Passepartout Duo are Nicoletta Favari (piano) and Christopher Salvito (percussion)
Who or what inspired you to take up piano/percussion, and pursue a career in music?
We came to our instruments in different ways, but both started music at a very young age. I think that, one way or another, we couldn’t imagine doing anything but music after a certain point. Nicoletta studied classics and even Chinese, before settling on piano as far as pursuing a career is concerned, and I didn’t begin playing percussion until I was 17 (a bit of a late start.) We started working together seriously after attending the Atlantic Music Festival in 2015, where we played with the contemporary ensemble there. It was a crazy summer and as a group we had to record 40 new works. Everyone in the ensemble was a close friend by the end, and we thought there was room in the world for a piano percussion duo. From then on we have tried to stay as active as possible, performing new works for our instrumentation and bringing our performances to as far-reaching places as we can manage.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
We’re very inspired by the contemporary chamber groups out there that have made a difference. For us that means: Eighth Blackbird, So Percussion, and Ictus Ensemble. “What would [insert group name here] do?” is a question we ask ourselves daily. Whether it’s creating experimental evening length programs, or just having crazy business savvy, these groups have paved the way for our generation of musicians. We feel like we owe them a debt for their mentorship and guidance.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Creating a piano percussion duo that plays only new contemporary works and travels the world all year is super easy. Just kidding! It’s a logistical nightmare. And we constantly face resistance toward the music we play, the way we play it, and the fact that we’d like to earn a living doing so. From getting sick in Cuba, to spending an extra two days in Hamburg because the trains weren’t running, to moving a marimba up two flights of stairs for an audience of approximately five people (including the composer,) or maybe a microtonal composer is in the audience and is insulted that you chose to perform a work by John Luther Adams (it happens.) We face new challenges everyday, but we also find this work incredibly fulfilling.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
We spend a lot of our time focused on filming our repertoire, and we’re kind of turning into a couple of filmmakers over time, so recording has become very important to what we do. We’re proud of a lot of our recordings, but one that stands out is our recent film of Molly Joyce’s piece Less is More. It was the first commission of the duo, and we were able to collaborate with the dancer Jacob Storer (Trisha Brown Dance Company) and use an amazing space (the Baltimore War Memorial) for the film. It’s available here alongside all our other films: http://passepartoutduo.com/media
A lot of the time our films are shot in some location very far from home for us. When we arrive at a residency and film there, it almost becomes a time capsule that contains a lot of nostalgia about that particular place and time. We’re always coming back to our recording of Christopher Adler’s piece The Toy Robot’s Mechanical Heart filmed at a villa in Morocco, or our recordings of two works by Nikolai Kapustin in a cabin in northern Michigan.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
The works that inspire us the most, that we like the most, are also the ones I think we normally play best in the end. We really love works that highlight the percussive relationship between our instruments or the percussive nature of the piano, like C by Hannah Lash. There are also works that are just inspirational because they push the boundary of what we’ve come to expect in some ways for our instrumentation. Kaj Duncan David’s piece 4c0st1ctr1g3r comes to mind: it’s a percussion solo we’ve been including in our concerts that involves so much more than just music. It’s more a piece for silhouettes and lights than for percussion. Our recording of the piece is available at: passepartoutduo.com/media
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
For us, there are many things that factor in. Right now, we’re very focused on creating whole cohesive shows out of a program that might involve lighting design, live-electronics, or collaborators outside the duo. We also need to consider heavily how “tour-able” a program is. We managed this small tour of the UK with only a suitcase of audio gear and a snare drum, and that’s been such a pleasure logistically. Of course it’s also nice to play pieces that have a more extensive instrumentation, so it’s just a matter of balancing many different possibilities and the problems and benefits that may come from each of those.
Next season, we’re focusing a lot on concertizing in the Nordic countries, pertaining to a new program concept we’re starting now called: Skammdegi / Náttleysi. The whole project is based around the solstices in the arctic, and how living in light and darkness effect seasonal life in these remote places. We’ll be visiting Iceland, Finland, Norway, the Faroe Islands, and Sweden for the project. We’re not sure yet what it will be exactly, but we’re very excited to get started.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I am not sure that we have a favourite, but we were just recently in Denmark performing at the Vendsyssel Teater in Hjørring. It’s a new venue with a brand new Steinway piano, and a classy restaurant too (I think we might have tried the whole menu by the time we left.) There was an architecture contest to see who would design the theatre, that has become somewhat of a cultural axis already within the community there, and the design is incredible. It’s satisfying if the space you’re performing in can also be a source of artistic inspiration.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Perhaps it is because it was only recently, but we performed on the Festival de Musica Contemporànea in Havana, Cuba. That was memorable: we were performing at the Basilica de San Francisco de Asis, which is one of the more prominent classical music venues in Havana, for a full audience. We weren’t expecting this, but the concert was a three-hour-long celebration of contemporary Cuban composers from the 20th century (it was the 30th anniversary of the festival.) Somehow we managed to be performing in the middle of this very strange event, sandwiched between the National Choir’s performance of communist hymns, and a 90-year-old woman performing her own piano sonata. We felt so out of place, but it seemed that people were interested in what we were doing.
As musicians, what is your definition of success?
We define success as making a difference. That might mean inspiring students, showing an audience something new, or helping the artists that have helped us in the past. In a musical sense, we think it means creating programs that make classical and contemporary music accessible and enjoyable for large audiences while staying relevant in musical spheres over time. It’s medicine easier given than taken, but that’s what we’re striving for.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
It’s so easy to forget, through all the stress of conservatoires, competitions, and touring that being an artist is the ultimate privilege. We’re getting to do something very special that very few people get to do. In the developed world, it’s a rare privilege, and in the undeveloped world it’s an impossibility. We like to remind ourselves when the going gets tough: I play drums/piano for a living.
On a more practical note though, we can’t overstate how much it’s mattered to learn about things outside our instrument. For us it was filmmaking, concert promotion, photography, and writing; but being an artist has become so much more than that. There’s art, and then there’s the art of making art, right? So we think it’s important not to lose track of the whole, for this one small part that is playing the instrument.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
We’ve benefited so much from artist residencies even since we first began playing together. We put together our first program and films at the Banff Centre, and residencies are really what let our ensemble exist for the first year. We have a few lined up for 2018 and 2019 too. I think, even starting soon, we’d love to create our own residency for artists and musicians. It would be a way of giving back, and making a difference in the art world. We hope our experiences at so many residencies would help create a vision for something that is unique and compelling. 10 years is probably a realistic timeline for that to be seriously underway too.
Ever since they began collaborating in 2015, the musicians of Passepartout Duo have been known for their tireless advocacy of new music, ideas that cross aesthetic boundaries, and the compelling films they create. Driven by their shared values of music, people, and travel, Nicoletta Favari & Christopher Salvito’s simple and elegant approach has already earned them a reputation as a thoughtful and promising emerging group within the contemporary music field.