Alessandro Deljavan: Recovering ‘brain and soul’ during the covid-19 crisis
A new talent from Italy, Alessandro Deljavan, made his U.S. East Coast debut in 2019 with a reading of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 under conductor Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Zander told the audience, gathered for a pre-concert talk, that they were in for one of the ‘greatest piano performances you will hear in your life’. Deljavan delivered. A Pescara native only 32 years old at the time, he gave the concerto a masterly treatment and the critics agreed. Deljavan displays his European musical style openly, injecting a personal air into his performance, an emotion visible in his swaying frame and his flying hands. He came to Boston with impressive credentials, considering his age. He has recorded about 50 CDs in solo and ensemble music and was a semifinalist at the Cliburn Piano Competition. His performance there created an international wave of “Deljamania” that continued for several days after his elimination. He told us he is now finished with competitions – too much preparation for too little gain. Among his recent projects is the creation of his own label, the Aeras Music Group, that will launch later this year with five CDs. And his trio, with Amedeo Cicchese on cello and Daniela Cammarano on violin, has recorded Tchaikovsky and Debussy on CD for the Italian music magazine Suonare. Meanwhile, his habits have been forced change during the corona virus crisis, a lockdown in Europe that has cost him nine cancellations. He has moved his teaching online and spends more time just thinking. As he put it in our interview, “Thinking is the best way to recover our brain and soul.”
Interview by Michael Johnson
Question. You had a triumph in Boston, with the audience cheering and stomping and demanding encores. Yet I believe you felt you could have done better. In what way?
Answer. It's always possible to play better. And while this is true, I would not change any of my performances, not even the ones I did not feel were my best. Everyone is always looking for perfection instead of enjoying the imperfection of life. There is so much joy in embracing the moment.
Q. Your Boston experience was unusual. What specifically was conductor Benjamin Zander trying to extract from you?
A. Maestro Zander and I had several conversations on the phone before we met. It was clear from the very beginning that we were of the same mind. That is not always the case between a soloist and conductor. Usually there is not enough time to rehearse in order to find each other. With the Boston Philharmonic and Maestro Zander it was different. This was the first time that I was able to rehearse the piece three times with orchestra and live it every day for a week. It was a great experience all the way around.
Q. How do you see yourself? Primarily as a soloist, an ensemble player, a pedagogue?
A. I see myself as a musician, as a person who spends his life devoted to music, completely under the control of music. It enables me to be present as a whole musician no matter the situation.
Q. Could you name some of your most influential teachers?
A. All of my teachers have been extremely important in my development.
Valentina Chiola was the first real teacher I had, from the age of 4. She was extremely patient and gave me an ideal method. Piotr Lachert, a brilliant man with the mind of a composer, he probably gave me the first splashes of madness, in the good sense. He was the first teacher who helped me see music with different eyes. Then Riccardo Risaliti, a maestro in a very traditional way. I was extremely careful with each word, and very, very respectful. He gave me the immense culture and love for the old tradition of pianism and was also the person who introduced me to chamber music. When I was 11 years old he gave me the score of the Brahms Sonatas op. 120 for clarinet or viola with piano and that was the beginning of a truly intense new world.
Q. Where did Enrico Belli rank in your learning experience?
A. I had two intense years of lessons with him. I was only 15 and 16 years old and for the first time I faced the big repertoire -- Beethoven op. 110, the Liszt B Minor Sonata, and my first shocking introduction to the classical repertoire: Schubert and Mozart. Maestro Belli tried to calm my enthusiasm and to give me a different approach to exploit the score to its full potential. He wanted to make me more professional, to start having more control over my body and my instincts. His approach was like a series of master classes. Then came my audition at Como Academy, at a moment when I was feeling somewhat negative about my future in music—at that time I was trying to be the opposite of every pianist I was hearing.
Q. How much of your Como Academy study do you rely on today? What did you learn there? How important is William Grant Naboré in your development?
A. My first contact with the Academy was when I was 18 years old. I was probably not ready to be in such an institution, but Maestro Naboré believed in me from the very first moment. He heard something in me and he followed his heart and experience. And everything I have done in my music life since 2005 was because of him. What he did was to build a unique music school. The connection between students and teachers, the relationship between musicians was vital for us. Being at Como meant stopping the study of piano and starting to learn how to live. Maestro Naboré is still and always will remain my teacher for everything. ‘Piano professor’ is such a limited term for him. Spending time with him, cooking, talking, listening to music -- it's an experience that I would wish for any pianist.
Q. Were you immediately accepted as a student?
Not exactly. I played a Schubert Sonata, the Debussy Images Book I, and the complete Chopin Etudes op. 25. Maestro Naboré’s first reaction was, ‘you are not ready to be part of this Academy. Here the level is extremely high and we already have mature musicians.’ One month later he invited me to a master class and I began as an official student: I played the A minor Schubert Sonata for Fou Ts'ong, and after that lesson so many things that I had experienced before fell into place. It was a revelatory experience.
Q. How might your musicianship evolve over the next decades? Do you have ambitions to compose? To conduct? To leave Pescara?
