rome from Istanbul where I completed my high school studies. Before returning to Italy, music was a very private affair for me, I wasn’t letting anyone hear what I wrote. I remember a funny episode once, when I was playing and my mother knocked on my door. She asked me who was the music I was playing by and when I answered, “It’s mine”, she just went, “Yeah, right” and closed the door. I returned to Rome when I was about 18, and at that point I eventually decided to record my tracks. I uploaded them onto YouTube and I started getting hits, which lead to an important gig in Sicily organized by Confcommercio [the Italian body that represents the service sector].
There’s a track on Emre, which is titled Esquilino, the name of the district in Rome where we are now having coffee.
Yes, it refers to the neighborhood. I don’t know, I just found it inspiring.
What is your relationship with Rome?
Not great at present as I have actually recently moved to Latina [south of Rome] because of the prohibitive rent rates for a student. In Rome I used to live near the Policlinico Hospital and around Piazza Bologna. Now I have to get up at 5.30 in the morning, drive to the station and commute by train from Latina in order to be at college here in Rome by 8 where I am in my second year of a Political Science degree at the Luiss Guido Carli.
How do you manage to combine your studies with your music?
This is something I get asked all the time. I have to. My social relationships do suffer for it though.
Have you studied piano or composition at a music conservatory?
No. I took private piano lesson over the years. I did actually go to a music conservatory where I studied Electronic Music but I never completed the course, opting for a straightforward university degree instead. A university degree can always come in handy, it offers so much more than a conservatory degree. It is best not to be too optimistic sometimes… and I wanted to keep my options open. I do enjoy college, though, particularly International Law. I should’ve probably taken a law degree…
Let’s talk about LeVent. Where does the title come from?
It’s a play on words as it stands for the French word for wind, “vent”, but it is also the name of a district in Istanbul: Levent. It’s a high raise district and quite beautiful at night with the skyscrapers and the silence. Istanbul is a great city with many hills. There is nothing more beautiful than to watch the sunset over the Bosphorus. I can be moved by Istanbul and experience feelings there in a way that, for some reason, doesn’t happen to me in Rome.
It is generally said that the second album is the most difficult one…
And luckily I have gone past that hurdle… It is true, though. On first listen the tracks on Emre are less technically accomplished but have a greater impact and have a greater emotional content compared to the music on LeVent. I must say that when I finished LeVent, at first I was unsure whether to release it or not. With the second album one tries to surpass oneself and I still think I haven’t been able to surpass myself in terms of emotional impact. I have done so in terms of compositional approach. One of the tracks in particular, Iris, was selected for a commercial and some viral clips with the Italian model Bianca Balti, which means that someone must have liked it.
What would you say you have achieved with this album?
With LeVent, I wanted to venture into different territories. I tried to bridge European music with Middle Eastern rhythms. The music is written in odd meters, in 7/8, which are traditional in Turkish music. The curious thing is that when I played these songs in Italy, yes, they did sound strange, but nobody really made the connection with Turkish ballads. However, when I was doing a sound-check in Istanbul recently, the attendant started dancing as he recognized the sounds, which are typical of Middle Eastern music in general.
Are you also influenced by Balkan music?
A bit, but not too much. Mostly because of the rhythms. I got this from my Turkish father who apart from being an engineer is also a musician and plays the saz, a traditional plucked string instrument. I grew up listening to these odd musical meters. There are also two tracks for orchestra, on this album, which were used as soundtrack for a documentary that was broadcasted on the Italian state channel, Rai. When I was 14 I started experimenting with electronic music but never really got anywhere. I then took it up again in order to create the orchestral parts on LeVent.
How do you go about writing music?
I compose music without actually writing it or putting notes down on paper, just by following my instinct and the harmonies I had in mind. I have been working with the same method since I was 11. To me certain notes are linked to specific chords, there’s an internal logic.
Do you find it difficult to put a full stop when working on a track?
The difficult thing is to get to the point. When you’ve written four minutes of material and you realize you still haven’t come to the point, then it becomes tricky. When, for instance one is writing a piece starting from A which naturally tends towards B one cannot end on D, but if one has no ideas on B then one cannot put a full stop. This is my problem at present. I have finished seven tracks for a new album but I still need to close a further three, which I have already sketched but I have been unable to close. The seven tracks I have already recorded are all very different, but I want these last three to signal a change of direction.
What is the new album going to be like?
The problem that most musicians have is to find their own voice, which is something I have been working on. With this third album I feel I have identified my own style without running the risk of being compared to other artists. I try to break with classical romantic harmonics. It is more akin to something which, while not exactly discordant, might appear at first odd or different. I’m trying to go down a new path. I’ve been listening to a lot of Rachmaninoff and Keith Jarrett as of lately. Jarrett’s encores are spectacular.
Talking about piano music in Italy, one has to mention Ludovico Einuadi…
I have actually played two tracks by Ludovico Einuadi in Caracas with the Simón Bolívar Orchestra where I was invited as representative of the Italian delegation. They had asked me to play something by a well know artist but when I suggest Einuadi’s name the orchestra members had never heard about him. In the end I managed to convince them. I actually played with the Teresa Carreño Orchestra, and they were really happy to be able to perform new material. It was a rare occurrence as new composers are generally frowned upon.
I have never actually met Einuadi, in person, but I have been told he was complimentary about my performance in Caracas, which I’ve uploaded on YouTube.
What has been the one concert you have actually enjoyed the most?
A concert in Kenya. I felt really at ease and the audience participation has been incredible. I was so highly charged that at the end I improvised two encores, one completely out of the blue and the other on the notes of Happy Birthday.
Do your albums have a narrative thread?
The first album yes, not the second one or the one I am currently working on. They are beyond narrative, I don’t really know how to explain this…
Is there a connecting point between the new album and the previous ones?
It is certainly connected to tracks like Istanbul and Iris from the LeVent but also, partly to Mare di Dicembre and Piove from Emre. I took the best bits from my previous albums to develop the new one. That is not to say that it will be like the previous albums, but it evolves from there.
What do you do in your spare time?
Like most in my spare time, I like to travel. Living in Latina, I am very close to the seaside and I like to go to the beach in the winter, especially in winter. I am so white and pale that I tend not to go in summer. I try not to have any spare time, I’m either in the library or at the piano. Or else, I am looking for new contacts with Fabiana, my girlfriend who currently acts as my agent.