Sophia Serghi’s fingers hurdle from one piano key to the next, dashing to
form sounds both strident and soothing. Her back is straight and her eyes are
closed as she rips off one pitch-perfect note after another.
an emphatic, almost violent, nod for violinist and friend Susan Via to join her.
She jumps in, her own hands engaged in a sprint down the page of Serghi’s
Toward the Flame. (for video of the rehearsal and interview click here)
It’s all blissfully athletic business for the
two William & Mary Department
of Music professors as they prepare to perform six of Serghi’s original
compositions Sunday night at 6 p.m. on the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage in
Washington, D.C. Joining them will be double bassist Dan Via, soprano Michelle
Trovato and the Flux string quartet.
The concert, entitled From
Byzantium to Punk Rock, is sponsored by the College and the government of
“Most of the music that is going to be performed springs from my
experience from the Byzantine church,” Serrghi enthuses. “But imbedded in there
are all these wonderful rhythms that come out of my rock experience. It’s a
very strange combination. But it works.”
Serghi’s music has been performed around
the world – from Carnegie Hall to Lincoln Center to the Games of the XXVIII
Olympiad five years ago in Athens; by the American Composers Orchestra, the
Cyprus State Orchestra and the Haifa Symphony Orchestra. But the opportunity to
appear at the Kennedy Center is obviously special.
“I’m really happy
about Kennedy Center for two reasons,” she explained. “One, it’s so close to my
home and a nationally renowned venue. Two, there’s a good chance for the Greek
community to have access to music that for many reasons was inspired by my Greek
Serghi, 36, grew up on Cyprus. The island had only one radio
station that played top-40 music only once a week, so there were mad dashes to
the record store whenever new “vinyl” arrived. In 1990, she began undergraduate
studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, where “Grunge” had engulfed the
music scene in the Pacific Northwest.
“In high school, I was definitely a
heavy metal fan,” she said. “But I also was influenced by those wonderful bands
Nirvana and Pearl Jam.”
Her aptly entitled composition Breathless Punk
is a strength-sapping five-minute battle of wills that meshes Shostakovich
and Punk rock.
“It’s exactly what it sounds like,” she explained. “The
performers have to (start) drinking Gatorade 24 hours ahead of (performance)
because it is non-stop, very difficult, very virtuostic music. I like
translating the adrenaline that one gets from sports activity to
For the most part, Serghi composes at breakneck speed. She
finished two of Sunday’s selections, about 20 minutes of music, in two weeks.
Breathless Punk, with its avalanche of notes and intense rhythms, consumed a
“I don’t wait for inspiration to come; if it’s there, it’ll come
out, which it did with Toward the Flame,” she said. “There are many
composers who write in systems, methods, and within theories. I’m very much a
stream-of-conscience composer. I’m very aware of form and how things should fit,
and I put them together in my own ways with my own tricks. But I’m very much a
‘left-to-right’ kind of composer, as though I were writing an English
All of Serghi’s work begins at the piano, with the simultaneous
transference to the keyboard of a rhythm or melody that she generates by
“The singing voice might end up being a melody for a string
instrument, or it might end up being another instrument (added later),” she
said. “But I write at the piano because I trust that my fingers will get it.
Reflective of someone who successfully juggles her artistry with
teaching, marriage, motherhood, sailing, hiking, painting, cooking, reading and
friends, Serghi won’t allow herself to “over-compose” a piece. She knows when
it’s done and when it’s done, it’s done.
“When you’re a student, you’re
taught to go back and revise, revise and revise,” she said. “As I became a
teacher, especially with my students, I just urge them to ‘Get it done, go on to
the next thing.’
“It’s a thought, an idea. Move on. . . . I have no
issues once I put down the double bar – unless one of the performers says in
rehearsal that something doesn’t work. Then there’s a back and forth between the
performer and the composer.”
The Kennedy Center concert is expected to
draw an audience of several hundred, maybe more. Some will attend to see and
hear her. Some will attend because they drop by the Kennedy Center regularly to
check out whoever is performing.
“It’s music people don’t know,” Serghi
says. “I’m hoping that when we’re done, the music will be accessible to a wider
audience than it is now.” For information and video of the Kennedy Center performance, click here.