What effect has meeting musical-history-making musicians like Stravinski and Hindemith had on your career?
An enormous effect, because only through personal contact with great composers, conductors and performers can a performer reach a stage of maturity where something written by another person becomes only a means of expressing your own musical personality. In effect, a performer of music written by someone else can be compared to an actor who can identify each time with a different character..
The Corriere della Sera music critic, Paolo Isotta, has defined you as a real authority in the field of rhythm: solo percussionist of international fame and a virtuoso in this sector. From your video, however, we can see that you are also involved in composing and conducting. Which of these gives you the greatest sense of fulfilment as a person and as a musician?
Paolo Isotta is a music writer and critic of great sensitivity and skill, but I think he has been overgenerous in my case. It's very hard to answer the question because they are branches of the musical profession that are very much connected, and for me at any rate difficult to separate. I think, though, that all teachers should be able to write for their instruments and to teach pupils to follow and perform any piece of music, also through the act of orchestra conducting.
You were among the first in Italy to concentrate on the successful combination of music textbook and tape, or, now, videotape. Was this your idea, or the publishers' choice?
I have always thought that the written word alone was incomplete as a form of communication, and L'Arte della percussione and Il Batterista autodidatta, written in the sixties along with my brother Aldo, had already been produced with accompanying records. Video support, in my opinion, is the best teaching aid available nowadays in the world of music teaching. Unfortunately, the extra costs involved in catering to such a tiny market as percussion are often off-putting for publishers.
All performers, sooner or later, go over to teaching. At what point in your career did this idea come to fruition in your case?
"It wasn't my decision, but that of Nino Rota, who in 1968, after listening to me playing a work of his, and trio for marimba, harpsichord and piano, got me to apply for a post in the Conservatory where he was director (the Piccini Conservatory of Bari), and I taught there for three years, before going on to the Naples Conservatory and, successively, to the Rome Conservatory."
We know that you were one of the first in Europe to propose concerts of only percussion. What, and how many, difficulties did you have to overcome when percussions were still mysterious objects?
It was necessary to make everyone understand that percussions were self-sufficient, because they could express all the parameters that constitute the threefold roots of music. Which is to say, harmony, melody and rhythm.
We overcame the first difficulty, which is the lack of a body of literature that demonstrates the complete range of our instruments, by writing the pieces that we played, ourselves.
Would you like to talk about the activities that Tempo di percussione has carried out and continues to carry out?
The group was founded to spread awareness of all the contemporary music expressly written for percussion instruments: music that is inevitably overlooked by the various musical institutions
Which pieces are on your LP and what type of public do you think is interested in your music?
For a group that manages to simultaneously (as was recently said) place its feet in the past and its head in the future, we had to synthesize the three periods
so, popular primitive music, classical and contemporary
For us there is not a type of public but "the public," because our concerts take place in schools (from elementary schools to universities)
but also in theaters, concert halls, etc. because where music is at home, there's
something to be gotten out of it.
So percussion is also used to communicate?
Certainly, percussion and music in general, were born and evolved as a means of communication. In this sense, the African wood drum (mistakenly called a Tam-Tam) is significant, it was used to transmit messages across a distance
Several years ago, in a historic and provocative concert at the Teatro delle Arti of Rome, John Cage wanted to demonstrate that today's music could not live by sounds alone. You've explained contemporary music to young people through the pages of our journal, do you agree?
I think that music needs to use everything that's possible, without any limits or preconceptions
In 1981, Void was performed with great success; one of my compositions that I defined as visual music because the performers only pretended to play, creating an incredible emotional
tension. In introducing the performance, I explained that, Contemporary music, considered in its totality as an art and science, cannot be limited to just three fundamental elements, i.e., rhythm, harmony and melody.
"...The interpretation of a rhythm through the visual presentation of musically ordered gestures, with the sound effect given by our own minds to the gestural event, performed on instruments known to us, is something capable of subverting the phenomenon which up till now has been limited entirely to the acoustic event.
What advice do you have for young people who are beginning to study the drum-set and percussions?
It's of fundamental importance that a beginner start with a good teacher, even if it means making sacrifices such as, for example, changing where you live. They say that finding a friend is finding a treasure, but when you find a good teacher, you've solved one of the problems of your life
Your future commitments?
For the next two months, preparing L. Bernstein's Mass for Mondovision, with the orchestra of the Santa Cecilia Conservatory, and the worldwide premiere of the Missa Solemnis pro Jubileo by Franco Mannino, with the Teatro dellOpera of Rome, at the Coliseum.
For this latter work, I'm assistant orchestra director and musical consultant for the ethnic instruments. For the future: seminars and Master Classes abroad and videoconferences on the Internet.
Excuse me, Maestro, but what vitamins are you taking that allow you to keep up this pace?
I know what you mean. Growing older is part of the natural order of things, but passion is a spring that knows no age. Once, when I was playing in the Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo of Naples, I was teaching at the local Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella, I was directing the Tempo di percussione Ensemble and I was on the board of the union, and because I was always on the run, they shouted after me, (I'm translating from Neapolitan) If death comes looking for you a hundred years from now, he won't find you!
* Interviews of: Sandro Petrone, Carmelo Pittari, Vincenzo Ridolfi, Claudio Poggi, Rita Fratino and Marina De Rosa.
* interviste di: Sandro Petrone, Carmelo Pittari, Vincenzo Ridolfi, Claudio Poggi, Rita Fratino e Marina De Rosa.