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from the book
I Solisti Veneti - Magia delle Stagioni
by
Lorenzo Arruga
edited by
Franco Maria Ricci
Milano 2000

It was four in the morning, an exceptional hour for the doorbell to ring. And it was 24 October 1959: this date too was exceptional, but no one could have known that yet. At four in the morning, then, of that same date, in Padua, the violinist Luigi Igne was energetically ringing the doorbell of Dr Scimone, a well-known physician in the town. The doctor opened the window: "Who's there?" "Igne. I've come for the orchestra rehearsals." "Now?" "Yes, Claudio said to be there at four, sharp." "He mist have meant four in the afternoon." On closing the shutters the doctor heard again from the street: "Oh no: he would have said at sixteen hundred hours." Igne had not yet become one of the Solisti Veneti, and had more faith in uttered words than in the life that confers meaning upon them.

This was the second prelude to the birth of the Solisti Veneti: the first had occurred a few hours before, in the office of the notary public Barthel Foratti, who drew up the formal document: "Is hereby constituted for concerts in the Veneto, he read; and suggest: Let's add: and in Italy," " Well, why not say: and throughout the world," put in the young Scimone. The notary disapproved: "Come now, let's not overdo it." That "come now" was typically Paduan, prudent, concrete, and in fact the good notary was a man brimful of prudence and sound good sense. The Solisti Veneti had not yet come into being, and he could not have imagined their explosive power, their triumphant charge of idealism and gaiety. On 24 October 1959, therefore, at four in the afternoon, the first rehearsals of the Solisti Veneti were held in Dr Scimone's house, and the long story had begun. Scimone's house was and still is in Piazza Pontecorvo. It was old fashioned, the kid of house only modern builders know how to make: spacious and airy, mellow woodwork, white walls. As soon as you go in, you notice the light, a discreet, warm clarity. After a while it becomes intense, almost tangible. Outside - the thought strikes you - there can only be a sky painted by Tiepolo or Canaletto. It is the light that filters into the houses and the rooms with the paintings to soften faces and multiply the shades of colour in clothing. Someone once wrote that those who have never been in the Veneto early in the morning or between sunset and dusk cannot understand the palettes of the painters of that region, while others maintain the opposite: that is precisely those works of art that teach us to understand and enjoy the blessing of the light. Abstract debates. There is no discourse on nature that does not imply nature as seen and interpreted by us, our recollection of it, and its history: we bring a number of things to it. In the house of Claudio Scimone and his wife, a beautiful Dutchwoman called Clementine, a flautist with a quick-witted look, one hardly expect anything else but the music that is made here, a music whose hues are never gaudy but always luminous, where the dark is sensed as exile and the shadow as a haven of calm.

It was perhaps the colour of their sound that made the Solisti Veneti instantly recognisable. Their other characteristics were even more startlingly unexpected, but they could have led to nothing: the Solisti would come on stage quickly, gaily, the conductor with them, and sometimes he would even help them adjust the music stands. They looked on one another as friends, wore old fashioned concert tails, but they were also capable of meeting the public dressed in everyday clothes, transforming rehearsals into informal musical encounters. There was no ceremony, but the ritual would suddenly begin as soon as they up the music. We went Vivaldi and the like, ready to celebrate 18th-century Venice, and we would find it there, pulsing, joyful, with oases of subtle melancholy, the way they must have greeted it in the streets and squares of that city of gardens and theatres. The Solisti ran off an instant string of hits, as they used to say. And it was not an easy time to get started. Chamber music was not very popular in Italy; and in the group's curriculum there was none of that ability of inspiring enthusiasm that usually heralds a fairy tale success. Their early success was sufficient to avoid going hungry, and they were never able to play on the image of poor and emaciated young artist. Their conductor wished to express himself and was no one's protg, but neither was he some poor wretch who had risen from the gutter. Decidedly not the stuff of popular legend. The group never made a banner of their political ideas, not did they become a part of ideologically militant section of society, which did them little good in an Italy of the not too distant past when the myth of the artist as endorser of political pamphlets was still alive. The result was that while the Right was uninterested in them the Left promptly labelled them "right win".


At the time, it seemed to left, right, and centre that if they were to have success it could only be in good concert halls, that traditional milieu of cultivated society, while their public could only be made up of the usual enthusiasts who discreetly fled in to fill theatres for first rate concert evening of great music of past.

But what happened was quite different. On the hand there was a groundswell of approval for their work in theatres all over the world: the tours multiplied, as did the invitations; and while the city of Venice was chary of inviting them (the motto "let's not overdo it" holds good for Venetians too), they racked up successes in France, America, Germany; while Italian radio doled out their performances with a miserly hand, there were programmes on French radio and television, programmes in many other countries; and while Italian critics were cautious or divided on the issue, the most authoritative experts on 18th-century Italian music, people like Pincherle and Ryom, established a rapport with the Solisti and co-operated with them..

But envies and enthusiasm aside, the most amazing thing was the degree of public approval enjoyed by the group, indeed, much more that that, the conquest of a new and ever more numerous public. In the theatre, at the concerts success, psychological affinity, congeniality, and approved were expressed immediately, by word of mouth: those who went, returned with their friends; and the friends of the friends of the Solisti Veneti became friend too, and they brought along more friends still. The Venetian 18th-century - Scimone likes to say - was conquering the world for the second time; and, more than anyone else, the new wave of popularity for Vivaldi, Albinoni and company was sweeping the Solisti Veneti along on its crest. When Il Corrierino published a comics strip called "Mystery on the Thames" a trilling adventure set in London about the theft of a valuable flute, the instrument had to belong to the attractive flautist with the Solisti Veneti. When the Festivalbar pop music show featured their version of a Vivaldi concerto, it was revealed that 265,000 youngsters had played the record on Italy's juke boxes.

