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Interviews Tommaso Benciolini. Photo: Courtesy of the artist. Tommaso Benciolini. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Technique and art have a common root. Interview with Tommaso Benciolini

Tommaso Benciolini visited Cuba for the fourth time in the midst of the cultural revolution that took place this November in Havana, a month in which several festivals coincided: Contemporary Music, Classical Havana and Mozart Havana, in addition to the celebration of the Italian Culture Week in our country. Those of us who were lucky enough to attend his concerts heard him travel through aesthetic universes as distant as those of Giovanni Sollima (Palermo, 1962) and Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). Tommaso confesses that each of his visits to the island has been better than the previous one. The young flautist lives in Verona, where he has recently been appointed professor of flute at the Verona Conservatory "E. F Dall'Abaco" Conservatory. Ever since he was a student it has been clear to him that he wanted to pursue the creative freedom of being a flutist. freelance, to be able to take on musical and artistic projects of their own. This is a risky path (usually flutists seek to position themselves in renowned orchestras, in order to obtain work and financial stability). Then, Benciolini began to consolidate his soloist path and founded L'AppassionataThe orchestra has recorded its first album with this chamber orchestra, under the Sony Classical label.

Tommaso, this is your fourth time in Cuba as a flutist. Tell me how you first came here and why you kept coming back. 

In 2014 I was as a young professor in an Italian conservatory, where a fellow countryman, pianist and composer of about 60 years old, who, according to what he told me, had already played in Cuba, was also teaching. That year he was invited again by maestro Guido López Gavilán to the Contemporary Music Festival. He told me: "I'm going to Cuba, I'm invited to play" and I jokingly told him: "We could do a program together". And the maestro (quite a bit older than me) looked at me for a while and answered: "Okay, let's do it"... I didn't believe it; but we started to prepare a program of contemporary Italian and 20th century music and finally we came. That was my first time here; we played in Guantanamo and then in Havana. We arrived through Holguin and from there they took us to the Uneac of Guantanamo. It was a concert that I will always carry in my heart as one of the most special moments of my life; I remember with great pleasure that super full hall, everyone listening to this contemporary Italian music for flute and piano, attentively, in a very, very special atmosphere... Later we played here, in the Basilica, the same program, also in a magical atmosphere. And I thought from that first time: I have to come back here as many times as possible. 

And I did it very early, in 2015. Then I had a violinist girlfriend, and we put together for that opportunity with the same pianist, plus flute and violin, a program of Italian music of the twentieth century. what we call modern music and some contemporary pieces by living Italian composers. 

The third visit was in 2019. I wanted to return, but the pianist had retired from the upper level conservatory and no longer felt like traveling so much. He told me that he was too old, that he had already come several times, and I insisted that I loved playing here. Then I talked to another pianist, with whom I play regularly, who did sign up and we came. On that occasion I brought some pieces for flute and piano, and others for flute alone, and we played in San Felipe Neri, where I had never played before. 

Tommaso Benciolini. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Tommaso Benciolini. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Now, this time it has been incredible; because although the Contemporary Music Festival is an important event, it is something smaller, a little different. But Habana Clásica is a young festival, I like this very much..., it is focused on a young public, very attentive, and it is fantastic to see these halls full of people...

Then there are the musicians. I had met some on previous occasions, but I had not played with them, let alone with a full orchestra of Cuban musicians. It was incredible. I have played several times with orchestras in Europe, but what happened here was extraordinary. The level of the orchestra is very high, the mentality that all Cuban musicians have... The first rehearsal with the Música Eterna orchestra surprised me a lot because the piece I played is difficult, but everything was perfect. And it was also easy to work with the Havana Chamber Orchestra, because the attention they pay and the quality they have is tremendous.

And the public, what do you think of the Cuban public, which is ultimately the raison d'être of us musicians? At least for me, I felt that in this Festival the public's affluence and the warmth of the people was special. Maybe it has to do with the fact that it is the first big event of this kind of music after the pandemic and there was a kind of eagerness to listen to music, to share it in the concert halls, it was very exciting for me to see them overflowing. 

Yes, yes, but it's not only that the halls were full, but also the tremendous attention paid by the public, who clearly want to listen to this music. You look at the program and there are things that are easy to listen to and others that are not. Really, something like that has almost never happened to me.

Well, moving on to more general topics, I would like to know what you think about the challenges that the career of a musician dedicated to the so-called classical music has nowadays. From your experience, how should we think about concert music?

It is a very difficult question. I think we have to have a lot of imagination and passion because, for example, in Italy, in Europe, many people go to the higher level conservatories, equivalent to the university, learn to play very well and then only have the possibility of being an orchestral musician. In Europe this is the mentality: the 99% thinks that there is only the possibility of being an orchestral musician. When I was a student, I thought I liked music very much, I liked playing very much, but I was not sure that I would like to be just an orchestra musician; not because I thought I was better than the others, but because I like to decide what I am going to play. And meeting people playing, traveling playing, and then... Of course, I understand that if you are a musician in an orchestra, you have a salary, you have a job security, things that everybody wants, but personally I always wanted to do something different. 

Tommaso Benciolini. Photo: Francesca Bottazzin.

Tommaso Benciolini. Photo: Francesca Bottazzin.

So, when I finished my studies I met with my professor, with a little coffee in between, afraid to tell him that I did not want to be an orchestral musician, afraid of his answer. And he told me: "There are no problems; you can be anything you want, you just have to know that it is difficult; you have to work a lot, and not only studying, assembling repertoires and playing them; also, if you bet on a more individual work, you will have to work for the promotion of your project, send and receive many emailsI was very surprised with this answer, because I was expecting something else, and at this moment, at 22 years old, I decided: that I was going to be that kind of musician and I was also going to be a teacher, because I like teaching very much. I was very surprised with this answer, because I expected another one and, at this moment, at 22 years old, I decided: that I was going to be that kind of musician and I was also going to be a teacher, because I really like teaching, I feel that I learn all the time doing it. Many times, just at the moment when I tell something to a student, an indication, I say to myself: I have to apply this to myself. 

