The rebirth of a global network in Cremona -If music be the food of love please please play on

It was wonderful to be back in Cremona after only the on-line edition last year due to the pandemic.Just to look at the programme and see the hundreds of people eager to partecipate whether constructing instruments or playing them was a signal that all was well with the world.It is right that the signal should come from Cremona the city of music where even the streets are named after the violin craftsmen that have given such lustre to this beautiful city.

At first glance into the pavilions one could see violins,violas,cellos guitars,lutes ,accordions and even the special woods that have given life to these carefully crafted instruments.

But in one corner there is a section dedicated to the Piano and it is here under the eagle eye of Roberto Prosseda that we could appreciate not only the most important piano manufacturers but also listen to some of the most important young musicians of our time.Conferences of new ways of presenting music and the technology that we have been forced to understand during the pandemic took place in the media lounge with streaming links to a worldwide audience.

The distinguished jury of the Pianolink competition

As if this was not enough there was also the Pianolink International Amateurs’ piano competition in the beautiful courtyard of Palazzo Trecchi in the city.It may be amateur but the illustrious jury included Michele Campanella,Sofia Gulyak,Jin Ju,Ramon Bahrami and Owen Mortimer of International Piano and it was also streamed live.

Valentina Lo Surdo with Roby Lakatos and Roberto Prosseda

Cremona music awards too were given to Roby Lakatos,Richard Danielpour,Enrico Pieranunzi,Susanna Azzi and Luciano Del Rio.There was a final farewell with an unannounced jam session that included Lakatos and Pieranunzi in a restaurant in the centre of the city.The cherry on the cake one might dare to say.

And introducing these events with such intelligence and joie de vivre was Valentina Lo Surdo,the distinguished radio and television presenter.

A happy arrivederci with Valentina ,Massimo Fargnoli legendary organiser in Naples ( presenting his autobiography PergoLennon)with deus ex macchina Roberto Prosseda

In three days I managed to hear many fine performances and listen to some very informed discussions.I may have missed a lot but I certainly came away bewitched,bothered and bewildered by the meeting of so many extraordinary people from all parts of the globe.The informed experiences in the field of music with round table discussions and meetings even socially in Cremona will continue globally thanks to the new technology that is bringing us closer together.If this is what is known as networking – long may it last. And above all thanks to Cremona.

Fascinating round table on Hybrid Music Teaching

Here are just some of the more remarkable experiences I had over three days.

Day 1.I arrived late and almost missed a concert that had been added to the original programme.A programme that was being added to almost daily in the run up to the Fiera by the unstoppable Roberto Prosseda with his insatiable appetite to include as many experts as he could.

Valentina presenting Elia – un ballo in maschera indeed !

It was one of the most promising pianist of the younger generation Elia Cecino.Still only twenty having won the prestigious Premio Italia in Venice when he was a teenager.Now under the eagle eye of his mentor Maddalena de Facci he is beginning to make big waves on the concert scene.

Elia Cecino with his mentor Maddalena De Facci seated on the left with Aristo Sham- another star – behind her

This was in the Sala Cristofori or Steinway/Passadori studio as part of the Steinway & Sons Piano Festival .Some remarkably mature performances of Scriabin 3rd Sonata and Prokofiev’s 7th together with Schumann op 111 which unfortunately due to the queues at Malpensa I was not able to hear.Prokofiev 7 is one of his War trilogy and quite fitting for this situation of running from one wonderful performance to another.A magnificent performance that solicited encores of Tchaikowsky and Shostakovich which of course made me late for the ‘Imperdibili’in the Sala Guarneri or Fazioli Studio!

Maurizio Baglini with Paolo Fazioli

It was with this event that I had planned to start my survey in Cremona.A joint project by Maurizio Baglini and Roberto Prosseda,two of the most extraordinary artists in Italy who with their own important careers take time to nurture and help the next generation.’ Unmissables’ indeed and thanks to the continuous inventiveness of Roberto I did almost miss it!Andrea Mariani,a student of Roberto in Rovigo Conservatory showed his remarkably fluid technique in a Study by Silvio Omizzolo (Padua 1905-1991) that sounded like Moszkowski and which solicitated an encore of his equally enticing Mazurka.This was a composer I had never heard before played by a pianist with a transcendental technique who showed his true musical credentials in a very fine performance of Chopin’s first Scherzo op 20.