There is nothing more irksome than hagiographies, pointless stories that would have us believe that artist make their decision and go through changes without ever suffering inner doubts or fatigue. Yet it has to be said that a truly extraordinary atmosphere surrounds the Solisti Veneti. And it has to be said that a possessive public all over the world has shown that it is prepared to monopolise its Solisti Veneti with a jealous constancy. One example of this is Salzburg, where for about thirty years the Solisti Veneti have been opening the chamber orchestra section of the famous Festival: when they skipped a year (1981), the applause that greeted their return was truly memorable. When in Tokyo, in 1987, after fourteen encores not one Japanese wanted to leave the hall, and you could see people weeping with emotion, you got impression you were witnessing something of real History.

Forty years is a long time, the concerts have been innumerable; of course there were time when the concert was not a sell out, time when the applause was lukewarm or brief: this is no fairy tale, but a story about hard work. But the distinguishing mark that has always set this group apart is the overwhelming presence of the public. Last year, when I tried to get into the Milan Conservatory to list to a normal concert of theirs there was no way I could dodge the crowds that had completely invaded the courtyard of the church of the Passion, which stands in front of the Conservatory. And I recalled that time when even Maestro Scimone was unable to get in to one of his own concerts in a famous theatre in Milan; at the door, a vigilant doorman would not let him in until the maestro showed him the photograph on his identity card, which is the way the doorman tells it, or, as Scimone says, until the doorman had been shown the picture of Michelangelo on a ten thousand lire note.

When Claudio Scimone tells a story, it is hard to understand whether it will and in sublimity or paradox. With a silhouette rather reminiscent of a cello, he has incredibly lively eyes that sparkle above a broad grin forever hovering somewhere between the infantile and the hedonistic. "Of course, of course, we are popular," he winks in satisfaction. "As we saw that time with Tartini. And Anonimo Veneziano." The Anonimo Veneziano was the concert by Alessandro Marcello whose Adagio was the theme song of a film by Enrico Maria Salerno, a classy tearjerker starring Florinda Bolkan and Tony Musante. The adagio on the original sound track was not by the Solisti Veneti, but people bought thousands of copies of their record with the oboist Pierre Pierlot. "When we succeeded in publishing a facsimile of the collection of autograph sonatas for violin by Tartini - a text that was a thrill just to see, in which the author had jotted down his most bizarre notes, and maybe interrupted the writing o f a sonata to scribble down a hasty transcription of a popular song complete with the words - we had to ask permission of dozens of official bodies: the Arca del Santo in Padua, where the collection is kept, the Vatican, on which the Arca depends, the Carabinieri, who had to escort the friar who transported the precious manuscript and whose duty it was to lock it up in a safe every night. Well, despite all this we had been unable to find anyone who would give us the permission necessary to get insurance cover for the trip to the printer's. How was this stalemate resolved? A functionary who recognised me, in a manner of speaking: "Maestro Scimone! Of the Solisti Veneti! You are the one who did Anonimo Veneziano! My wife cried buckets watching that film. Oh, I'd do anything for you: what music, what music. Thank you maestro, and say a big hello from me to Florinda Bolkan".


Just outside the window of his house, where Scimone sits laughing, stands the "Santo", as they say in Padua: the Basilica of Sant'Antonio. A great sanctuary, and occasionally a very noisy one owing to swarms of pilgrims whose devotional exuberance is a little embarrassing for those who do not share that logic: the relic known as the "Holy Tongue", for example, for which Antonio Vivaldi wrote a great concerto for violin, strings, and harpsichord. It was here that the troubled musician and indefatigable scholar Giuseppe Tartini , the inventor of the "third note" and a spellbinding violinist, would play his new concertos before excited crowds with a lamentable tendency to chatter. But, despite this, an impressive silence would fall when he launched into the adagios pianissimo, whit his held up. The acoustic are not good, as is inexplicably but often the case in Italian churches. Yet people end up making more music in churches that anywhere else. First, because appropriate concert halls are almost always lacking, and at best you can find magnificent theatres suitable for opera. Then, because in church - a place over beyond partisan considerations, a free zone over the centuries, a historic sanctuary from the powerful and the violent, the custodian of the faith, and a mirror of composite cultures in peaceful coexistence - music seems to reveal its powerful intensity. We are in the presence of image, and ideas, at the confluence of the arts; transcendence as point of departure and arrival, but also of many far more mundane things: creaking seats, a superabundance of saints and lesser saints, ex-voto cards hanging on the walls alongside intimations for the congregation and requests for offerings on behalf of saints and the needy. Dress styles, even at concerts, vary greatly depending on custom, provenance, and mentality, but are innocent of programmed class differences. The imagination is therefore called i to integrate the ear, but it is also obliged to do so; and therefore, for musicians accustomed to such places, it is away of tackling the legato and the staccato, the consistency of the strings and the echo in table blare of the wind instruments, the emphases, and the resonances.

There, in Tartini' s basilica, to celebrate the eighth centennial of the "Santo" (1995), whit the soloist and the choir of the Ambrosian Singers, the Solisti Veneti impassively battled away whit the bizarre acoustics to perform Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Incredibly, this was the first time this pieces had been performed in the Veneto - this too happens in Italy. "Half an hour before," as Carla Moreni wrote in l'Avvenire, "the square in front of the basilica was adorned in an impressive fashion by two endless queues of people, "who had come from all over. Scimone met a little knot of critics and explained that he felt it was right to emphasise how this sublime score, whit its dense and full classicism, in which lay the germ of Romanticism and many other things to come, held strong echoes of the great sacred music of the Baroque; and how Handel's freedom stood out, in the memory. He did not seem to notice that under the windows of his house a crowd of such a size was gathering that it was going to be extremely difficult to cram them all into the sanctuary. One of us recalled the episode in Saint Anthony was preaching in a church and a friar, alarmed by the crowd that was flocking in, a crowd far greater than the place could accommodate, set to shouting: "O Lord, make the walls expand!"