It happens to me too...

After my first trip to Cuba I began to teach children at the conservatory and to be part of small projects and chamber music; and now in recent years I have done more things as a soloist. Three years ago I became a professor at the university, so now all those decisions are making sense and bearing fruit.  

And lately you have also played in very prestigious venues (the Amsterdam Concertgebouwthe Mozarteum Großer Saal in Salzburg...). 

Yes, the last few weeks have been tremendous... It has been an honor because the truth is, I have never thought that I am better than others; on the contrary... I have more than 10 years of career after graduating and now is that there are many fantastic things, now is that I feel that things are starting to work. And I'm always looking to be better; I work and study a lot, because we musicians have to show what we are all the time. If yesterday's concert was good, it doesn't matter, because tomorrow we have another one where we have to show everything again. The truth is that I really like this life, which gives me the possibility to travel, to meet people, to make friends, I love it and it is worth all the sacrifice.

Tommaso Benciolini during the concert at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Photo: Courtesy of the Embassy of Italy in Cuba.

Tommaso Benciolini during the concert at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Photo: Courtesy of the Embassy of Italy in Cuba.

More than a race, a word that is identified with speed, this is a chosen path that lasts a lifetime and you have to enjoy it while you go through it...

Exactly. A month ago, when I was planning to come, I met a friend who told me he was working a lot, was exhausted and needed a vacation. I told him I was coming to Cuba in two weeks, and he signed up to accompany me. And in these days, he has been with me up and down, at concerts, the after with the musicians and at all the events, he would say to me: "Your work is the most beautiful in the world". And I told him: "What do you want me to tell you? I know, it's a great fortune".

That's right, there is a saying: "Work at something you love and you won't have to work at it". Tommaso, about your recent Vivaldi recordings, I wanted to ask you, although I have my own answer for this: what is it like for a performer to revisit a repertoire that has been played so much, of which there are many previous recordings? What is the work like? How do you manage to be creative?

I'm very silly because I didn't bring any records, I would have liked to give you one. 

There is a particular story about these recordings. During the pandemic, I started to study and to look for an interesting project to record what would be my first important recording as a soloist and I discovered that everybody always plays the same concertos of Vivaldi... 

The opus 10...

Exactly, but there are eight other concertos that flutists do not know or know much less about. And musicologists have come to the conclusion that five of the six concertos of opus 10 are not originals, but versions of chamber pieces by others, that Vivaldi made because his publisher in the 20s of the 18th century asked him for more repertoire for recorder... You remember that then the recorder was a very popular instrument, very well known, and of course, the publishers wanted to publish more concertos for this instrument. So Vivaldi, who already had famous compositions for recorder or recorder makes these opus 10. But you know them ... There are many things that when you play them, you say, hum ... this [makes an unconvinced gesture] ... it's not difficult, but it's a bit weird... Then he wrote eight more concertos, (actually more than eight, but some were lost) ... And then it's there, with this musicological idea, that I decide that I'm going to do a recording project only with the totally original Vivaldi concertos, one of the opus 10, in G major, and seven others; because in the process I discovered that nobody had yet recorded all the original concertos together. 

Rather, there are baroque flute players who had done it before, but there are two concertos that were discovered later: the one I played in D minor RV 431a was discovered in 2010, and the last one I played in D major RV 783 was discovered the year I was born, 1991. So, although some flutist had already had this idea of recording only those known to be Vivaldi originals for flute, these recordings did not have the last concertos of his that were discovered. So I wrote the project, went to a record company, told them about it, and they said, "If this is true, let's do it." They verified everything, and decided to support me. 

Tommaso Benciolini during the concert at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Photo: Courtesy of the Embassy of Italy in Cuba.

Tommaso Benciolini during the concert at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Photo: Courtesy of the Embassy of Italy in Cuba.

How wonderful!

Yes, it's really interesting. Today everybody does this with unknown composers, the first recordings of so and so; but this is Vivaldi, the best known Italian composer in the world. I am happy to have had the opportunity to present this project here, in the framework of the Italian Culture Week, with the support of the Italian Embassy in Cuba and with the Chamber Orchestra of Havana. 

It was a beautiful concert. I was delighted to learn about the history of this project.  

If you want I can send you all the sheet music; music must be shared. 

Yes, please, thank you very much. I can also send you Cuban music for flute, whatever I have, with pleasure; we ask permission to the composers and we will send it to you. One last question: why did you take the path of teaching?

For me teaching music is vital; it's where you can learn and share information at the same time, you can also create an almost paternal connection with the students. It's a profession that requires a lot of humanity and that's why I like it; for the same reason that I like to travel, meet people... The connections that are created, that's priceless. You're supposed to teach technique to your students, but it's more than that....  

It is that the level of execution on the flute and I believe that in general in all instruments in the world has risen very high, but there is something else beyond that, which is music, which is art...

I believe that only one part is in the classroom, in the academic enclosure, but there is another part that is learned through experience, and at the same time to have that experience you need a high level, if not, there is no possibility of making art. There is a word in Greek which is technè (τέχνη) which means, among other things, disposition for art; it is the same root for the word technique, so, from that point of view, the difference is little.

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  1. Silvia says:

    Superb interview 👏, bravo to both of you.

  2. Prisca says:

    Interviewee and interviewer go hand in hand. Interesting questions and excellent answers. Both unveiled information and opinion of great value for musicians and musicologists. Congratulations

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