Oct 10, 2014
Interview: Davide Monti in conversation with Mr. William Littler
You’re from Monza, near Milan. That must have been noisy.
Only during the automobile races. I live in the country now, near Nice.
How did music enter your life?
My father was an amateur accordion player. He’s 82 and still practising every day. He almost has more concerts than I do, going around playing in retirement homes. He plays mostly by heart. He was improvising while I was doing my scales.
My grandfather brought a violin home when I was four. My parents thought it was too early for me to study. But when I heard my father play a Praeludium by Bach and wrote ‘’bellissimo’’ on the score, he said ‘let’s go to the violin teacher.’
How did your studies go?
They went slowly, which is very important. When you express something in music it is with your whole life and these enfant prodigues play, play, play and nothing else. I also have had a life. When I play storm music I know what it is like to be in a tent and hear the rain coming down.
When I went hiking I took my violin with me and no scores. I learned to play by heart and improvise. I played harmony on the guitar, too, and jazz. All this goes into helping you play from inside.
You were still playing a modern violin?
Yes. Then I took a course and discovered a different world. The classical world was really too strict for me. It is a different mentality with early music. We are not just judging from the score. We have to find what is behind the score. The metronome was invented during Beethoven’s time, so why should we have to follow it? The rules of tempi come from something else, the art of speaking.
In the educated classes everybody in the 17th century studied rhetoric. We have to study rhetoric, too. I have been teaching children, not the violin but music, and have been showing them how music tells stories.
And your violin today?
I recently bought a Guadagnini from the second half of the 18th century. I bought it from a private source and I am still trying to find out more about its background. I am very happy with it.
I understand you work with your wife as a duo.
She is a harpist. Next year we celebrate 10 years working together. I could have been tempted to audition for famous groups but I decided to work with her. The 17th century music is written for violin and basso continuo. She does research on the keyboard music and transcribes it. The baroque harp has three rows of strings and is very difficult to play.
But you do also play with established groups?
I have worked with an orchestra in Verona, doing concerts and recordings with them, and I go to Australia every year to work with an orchestra in Melbourne. I have played with and led a number of groups in Europe. They are not always fixed groups.
Unlike Tafelmusik, in other words. How did you discover Tafelmusik?
There are not many orchestras that take risks and I was very impressed with Tafelmusik’s videos and ability to play by heart. I believe playing by heart reaches an extra level of communication.
I proposed two or three ideas for a program, including The Canals of Venice. I met Alison Mackay in Venice when she was working on House of Dreams. I like her ideas and I thought it would be interesting to involve an actor with skills in commedia dell’arte. I’ve played the gondolier songs before but never with an actor. He’s from Venice and knows the dialect.
How does commedia dell’arte help us understand the music?
It was different with Freud. In this earlier period in the theatre things were more fixed. A soldier was a soldier, with characteristic responses. I think composers were influenced by these theatrical responses in their music. I want to try to understand how the arts interact to produce an effect.
In visiting Venice recently I was impressed by how Vivaldi still seems to dominate musical life.
Yes, it hasn’t changed. These ladies Vivaldi taught played for the tourists and we are still playing for the tourists. In The Canals of Venice we will be playing music by other composers as well, but of course we will also be playing Vivaldi.
What is your hope for the concert?
I would like to have fun with Tafelmusik and I hope they have fun with me. Then the public will have fun.
The freelance life can’t be easy.
The job can be hard. All the travelling, working with different people. In August I slept in 17 different beds. So you have to have fun to make it worthwhile.