Andrea Mariani receiving Paolo Fazioli’s blessing!

With Paolo Fazioli jealously surveying the scene from the front row this was no easy platform for an aspiring pianist!

Simone Librale,a student of Maurizio Baglini was not able to play so at the last minute another of his students Lucrezia Liberati stood in with an even more eclectic programme.Schumann’s op 8 ,the rarely played Allegro in B minor that was to be the first movement of a Sonata that was never realised.Together with the extraordinary ‘Night music’ from Bartok’s Suite ‘Out of doors’.Works that are as much a trial for the piano as they are for the pianist.

Lucrezia Liberati under close scrutiny of the master piano maker Paolo Fazioli

Supremely musical performances as you would expect from a musician of Maurizio’s stature.

Gaia Sokoli with a full house for Fanny Mendelssohn

I just managed to hear part of the fascinating programme of Gaia Sokoli with a preview of her CD dedicated to the sonatas of Fanny Mendelssohn!In the Sala Stradivari on a superb Yamaha piano it was yet another fascinating discovery here in Cremona – one of many!Fanny Mendelssohn (14 November 1805 – 14 May 1847), elder sister of Felix (whose complete works have been recorded by Roberto Prosseda) was known ,after her marriage, as Fanny Henkel and was a composer and pianist .Her compositions include a piano trio and quartet ,an orchestral overture, four cantatas , more than 125 pieces for the piano, and over 250 lieder,most of which went unpublished in her lifetime. Although praised for her piano technique, she rarely gave public performances outside her family circle.

Gaia Sokoli with her beautiful playing of the almost unknown Sonatas of Fanny Mendelssohn

At this point I had to run ,still with my suitcase,sadly missing the ChiesaCellos Cremona with Maurizio’s wife the distinguished cellist Silvia Chiesa.I think even she would have forgiven me as the Cremona Music Award was being given to Roby Lakatos the violinist most revered by his colleagues for his extraordinary natural technique and his amazing Zigane improvisations.Here too he improvised with Roberto Prosseda with one of his best loved performances.

Roberto with Roby

And at last a day that started in London and finished so wonderfully in Cremona.Or at least I thought it was over until I bumped into Sofya Gulyak (winner in 2009 of the prestigious Leeds Piano Competition and invited here on the jury of the Pianolink Competition) and together with Doctor Anna Maria Cevolani ( a GP in Pieve di Cento and organiser of a concert series and the Roberta Galinari International Piano Competition that could boast Vladimir Ashkenazy as chairman of the jury)we enjoyed sharing stories over a well deserved pizza.It was infact one of the best pizzas I have ever tasted ……but how could it be otherwise in a paradise like Cremona.

Roby Lakatos with Jed Distler

On the shuttle bus to the second day of the exhibition I heard a voice that I knew so well from his radio programmes in New York and from my visit two years ago in Cremona.Jed Distler pianist,composer and commentator knows more about pianos and pianists alive or dead (together with Bryce Morrison and Piero Rattalino).So even the journey to and fro was full of a fascinating exchange of information.We had fun at the farewell aperitivo in the Cathedral Square too.

Jed with two young Turkish musicians who report for Andante Classic Music Magazine.

Day 2

Round table discussion including live stream from Warsaw with Alexander Laskowski of the Chopin Institute and in the media lounge with Jed Distler,Cècile Prakken,Roman Berchenko,Eric Schoones and Owen Mortimer mediated by Roberto Prosseda

I would have liked to hear more of the round table discussion about streaming and on line performances that has been particularly relevant in this lockdown period.

