Italy The Italian Character The story of a great Italian Orchestra a film, written and directed by Angelo Bozzolini, with Antonio Pappano, The orchestra dell’ Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and Yuri Temirkanov, James Conlon, Valery Gergiev, Daniel Harding, Janine Jansen, Lisa Batiashvili, Evgeny Kissin, Denis Matsuev, Stefano Bollani, Lang Lang. Alpenway Media Production GmbH DVD distribution: EuroArts Music International GmbH 100 minutes. Italian premiere at the International Rome Film Festival. Sala Santa Cecilia, Parco della Musica, Rome. 10.11. 2013 (JB)
At the basis of Angelo Bozzolini’s film about the Santa Cecilia orchestra is a pretty obvious –if all too frequently overlooked assumption- that behind all successful music-making are the unique contributions of complex and hugely variable human beings. This is a striking case of where the sum total of the individuals adds up to much more than the whole.
Bozzolini is very good at giving us close-ups of the individuals. Then showing how such extraordinary individuals explode into the whole. This is not to suggest that a successful orchestra is a permanent fireworks display, though that is also unquestionably a part of its achievement.
It’s become something of a cliché to think of Italians –including Italian musicians- as all heart and not much head. The Bozzolini movie stands that misleading assertion on its head: we see and hear in interviews and music how Italian players are uniquely dedicated to an ever progressive education and development of the heart. As well as their art. Antonio Pappano remains enthralled by the response of these players –an ever increasing number of them under the age of forty. Every new recruit acts as a kind of musical hygiene, says Antonio Pappano, with a smile.
I can personally vouch for his having removed some of the dust which invariably begins to settle on an established orchestra. It’s no longer necessary to arrive at an audition with a recommendation: you have to pass Maestro Pappano’s astute ear –sole condition for entry. When I was young I was always surrounded by people older than myself he says, But now I’m fifty-two, I’m surrounded by people much younger than me. Well the choice was often yours, dear maestro, and frequently a rather good one, one wants to add.
The movie takes us to the village outside Benevento, some 250km south of Rome, where the maestro’s parents grew up. Antonio says he’s learning how to become Italian. He and his brother were born and grew up in London. By the time Antonio was nine, his piano playing was good enough to accompany his father’s singing students. (Even now he remains his own répétiteur both in Rome and at the Royal Opera House.) He says he didn’t have a “normal” childhood: while the other boys were playing football, Antonio would rush from school to accompany his father’s classes. But the upside of this was he got the Italian operatic repertory in his fingers at an early age. When you find you have a natural talent, you have to nurture it, he says, walking through the southern Italian village streets. It’s a great pity that Pappano senior died just ahead of the Queen knighting his son for services to music.
There is also a real sense of his becoming Italian with his arrival at Santa Cecilia in 2005. Before that, he had never lived in Italy. The Pappano energy is legendary. Just ask any of his players. Bozzolini does. The key quality in making music is generosity says Sir Antonio, Giving of yourself: generosity and more generosity; that way your gift pours out of you.
Yuri Temirkanov confirms this as his principal pleasure in working with the orchestra: Talk about players meeting you half way; these players meet you a hundred per cent of the way and maybe more! Daniel Harding says he used to have doubts about nationals having special ability for their own music, but on arrival at Santa Cecilia, he understood what the Italian sound was all about. He then began to see how certain English orchestras could play Elgar better than others.
Janine Jansen, working with them with the Brahms concerto wonders if she will be able to equal their commitment. But they all encourage me, she says, and I find myself producing a warmth of sound which I hadn’t conceived of before. Certainly the audiences in the orchestra’s tour of Germany (filmed by Bozzolini) are delighted to confer honorary Italian citizenship on Brahms. This is more Brahms than the Brahms we are used to, says one member of an audience.
Many of the players make guest appearances with other orchestras. Andrea Oliva (flute) is sometimes with the Berlin Philharmonic. When Anita Mazzantini (sub principal double bass) moved to a London orchestra for which Pappano wished her well but couldn’t resist adding, But if London doesn’t work out, remember your post here will remain available. Within a year, she was back at Santa Cecilia.
Alessandro Carbonare is said to be the highest paid clarinettist in the world. He was recently a guest of the Chicago orchestra. He speaks in the film of the immense pleasure of the precision and clean edges of the Chicago playing, both qualities sometimes missing in Rome. But I must also add that there was very little of what we Italians would call soul, he concludes.
Bozzolini’s film is a masterpiece of its genre. It takes us back stage into what are normally the secrets of an orchestra. It does this with humanity and humour. Half of the hall (two thousand eight hundred seats) were season ticket holders of the concerts. Now they know something of the personalities behind the faces they see every week. RAI will show the film on Christmas day: a perfect moment when after all the food, Italian families will enjoy a hundred minutes of engagement with music. The good news for the rest of the world is that the distributor, EuroArts Music International will also issue the DVD in time for Christmas. Don’t miss it.