Full churches, in Padua, at the concerts: in 1959, who the dickens would have imagined it? Thirty-odd years ago I went to review an evening of the Festival Tartini, The concert venue, a church, was crammed with people: lots of bearded young men, the mark of an alternative standpoint in those days, lots of youngsters, and lots of ordinary people, as well as the usual enthusiasts. It was quiet and everyone was relaxed. I had never had occasion to talk with Scimone; I went to compliment him on his great success and, since the only thing we all know about Tartini is that he wrote the famous sonata known as "The devil's trill", I came out with a rather obvious witticism: I had spotted a blonde girl seated in a confessional (really) and I wondered if she had not been Tartini' s devilish temptress.


Scimone seemed to think that all that crowd was the most normal thing in the world; he was pleased about the young girl whose love for music seemed as natural to her as a fondness for places of worship, as he remarked in rather absent tones. Then, however, he hastened to tell me a story that was far more important to him. "Look," he said, "there is a serious probability you are right. Tartini was a scholar, a scientist of music: he theorised about universal connections between sounds. He was familiar with logic and he wanted to deepen his understanding of theology: he was destined for ecclesiastical studies and, even though he had abandoned these, he had by no means broken with his interests and ties. Music was temptation, concerts distracted him from his studies. When he dreamed the devil was playing and, once he was awake, wrote down the sonata (but the psychoanalysts tell us that, as soon as we awake, we already begin to modify dreams), he was still full of an impression that certainly must have corresponded to something inside him. There is a serious possibility that he identified the devil with the violin. But you see, if an 18th-century composer makes the devil the model for the interpreter and the thing is a success, you cannot think in terms of a player unable to go beyond the rational tranquillity of stylistic categories. The piece is probably not to be played as it was the 19th century, but in that case we have to find a way of performing it that conveys the exact perception of a piece of period devilry. Do you know that when Arcangelo Corelli played his own music on the violin, we know from eye witnesses that his face used to change, his eye would flash fire and roll like a dying man's? What do you expect, someone once told me: Corelli equals Baroque music. Yes, but a music that lives not one that commemorates, A live Corelli is different to a dead Corelli, just as a Tartini is not same a live Tartini."


I don't know if many people know how much study and how much concentration on the events of the history of music underpin the long and acclaimed work of the Solisti Veneti. To bring the author to life, to bring the music to life, without adding external effects and eloquence, is a task that demands constant verification, and one that holds within itself the seeds of ever more assiduous research. A great danger facing musicians is that of never raising their head from the notes of the score, treated as if it were a theorem or a recipe book, and not as the mark of a life that, precisely because it respects those marks, transcends them; of never wondering about linguistic codes and historical context; of clinging to the outcome of a performance and trying to repeat it without wondering why.

When it is pointed out that the music of the Solisti Veneti is spirited, at times people almost tend to believe that the secret lies in the lithe agility of the phrasing, in the elegance of the melody lines, in the rapidity of the rhythms. There are also critics who seem to think that their task is merely to talk about Callas's expressive voice, of the dark resonance of Arnoldo Fo's voice, or of the ethereal patterns traced by the arms of Carla Fracci. But the part of these artist that is conveyed to us is the ultimate manifestation, the agonising decision that because a certainty only after profound immersion, prolonged curiosity, and pitiless analysis have enable them to lend credibility to the encounter between instinct and culture in the moment of performance.

The Solisti Veneti share an extremely rigid idea, almost an ide fixe: not: to deprive music of its importance. All that is taken away from the exterior ritual of formality - that habit of "laying it on thick" that allows some to take refuge in the right-thinking impeccability of the concert ritual and in a correspondence whit the manuals of style seen as an end in itself - must be restored in the deep, that it is to easy concrete and direct, logic of the music.

When the Solisti Veneti tackled the theatre for the first time, the 18th-century opera tradition was infected by a form of high flown, rather woolly rhetoric, and by pedantic bromides such as "pure theatre", and "music that goes beyond the categories of drama and "spectacle". Incredibly, it was fashionable to consider, especially in Italy, Vivaldi, Purcell, Monteverdi, and Handel as a sequences of arias requiring only a modest visual complement. Unjustifiably, the theoreticians of the history of music dealt with the story of the Venetian melodrama of the 18th-century by treating of the technical musical form, the tripartite da capo A-B-A aria (and it is already something if they noticed that the refrain was adorned with grace notes), alternating with the recitative, which used to be marked for accompaniment with the solo harpsichord, backed up at most by a cello. But no one dealt with the themes, tastes, images, or fantasies brought to the stage by the classical heroes and by those of the courtly epics of the Renaissance. Nor was there any sign of familiarity with the tradition of sung poetry that led to the maturation of lyrics of such limpid harmony. Claudio Scimone began to read in his own way - in other words as if he were going to the opera in the theatres of 18th-century Venice - the hand-written scores left by Vivaldi. He stopped at one, Orlando furioso. He discovered that the story, based on Ariosto's poem, is enchanting; that the singing possesses a particularly intense emotional credibility not only in the lyrical flights of the arias, but also in the contorted suffering of the recitatives. This seemed to afford a glimpse of a spectacle that was unlike romantic opera, a spectacle with depth and lots of seductive imagery. Great performers were required. Transatlantic phone calls were made, parts hastily copied, ideas exchanged, and from America came Marilyn Horne, the great interpreter of the bel canto renaissance. Talks, descriptions, a piano, a song, a pause, and Pier Luigi Pizzi realised that he was going to have to turn himself into a director once for all, and was at this point that he set out on - sets, costumes, and direction at the Teatro Filarmonico in Verona - his mission as Prince of the Baroque.

It was a surprise, a shock: the small orchestra shone with an intense light thanks to musicians who were born soloist brought on from within the group; a company of first-rate singers lent flesh and voice to the characters. This marked the rediscovery of the recitative accompanied by free instrumental combinations. The world of Tiepolo came alive on stage: bright azures, stylised white constructions, an unforgettable boat on a shiny black spillways. Commemoration in the form of overt fiction: dressed as a musico, Clementine joined the contraltista James Bowmann for the grand aria with flute obbligato; for the aria with viol d'amour Nane Calabrese stepped out from the orchestra. I remember how it was after the opera: a villa in Verona, the amazed silence in which we clung to the savour of what we had heard and seen and understood, the sound of footsteps on the gravel heading for the buffet, and a yearning to return to the theatre.