Davide Cabassi though was giving a short recital .A top prize winner in the Van Cliburn competition in 2005 when he came to play in my theatre in Rome as part of a series organised by William Naboré and the International Piano Academy in Como.I remember vividly his wonderful warmth and humanity and of course an astonishing performance of Petroushka – a cross between Radu Lupu and Maurizio Pollini.

Davide Cabassi presented by an unmasked Valentina

We have lost touch but Cremona has united us.I have been following his remarkable career and have helped one of his students Alberto Chines via the Keyboard Trust.Davide is recording all the Beethoven Sonatas – I think he is up to his fourth CD and he played two sonatas op 27 n.2 ‘ Moonlight’ and op 31 n.2 ‘Tempest’.His amazingly wide range of sound has gained a maturity 20 years on but there is still very much the conflict between Floristan and Eusebius well suited to Beethoven’s tormented life .A standing ovation allowed him to present his wife Tatiana Larionova (who was giving a solo recital in the afternoon) and to play together Brahms’s 8th Hungarian Rhapsody …….a triumph was assured and well deserved.

Davide Cabassi and Tatiana Larionova

At midday I could not miss the recital of Aristo Sham mentored by Julia Mustonen , Artistic director of the Ingesund Piano Centre of excellence in Sweden .At 25 this young man has a degree in Economics from Harvard and a Masters degree in piano from New England conservatory.In 2019 he won the gold medal at the International Casagrande Competition in Terni .

Aristo Sham in concert under the eagle eye of Ing.Fazioli

Playing a magnificent Fazioli in the Guarneri room he gave some ravishing performances of Chopin ready to be presented in Warsaw at the Chopin competition in October.Four Mazurkas op 30 were played with a ravishing style and understanding that will surely seduce the jury as Fou Ts’ong had done fifty years ago.It was Ts’ong who told me that the sentiment or soul in Chinese poetry is very similar to the sentiment in the works of Chopin.Aristo’s performances of the Funeral March Sonata and the late Polonaise Fantasy were played with extraordinary intelligence and technical control but just missing the simplicity and intimacy that had seduced with his ‘canons covered in flowers ‘.

Aristo with Paolo Fazioli

I was sorry to miss Marco Rogliano presenting his new CD .I bumped into Marco in the shuttle bus back to the hotel and had not seen him in 20 years since he used to play in the Masterclasses that Ruggiero Ricci used to give in my theatre after his annual recitals.I will look forward to listening to his fascinating new CD.

A chance meeting with Marco Rogliano but Cremona is that sort of place

I was sorry to miss also the remote synchronised performance of four hands with Roberto and his wife ……….I was curious to see how Alessandra could play in Prato while Roberto played in Cremona……it made me wonder about their three wonderful children!

There was just time to slip into the Amati room to listen to Luisa Imode give an immaculate performance of Scriabin’s Fantasy Sonata on a magnificent Steingraeber piano.Ravishing golden sounds from a piano that has its base in Bayreuth.After musicianly performances of Beethoven op 109 and Chopin Ballade n.2 ,the Chopin Nocturne op posth was pure magic and showed off the full range of this magnificent much overlooked instrument.Her new CD ‘Moon Rainbow’I will look forward to listening to.

However Jed Distler wanted me to hear Sandro Ivo Bartoli whose recordings he admired and was intrigued by his lockdown project of recording one Scarlatti sonata a day.There are 555 and ,as he explained ,his project should draw to a close at the end of October.In the meantime this imposing figure – an Abbé Liszt look alike – presented his very individual performances of five Scarlatti Sonatas and the six Moments musicaux D 780 by Schubert with such convincing charm

Sandro Ivo Bartoli

Performances that showed off his unique personality.I had in fact met him when he was a teenager in London and we were summoned by Shura Cherkassky to listen to a young pianist ( with the same long hair) playing two chamber concertos in St James’s Piccadilly.Shura never taught but I think Sandro may have played to him occasionally in return for helping him when he was in residence in his rooms in the White House a stone’s throw from the Royal Academy where he was studying.