A. I bought a former convent 40 kilometers from Pescara, in Villamagna. It's very important for me to breathe clean air and live as simply as possible. Life in a giant city full of cars and smog is hard for me to imagine. My perspective is always to live fully. My aspirations for the best musical experiences guides my decisions and over the past several years I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some wonderful musicians—these experiences have brought me a sense of optimism for what might lie ahead.
Q. Conducting seems a natural way forward for you.
A. It is true that I have conducted a few times from the keyboard but I believe that having an intense connection with each member of an orchestra is difficult to achieve in the way that chamber music can bring people together—it is something that I continue to work towards when I am given the opportunity.
Q. What are your career ambitions?
A. My goal has always been to connect deeply with the music. This is my greatest ambition. If I am able to fulfill this then I feel I am doing my best work.
Q. What is your view of young piano talent, including your students at the conservatory?
What can I say? This is not an easy question. We are living a world where the result is everything. And passion does not count for much any more. Why is a young student with talent studying more than eight hours a day? To win a competition. Not to become a real musician, not to live his life with intensity and using heart and head with honesty. Education is so important now. The new generation of parents most of the time think of the amount of money their son will make in ten years.
Q. How important is the influx of Asian piano talent from China, Korea and Japan? Is the piano world becoming overcrowded and destined to become more so?
A. I'm enjoying the amazing growth of Chinese culture for music in general.
Asian culture is historic in every sense, thousands of years of culture and history.
I normally visit China every year and what I see is people who really enjoy learning. It’s such a joy for me. I strongly believe in an amazing evolution of music in China.
Q. In what direction is your repertoire growing? Do you have a preference for Italian style? German? Russian? French? And what era – classical, Romantic, Contemporary?
A. Through the years, my connection with certain styles has shown me what I have a true affinity for. I love every period of music for what and how the emotions are expressed. The great variety of colors and feelings are part of what makes a life in music interesting. I can't say who are my favorite composers, Many have said I have a strong feeling for Chopin. These days I feel a natural connection with Schubert and Bach.
Q. Do you ever work with living composers? What do you learn from this experience?
A. I'm actually very, very involved with the young generation of composers.
I'm extremely interested in what they have in their mind and how they can somehow “evolve” all the music they studied. I play contemporary pieces by young composers every opportunity that I can. I like strong personalities, I like people who really know what they want from their own compositions. Last year I performed a short piece by the young Italian composer Antonello Tosto Nocturne in the Daylight. I really appreciated his influences and his ideas from the very first moment. I hope we can continue our cooperation. I also had the chance to work with the late Piotr Lachert. He wrote one of his sonatas for me. Piotr was a fundamental personality in my musical life. He is somebody I really miss!
Q. How busy were you with public engagements before the coronavirus crisis? How many in a typical year?
A. After my solo recital in Paris, I lost nine concerts due to the virus crisis.? It was an extremely stressful period but somehow I'm glad that it also gave me some time for myself. Thinking is the best way to recover our brain and soul. I normally have between 30 and 40 concerts per year. No one knows how this will evolve for public performances in the near term.
Q. How has the coronavirus crisis affected your piano life? How will it change your life in the mid-term and long term?
A. Like everyone, I have moved to online teaching which I have enjoyed. It creates new challenges but also new perspectives and ways of working. The lessons have become interactive in new ways. I am very proud of my students and how positive they are during this time.
Q. What is your feeling when you listen to your recordings? Pleasure? Pain?
A. I have made 51 recordings, not including Vexations by Satie. That was eleven and a half hours of music produced as a digital album for Aevea. One of my craziest projects ever.
After so many recordings I am accustomed to focusing on the process. I actually love the experience of recording. This past summer and fall I mades several recordings, both solo and with my violin duo partner Daniela Cammarano. These recordings will be released on a new label I am founding, Aeras Music. It’s an exciting prospect for me to have the opportunity to bring my vision forward. My engineer for these projects is Michael Seberich who has been working extensively with Sokolov. I can’t wait to share the first release which will be the Bach Goldberg Variations.
The list of upcoming releases include:
Bach: Goldberg Variations
Mozart: Sonata KV 284, Sonata KV 309, Rondo KV 511, Variations KV 455
Schubert: Sonata D 959, Allegretto D 915, Two Scherzi D 593, Piece in A Major D 604
Beethoven: Sonata op. 96 and op. 30 n. 2 (First cd of the complete cycle)
Q. Why do you wear woolen gloves when you play in public?
A. For years I have suffered from Raynaud Syndrome (numbness in the fingers). Under stressful conditions, I feel my hands completely freezing up and for the past four years I have been wearing special gloves help me at the beginning of a performance.
Q. What is your view of the flamboyant performers, mainly from Asia? Don’t they detract from the actual music being played?
A. The real question for me is where are we going if the young generation is looking for fame, money, and publicity instead of striving to become a real musician with something important to say. In a world where everybody is talking about a sexy dress, or even quantity of notes, I am different. I still want to feel like an artist from the 19th century -- looking for beauty and telling stories through my music.
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