Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
I started to play the piano when I was 9, but the real “call” to music as a career came later, around 14… I liked almost all subjects at school, but none of them was giving me the same sensations that I felt while I was playing the piano, and sitting at my desk at school I found myself thinking what I would like to play, people I wished to play with or the next occasion to perform in public… therefore I understood that it could be worthwhile to spend my life making music.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Among my teachers, the strongest influence is the Italian maestro Sergio Fiorentino. Besides being an exceptionally gifted pianist and musician, he was an extremely humble man, a true gentleman (the kind you can hardly find nowadays), one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. The most significant thing I took from his lessons is the importance of the natural flow of music, and to give priority to the composer rather than the interpreter: his Beethoven was German, his Rachmaninoff Russian, his Cimarosa Italian… He also had the most impressive technical skills I have ever heard, but he used them always as a tool to better realize musical ideas, never to show how huge his talent was.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
To push myself against the odds, and take the responsibility myself to make my dreams come true, with all the consequences that entails. I come from a very simple family. All I had was my wish to become a musician: no one in my family and friends could help me to fulfill my goals, neither with money nor with culture and advice. And despite a strong personality, sometimes you get tired, because if you really want something, soon or later you’ll find a way to pursue it. Never give up.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
Well, I am hardly ever really proud of a performance; when it goes really well I feel a mix of happiness and adrenaline. It’s great to have been truly inside music, but what makes me particularly happy is when people tell me, after the concert, that they felt deep emotions flowing in the hall, and looking in their eyes I see they’re really moved. This is what music is for. Scientific studies discovered that during a musical performance the brains of musicians and audience tend to work at the same frequencies. This is simply amazing and proves that communication during a concert is not only intended in a metaphorical sense.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I feel very close to the late romantic repertoire, like some of Rachmaninoff’s works; I also feel comfortable with the Argentinian composers of the 20th century like Ginastera and Guastavino. It might have something to do with my Italian blood and my passionate temperament: I love the mix of the Latin character with the Progressive tendency in Ginastera and with the popular tradition in Guastavino, the result is an extremely characterized style with a perfect balance between such different elements.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Until a couple of years ago I was more free to follow my fantasies and desires of the moment… Now with my concert activity increasing, I have to take into account my medium-to-long-term plans. Anyway, despite what I must play, I always struggle to take the time to study what I need for my personal growth and for my personal pleasure.
Also, I constantly try to keep some contemporary music in my recital programs. A few years ago, during my first playing of some preludes by a Finnish composer, some of his words introducing the composition impressed me: “there’s no old music and new music, there’s only new music, because every old music has been new music once”. This is why it has no meaning for me to play a concert without at least one piece by a living composer.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I don’t have a venue where I perform as a habit, for now. Nonetheless I felt a very special feeling with two audiences: in Prague and London. I was impressed by people’s education, elegance and sensitivity in Prague, and never felt so well understood, musically. And I fell in love with London, a deeply concentrated audience, no one was there for other reasons but listening (well) to music. And London is so energizing, an artist needs so many inputs… many people in central and south Europe don’t like London but I really do.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
At the moment I’m enjoying Rachmaninoff’s Elegy and the Cantos Populares by Carlos Guastavino. Among the pieces I often play with great pleasure, Liszt’s Paraphrase on the Quartetto from Verdi’s Rigoletto. It’s a masterpiece of the truly inspired Italian melody (what we call “cantabile”) and the perfect knowledge of conducting parts (Verdi used to keep on his bedside table the scores of Haydn and Beethoven’s string quartets).
I have to admit that I don’t really listen to classical music very often in my free time, but when I do it’s usually from my laptop or tablet. The internet is great for that: I also like to watch interviews and documentaries about people like Horowitz, Michelangeli, Rachmaninoff, from whose words we can learn so much about what music means in a life. I love that video in which Horowitz plays Schumann’s Traumerei in Moscow (when he went back to Russia to give a recital, the last one in his country, at the Conservatory): the atmosphere was so full of palpable emotion that many people in the audience couldn’t resist crying… no words were needed. That’s why music was considered by Schopenhauer the highest among the arts.
Who are your favourite musicians?
The ones who decide to take the courage to help others, without asking for something in exchange. Rachmaninoff helped so many musicians, and so did Schumann. It requires an effort, nowadays: we live in an extremely competitive world and it seems that every success of another musician is a missed one for another. I do not share that way of thinking: everyone’s success is a marked point for music, consequently a marked point for every musician.