Elia and Sandro for Steinway.

And now I really had to run to hear Alexander Gadjiev’s magnificent Chopin recital on the Fazioli piano.I had heard him play in London a few years ago for the Keyboard Trust and he has since gone on to be chosen as a BBC Artist and won both Hamamatsu and Montecarlo Competitions and recently the Gold medal at the International Competition in Sydney.

Here are a few thought that I jotted down :’Someone who loves the piano and listens to himself.A master of ravishing playing who illuminated the Fazioli Grand Piano with sumptuous refined sounds.Masterly performances that held us spellbound .Chopin’s fourth Ballade restored to the pinnacle of the romantic repertoire -a truly ravishing Barcarole and a second Ballade that had us on the edge of our seats.’His encore of his own improvisation just showed what a unique artist he has become.All best wishes at the competition in Warsaw.

Elia and Alexander -stars shining brightly in Cremona

Immediately next door in the Amati room I had promised to hear another of Julia Mustonen’s students KaJeng Wong.Some quite magnificent performances of Rachmaninov on a sumptuous Petrof piano.

KJ in the Amati room

The room was much too small for such a big player so he suggested I come to his graduation recital in London at Milton Court a few days later.A Hammerklavier at 10 am followed by Rachmaninov and Liszt was sensational and this is what I wrote

And finally the Cremona Music Award to Richard Danielpour with performances by Stefano Greco part of a CD that was recorded in Rome just last week.I was able to catch only the very tail end of this and was sorry not to be able to listen to more of Stefano’s magnificent playing .Richard I caught up with the next morning in the round table dedicated to Hybrid Music Teaching.His teacher was Leonard Bernstein and he has his same hypnotic charm as he explained how he had tried to help his students psychologically during the lockdown as music is about love and the connection between human beings .He had written a fifteen movement work ‘American Mosaic’that was performed on four grand pianos placed strategically in a cemetery as the performer moved from one to another.Here is his very moving story :

Richard Danielpour with Stefano Greco

Liner Notes by Richard Danielpour:

In April 2020, during the first wave of the COVID pandemic in America, I was informed by my pulmonologist that because of my asthma, my chances of surviving COVID-19 were about 30% if I were to contract the virus. I barely slept in that month. In those early hours of the morning, I managed to write the first draft of a libretto for a new opera. The only thing that was able to relax me enough to sleep (no amount of medication would do the trick) was listening to Simone Dinnerstein’s Bach recordings. Later in May, having witnessed the extraordinary heroism of so many valiant Americans who had struggled to combat this “invisible enemy”, which was the coronavirus, I thought it fitting at some point to compose a 15-movement cycle for solo piano that would be live streamed by the end of 2020. At that moment, I knew that the end of 2020 would be a challenging and terrible time in America, and my hope was that I could write a work that would somehow give comfort to those who had suffered and struggled through this unprecedented crisis. By mid-May, I was still listening to the recordings of Simone’s Bach to alleviate my anxieties, but I had also begun to think seriously about this new work that I hoped to compose for solo piano.I eventually spoke with Simone Dinnerstein, thanking her for the therapeutic effect of her playing and also mentioning my idea to her. She was enthusiastic, and a week later the Oregon Bach Festival, through the kindness and industry of their Director of Artistic Administration, Michael Anderson, commissioned the work which I titled An American Mosaic for a livestream premiere performance that would eventually take place on December 6th, 2020. I began work on An American Mosaic on June 5th, 2020 and completed the 15-movement cycle on August 6th of that summer.

Day 3 .An interesting round table with fascinating comments from Paolo Petrocelli talking about the extraordinary Stauffer Centre in Cremona and Antonio Artese getting to grips with new technology at the historic Chigiana Academy in Siena and the participation of Richard Danielpour spoken of above.Julia Mustonen talked about her remarkable work at the Ingesund Piano Center in Sweden.

Julia Mustonen of the Ingesund Piano Center in Sweden

It was time to listen to another fine pianist on the Fazioli Piano.Leonardo Pierdomenico on his way to the Chopin Competition in Warsaw too.