After Orlando furioso the recent history of Baroque concert evenings was no longer the same; and this also holds for the Solisti Veneti, who became more and more regularly involved in opera. In the meantime Scimone had been accumulating a remarkable amount of experience whit Rossini at the Rossini Opera Festival; and he was also revising score, well aware of the new problems regarding the critical edition of Rossini's operas. The group's record production was studded with intriguing albums, some recorded live before the public: the sumptuous Italiana in Algeri, recorded in the studios with Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey (the disc also featured Kathleen Battle in a secondary role), was followed by Ermione, Armida, and Zelmira. When he went black to the Baroque, Scimone's Orfeo, staged in Athens in 1998, inside a marvellously clever white column designed by Pizzi, the gap between Monteverdi's vocality and the texture of the modern voices was filled by switching the parts to suit such voices. Cecilia Gasdia, a brilliant performer who works regularly with the Solisti Veneti, appeared in several parts in disguise. There in the great hall of the Megaron it was a triumph. But the lifeblood of the theatre always runs in the phrasing, in the sound; at La Scala, an evocative version of Vivaldi's Juditha triumhas emerged as being head and shoulders above all other performances of this work: you get the impression you can breathe the night, feel its sounds, its whispers; dramaturgical psychology dictates the tempos. And when Bertoni's Orfeo - traditionally held to be light opera in comparison to Gluck's version from the same period - was held in Istambul in Saint Irene's, a mysterious Christian basilica grafted onto a Muslim culture, it look on a sort of inner holy symbolism, death and life on a taut equilibrium. The Solisti Veneti are therefore on their way to conquering music i both genre and historical epoch, a far cry from what had characterised their music in the early days. Scimone is proud to be a privileged disciple of the great conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, and he is aware of the need to perform contemporary music. Right from the start the group has enjoyed the confidence of composers, whose work is often played for the firs time by them at festivals and other performances of 20th-century music. Composers of calibre of Franco Donatoni, Sylvano Bussotti, Riccardo Malipiero, Cristbal Halffter, and Azio Corghi have all dedicated pieces to the group and the Solisti also collaborate frequently with Domenico Guaccero. The Solisti Veneti would pass for specialists in today's music were it not for the fact that they refuse to adopt a fashionable serious stance, nor will they bow before the unwritten law that decrees "whatever you do, lay it on thick", and worse still in a world as conservative as that of the official avant-garde, they insist on cultivating irony and parody.

Of course, we are all convinced that for an ensemble modelled on 18th-century lines it is a real sign of merit to go to the Venice Biennale and other similar events with complex contemporary scores and thereafter to keep them in the repertoire. And the group recalls performances that were highly praised by the composer themselves. But those present one evening at the Festival de Royan will certainly never forget when the Solisti improvised a piece on the rivalry between Royan and La Rochelle, dying on stage, with the cellist Chiampan using his instrument like a weapon; and others recall another time when, at the end of a tedious evening of modern composer of e tedious evening of modern composers, the member of the group camouflaged themselves in the foyer, some standing facing a rotunda, others, like the conductor, standing inside flower pots, whence they traitorously struck up a piece by Rossini, proclaiming him the greatest of contemporary composer to the enthusiastic applause of the public seated on the floor listening.

The fact is that contemporary music, especially until about twenty years ago, aroused a touch more intolerance than was strictly legitimate; on one occasion, for example, when in Barcelona for the Club 84, Scimone thought to grant a brief extempore invention by way of an encore, in which at a certain point he hurled the music stand to the floor. He announced a non existent composer for the occasion: Aldo Mzzucato, a musician from Padua. It went down well, too well in fact, because two years later he was commissioned to do a concert featuring only the music of Aldo Mazzucato. It was painful, but necessary: the Solisti Veneti decided that Aldo Mazzucato had met an untimely death in a car accident. The Solisti are the way they are, not much you can do about that, and they cling dearly to their margin of freedom and their right to invent. They can pull out all the stops to play Schnberg's Verklrte Nacht, as the press at Salzburg noted with satisfaction; commit themselves to the point of obsessive precision, as we were told by Mainiki, the authoritative Japanese daily, which talked of a "model of collective solo playing", and we all know how much voluptuous attention the Japanese pay to the business of identifying models. But at bottom the Solisti Veneti are really the way were defined by Musica Viva a few ago in a long article devoted to them entitled "An Equilibrium won and defended: Gaiety & Philology".


There are those who believe, from the outside, that making music is a rather neutral business, a pleasure of the senses and the mind, a series of moves executed by craftsmen; and that the life of an artist or a group of artist is not much different from that of someone who prepares, creates, and tries to sell a product. As if the aim of the work were connected only indirectly to life. But the very nature of music, of making music, requires performers to be its sign and its reality, and to continue setting themselves goals, otherwise it merely becomes a package to be delivered to the listener. And these decision are the mark of true musicians. They must forever be breaking new ground; both enthusiasms and convictions - if they are authentic - are noticeable, otherwise they become a part of what might be describe as an empty circuit of the mind" pacing forever in the hell of make-believe, which never is belief", just to quote Thomas Stearns Eliot (Murdered in the Cathedral, part II).

