Stefano Cabrera is an Award-winning Italian born composer and accomplished cellist. After graduating from the ‘Conservatorio Niccolò Paganini’ of Genoa, he studied further with Mario Brunello, Yo-Yo Ma, Amedeo Baldovino, and Emil Kline. He also studied jazz, composition, orchestration, and arrangement at the Berklee School of Music. From the early 1990’s through till 2009 he worked as a section cello, composer and arranger at the ‘Carlo Felice’ Theater in Genoa. Since 2006 the composer has been the cellist and arranger for the GnuQuartet, with whom he tours internationally. As a TV and film score composer he has worked on numerous popular shows and movies these include, Suspect (2022), Hotel Portofino (2021), The Abominable Snow Baby (2021) and Clown (2020).
Movie Music International would like to thank the Maestro for his time and patience and for answering our questions so beautifully.
“I FIND THAT MY BEST IDEAS COME TO LIFE ON PAPER, WHERE MY THOUGHTS AND IMAGINATION CAN TAKE PRECEDENCE OVER MY HANDS”.
Can I begin by asking how you became involved on scoring Hotel Portofino?
I began collaborating with the production company Eagle Eye Drama in 2020, when I wrote the soundtrack for the Channel 4 animated series “Clown,” based on the book of the same name by Quentin Blake. Following this project, I was offered the opportunity to work on scoring Hotel Portofino.
Is working on a tv series more demanding than scoring a feature film and how much music did you write for the series?
Working on a TV series can be more demanding than scoring a feature film because there is often less time available to complete the work and a greater quantity of music to write due to the longer format of the series. For the first season of Hotel Portofino, I wrote approximately 160 pieces of music.
How do you work out your musical ideas on a piano or computer or straight to manuscript?
Generally, I find that my best ideas come to life on paper, where my thoughts and imagination can take precedence over my hands. However, in today’s world, directors often prefer to hear a computer-generated representation of the music as close to the final result as possible. Therefore, I typically start by writing a sketch on the piano and then develop it further on the computer.
What would you say is the job or the purpose of music in film?
The purpose of music in film and TV is to support the storytelling and create a good counterpoint to the dialogue. Music should serve to support the narrative and convey emotions from the screen to the viewer. Ultimately, the goal is to enhance the audience’s experience and help them connect more deeply with the story being told.
What size orchestra did you have for Hotel Portofino?
I used various orchestral ensembles for Hotel Portofino, ranging from a full symphony orchestra to a smaller string orchestra with piano and a few solo instruments such as cello, violin, and flute. The size of the orchestra depended on the specific needs of each musical cue in order to achieve the desired emotional impact and fit within the context of the scene.
The score for the series is filled with wonderful themes, is writing thematically important to accompany characters or identify locations etc?
Thank you for your kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed the score! Writing thematically is very important in order to accompany characters and identify locations, as well as to evoke emotions and set the tone for different situations throughout the story. In Hotel Portofino, there are many themes and sub-themes that are connected to the hotel, the characters, and the various situations that arise throughout the series. By using different motifs and themes throughout the score, I aimed to enhance the storytelling and create a more immersive and engaging experience for the audience.
What is your opinion of the current trend of films having soundscapes rather than scores and soundtracks?
As a composer, I feel fortunate to work with producers and directors who value the importance of themes in the score. However, I think it’s essential for composers to stay up-to-date with new trends and techniques, including soundscapes, in order to make informed decisions about what works best for each project. I believe that a good result often involves a balance between thematic material and more ambient or atmospheric elements. Sometimes, a score that is too thematically driven can weigh down the story and even feel dated. Ultimately, the goal should always be to serve the narrative and create an emotional connection with the audience.
What musical education did you receive and was music and writing for film a career that you always wanted to pursue?
I started composing music almost before I began studying piano. It has always been the thing I loved doing the most. I graduated in cello and studied composition and orchestration. From a young age, I was fascinated by the way music could be used to tell stories and create emotions, so it was always my dream to pursue a career in writing music for film and television. Through years of education and practice, I developed the skills and knowledge needed to bring my musical ideas to life and create scores that enhance the visual storytelling of each project I work on.
Do you follow a set routine when scoring a project, from opening titles to end titles or larger cues first etc?
Generally, I start by working on the main themes, trying to create musical material that can be shaped and developed in many variations throughout the score. Once I have established these themes, I will move on to creating smaller cues that support the overall narrative and emotional tone of the film or TV series. This approach allows me to build a cohesive musical language throughout the score, and it also helps me to stay focused on the overall story and how the music can best serve it. However, every project is unique, so I am always open to adjusting my process to fit the specific needs of each project.
Is conducting something that you like to do, or is it better for you to supervise whilst a conductor works with the orchestra, and is orchestration an important part of the composing process?
I do not conduct my own music, but I do orchestrate everything myself. I believe that orchestration is a fundamental aspect of composing, and it plays an important role in shaping the overall aesthetic of the music. By orchestrating my own music, I am able to ensure that the sound I hear in my head is accurately translated to the final score, and that the instrumentation is optimized to best serve the story and emotional content of the film or TV series.
How many times do you like to see a project before deciding what style of music it needs and also where it will be placed to best serve it and maybe where not to place music?
Generally, I try to watch the project several times to gain a deeper understanding of the narrative and scenes. This allows me to formulate ideas on where the music should be placed to best serve the story. However, the number of times I watch a project also depends on the production’s needs and project deadlines.
During the scoring process for a film or TV series, it’s important to be conscious of where music should not be placed. Often, there are preliminary meetings with the director to discuss the music, and sometimes there is temporary music in place during the editing process. It’s essential to work with the director and the editing team to ensure that the music is not overpowering or distracting from the story being told on screen.
Are temp tracks something that you find helpful, or can these be distracting, and was there a temp on Hotel Portofino?
In the first season of Hotel Portofino, they did use a temp track, which helped me get a better idea of the director’s musical taste and intention. It provided a starting point and reference for the type of music that the director was looking for. However, in the second season, we didn’t use a temp track. I find that temp tracks can be both useful and distracting, depending on how they are used. They can provide guidance and inspiration, but they can also limit creativity and originality if relied on too heavily.
What artists and composers would you say have influenced or inspired you?
I have always loved Vivaldi, Ravel, Bernstein, Glass, as well as film composers like John Powell, Alexandre Desplat, Nino Rota, and lately Daniel Pemberton. They have all influenced me and inspired me in various ways throughout my career.
What are you working on at the moment, if you can tell us?
Sure, currently I am working on six animated TV shows based on books by Quentin Blake for BBC, and in the fall I will be working on the third season of Hotel Portofino, and in the spring of next year, the second season of the thriller Suspect.