Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
The wonderful period of study at the International Lake Como Academy in Italy, a prestigious place founded by William Grant Naborè and Martha Argerich, was fundamental for my career. During those years I had the immense luck of studying with renowned masters such as Fou’ts ong, Dimitri Bashkirov, Malcolm Bilson, Stanislav Ioudentich in an intimate and familiar context. Only a few students are admitted to the academy every two years, so the atmosphere is truly like a family, made up not only of lessons, but also moments of relaxation and living together. I learned not only from the teachers, but also from my fellow students who then made great careers, such as Yulianna Avdeeeva, Dimitri Masleev, Ingmar Lazar, Alessandro Deljavan, Francois Dumont…. Attending their lessons was a great stimulus and motivation. My musical path was quite complex as I didn’t start studying the piano at a young age; I was almost 19, so convincing myself that I would become a professional pianist was quite difficult. If it weren’t for the trust that all these people placed in me, I might have changed my path.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Perhaps my concerts in Japan, where I was asked for almost entirely virtuosic repertoire. It wasn’t easy to start a recital with six Chopin Etudes op. 10. I had asked to begin with Beethoven’s sonata No. 12, Op.26, planned in the second part. But it wasn’t possible. I was extremely agitated; in the end I managed to control everything well, but convincing the Japanese was impossible indeed!
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I’m super proud of my album 20 keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, released in February 2020. I did a great deal of research which took me years of work. I think I studied over 400 sonatas before choosing 20. Unfortunately this composer has often been misinterpreted and I must say that I didn’t find inspiration in contemporary pianists, except for Lucas Debargue, Federico Colli and Mikhail Pletnev. In general this composer is treated with a lot of superficiality and little knowledge of his background. Clementi, Moscheles and Czerny played Scarlatti’s sonatas purely as virtuosic pieces, but when the amazement for that virtuosity went out of fashion, no one delved into the true art of the composer, leaving us a somewhat superficial idea of those wonderful pieces. Only after a long time, thanks to the research of Italian musicologists, we finally had the opportunity to discover the true soul and contrasts of Domenico Scarlatti, whose work has been totally influenced by Spanish and Italian folklore. Italy, more than other countries, has an enormous lyrical tradition and operatic repertoire, which is why Italian pianists can feel and truly grasp the theatrical element of Scarlatti’s music.
I am also glad I took part in the Behind The Scars campaign founded by the great English photographer Sophie Mayanne, with the aim of celebrating the woman’s body and its imperfections. Unfortunately we live in a historical moment in which the female body is increasingly stereotyped by the media, which portray the woman with a perfect skin and body. But does perfection exist? Of course not. At 18, I survived a house fire, spent months in the hospital without being able to walk, and I realized that my body was covered with indelible scars. A trauma, a tragedy that has totally changed the course of my life. At the time I dreamed of being a dancer and studying fashion, but all of this was destroyed. From those moments of great pain I decided to study piano and to rebuild my life. Music certainly saved me. Establishing myself as a pianist for me meant building a new image of a woman and accepting everything that happened. Through this photographic project I have shown how therapeutic music can be and how important determination is in order to achieve one’s goals. Doesn’t matter what history you have behind you, if you really want something, you get it. Always.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I particularly love the Baroque and Classical period, and so I also think that’s what I play best. I play a lot of Bach, Scarlatti, Galuppi, Haydn, Mozart, but also Beethoven and Schubert.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
When I’m not studying and performing, I find inspiration and focus in writing. I’m about to publish my first novel ‘Rimmel’, based on some important experiences of my life, a sort of autobiography but written in the third person through other characters. I also love walking and being in contact with nature. I was born in a small country town in Italy, so it is natural for me to live in the green. Even London, despite being a huge city, has lots of parks and natural spaces. Richmond park is my favourite as it’s big and wild.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I actually built my repertoire when I was still a student, and now I add compositions according to a logical sense of performance. Sometimes the festivals decide the programme, and the commissions; it depends also from country to country.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
There are many. Carnegie Hall is certainly one of my favourites, probably for the fascination that the history of the theatre. Years ago, however, I had the opportunity to play in the Hall of Mirrors of the Foz Palace in Lisbon, a wonderful place, both for its elegance and for its perfect acoustics, fantastic for solo and chamber recitals.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
This question is very difficult. I think the first step is to introduce the history of music in schools. From primary school, children should get used to listening to the most important works and compositions, to integrate the hours of lessons with trips to theatres, to accustom students and even parents to attend concerts. This also applies to art history and all niche art forms. People need to get used to going further, to deepen, to think with a critical mind and not just “to eat” the lightness and mediocrity offered by the media.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Paradoxically, my most memorable experience was when I played my first concert in a small provincial theatre. It was a great emotional experience that I will never forget, even greater than when I played in bigger halls. For me it represented the realization of a dream.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
For me, being successful means being able to enter in people’s hearts. Living the artist’s experience not as a narcissistic exercise of the ego (which undoubtedly is a bit), but for the ability to create a bridge of emotions with the public. Being applauded and receiving thanks from the audience is one of the greatest joys, as I know I have conveyed what I wanted to convey. Once a lady had approached after my concert and she was moved. At that moment I realized that I was a successful pianist.
What advice would you give to young and aspiring musicians?
I would like to tell young people to believe in themselves, and to have an open mind towards life. Being a successful musician doesn’t mean being able to play difficult passages perfectly, it doesn’t necessarily mean winning a big competition or playing all of Beethoven’s sonatas. (ok if it’s so much better). To create your own personality through the music is much more important, to stand out from others with your own creations, and the only possible way is to have the courage to be authentic in every situation, without fearing the judgment of others. Being able to transform one’s weaknesses into strengths. Success on the outside can only be achieved if you first of all recognize your own value inside.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
Ten years are many! Surely I’ll keep doing what I’m doing – that is to travel and play, hoping that in ten years the “covid nightmare” will be just a distant memory. Certainly I’ll dedicate myself to my children and my family. For me, love is no less important than career. Living motherhood will be one of my next steps.
Margherita Torretta (b. 3 1986, in Castel San Giovanni, Italy) is an Italian concert pianist. Although she began training as a pianist relatively late in life, she rapidly attained the status of worldwide performer. She is currently based in London.