Costantino Catena, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up piano, and pursue a career in music?

I started very early, at 4 years old. There were already some musicians in my family (my grandfather and my aunt) and an old piano that I still have: later everything came naturally – I simply followed what I liked to do, and it came all by itself. I also studied Philosophy and Psychology at university, but it never crossed my mind to become a philosopher or a psychologist.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I think I can say that the meeting that changed me the most was the one with Konstantin Bogino: he is the teacher who knew how to draw out what I had. Naturally, the Conservatory and the other teachers that I have had have also been very important, but Bogino represented a turning point, a teacher who was able to unlock certain mechanisms. Later, one thing that made me grow a lot was recording: the habit of producing sound, listening: it made me become much more attentive to many details.

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

The most important challenge, the one in which I am still committed and which I do not think will ever end, is growing progressively: over the years I have tried to manage my energies and my emotions more and more, making sure to channel them into the music without having a negative influence on performance. Being able to play in an increasingly natural and less mechanical way, I think is the greatest challenge of every pianist.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am particularly proud of the CD “Richard Strauss and the piano” (Camerata CMCD-28309, 2014), in which I recorded the Klavierstücke op. 3 and the Stimmungsbilder op. 9, as well as some small pieces for piano and strings: all very beautiful and rarely-performed music

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I am emotionally connected to the Davidsbündlertänze of Schumann and some pieces by Liszt (such asthe  Sacred Dance and final duet from Verdi’s Aida and Reminiscences from Bellini’s Norma), in which I try to give my best

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I’m a recording artist for Camerata Tokyo, a very professional Japanese label that records in places with excellent natural acoustics (churches, for example): it’s one of the few labels that still makes the masters for itself and does not accept external masters . Very often – but not always – my choices of repertoire are conditioned by what I have to record: for example, currently we are making the complete piano works of Robert Schumann and often this composer appears in my concert programs.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Recently I played at the St. Petersburg Philharmonia and it was very nice. I found an enthusiastic and passionate audience. I had many positive reviews and I was invited to return next year. The attention to the art and the emotional expression that I found in the public surely comes from the great cultural tradition of this beautiful city, and this background produces a truly special audience, even compared to other important realities that I know in the rest of the world.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My preferences go to the romantic repertoire, in particular Schumann and Liszt. In chamber music I prefer the clarity of classicism and early romanticism (like Mendelssohn and Beethoven). I also love the Concertos for piano and orchestra of Mozart.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Each concert is a different time with different emotions, and after so many years I could not pick one particular example, even if the aforementioned experience at the Philharmonia of St. Petersburg was very exciting, as well as to the Gasteig of Munich.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

It is very difficult to talk about success in the field of cultured music: we do not have such an extensive audience as in pop or other areas. I can say that the best compliment for me at a concert is to be able to move the listener: when that happens I’m happy and this is the greatest success for me.

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

Perhaps aspiring musicians should be more concerned with managing their fears and emotions, a very common but also very underrated problem. The growth of a musician goes from being able to express their emotions so that they reach the public, and if there is something that blocks them it will always leave an impression of incompleteness and immaturity. However, there are methods to deal better with the “fear” of the stage: first of all it is the preparation. Often – especially it is true for young people – they tend to exercise mechanically, letting their hands be above the brain. Also, when they study at home, they do not take into account what’s going to happen in public, they are too relaxed and underestimate the pieces and the scope of what they are going to do.

When you are studying at home, in short, you are smart and relaxed; in public, however, there are so many factors that make it difficult to maintain concentration. If memory is based only on nerve and muscle connections, without a real awareness, the anxiety can collapse everything. So, first of all, solid preparation is crucial. The second point is the origin of fear, which is not related to the public, but to the image that we have of ourselves: we are afraid to be judged and we question ourselves.

Negative experiences can have important repercussions on our ego, and it’s important to learn to have confidence in yourself with the help of your teacher and with a good public presentation strategy. Often the public is confronted in the same way you might go to the scaffold, amplifying the feeling of inadequacy and tension that end up worsening the control of the nerves. A more “friendly” attitude and being open to the public can certainly help to improve our fear management.

These verses are drawn from the poet Constantine P. Cavafy and they show very clearly the feeling of the fears that afflict us, and that they almost always come not from outside, but from inside us:

Laistrygonians and Cyclops

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Costantino Catena (born 1969) is an Italian pianist. After graduating from the Giuseppe Martucci Salerno State Conservatoire under the guidance of Luigi D’Ascoli, Costantino Catena continued and completed his piano studies with Konstantin Bogino, Bruno Mezzena, Boris Bechterev and Aldo Ciccolini. He also studied composition and he graduated in Philosophy at the Salerno University and in Psychology at Second University of Naples.

His concert activity is as soloist and he is active in the field of chamber music too, collaborating with leading artists such as Alessandro Carbonare, Michele Lomuto, Franco Maggio Ormezowski, Gabriele Geminiani, Massimo Quarta, Saschko Gawriloff, Sabrina-Vivian Hopker, Claudio Casadei, Lynne Dawson, Mauro Tortorelli, Maja Bogdanovich, Claudio Brizi, Aki Takahashi, and Quartetto Savinio.

He chairs the piano professorship in the Domenico Cimarosa State Conservatoire in Avellino and he is recording artist for Camerata Tokyo [1] since 2010.

Costantino Catena is Yamaha Artist.

His latest album – ‘Dedications – Schumann-Liszt’ – was recorded on a new Bösendorfer 280VC

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