In music, conviction and enthusiasm represent particular problems, because the technical difficulties of execution are relative; in fact with experience they are soon overcome when musicians decide to limit themselves to transferring the notes and rhythms of the stave to the instruments. And it all gets even easier when the memory seems to automate the business of overcoming some demanding passage. But it is entirely another matter when someone wishes to tap the exciting image of that music, as it was when it was written and in the way it was understood then, and to arouse even today, first inside himself and then in the listener, the thrill of attaining a great level of performance. In such eases it is necessary to draw memory and imagination from the score in order to play at exceptional levels, in other words at the limits of concentration, and to play with the mastery and the affection that that culture demands more than ever, bearing in mind the necessary relationship of identification and history distance, of difference and nostalgia. You have to find a truth and believe in it. Talking about it is already rhetorical, and especially among musicians it is a source of suspicion. Musician are concrete people, all the more so musicians from down to earth Padua, who are always ready to make fun of those who pontificate about concepts and words. What's more, in the noble professions there are notions that used to be handed down as "secrets of the art": now they are no longer procedures so much as traditions, ways of life, things that are felt without any need to make explicit statements. But these realities inherent to making music and to making music in group, living together, travelling together (a circumstance that would seem unbearable without a strong sense of purpose and conscious motivation),inevitably lie at the foundations of work, and of happiness. This is why, over and beyond critical reasons and progress in the history of interpretation, the strength and authenticity of a group lives as long as it has a character, something it has sought for and found in the field, a challenge, a musical identity. The musical identity of Solisti Veneti was exciting right from the start. At a time that seems very far off now, but was no more than a half century ago, Vivaldi - along with 18th-century Venetian music - was considered one of the many composers that orchestras merely ought to perform well, with no problems. If you listen to the record of The Four Seasons conducted by the famous Bernardino Molinari at Santa Cecilia, you receive the impression you are faced with "the distribution of music at a high level", just another generic member of the same classical music culture that ran indifferently from Beethoven to Respighi: the same musicians, the same expressive characteristics, and the same colours and embellishments we are accustomed to hearing in the good taste and reconciliation of "classical music" culture en bloc. But if instead you listen to Karl Mnchinger with the Munchen group, you already get the sense of a small chamber music ensemble in which, however, in view if obtaining a precise weight and sure phrasing, everything is subordinated to the logic of great German music, a bit martial and a bit cadenced - not because great German music is like that, but because this is what happens to Venetian music when it is played according to German canons.

With the Virtuosi di Roma and with the Musici we finally come to the specialist Vivaldi ensemble; but the Virtuosi - whose magisterially vivid sound is the work of the excellent instrumentalists recruited by conductor Renato Fasano - are still romantics in the climaxes and intimidated by the more typically 18th-century passage, which cannot fully emerge without a re-examination of the premises of the language; and the Musici - very much identified with great musicians like Felix Ayo first and subsequently with Pina Carmirelli - aim, so to speak, at the restitution of an ideal Vivaldi, to be discovered once and for all and to be kept the same, intact, tranquillity and stupendously reconstructed. These concepts also led to admirable results, and historians of interpretation ought to consider that the very term interpretation presupposes someone who takes on the role of middle man between the composer and the listener; and in history the perceptions and reflections of the world are in constant flux.

With the Virtuosi di Roma and with the Musici we finally come to the specialist Vivaldi ensemble; but the Virtuosi - whose magisterially vivid sound is the work of the excellent instrumentalists recruited by conductor Renato Fasano - are still romantics in the climaxes and intimidated by the more typically 18th-century passage, which cannot fully emerge without a re-examination of the premises of the language; and the Musici - very much identified with great musicians like Felix Ayo first and subsequently with Pina Carmirelli - aim, so to speak, at the restitution of an ideal Vivaldi, to be discovered once and for all and to be kept the same, intact, tranquillity and stupendously reconstructed. These concepts also led to admirable results, and historians of interpretation ought to consider that the very term interpretation presupposes someone who takes on the role of middle man between the composer and the listener; and in history the perceptions and reflections of the world are in constant flux.

The entry of the Solisti Veneti into the world of 18th-century Venice and of music in general springs from a conviction that seems normal today, but was highly controversial at the time; or rather, it was not at all discussed as premise and motivation, but step by step in the details of its results: why the fast tempo? Why the extreme clarity of the transparencies? Why the sudden swellings as if some happy melancholy had arisen from the lagoon to permeate the soul and the senses? "I can't recall what I did with it, " regretted Scimone, "but there was one article, published in England or Germany, in which we were attacked fiercely. The gist was: well, well, for two centuries it was played one way and now someone comes along and says: no, that's not the way it should be played." Scimone's basic idea, from which everything follow naturally, is that the music that only began in that period, and that after the philological research has been done it is to be lived freely and unpredictably, just as it was lived freely and unpredictably then. Style, for Scimone, is the sign of a language, a breath, not a designer, not a formula to wrap things up in , and not even a perfect form to be dressed, and even less so a point where cultural convictions and exact certainties may be checked with precision. Because life must be brought into play every time, and every moment must always be in motion.


Scimone is a scholar, a man well read in the history of thought and of the arts and a scrupulous musical philologist. He rejects what, at the time he threw himself into interpretation, was considered mandatory faithfulness, in other words the habit of restricting the performance to certainties and, given the impossibility of replicating exactly and completely what was done in the past, the habit of performing only what we are sure they did, never allowing ourselves to integrate using the imagination, or the fancy. This is the mentality responsible for the habit of using only the harpsichord for the recitatives in Vivaldi's operas, with the basses carrying a trance of the harmony, and the imaginative parsimony of certain productions, de rigueur until a few years ago. To this day, when models of Baroque stage sets are featured in exhibitions, they are usually reconstruction in sepia or black - with no colour, even though colours were certainly used - simply because the stage sets that have come down to us are drawings in sepia tint or black.

