Sergio Cervetti's versatile music ranges from instrumental and vocal works to electronic soundtracks that often reflect his South American, French and Italian heritage. His vocabulary draws from an early brush with twelve-tone and minimalism while his current approach is flexible, free and tailors each work regardless of trends or movements that are frequently fused. His style, often woven with melody, is described as deftly blending folk elements, European tradition and minimalist aesthetics.
Born in Uruguay and a U.S. citizen since 1979, Cervetti graduated from Peabody Conservatory after studying under scholarship with Ernst Krenek and Stefan Grove. He went on to win the Caracas Festival chamber prize (Five Episodes) and was subsequently invited by the DAAD to be composer-in-residence in Berlin in 1969.
After taking residence in New York City in 1970 he taught at Brooklyn College, worked for Virgil Thomson, and studied electronic music with Vladimir Ussachevsky and Alcides Lanza at Columbia University. The Hay Wain, inspired by the Bosch triptych, established his reputation as a composer of electronic music. Selections are used in Oliver Stone's film, Natural Born Killers.
Cervetti joined the faculty of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 1972 where he taught until 1997 and returned to guest in 2007-08. He helped to develop a curriculum of music history, composition, choreography and set up the Theater Program's sound studio. His long association with the dance world includes numerous works-notably 40 Second/42nd Variations and Bessie-awarded Wind Devil-presented by Dance Theater Workshop, Jacob's Pillow, La Mama, the Joyce, Ballet Hispanico, Sundance, Kennedy Center, Walker Arts Center, Lincoln Center and three Next Wave Festivals at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Among noted early works are Guitar Music (the bottom of the iceberg) and …from the earth… conceived as a controlled improvisation for sustaining instruments that borrows five notes from Mahler's Das Lied Von Der Erde. For WNYC Radio's 50th Anniversary Concert, Cervetti was among noted composers who set John Ashbery's poem, No Longer Very Clear. His music's emotional reach resonates in The Triumph of Death, a song cycle for soprano and piano to poetry by Circe Maia, and rhythmically in Candombe II. It is the orchestration of Candombe for harpsichord that pays homage to a national dance of African origins from his native Uruguay.
Elegy For A Prince, his first opera, was premiered in excerpt by New York City Opera at VOX 2007. It is freely adapted from Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince with a libretto by Elizabeth Esris, and was featured on the PBS39 program, Tempo. An animation of a duet between the principal characters is on YouTube. YUM!, a chamber opera about food and friendship, is the second Cervetti-Esris collaboration.
A CD of electronic works, Visual Diary/The Mouth of Boredom that showcase Cervetti's signature style, was released in 2009. The Mouth of Boredom is inspired by Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. Visual Diary is a soundtrack to a film by Valerie Sonnenthal made from 27,000 photographs. A section is on YouTube.
In October 2009 Navona Records released Destinations, Orchestral Works from Latin American Composers. It features Chaconne for the Martyrdom of Atahualpa for harpsichord and chamber orchestra which was praised at its premiere as "an impressive and seductive work that defies any classification." A sampling of these works aired on WRTI's program, Crossover, in February 2010 during Jill Pasternak's in-depth radio interview.
Cervetti resides in Bucks County, PA where he teaches privately and consults. Currently he is writing Some Realms I Owned, a commissioned work for piano, and sketching The Blaze Keeper, a cantata for baritone, strings, percussion and electronic sounds based on The Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Madrigal III, a work from 1976 for two sopranos and chamber ensemble with a 15th century Aztec text, is scheduled to be recorded in autumn 2010.