Nov 11, 2015
Interview: Elisa Citterio in conversation with Mr. William Littler
Elisa Citterio in conversation with William Littler
How did music enter your life?
My mother was a composer--they opened a class for her in composition at the conservatory in Brescia--and she had speakers at home, so I heard music at breakfast, doing homework and going to bed.
When did you become personally serious about music?
I knew since I was five that I wanted to be a musician. I remember seeing the image of an orchestra on television, pointing to one of the violins and saying 'I want to play that.' So she bought me a little violin. Then I lost it on the street and she bought me another one.
I also played the piano. For years it was my principal instrument and I played four hands with my mother. I really preferred playing music with others (all four siblings in the family played instruments) so by 16 I gave up the piano to concentrate on the violin.
How did your studies progress?
I took my diploma at the conservatory in Brescia, playing modern violin as well as baroque violin. My mother actually preferred early music so we listened to Bach cantatas and Mozart at home. We had to play Baroque music with piano at first. Harpsichords were not that common in Italy in those days. It was exciting when I was able to play with a harpsichord.
Did you aspire to become a soloist?
When I started playing with Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante and various other chamber groups in Italy I began to think I should find a regular place in an orchestra. I won (audition) competitions in Rome and Verona. Verona was closer to Brescia so I spent a year in the Opera di Verona orchestra.
And then in 2004 you went to Italy's greatest opera house, La Scala, Milan. Is the orchestra there still number one in Italy?
It has very talented musicians. The standard to enter is very high. The problem is that it does not play as a homogenized ensemble. Everybody plays for himself.
Have you ever wanted to lead an ensemble yourself?
I had one for six years. We played at a Baroque festival in Brescia. I like collaboration. I left to get more information, to experience more, to play in different ensembles.
And yet, La Scala has remained a constant for you since 2004.
Yes, but I intend to leave the orchestra now. I promised myself I would make a big change when I reached 40 and I am 40.
Is the change to concentrate on playing period instruments?
I have enjoyed playing for the opera. I loved hearing the operas of Janacek and to be able to play (Berg's) Lulu and Wozzeck. But I came to prefer early music and it makes a big difference to play on gut strings. When this music is played on modern instruments something is missing.
Is it the style of playing as well as the sound that appeals to you?
In the modern school you are taught to play every note the same way, the way Heifetz and Perlman and Oistrakh played. In early music we do not know exactly how it was played. I feel a freedom to play differently every day, without feeling I am wrong.
Will you miss Milan?
No, I will not miss Milan. I'll miss the music and art. I even met Marshall Pynkosky (co-artistic director of Toronto's Opera Atelier) there, when he was directing (Mozart's) Lucio Silla. I liked it. But I don't like the frenetic life of Milan. You don't have time for anything.
Would you feel comfortable working in North America?
This is my first visit to Canada, although I knew Tafelmusik from videos and recordings under Jeanne Lamon's direction. I like the elegant way they approach different national styles. And I could move. I like to travel and I'd like to know another culture, another life style. I've been elsewhere in Europe, in Australia and in South America, but always with an Italian ensemble. I don't know Toronto yet but we are talking about another project in February.