Contemporary Music Practices: PhD

Cernadas Nuno. Alexander Scriabin’s ten piano sonatas: An interpretive journey through his musical cosmos.


Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915) was an innovative composer who, through a significant evolution in his musical language, found a way to free himself from the constraints of tonal music and transitioned to an uninhibited form of musical creation. Two connected elements that accelerated this transformation were his developing mysticism and his perception of color as the visual counterpart of sound, brought about by either synesthesia or conscious artistic intent.
In this PhD research by Nuno Cernadas, Scriabin’s color and sound symbiosis and his relationship to mystical philosophy, as in Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (Op. 60), will be studied in order to apply these ideas to the creation of an original multisensory live concept for the performance of his ten piano sonatas. The research will focus on the mystical philosophies that influenced Scriabin, their historical and cultural significance in early twentieth-century Europe, and their role in the development of Scriabin’s style. The researcher will undertake an in-depth study of Prometheus, his first attempt to produce a multisensory work of art blending color and music in a transfigurative masterpiece. Musical interpretation and performance practice are equally central. Through the synaesthetic exploration of Scriabin’s ten piano sonatas, this project will create a musical and visual experience that follows and continues the visionary intentions of the composer.



Dimitriou Chryssi. Under the spotlight of observation.


In this PhD research, Chrissy Dimitriou examines what happens when we observe a performance. Experimentation in quantum mechanics proved that observer and observed are linked into a quantum dependency, where the observer is visually perturbing, influencing, and defining the state of the observed system. Considering the etymology of the Greek passive verb προ-βάλλομαι, meaning ‘to be projected,’ one finds that it is a synthesis of the prefix προ- and the verb βάλλομαι, literally meaning to be hit, affected, attacked. Confirming the quantum mechanics observer’s paradox, this implies that being observed means receiving the observer’s energy.
The concept of theatre reveals this visual-observing dependency between performer and spectator. In his book The Greek Summer, Jacques Lacarrière noticed that the word theatre comes from the verb “theomai,” to see and to be seen, and that it’s no coincidence that ancient theater architecture resembles the image of an Eye. The spectator’s gaze can be considered to integrate a basic mechanism with which we are equipped to navigate in life, shape our understanding of the world in a meaningful way, exert the notion of identity. What happens when we observe or when we are observed, how the pure observation of a performing body may become self-reflection on a stranger’s art, and what lies behind our capacity to create icons out of images?


Isolani Luca. The hybrid guitarist: An embodied approach to the interpretation of the folkloric elements in classical guitar repertoire.


The modern guitarist is a hybrid guitarist: a performer who must acquire a multitude of technical and musical properties that belong not only to the classical toolbox, but also to the specific cultural background of the works. This becomes immediately apparent in repertoire strongly inspired by folkloric idioms. The heterogeneous nature of the folk music elements not only calls on the performer to tap into melodic and rhythmic insights that fall outside the classical tradition, but above all encourages the exploration of the instrument’s richness in order to develop a varied, versatile playing style.
This raises particular questions: Could “embodied knowledge” (with its sociological, cultural, and physiological meanings) be the instrument for reconfiguring guitar practice? How can the performer detect, study and embody folk elements? Is it possible to establish an exploratory methodology to integrate these elements into performance? Starting from the tarantella form from southern Italy and its interpretation on the chitarra battente, this PhD research by Luca Isolani will study the folkloric features present in the classical guitar repertoire and define some tools for an exploratory methodology of embodiment. This research aims to show that when folkloric elements are observed up close, reflected upon critically, and embodied in a sensitive way, they contribute significantly to the refinement of performance.


Mantovani Marco. The interpretation of Robert Schumann: Between inspiration and rationality.

This doctoral research by Marco Mantovani focuses on six piano pieces by Robert Schumann composed between 1836 and 1838 (i.e., Fantasie op. 17, Fantasiestucke op. 12, Davidsbundlertanze op. 6, Novelletten op. 21, Kinderszenen op. 15, Kreisleriana op. 16), a period that was arguably one of the turning points in his personal and artistic life. Many of Schumann’s most important piano works and some of the most illuminating examples of his extraordinary compositional process and his formal and structural in novations date from this period. These innovations and the originality of Schumann’s poetics are often insufficiently understood in the contemporary interpretation of his works, especially the balance between freedom and constraints in terms of time and structure.
This research aims to approach these works from perspective of the performing artist. In doing so, the theoretical aspects will be considered, e.g., through a formal analysis of the works and the study of how they were inspired by the style and psychology of writers such as E.T.A. Hoffmann and Jean Paul, but the researcher will also seek to fathom the composer’s deepest thoughts from the artistic practice, which will culminate in the performance and recordings of these works. The ultimate goal of this research is to combine Schumann’s extreme variety of moods and visions with a deeply logical and coherent flow, to get as close as possible to the true and authentic source of his inspiration.

Mitchell Bobby. Playing Schumann again for the first time.

How can one learn to improvise convincingly within the context of nineteenth-century piano repertoire? And why is it important to improvise on this repertoire in the twenty-first century? Using the music of Robert Schumann as a starting point, Bobby Mitchell’s doctoral research, Playing Schumann Again for the First Time, answers these questions through methods for a pianistic practice driven by experimentation that strive to find ever more layers where improvisation can take place, both in the musical practice of sound and notation. These methods of practice are contextualized through a discussion of the presence of improvisation in western classical music practice in the nineteenth century. They are then substantiated by a plea to use improvisation as a working tool to rethink the current performance practice of nineteenth-century music. Improvisation and the concepts that underpin this term will also be discussed, and the knowledge gained in this project will be described as improvisation-as-practice as well as improvisation-as-art.

Contemporary Music Practices


The research group Contemporary music practices welcomes highly qualified performers to transcend their individual artistic practice by questioning the position of their work in our contemporary context.

The main research domain consists of the canonical musical repertoire from Beethoven until today. Artistic performance qualities of an exceptional level guarantee thorough research from within the unique musical experience itself.

All members of this research group —each of them specialising in a well-defined topic— play polyphonic arpeggios on the keyboard of Western music history. They are all involved in a continuous dialogue with their colleagues, enjoying the game of resolved and unresolved dissonances ending up in a harmony you never heard before.