Francis Kayali

French American Composer



Francis Kayali is a French American classical music composer living in New England. His instrumental music has been performed by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the North/South Consonance Chamber Orchestra, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), ETHEL, the What's Next? Ensemble, the West Point Woodwind Quintet, the Portland Piano Trio, the Parhelion Trio, and the Bateira Trio. His choral music has been sung by C3LA and KC VITAs.

His music appears on CDs by pianist Martin Jones and flutist Rebecca Jeffreys. Jeffreys's recordings of Kayali's Intermezzo and Bagatelle have been broadcast on radio stations throughout the Americas and Europe.

Kayali's process/fixed media piece Téléphone arable was selected by Taukay Edizioni Musicali for their 2020 "Il suono delle lingue" CD and his "Voyage of the Back Cove Fleet" was performed by 8 pianists in different rooms at the Elliott Schwartz Memorial Practice Room Project (2020).

His Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano was performed at the 2008 ACA Festival of American Music at Symphony Space in New York City. In 2014, Masks, for flute, viola, and contrabass, was performed by the Bateira Trio at Carnegie Hall. During the 2017-18 season, Kayali was composer-in-residence with the Karger College Prep Division at the Portland Conservatory.

Kayali studied composition with Elliott Schwartz and Robert Greenlee at Bowdoin College, then with Perry Goldstein and Peter Winkler at SUNY Stony Brook. In 2009, Kayali earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition from the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, where he studied with Frank Ticheli, Tamar Diesendruck, and Donald Crockett.




What does music mean to you personally?

Music is a means of escape into different kinds of worlds. Similarly to travel, music is inspiring and refreshing. The kind of world that music evokes is perhaps similar to dreams, in that it does not usually lend itself to a consistent translation into words.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

If by “fantasy” we mean imaginary worlds that we construct where we are no longer bound by the rules of reality, I would agree. Music can evoke imagined worlds, it can make images and emotions coexist in ways that would not make sense as a written narrative. Even resolutely abstract music involves its own fantasies.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

I might have wanted to be a writer. I also enjoy doing live-translation work.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future?

The live classical music experience is not always ideal for working-age adults, both for logistical and cultural reasons. But I do anticipate that, as they always have, classical performers, composers, and institutions will adapt to the needs of their audiences. At least, I expect that humans will continue to create and listen to music in a sophisticated way.

What do you envision the role of music to be in the 21st century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

Music will probably continue to fulfill the same kinds of functions it has throughout history and throughout the world. I think it will continue to accompany different parts of human lives, from daily activities to rituals and special events, conveying a variety of messages and bringing solace.

Do you think that the musician today needs to be more creative? What is the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

The music streaming revolution presents daunting challenges for musicians, requiring deep resources of creativity in terms of how to have a career. But if we look at the past, we see that musicians have always needed to be very industrious and nimble; it is rarely an easy profession. Of course, the creativity also applies to the music we produce itself. We need to come up with music that is both intelligible and compelling to the audience, which means that it incorporates some familiar elements and some new ones, and these need to be balanced just right!

Do you think we as musicians can do something to attract the younger generation to music concerts? How would you do this?

One approach would be to make concerts less expensive, more accessible, more informal, and probably shorter. We have seen successes when music is presented outside the concert hall (e.g., free outdoor concerts, art cabarets, online). Another approach is to alter the content – balance the serious and long with the varied, the light, the humorous, or the pop-inspired. A third approach involves rebranding classical music to allay the fears of audiences who expect that concerts will be unpleasant in some way (many perceive classical concerts as old-fashioned, boring, complicated, pretentious, or elitist). As creators, we all need to try different approaches and keep track of what seems to inspire audiences. Outreach to children, as well as applied music education in schools, are of course extremely helpful.

Tell us about your creative process. What is your favorite piece (written by you) and how did you start working on it?

My process often involves a lot of trial and error. When I write slower or easier piano music, I compose at the piano, with pencil and paper. This tends to enable the creation of pieces that have a great deal of flexibility, particularly in terms of tempo. For pieces that require more immediate virtuosity, I use the electronic keyboard and input the music directly into the computer, so that I can hear the effect at speed. The process can be pretty variable depending on the kind of piece I am composing. While some of my pieces are very traditional, others are more adventurous: this year, I composed a piece for 8 pianos in different practice rooms and, last year, a process/electronic piece using recorded voice. My opinion about my music fluctuates a lot over time. Among the pieces that I still think work quite well after years of listening to them, I might pick the Prelude from my Intermezzo for flute and piano, some of my Impromptus for piano solo, some of my French songs (“Casqués du heaume”). It’s harder to judge more recent pieces – I need a few years to see them in a clearer light!

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

Just follow what you like. I think some composers and pieces are probably more likely to be classical music “gateways” than others. For me, I connected with Mozart’s piano concertos as a young child – it’s a texture I liked, the bustling activity, the tunefulness, and the fun. Later, as a teenager, I connected with Sibelius and Debussy, then Janáček, then Milhaud, then, as a young adult, I discovered Brahms and also became interested in contemporary music. But it’s one path like any other. Others might find their entry-point in movie music, in opera, or in religious music.

Do you think about the audience when composing?

I often think about the audience. Although I tend to think that my listening is not very different from that of the audience, I do realize that people with different backgrounds will not share the same references. The music that is well known to one person may be unknown to another and vice versa. And a given music may mean one thing to someone and something entirely different to another. For the music creator, it’s important to keep these different perspectives in mind, both during the composition process and after the piece is finished when it’s time to bring the music to the audience.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

I am working on piano music a lot these days, but I also compose instrumental music, songs, and choral music. From time to time I experiment with a new style, approach, or new tools, leading to music that can be more out-of-the-box!