Scimone himself, in an article published in Musica Viva in 1985, deal with the inconvenience of such a mentality in a piece entitled "The Mendacious Tedium of Archaism": "In school they taught us that ancient music has an immutable style: colourless, with no sparkle, it was devoid if feeling, something that was to appeared only in the Romantic period By playing that way, it was a bore for both the public and the musicians. Historical researches have provided us with the proof that things were not like that at all, on the contrary, performances were brilliant, animated, full of colour. Therefore our commitment became that of demolishing the wall of archaism. These days such ideas are common currency and new studies of even the oldest music present it as spontaneous and full of flair. But it's worth pointing out a few dangers, a few excesses. For example, the margin for improvisation permitted to the performer. First of all, the performer must possess sound technical qualities and a certain cultural knowledge, because he or she must unite spirit of improvisation with faithfulness to the composer. Performers must also talk to today's world, otherwise they become isolated in inert specialisation. Ancient music should be related to the present, because the listener lives in the world of today, as does the performer. Of course, the cult of original instruments is important too but it should be approached in a critically judicious spirit. It seems that music can no longer be evaluated if it is not made with instruments shaped, planed, and assembled as they were in the past. But in that case the original instruments should be listened to in the original halls, because the perception in a modern concert hall are completely distorted in comparison with their predecessors, Then again the human ear, as many medical studies and historians tell us, has become objectively feebler in modern times; ancient music, which depended a lot on a sensory aspect, sounds very different to us when played as it was in the past We must try to be rigorous therefore but in the knowledge that research is required, we must have a goal, point to a path and follow it critically, and not indulge in what is merely maniacal objectivity. Otherwise, after having accurately reconstructed original styles and instruments, we would then need to graft an original ear onto each spectator."

At a certain point, the original ear was grafted on. Or rather, not exactly an original ear, but an ear that found nothing unnatural about the original instruments and the logic of the ancient customs because it was used to them. The new generations that have come to Monteverdi, Vivaldi, or Bach through the performances of the ensembles inspired by philological and historical scholarship do not have to carry out an act of subtraction from the normal ear accustomed to a classical sound measured against Mozart and Beethoven - or better, against Mozart and Beethoven as they are played in our century. This is not an irrelevant circumstance, it is the mark of a profound transformation, one that springs from profoundly significant exigencies and conquests.

At a certain point, the original ear was grafted on. Or rather, not exactly an original ear, but an ear that found nothing unnatural about the original instruments and the logic of the ancient customs because it was used to them. The new generations that have come to Monteverdi, Vivaldi, or Bach through the performances of the ensembles inspired by philological and historical scholarship do not have to carry out an act of subtraction from the normal ear accustomed to a classical sound measured against Mozart and Beethoven - or better, against Mozart and Beethoven as they are played in our century. This is not an irrelevant circumstance, it is the mark of a profound transformation, one that springs from profoundly significant exigencies and conquests.

At first the import of this new orientation was not clear; people simply studied, or saw others studying, the nature of Baroque instruments, the standard criteria regarding execution, and the underlying theoretical structure. Points of view changed radically: previously the point of reference was the effect the interpretation had on the listener, with the sole exception perhaps of certain basic historical criteria; now people were being asked to adapt the way they listened to the technical-historical pertinence of the performance. It was a hazardous adventure, and an exciting one; there was, naturally, as in every revolution, a period of "terror" and a few guillotines: indeed for a few years it seemed that the professors of philology felt obliged to tout their performances around as if they were privileged. But for real musicians it was a salutary shock, a chance to emerge from the overly restricted circuits of their own milieus, a chance to understand and think big. Harnoncourt and Gardiner became successful, and Italian ensembles like Europa Galante, Gioiosa Marca, Giardino Armonico, Concerto Italiano, Accademia Bizantina, and others again were formed. Their opponents tarred them all with the same brush and metaphorically consigned them to the same pot of Hell, together with Hogwood, Leonhardt, and Brggen. But the paths taken by each one of them were very different indeed. And as happens at a certain point in life, when one minute you are young and the next you are of "the older generation", the Solisti Veneti found they had moved from the avant-garde to a rather vague. point that was still to be defined. I think these were the most difficult years for Scimone. Several things, separate events but close to one another in time, and all of which had apparently happened, or were happening, for different reasons: Scimone's career as a conductor - and not solely in connection with the Solisti - was burgeoning.

He had been invited to conduct an Elisir d'amore in London, he was doing Rossini pretty much everywhere: in Pesaro from a Mos in Egitto to a Maometto II. They were great, prestigious things, but above all fired with an intense passion: his Jewish origins and his faith in Rossini gave him the strength to carry with him singers, orchestra, and chorus to make an inspired recording of Mos in Egitto that no doctor would have allowed a man suffering from thrombophlebitis to perform. Then there were new commitments, such as a long spell collaborating with the Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon in his capacity as conductor, and others again of a completely different nature, all with great orchestras: the sublime recording made in Tokyo of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, just for example. And then began the series of performances of II barbiere di Siviglia that was to take him from Zurich to the Opera in Rome and to the Arena in Verona. This frenetic activity and the wear and tear of the passing years coincided with the most pronounced change over within the ranks of the group. Ensembles like the Solisti have an organic need to make constant changes, but in this case those that left represented virtually all the original nucleus of nearly twenty-five years before, from the violinist Piero Toso to the others. Scimone found himself with a nucleus of young people who were radically different in nature to his first group: instrumentally more aggressive, and with fewer members from the Veneto, they formed an international group in search of the spirit of the Veneto. Scimone was in search of something too. His nature would not have allowed him to give in to uncongenial temptations such as the fad for original instruments; but at the same time he was aware that the latest studies suggested that, lexically speaking, there was room for improvement; it was no longer a question so much of the ear being more or less suited to perceiving, as of choosing a precise point of tile perspective and using that to express, through the depth of history, the distance and at the same time the nearness of music making in the 18th century. This was not something to be worked out in theory, but by rushing with the group from one city of the world to another, reaching new understandings and discovering new stimuli, arousing not only the customary public enthusiasm but also learning more, going beyond the pleasure of possessing Vivaldi and company. In the meantime the Festival Tartini was growing. Masses by Mascagni and Puccini were performed, in celebration of the passion for opera and their Italian origins; Mozart was becoming more and more a presence; there were full blown Romantic concerts, and Stanislav Bunin came to perform Chopin.

