Mostly Mozart: Q & A with Concerto Italiano Founder Rinaldo Alessandrini

Classic Arts Features   Mostly Mozart: Q & A with Concerto Italiano Founder Rinaldo Alessandrini
Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano will make their Mostly Mozart Festival debut August 4-5 with two enticing Baroque programs at New York City's Rose Theater in the Time Warner Center.

The August 4 program is an all-Roman affair, focusing on sacred music by Melani (Litanie per la Beata Vergine Maria for nine voices and basso continuo), Scarlatti (Messa per il Santissimo Natale), and Pergolesi (Missa Romana, "di S. Emidio"). The ensemble has recorded all three of these composers for future release on the naÇve label.

Alessandrini and company will present a selection of eight Vivaldi concertos for various instruments on August 5, some of which have already been recorded by Alessandrini for naÇve; Their rendering of Vivaldi's ever-popular Four Seasons was named Gramophone "CD of the Month" soon after its release and is the single recommended version of the work listed in the new book 1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die.

Rinaldo Alessanrini is one of the most prolific and celebrated artists on the scene today. Also a harpsichordist, organist, and fortepianist, he founded the Concerto Italiano in 1984 and has conducted it in live performance and on recording, to great acclaim.

Alessandrini recently sat down to chat about his Mostly Mozart programs, a new recording featuring the work of the virtually forgotten but compelling Czech composer Frantisek Ignšc Anton‹n Tuma, and why he cherishes his native Rome.


Q: So you're in Paris today. Are you there for business or pleasure?

Rinaldo Alessandrini: At the moment we are recording one of the programs that I will do with Concerto Italiano soon in New York City: the masses of Scarlatti and Pergolesi and a short but beautiful work by Melani.

Q: Are these Mostly Mozart debut performances the first you've ever given in New York or even in the U.S.?

RA: No, I've given performances with Concerto Italiano in conjunction with the Italian Cultural Institute. We've also done concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Q: Can you tell us about the first program you will do at Mostly Mozart on Monday, August 4?

RA: Well, the first thing I would say is that it's a very Roman program. Both of these masses by Pergolesi and Scarlatti were created and performed in Rome _ most notably at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, where so much great music was performed. This is a very important program for me. I'm Roman and I'm very interested in the music that's been done in my city. The music reflects well the kind of sound that was in Rome at the beginning of the 18th century. It's powerful and noisy!

Q: Powerful and noisy aren't words many people would associate with Pergolesi!

RA: Actually, this Pergolesi work on the program requires double orchestra! The Melani piece is short _ about six minutes _ but it's very sweet music, with beautiful harmonies, for nine voices and continuo. Even though it's vocal music, it definitely has a stylistic closeness to the music of Corelli.

Q: On August 5, you'll do an all-Vivaldi program at Mostly Mozart. You've recorded a lot of his music for naÇve. Why is this composer's music important to you and are there plans for you to record more of his music in the future?

RA: I think this will be a popular program _ concertos for winds, strings _ very easy on the ear, but also extraordinarily enjoyable. Besides concertos by Vivaldi, we've also recorded vocal works _ sacred music as well as the opera L'Olimpiade, which we actually staged. There is so much unknown music by Vivaldi, and we are discovering more and more and more.

Q: What is it about Vivaldi's music that is so appealing to people?

RA: As I said, Vivaldi really is easy to listen to. It's beautiful music, mostly short and with captivating melodies and harmonies. But performers and audiences have been lazy with Vivaldi. They've listened to and performed The Four Seasons over and over again and forgotten to explore his other music.

Q: Your next naÇve recording features music by Frantisek Ignšc Anton‹n Tuma, an 18th-century Bohemian composer of whom few people are likely to have heard. How did his music come to your attention and what can people look forward to when they listen to it?

RA: Tuma was actually a very important composer in Eastern Europe, and the excellent quality of the music really speaks for itself. It's not his not being popular that is the problem: the problem is, always to be passionate enough to make these lesser-known works come to life. Then people can make up their own minds about their worth.

Q: Where did you discover the music?

RA: I was looking through a nice collection of Czech music that was published a few years ago and I found beautiful music by many Czech composers. This particular Tuma recording is for strings only.

Q: You've also recorded a lot of Monteverdi's music for naÇve and he's clearly a composer with whom you have a special relationship. Tell us about the appeal of Monteverdi's music to you.

RA: Monteverdi wrote such incredibly beautiful music. It has everything _ so much expression. It's so moving, so touching. It also has many influences.

Q: Are there plans for you to record more Monteverdi and Vivaldi?

RA: Yes, we are going to do more of both composers for naÇve _ two more recordings for each composer. We'll do more Monteverdi madrigals and sacred music and another Vivaldi opera project, Armida.

Q: The packaging for your L'Orfeo recording was really glorious. Did naÇve suggest this kind of special presentation, or did you come up with a concept that they went along with?

RA: We conceived of this package together. It's very important, when the market for CDs is so challenged, to make each recording a special event. But CDs featuring special texts and beautiful pictures are probably a wave of the future.

Q: You are originally from Rome and it is still your home. Tell us about the early music scene in Rome and Italy these days, and about how the cultural life of Rome impacts your life and music-making.

RA: Rome is a living museum with more culture and history than you can imagine. It's also a very complete city, offering everything a person would like to explore in life. So Rome has always been a very important source of inspiration for me, and it's especially important to discover the music of my city. I'm more interested in this kind of research than in any other musical exploration.

Q: Concerto Italiano began in 1984 as a vocal ensemble, but it has grown substantially since then. What have been some of the milestones in your work with them over the years?

The Monteverdi and Vivaldi work has certainly been extremely important for us in the past years, which is why we will continue to perform and record the music. And why not _ this is such important music!

Q: Who are some of your inspirations and heroes _ musical or otherwise?

RA: One of my most important inspirations, and the inspiration for the first generation of musicians playing baroque music in Italy, was listening to Gustav Leonhardt. His work and example was a dream for us. I met him but I was not a pupil of his. But he laid out what was possible with Baroque performance.

Q: What other kind of music do you listen to?

I really like every kind of music, especially world music, and music is such an important part of my life. I like meeting any musician who likes to make music with expression!

Q: Are there plans for you to return to the U.S next season?

RA: I will be in San Francisco in December, conducting an Italian program with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

Q: What do you do when you're not making music?

RA: Resting at home, visiting friends _ I'm not in Rome often enough because I'm mostly traveling, so being home is a great gift to me!

Interview courtesy of 21C Media Group, Inc.

Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano: Mostly Mozart Debut Performances

Mon, Aug 4, 2008 at 7:30 pm (Rose Theater at the Time Warner Center in NYC)
Melani: Litanie per la Beata Vergine Maria for nine voices and basso continuo
Scarlatti: Messa per il Santissimo Natale
Pergolesi: Missa Romana ("di S. Emidio")

Tues, Aug 5, 2008 at 7:30 pm (Rose Theater at the Time Warner Center in NYC)
All-Vivaldi program
Concerto for Strings in A major, RV 159
Concerto for Two Oboes and Strings in D minor, RV 535
Concerto for Strings in C major, RV 115 ("Concerto ripieno")
Concerto for Two Horns in F major, RV 538
Concerto for Strings in D major, RV 121
Concerto for Two Trumpets in C major, RV 537
Concerto for Violin, Oboe, and Strings in B-flat major, RV 548
Concerto for Two Oboes, Bassoon, Two Horns, Violin, and Strings in F major, RV 574 ("Da caccia")


For more information and tickets, visit the Mostly Mozart Website

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