Paolo Fazioli and Sandro Cappelletto with Leonardo Pierdomenico

Some very fine performances of the First and Third Ballade were followed by a performance of the B minor Sonata that showed not only his superb clarity and intelligence ,as in the first Impromptu that had opened his programme , but in the slow movement there was an architectural line and ravishing sense of colour that was quite memorable.

By great demand after the sumptuously exciting Finale of the Sonata he played the study op 10 n.4 with remarkable brilliance contrasted with the exquisite charm of the waltz op 42.Another wonderful artist competing in the circus ring in Warsaw………..may the best man win.Career is ,after all,important for survival,but we in Cremona are just lucky to have heard three wonderful artists in these past few days giving such memorable performances without having to decide on a winner.They were all winners for us!

The Fazioli story told in a volume recently translated into English in which Sandro Cappelletto traces with Paolo Fazioli the rags to riches story of Fazioli pianos.

Roberto Prosseda- Paolo Fazioli – Sandro Cappelletto.

Paolo Fazioli was born in Rome in 1944, into a family of furniture makers. In 1969, he graduated from La Sapienza University in Rome with a degree in mechanical engineering, and received a diploma in piano at the G. Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro in 1971, where he studied under Sergio Cafaro. In the same period, he also earned a master’s degree in music composition at the Academy of St. Cecilia, where he studied with the composer Boris Porena.In the meantime, his older brothers took over the family business: a factory producing office furniture, using rare and exotic woods such as teak, mahogany and rosewood. Paolo Fazioli joined the company as well; however, he never gave up on pursuing his dream of building the world’s finest grand pianos. Thus, at the end of the 1970s, the Fazioli Piano Factory was realized within the furniture plant in Sacile, about 40 miles north of Venice.

Giovanni Bertolazzi with Paolo Fazioli

A fascinating story but one that had to be cut short as the final pianist to play today was one of the finest pianists of his generation having just been a top prize winner in the oldest of all piano competitions:the Liszt Competition in Budapest.The winner of the first piano competition in 1933 was Annie Fischer.And it was all Liszt that he offered today. B I have written many times about this remarkable young artist since I first heard him in the Busoni competition in 2019 and I immediately rang Roberto Prosseda to ask if he knew who he was and who he studied with.

Performances in which musicianship,intelligence,showmanship and total mastery combined to keep the audience enthralled.From the passionate outpourings and ravishing colours of Tristan to the the sheer exhilaration and theatricality of the Dante Sonata.The subtle colours of Chasse Neige and finally the pure animal excitement of the 12th Rhapsody.Encores of Vecsey/Cziffra :Valse Triste (it is Cziffra’s centenary year) and Bellini/Thalberg :Casta Diva (that he had learnt especially to play in Teatro Bellini last night)brought this final recital to brilliant end.

Giovanni’s remarkable teacher Epifanio Comis in Catania where he studies and where he was celebrated on Saturday with a recital in the magnificent Teatro Bellini

I wish I had had time to attend the Cremona Music Award to Enrico Pieranunzi or the presentation of Massimo Fargnoli’s autobiography or Sandro Cappelletto’s book of Mozart’s travels in Italy but there was only time left to hear the end of the presentation recital of the CD ‘Caro Bottesini

Some phenomenal unbelievable acrobatics and virtuosity on the double bass with Alberto Bocini.Together with Alessandra Ammara who followed every twist and turn with great artistry.They ravished excited and seduced us with all the style of the great bel canto singers of the past.Except this was just one double bass and one piano……….all the fun of the Circus but with what extraordinary artistry.A wonderful end to a weekend of pure magic.

Farewell aperitivo in the cathedral square fast turned into a farewell in music thanks to Roberto Prosseda and his remarkable friends.

A final farewell with an improvised jam session in our favourite restaurant with Roby Lakatos,Enrico Pieranunzi and friends letting their hair down at the end of a memorable weekend in Cremona

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