By this time the movements of the musicians clearly revealed tile new linguistic differences; and even though the group's repertory numbered over fifty living composers by then, it is precisely in those authors whose work had characterized the Solisti Veneti of the early days - Vivaldi and Albinoni, Tartini and the other Venetians of the 18th century - that we find a new light, whose vibrant clarity derives no longer from the only way to play such works, but is the result of a deliberate discovery of a limpid nature. This new limpidity also sprang from virtuoso skills; and it affords us a clearer understanding of how Vivaldi not only aroused enthusiasm when he was conducting the orphans of the Istituto della Piet, but was also performed by the greatest concert musicians in Europe. The voice of tile Solisti Veneti, the unmistakable light, the enduring vitality, and the history of time group are all documented on disks, the dear old vinyl "platters", and the new Cds, technically infallible, or almost. The first CD featured Rossini's Maometto I!, with the orchestra conducted by Scimone. When the record company launched it in Milan a spokesman explained the benefits of time new technique, no more inconvenient needles just for a start. The CD was put on and, by chance, the tenor's voice stumbled over the first phrase, repeating the syllable and "sticking" every bit as disastrously as an old 78'. Pale faces and an embarrassed silence. Coolly, Scimone got to his feet, bowed, and said: "I want you all to understand that this is not my critical interpretation." A round of applause, a minor adjustment, and all went well. "Well, after all," murmurs Scimone, recalling the event "the hitch turned to be useful. People ought to bear in mind that a record is not music at its best, it is not an infallible document. It is a moment in tile history of interpretation, fixed in time, no more than that." Yes, but after the seductive Rossini Sonatas performed with a tenderness, a joy, and a freedom that sprang from goodness knows where, over thirty years ago, there were so many of us who eagerly awaited every record release from the Solisti Veneti, and when a new record came along we would rush back home to listen to it, perhaps even in company. The group brought out L'estro armonico, and then the Opera for flute with the great Jean-Pierre Rampal, the aristocrat who offered us an enchanting, logical Vivaldi, gracefully performed to delight the ear. A critic with a small local newspaper in Emilia wrote that that Vivaldi carried him off to the Elysian Fields; a reader wrote in to suggest that time Elysian Fields were more appropriate to Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice, and the critic's reply was an honest: "Well, let's put our cards on time table, what I meant was Paradise." As far as time old recordings are concerned, everyone has his favorite bits, the passages where the grooves became ruts in which the needle grates due to over frequent playing: it might be tile mellow calm of the Venetian dusk as in Vivaldi's Adagio in Concerto P41, with time haunting oboe of Pierre Pierlot; it might bee the fragrant yet gay melancholy of the same composer's Concerto per due mandolini... These recordings were on the Erato label, whose colour and warmth were controlled by the vigilant ear of Michel Garcin. All of their faithful listeners indulged in minor follies over details. These days with CDs it's all that much simpler, all you have to do is choose the number of a groove and press a button; but in those days some were able to go straight to groove number twenty-three of the fourth side of Albinoni's Nascimento dell'Aurora, at the point where Daphne is transformed into a tree, the strings weave what seems to be an infinite progression and June Anderson acquires the voice of myth. In February 2000 a Warner Fonit CD with the Stabat Mater by Pergolesi and that by Boccherini has been released, singers Cecilia Gasdia, Delores Ziegler, and William Matteuzzi. Those who witnessed time recording swear that this is beyond all comparison the finest recording of sacred music ever made by Scimone and company; like others, I too am glad about this record, but out of faithfulness to memory I shall go and fish out some old recordings and discover at least some small but unrepeatable passage. Because every hour has its own truth and character, and time more progress is made by interpreters, the more the latest offerings help to understand the sense of time first interpretations. "Maestro Scimone, what does your long record producing career mean for you?" "After concerts people very often come up and say: 'I came here because I have listened to your records and I wanted to meet you: you don't know it, but it's as if we were friends.' In Europe, in America, it's always time same. And lots of people thank me: 'Do you know that it's thanks to you that I like classical music? I got into it thanks to one of your records... Do you know who the conductor was on time first classical music record I ever listened to? You...'" Could this really be time significance of record production? Time personal relationship between our days and hours and tile concentrated time offered on one occasion by an artist who is unaware of us? Could this be the long and stony path to finding ourselves? This secret story that is created with a very few musicians, like a personal thing. A similar phenomenon also comes into play with books, which are sometimes extremely beautiful objects, and other times are events of the understanding and of thought, even an arousal of the feelings; but which, with some authors, become go-betweens in a relationship of complicity, friendly presences that accompany us on our way.

Seen from close up, while he is making music, Scimone is very interesting. His musicians know that he likes to emphasize time tempo in an implacably simple way, and that when it comes to the interpretation of the score he has a predilection for the flexibility of the Baroque tradition, which is perhaps the point that his more lukewarm admirers disagree most about; and that his speech is animated with a very Italian taste for expressive gestures, in which enthusiasm is tempered in smiling irony.


