The art of losing ground
Once upon a time, not that long ago, you could catch quite a few cultural programs on Italian national TV (the RAI). One of my all times favorites was Pickwick, a program dedicated to literature (contemporary and non) hosted by the brilliant Italian writer Alessandro Baricco. Baricco himself has always been very close to classical music – see his essay “L’anima di Hegel e le mucche del Wisconsin”, a witty analysis of the avant-garde period among other things – and more often than not the program had a special guest sitting at the piano: Roberto Cognazzo.
To many of you this name probably means nothing. I had the good fortune of playing a concert with him many years ago and have rarely met anybody after with such a deep knowledge of music. And I don’t mean academical knowledge or good memory of historical facts. I mean in depth understandings of the mechanics of composition related to each composer.
This quality, coupled with his extraordinary improvisational abilities, let him do pretty much whatever he wanted to on the keyboard. Starting from nowhere, you could hear him paraphrase Tchaikowsky’s fourth symphony as a galop, bridge to Beethoven’s ninth symphony and land on La Boheme.
Times change. RAI TV made use of the RAI Orchestra (or Italian National Orchestra) to play for a Bocelli show at the beginning of last December: but not for real. They actually used a playback track. From a different orchestra (the London Symphony). RAI TV also moved some players around – apparently some of them in the first violins section were not telegenic enough. You can read the full article here (sorry but it’s only in Italian).
Now, the RAI Orchestra is one of the finest institutions in the music world, it’s a government financed organization which gets humiliated by another government financed organization, where, apparently, knowing the difference between a professional orchestra and dilettantes is overrated.
I wish I could have started 2016 with a happier post, but these things just make my blood boil.