But speaking of people I find inspiring, I very much like Maxim Vengerov’s performances and masterclasses; I also enjoyed watching Andras Schiff’s masterclasses on Beethoven Sonatas and the speech he gave about his performance of Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier. And, overall, what I can watch and watch without getting tired is Sergio Fiorentino. On the internet you can find not only his performances but also some “musical interviews” which will surprise you in many ways.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Recently I debuted at Shanghai Symphony Hall. It was a great sensation and I was thrilled about performing in such a concert hall, walking down the corridors seeing on the walls the photos of the greatest concert musicians ever and thinking “I have been walking on the same ground in a while”. I was wondering if people would like my repertoire and my way of playing… then, after the last note and during the encores, the audience was so warm and enthusiastic that I completely forgot my doubts. I think that in the end when you put a true message inside your notes, it reaches the destination, regardless of how far the country and the local culture can be from yours.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
In my opinion the most important thing to understand before deciding to dedicate your life to music is this: working with music is working on (and with) yourself, first. It requires great honesty, humbleness, a strong will and overall you should like the idea of starting a new research project every day, every time you deal with the same piece of music. You must develop the capability of listening to others and recognizing their own value. In other words, I believe you have to be a good human being first, then work hard to become a good musician.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Still making music and traveling as much as possible. I like discovering new places, cultures, people, foods; I can’t get tired of that, and I can’t spend too much time in the same place.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Enjoy the beautiful moments of life, possibly sharing them with my loved ones.
What is your most treasured possession?
I think the less you possess the more free you are, and I love freedom. I tend to spend my money on life experiences rather than objects. Till some years ago I thought that my piano was my treasured possession, then, moving to another country without it, I discovered my treasure is music, which is inside me, not in a specific keyboard of 88 keys. Actually I like to think of myself not as a pianist, but as a musician who uses the piano.
What is your present state of mind?
Enthusiastic! I’m more and more involved in my new project, whose name is ‘Ritratti’ (Portraits). It’s a new recording, music around the idea of the portrait, by 20th century and contemporary composers, and a tour, in which I’ll meet other artists and work in collaboration with them. It will take me in US, Australia, Canada and even farther… I can’t wait.
Cristina Cavalli’s ‘Ritratti’ project is now live on the Indiegogo crowdfunding site. Full details here
Cristina Cavalli, Italian born, began studying music with Lidia Palo Giorgi and graduated in Piano at the Conservatory “G. Nicolini” of Piacenza and in Chamber Music at the Conservatory “B. Maderna” of Cesena; alongside her academic path she attended courses and masterclasses with notable musicians, among which most important to her were the Italians Sergio Fiorentino, Pier Narciso Masi and Marisa Somma. She continued her studies at the Accademia Incontri col Maestro of Imola, where she obtained the Master Diploma in Chamber Music. She appears frequently in concerts both as soloist and as chamber music partner, in a repertoire ranging from the 17th century to contemporary music. Her interest in this latter has enabled her to enrich her musical experience by taking part in important events such as Contemporary Music in Streaming, Novurgia (Milan), Dentro la Musica (Rome, Accademia di Santa Cecilia) and Festival di Nuovo Musica (Reggio Emilia). Several works by European and American composers have been dedicated to her, and she is often asked to give the First Playing of new piano pieces (Milan, Shanghai, London, Helsinki, Belgrade, Rome among others). She has played for the Universities of Macerata, Piacenza and Bologna and has recorded for the Italian national TV channels RaiSat3, Canale10, and the Finnish Alfa TV; her performances have been broadcasted by Radio Vaticana, Radio Belgrade and many others.
As soloist and chamber musician she has appeared in important venues in Europe and Asia, including Shanghai Symphony Hall, Sala Verdi of Milan, Auditorium Parco della Musica of Rome, Wuxi Grand Theatre and Shandong Grand Theatre (Jinan) in China, Zus Concert Hall of Prague, Teatro Ateneo of Madrid, Teatro Cavallerizza of Reggio Emilia, St. James Piccadilly in London, Sala Eutherpe and Auditorio Caja España of Léon and Teatro Ruskaja of Rome, always drawing success and great feeling with the audience. She performed in United Kingdom, Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Serbia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, China and Inner Mongolia; last May 2015 she made her debut at Shanghai Symphony Hall with a very successful solo recital, carrying on her first China Tour with eight concerts and three masterclasses. Ms Cavalli is an official member of ECMTA, European Chamber Music Teachers’ Association (Helsinki), ILAMS, Ibero Latin American Music Association (London) and she is also Honorary Advisor of IIME, International Institute for Music Education (Honk Kong). Parallel with traditional concert activities, she is constantly collaborating with other artists to creative projects in which music is combined and synthesized with different arts. In 2010 she presented Mediterraneo, a musical journey along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, starting from some Italian music suggestions and ending with Flamenco. Between 2012 and 2014 she ran the artistic direction of Chamber Music in Italy (concerts and masterclasses in the beautiful island of Ischia) and Florestano in Roma (music and more in the heart of Rome). She is now engaged in her new project, Ritratti (Portraits).
In her vision, Ms. Cavalli privileges the development and diffusion of classical music among people of all ages, country and condition; because of this spirit of sharing, she is often involved in charity initiatives, seeing music as a powerful way to improve and enrich people and life, children’s life in particular.
Cristina currently lives in Madrid.