Who or what inspired you to take up piano, and pursue a career in music?
My parents introduced me to several activities when I was very young; there was ballet and sports (I reached competition level in swimming). Music was already present in the house – my father was a surrealistic painter and always worked while listening to music in his studio. But it wasn’t until we visited a friend who owned a piano that the idea cthat I could start taking lessons came about.
Later on, growing up, I started making a selection, making my own choices. First, I decided to stop ballet in order to learn the violin. I was already leaning more towards music. But soon I realized that the piano was closer to my heart and my abilities, and at age 12 I told my parents I wanted to pursue music seriously.
Since then, and despite the many ‘detours’ and experiences I had – undergoing an academic course and taking a two-and-a-half-year break from music in my mid twenties – an inner calling has always led me back to the piano and that motivated me to pursue a career in music. Intuitively, I understood that this professional path would satisfy the needs of my body, mind and soul at the same time. It is a balance of intellectual and manual work. Indeed, I perceive “art” in its full meaning, crystallized by the Ancient Greeks in the word τέχνη (technè), which gave our modern word “technique”, but, depending of the context, could signify both craft-like knowledge, skill and “art” – that is to say, the capacity to express emotions. Another ancient concept that I find particularly interesting to describe a musical career comes from Dionysius from Halicarnassus that talks about introducing “diversity into homogeneity”. What we do is every day the same, it is never the same. The possibility to reinvent oneself daily and the freedom that it implies in music is something that I very soon understood I couldn’t live without.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I have always been in search of a mentor, and wasn’t fortunate enough to find one during my studies. Until recently I have been looking for someone to fit the role, and fate made me meet Jorge Luis Prats, who inspired me for years as a musician, and the polished the artist I wanted to be.
On a personal level, my father’s paintings, work ethic and dedication to art and beauty have been a huge influence in my approach to music. My mother’s sensibility and at the same time practicality helps me to look at the bigger picture whenever I tend to get stuck in small things and details, since I am an eternal perfectionist.
On a larger level, I want to stress that the other art forms have always been an influence on my musical life, and they help to nourish it. Amongst them, poetry – I write poetry myself in Italian, French and English – and dance, everything that has to do with the body’s movement, as for me music is movement, flow.
Nature too, as much as it inspired composers, is something I have to feel close to in order to create.
In the end, I was blessed by my father’s surrealistic philosophy and imagination, by the way he taught me to look at everything that surrounds me with a new and personal perspective, as a potential inspiration, to make it my own. And to take time. To be an observer and a listener. This are crucial components for me in order to be a good musician.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Having access to a piano. Having access to a good piano. Nothing is more frustrating than when you want to play or have to practice and you can’t.
Evolving in a very conventional and constrained world – especially in today’s music education system – when you are different and your approach is unconventional. So a real challenge was and is to make my path and my vision accepted and not to be judged for not having done or doing things that are “expected”. Being a free spirit in a way is a challenge in the “business”.
Accepting where you are, being patient in achieving your fullest potential and enjoying the process!
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I can honestly say that I am never satisfied with a performance or recording. The ones that I am most proud would have to be the ones that involve the highest degree of challenge as this is a factor that helps me push my limits. As an example, a recent and improvised recording of 3 contemporary pieces by French composer Jean-Luc Gillet, during an artistic residency with him, done on an old 1984 Steinway that had a very uneven keyboard and piercing sound in the higher register and that hadn’t been played for 15 years. But at the same time that piano had a wonderful soul and sound signature. When I manage to reach new levels of interpretation on challenging instruments, that’s when I am most satisfied.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
It tends to change, as it is deeply connected with one’s maturity and knowledge of certain pieces. But in general, the repertoire that explores the sound possibilities of the piano. I have more a sonic approach to the piano than a technical one. That’s why the virtuoso repertoire doesn’t speak to me as much. I can’t really speak of particular composers or eras, rather a way of writing music. When I see a score, I know instantly if it is music that I will play well. And this goes from Rameau, Scarlatti and Bach, through Brahms, Rachmaninov to contemporary music. Piano is an instrument-orchestra, and I like to play the composers that best keep that in mind.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
My father always used to tell me that he had more ideas than he would ever have time during his life to paint them all. And he kept lists of all of them so he didn’t forget them and could come back to them later when he has the time or inspiration to accomplish them.
I feel the same about the pieces I want to perform. So I keep a list of composers and pieces that I discover year after year. And by looking at the list, I start creating connections. Sometimes it is between composers and then I would do some meticulous research to find the right pieces to put together. Sometimes, it is precisely while researching on a certain piece that I create connections with others I know or I read about those connections in the literature I am reading.
I particularly like to put unknown or forgotten pieces in my repertoire, and I love to collaborate with contemporary composers and premiere their works.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
If I had the ideal concert venue, I know I wouldn’t feel the same in it twice. Acoustics are a very subtle matter. They can significantly change between a rehearsal when the hall is empty and the actual performance, where the filling of the hall with members of the audience can sometimes drastically modify your perceptions. For me it is also a matter of having or creating the right energy. Some venues have better “energies” than others, but the audience’s energy is equally important, no matter where you perform. In the end, because these are all factors that you can’t control, I’d like to think that the best concert venue has to be in the musician’s mind, in a process that is close to what Glenn Gould described in the way that you have to recreate a “good piano” conditions in your mind when you have to play on a not so good instrument.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Those who are passionate and have a “signature sound”. But in order to keep an interpretative authenticity, I don’t listen to classical pianists too much. I am fascinated by some conductors – Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel…
Outside the classical world, amongst the ones that I keep going back to and that have emerged as inspirational figures, I would like to mention: Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, jazz pianist, Estrella Morente, flamenco singer, Hayley Marie, lead vocalist of Australian indie rock band “The Jezabels”, the rock band “Dream Theater”, Lisa Gerrard, Rodrigo Costa Felix, fado singer, and many others…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
One where I came out of my body and was able to watch myself perform from the outside, as if I was a spectator.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Not just as a musician, but as an artist, the greatest success is when you make the audience feel something, when you surprise them, touch them, and maybe, through your art, make them discover something about themselves; when they walk out of the concert hall and they are a new person; when your art has an impact on someone’s life and is able to bring hope.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Humbleness. To be aware that everything has already been created, and the only approach possible to art is by being true to yourself and authentic.
And to not be afraid to question yourself and not always find the answers. And to take time. Even time off, if needed. Sometimes taking a break will make you evolve much faster afterwards.
Of course, as in all classical disciplines, an almost sacred devotion to music is necessary in order to do it justice (from work ethic and rigour, to the life sacrifices that a musical career involves, to achieving a mind, body and spirit balance…)
And to be smart. You are who you are without all the expectation and pressure or the perspective of what people think of you. Taking all that aside and really homing in on who you are and embellishing it with your craft is the way to go.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I live in the moment, and try to be as “present” as possible. I live from day to day and can’t see myself a week from now, let alone 10 years in the future!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To be at peace with oneself. Live life to its fullest without having any regrets.
What is your most treasured possession?
My parents’ handwritten notes.
What is your present state of mind?
I am constantly in a meditative state of mind, with a flow of different thoughts in it.
Ida Pellicioli’s website