alessio Pianelli, cellist

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?

My father is a pianist so I started playing piano for fun with him. At the age of 10 I met Giovanni Sollima and fell in love with the cello. With him I developed my instinct and intense curiosity. Thomas Demenga is the other most inspiring figure for me – I admire his elegance and freedom so much.

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

I think the greatest challenge for a musician is to maintain the balance between instinct and knowledge. The more you practice, the more you know – and the more conscious you are about your technical and artistic issues. At that point it is hard to be brave and follow your instinct – and put your knowledge on an unconscious level.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of A Sicilian Traveller, my CD of folk music rooted in Sicilian, Romanian, Greek, Armenian, Georgian and Afro-American traditions, which I arranged for cello and strings. With this album I investigate the richness of Sicily’s culture through the music of other composers who have explored – some more explicitly than others – that central aspect in the tradition of art music. Another recording I am very proud of is my CD Sulla quarta where I play the Bach Cello Suite no. 4, Sulla Quarta my own piece for two cellos inspired by the Bach, and also Sollima’s The Songlines.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

It really depends on when. Music is energy and the quality of our energy can change according to the weather or daily experiences. Personally I identify with Schumann, but I love to play any great work, be it baroque music with original instruments or Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. I love the Russian composers and also the great contemporary composers. Some emphasise harmony, others the beauty of melody, some focus on emotions, some on concepts. I deeply respect any of these approaches and, with that as my starting point, I play the best I can.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

The magic process of communication and exchanging energy with the audience and the love of the music are already enough to make every concert a great inspiration itself.

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

Actually, I tend not to choose repertoire. I like to be ready to respond to what the concert organisers suggest. I sometimes offer guidelines, some ideas, but I prefer to let them ask for pieces.

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

Not really. I am happy with good acoustics. Of course some places are more inspirational than others, but the most important thing is for the player and the listener to want to communicate and to let the music happen – then the magic takes over.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

First, we need to stop obsessing about finding selling points of a supposedly Divine Canon, however smart they might seem to the already initiated. The whole point of classical music is community, communication, inclusion and diversity. As a matter of fact music is a form of communication among human beings, which can take place in all kinds of communities and can include whichever code, old and new, from various backgrounds. Because of this, I’m pretty sure that if you go for increasing the inclusivity and diversity of concert programmes and fine tune your programming choices in relation to your local community, you’re already more than half-way toward your goal of growing a classical music audience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I feel quite lucky because I only have beautiful memories of my concerts. If I have to quote a specific one, I would say the Marlboro Festival experience. This is a festival where you rehearse chamber music works for weeks and you only perform for a public audience when the whole group feels ready. This approach creates a magic energy and a totally honest way of sharing music.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be happy with your playing and your personal career, with the wish to grow more every day.

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

Because I do a lot of teaching I have found that young students are most afraid of technical problems and of external judgement. Music is a language and, like any language, it needs clear concepts, beauty of expression and breathing. I personally focus on breathing, removal of tension and mindful respect for the composer as the best preparation for natural music-making.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Probably where I was right before the pandemic: teaching, travelling for solo and chamber music concerts and taking a few breaks in my wonderful Sicily where I can enjoy the beautiful sea and focus on my composing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness is a wonderful concept. I think it is to be fully conscious of our fragility as human beings and accept – even love – that fact and we must relish the bad times as well as the good because they are all part of life’s journey.

What is your most treasured possession?

My breath.

What is your present state of mind?

It is now one year since the pandemic began and of course we are all having a difficult time. I feel fortunate in many ways because, even with very few concerts, I teach cello at a conservatory and chamber music in an academy so I can share music with all my students and that gives me a positive energy. I miss travel and playing for audiences, but my life is ok with a healthy family and good friends – and I am grateful for that.


Alessio Pianelli’s new CD A Sicilian Traveller (Rubicon Classics RCD1051- released on 26 March 2021) features music from Georgia and Armenia to Greece and Romania, by Tsintsadze, Komitas, Coleridge-Taylor, Skalkottas and Bartók, then back to the heart of Sicily with Pianelli’s own Variations on a Sicilian Folk Theme.

Recently awarded a Borletti Buitoni Trust fellowship, Sicilian cellist and composer Alessio Pianelli brings to the stage the distinctive characteristics of his homeland, where one can still live and breathe the diverse cultures of Sicily, a unique region that was dominated throughout the centuries by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Germanics, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Spanish. Curiosity, research and a love for traveling, arts and culture, all came easily and were befitting to his character, naturally broadening his emotional personality and crystalline talent.


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