Meet the Artist……Carlo Grante, pianist

pianist Carlo Grante (© 2012 Carlo Grante)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

It all happened by chance when I was eight years old, after I was given a toy organ as a gift and later, an upright piano. After some rudimentary piano and theory lessons, nothing could stop me from wanting to play at the piano whatever sheet music I found around the household, or to imitate music heard on the radio or on LPs , most of which was symphonic. Soon my first all-piano LP recording collection started (I can still hear those performances in my head) and my piano life began.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

The first pianist I heard on a recording was Arthur Rubinstein, who was my hero for a long time. Then Horowitz and Michelangeli. Growing up in L’Aquila, a city well known for its intensive high-quality concert life (and recently for the terrible earthquake that devastated it), I was able to go to recitals given by the world’s greatest pianists: Richter, Gilels, Pollini, Firkusny, Serkin. Rubinstein was in fact an honorary citizen of the town and a member of the artists’ committee of the “Barattelli” Concert Society, which had one of the most impressive concert series in Europe. The influence of L’Aquila’s concert life, the intimacy of my household, in which the piano was a sort of magic corner, the recordings, the never-ending classical music broadcasts on of the 3rd channel of Italian National Radio, my incurable passion for piano, improvisation, music of all kinds, triggered my wishes and ambition to make a life in music.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I have been asked to play varied/different concert programmes in a short space of time, with little time to prepare, albeit with the strong wish to meet the challenges posed by the requirements of the repertoire, and my strong desire to learn and play new pieces. This I have found very challenging, as I felt I needed more time to work on certain pieces in order to achieve complete security. However, I am more and more convinced that us pianists spend too much of our practice time working on achieving an automatic facility, rather than aiming for an intense, productive and fully-focused practice regime that should be the only way of working, what we can rightly call “practicing”. This issue prompted me to write Fundamentals of Piano Methodology, in which I lay down the basics of true, effective learning.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

A concert pianist spends most of his/her time alone in a practice-room. Sometimes s/he plays in a chamber music group, but hardly ever in a orchestra as an orchestral player and, and very seldom with an orchestra as a soloist. By contrast, a string or wind player spends a lot more time with other musicians, who are playing different instruments with different sound-productions, and thus gaining not only a wider experience of the musical repertoire in general, but larger benefits from interacting with the other instruments that make up the sonic fabric of musical compositions. For many pianists, playing with an orchestra is therefore an experience out of the ordinary, and it happens almost invariably as a soloist in a situation with few chances to prepare and experience. Whether one plays the piano with an orchestra as soloist or orchestra-member, it is still an ensemble situation, and that poses various challenges, especially when one’s instrument (i.e. the piano) does not easily blend with the sound of, say, woodwind or brass instruments; nor does it have the flexibility in tone shading of a stringed instrument. I believe that for a pianist the feel of an orchestral accompaniment produces fascination, excitement, especially when the score emphasises the beauty of the solo part thanks also to the uniqueness of the orchestral scoring. From my experience, I have most loved the most playing pieces like Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Busoni’s Concerto and Indian Fantasy, Bartok’s 2nd Concerto and Mozart’s Concertos in general: in these works the soloist feels at the centre of a complex sound structure, often surrounded by magical colours.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

The ones I did recently, not yet released, of sonatas by Scarlatti (as part of my complete recording for the Music & Arts label). I am also proud of my Schubert, Busoni, Ravel and Liszt, also yet to be released. The ones I treasure most are my recordings of Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica and Roman Vlad’s Opus Triplex (the composer’s answer to the Contrappuntistica) the three Schumann Sonatas, recorded in the great hall of Rome’s Parco della Musica, the Schmidt Concerti and the Busoni Concerto, recorded under the baton of Fabio Luisi, with the MDR Leipzig and Vienna Symphony Orchestras respectively, the Godowsky Studies of the Chopin Etudes, three Mozart Concertos recorded with Rome’s Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia under Bernard Sieberer.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

So far, the halls that have most impressed me are Vienna’s Musikverein (Goldener Saal) and Rome’s Parco della Musica (Sala Santa Cecilia): built over 2 centuries apart, both with great acoustics and a feeling of intimacy, size notwithstanding. London’s Wigmore and Graz’s Stefaniensaal are the ideal recital venues, in my opinion.

Who are your favourite musicians?

To be honest, I find it difficult to single out some and leave out others, we are surrounded by a wealth of great interpreters…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I am fond of my performances of the Brahms Concerti, Busoni’s works for piano and orchestra, of all-Chopin recitals done in the past. I treasure past performances in which I premiered works by Sorabji, Finnissy, Flynn, Hinton, Troncon, and Vlad. Premiering a new work is always very exciting.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

At the top of my chart are : all the music of by J.S. Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Busoni and much of Sorabji.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

If I may borrow Martin Seligman’s concept of “psychological capital”, I would urge to aspiring musicians and students to invest in time well spent: attentive learning, listening, acquiring performance experience and artistic expertise without ever compromising quality for laziness, superficiality, hastiness or childish ego-oriented choices, which are the most detrimental factors in an artist’s education. In this sense, the “capital” that the artist carries throughout his/her life will pay out in many way. In performance, in the everyday enjoyment of living the life of an an artist’s life and in the appreciation and understanding of all things of related interest.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working of the last batch of Scarlatti Sonatas (most of them from the books 12-15 of the so-called Parma primary source) for my recording project, alongside Chopin’s four Ballades (to be performed in Tokyo and several Italian cities) and four Scherzos and Ravel’s complete piano works, for performance and recording. Later this year I plan to work on Busoni’s Indian Fantasy for piano and orchestra and some Czech music, namely Janacek’s 5 X 1905 Sonata and the world prèmiere of Jan Novak’s Capricinia (Capricci) for piano, to be performed at the Brno Philharmonyic and Prague’s Rudolfinum.

What is your most treasured possession?

The manuscript papers of my first attempts at musical composition, as a pre-teen and mostly self-taught, as well as books and scores that were the faithful companions of my youth.

Recent recital in Bergamo, Italy:

Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit

Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole (piano transcription by C. Grante)

Busoni’s 7 Elegies

Carlo Grante’s websites:

Links to online sellers of Carlo’s book (English-language version)