The press cuttings on the Solisti Veneti, if I haven't mistaken the bulk-weight calculation and that of the frequency of concerts (over four thousand), are no less than ten thousand. No one has filed them away in order, which means to say that someone is going to have to do a degree thesis on all this, perhaps on the occasion of the group's fiftieth anniversary. The general trend is for German critics to admire the group's clear cut identity, the concord in the changes of colour, in time variations of time phrasing; English critics make a good job of explaining that while the instrumental hues spring from different traditions they have become typically Italian. French critics often opt for vivid images: they are particularly imaginative in their descriptions of Scimone's gestures and spirit. Here is Jacques Lonchampt in Le Monde: "He unleashes time delightful instrumentalists like flights of birds, occasionally brandishing his baton as if it were the bow of some immense imaginary violin"; while Pierre Petit writing in the pages of Le Figaro called them "talking gestures". And his gags go down well too: sometimes they seem to remind the French of time Marx Brothers or even Chaplin, as once again wrote Lonchampt in 1975: "A ptillant gaze, amusing and tender as the one of Charlot." But in more serious moments his hands are impressive, and some have compared them to the hands in pictures by El Greco. Italian critics are won over by the group's energy and powerful imagination: "Thirty-two years on and they still haven't lost their sense of fun," was Carlo Maria Cella's comment in Il Giorno, when, after an absurdly long delay, the Solisti Veneti finally made their debut at La Scala: "Perhaps not everyone can slap a Red Priest type wig on their head and, by playing, bring Vivaldi back to life the way Marco Fornaciari and Bettina Mussumeli did on film; but in a concert like the one in La Scala Claudio Scimone 's musicians once again showed the culture that groups of this kind ought to be the bearers of: a logic typical of soloists that can call each of time instruments from 'the ranks' to the front every time." In 1992, Angelo Foletto analyzed them in la Repubbiica: "Time impeccable blend of somewhat frenetic ( la Scimone, that is) but solid and iridescent virtuoso playing is employed with intelligence and meticulous stylistic calibration, to offer every refrain" (in a programme devoted to Bach) "its most sparkling and most suitable variegation. In order to render the progress by tonal contrasts even more charming, Scimone pays light hearted and extremely indulgent court to the articulations while adding a more piquant and more 'Venetian' coloratura to the dynamic chiaroscuros. A skilful interpreter, but also an elegant and artful host for the solemn numbers." In the Corriere delta Sera, three years later, Franca Cella finds them by that time, as the title put it, "hovering between enchantment and sortilege": Scimone "has brushed down and polished his orchestra. And he has bewitched it, because the expectation of magic was in the air right from the first notes of Boccherini: never was the House of the Devil symphony so clearly revealed as an analysis of matters diabolical, with its breathy echoes of whispering sonority, snaking and ready to pounce in sinister 'fortissimos', it gives rise to the suggestion of a premonitory affinity with Mozart's Queen of the Night.. ."

Ten thousand press cuttings, what with presentations and reviews - but far more if we count time ones that never arrived - provide us with only a small glimpse of forty years of music from the Solisti Veneti.

There are those who love them right from time start, others who wonder what they are driving at, and others again who offer advice. Naturally, over the years, respect for them has grown as the roots, time inventions emerge more clearly. But from the beginning to time present day everyone is in agreement about one thing: the felicity of the encounter with the public, the sense of an event about to be created, the unmistakable nature of their spontaneous, natural conception of the concert as a burning, precious privilege. In the pompous officiality of the concert halls, with their rich complement of people ready to hand out judgements and artists who cloak themselves in an aura of fashionable sacrality, something thaws, the public seems to be different, perhaps it is in part, and certainly some people are always left without a seat; but the same spectators of other concerts behave differently, they have fun, they call for encore after encore, and leave chatting animatedly. And this is the reason, perhaps, why Scimone and company are always surrounded by a quasi scandalous kind of aura. They bring with them a certain unpardonable joy, integral and infectious. "They are time bearers of antique gestures," confided the famous film director Ermanno Olmi, after filming Haydn's The Seven Words of Jesus on the Cross in the Scrovegni Chapel, a place imbued with the spirit of Giotto. And he added: "And I envy them for the beauty of their rapport with the instruments, which generates the beauty of the sound."

"In their hands they hold the possibility of giving comfort to the world, with their noble and clear music; and while they are playing they know it," someone said on Mexican radio in 1998, on the occasion of their tour, when the New York Times wrote: "They have convinced us that Vivaldi and Rossini composed their music specifically for them." The Solisti Veneti were in Reykjavik the day John Kennedy was killed. There too, as in time rest of the world, the news was greeted with dismay and depression. And this was, in fact, one of the few occasions in which the hail was not full. They struck up The Four Seasons amid a chilling silence. Little by little, the public began to react. You could feel the birth of something that was not joy, but an attachment to life, an emotion still to be discovered, in its defenseless innocence, in its full bodied concreteness. At the end, amid an openly emotional atmosphere, Thor Vilhjlmsson, a well known poet in Iceland, got to his feet and announced that lie felt duty bound to hazard a poem, which he then translated also into English. Time concept was: I had no wish to listen to a concert on this tragic evening; nor did I wish to let myself be stolen away by a distant music. But while the notes of the Primavera unfolded, I felt life flowing back, and I felt strongly the ancient mystery, time death that generates the spring, and time suffering that leads to budding birth..

"They bring joy, they bring music...":what solemn words. "Time only certainty," the say, "is that we get on the bus and go, and we are always on the road somewhere in tile world. We go as far as we can and - timetables and distances permitting - we go back home at night." I have in fact glimpsed a notebook, with simple hand-written notes. It says: bus yes/no. I look at the last month, mid May-mid June. I skip the locality, but my eye runs on following the words written on every page, on every day. Camponogara yes, Schio yes, Monselice yes, Bergamo yes, Buenos Aires no, Venice yes, Modena yes, Damascus no, Rabat no, Padua no, Monselice yes... The whole world in a hurry, time zones topsy turvy: perhaps not even Igne, were he there, would have been able to cope with the need for punctuality, and those distances and journeys would have made the notary Barthel Foratti blanch.

"Maestro Scimone, does all this public really understand the music?" "May I give you an honest reply? More than we do. Music is not what we prepare, nor is it melody, harmony, or structure.., these are things we use as a basis to work on, to understand things. Then there is time imponderable aspect, that which we can neither name nor explain, because it is at that point that music is solely music, and culture is of use only in preparing for time leap. but that leap exists. We forget about it; yet on this point oriental thinking is in concord with time historical intuitions of Western thinkers and musicians... Oh, now please don't go round saying I said that I don't understand music. No, but the point is..."

Scimone goes off and comes back with a couple of large books. Zen? Descartes? Tartini? Outside, there is the light of a mellow sunset. He begins to talk, in the rapid cadence of his native countryside. If the bus had not been standing waiting outside, that evening could have easily become very similar to the one in which the Japanese called for fourteen encores.

 

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