January 6, 2023 BY Jason Currell

Sergio Díaz De Rojas has had music in his blood since he was born. Raised in a family of musicians, the Peruvian composer took inspiration from his grandfather and his grandfather’s sister, both accomplished pianists and composers. It was the latter relative —his great aunt Elsa— who first taught Sergio classical piano and became the guiding force in his musical development, introducing him to Bach and Chopin when he was 11.

Several years later, tragedy struck the family. Sergio was bewildered when his grandfather, a musical genius who played for diverse orchestras and bands in Peru, took his own life. “My mom tried to hide it from me, but it was everywhere. It was in the newspapers,” he recalls. “I loved my grandpa and I got sad, but I didn’t really understand what it was to lose someone”. Though fifteen years have elapsed, Sergio found himself meditating on that formative loss as he composed his second full-length album, Muerte en una tarde de verano, due out March 10th via Nettwerk

A drifting song cycle of spare, contemplative piano, Muerte en una tarde de verano (or Death in a Summer’s Afternoon) is suffused in melancholy but resists giving into despair. 

As its title suggests, the album bears the weight of Sergio’s reflections on mortality and loss. Two of the musician’s close friends lost their mothers during the pandemic, and Sergio’s own mother underwent a life-threatening operation while he was thousands of miles away, feeling helpless. Meanwhile, he began to listen to his grandfather’s music with fresh ears and wonder about the circumstances that drove the composer to suicide. As Sergio was entering his late twenties, such events prompted reflections on the fragility of life, which inspired Muerte en una tarde de verano. “I didn’t want to focus on the fear itself, but more in learning to accept that death is something that comes to all of us,” Sergio, who is now based in Valencia, Spain, explains. “There’s no way to know when, no way to know how—it just happens one day. It’s a very good reason to pay attention to what really matters.” 

The eleven pieces that comprise Muerte en una tarde de verano form a loose concept album, with a visual component as well. The album narrates a single day from dawn to dusk, with one question at its core: If Sergio were to die tomorrow, how would he spend his last day? “The album narrates my journey from the moment I wake up until the moment I die. Some of the pieces refer to actions I’m doing in the moment—like drinking coffee, eating my favorite fruit, or playing with my cat. Other pieces are more like reminiscence—thinking about the dreams that I achieved, or the promises I wasn’t able to keep because I ran out of time,” Sergio explains.

Out today, the elegiac new single “Canción para Otto y Elsa” honors the abiding influence of Sergio’s grandfather and great aunt, Otto and Elsa (“this is my gift to them,” the composer says), with a gliding grace and spiritual sheen.

Though classically trained in his youth, Sergio had an epiphany at university when he discovered neoclassical composers such as Ólafur Arnalds, Yann Tiersen, Nils Frahm, and Max Richter. “It was a very big revelation for me to discover that there were people alive, making this music that is connected to classical music but that also feels so contemporary and relatable,” Sergio recalls. “In that moment, the option of composing music appeared for the first time”. His horizons further expanded when he fell in love with genre-hopping musicians like Sufjan Stevens, whose album Carrie & Lowell profoundly affected him, and Keaton Henson. Sergio cites both musicians as his conceptual inspirations. It was Henson’s 2014 collaborative album Romantic Works that inspired Sergio to craft a full album instead of just individual pieces.

“Canción para Otto y Elsa” video


More info on Sergio:

In 2015, while based in Peru, Sergio self-released his debut album, Unsaid Words. The album’s yearning arpeggios and mastery of mood quickly introduced Sergio’s talents. Pieces like Serendipity and Calmness revealed his knack for pairing neoclassical composition with ambient textures and found sounds, while the mournful cello of Nature hearkened back to 19th-century chamber music. Sergio subsequently released three EPs: December 03 (2016), which was composed and recorded in one afternoon; The Morning is a River (2017), which contained four piano pieces paired with slow-moving images; and Postcards (2020), which Sergio has described as a contemplative exploration of solitude, heavily inspired by Chopin.

Over the years, Sergio’s works have been streamed over eighteen million times worldwide, and his track Untitled was one of the most celebrated features on Nils Frahm’s Piano Day 2018 playlist. Sergio has toured extensively around Europe, and his piece Istanbul was included on the first publication of Upright Editions (English musician Garreth Brooke’s initiative to distribute the sheet music of contemporary composers), and was even a key element that inspired the project. Sergio has also participated in diverse initiatives such as Project XII by Deutsche Grammophon, Piano Layers by 7K, and Piano Day by LEITER Verlag. He also runs the neo-classical label and creative agency Piano and Coffee.

In the eight years since his debut album, Sergio has relocated from Peru, where he felt little connection to the country, to Spain. He also fell in love with ambient music, particularly the works of Japanese composers like Haruomi Hosono and Hiroshi Yoshimura, who helped inspire the minimalistic hush of his own work.

Track List:

Amanecer (Prefacio)

Flores secas en un jarrón hecho a mano

Maracuyá / Barranco

Nuestra caja de postales y otros recuerdos

Holding her is where I learned forgiveness (feat. Lo-Fang)

Canción para Otto y Elsa

El gato escondido entre las plantas

Breve ensayo sobre la soledad

Promesas que se disuelven entre las nubes

Una copa de vino sobre el piano

Atardecer a orillas del mar