Could you tell me a little more about Musica Fiorita, and what is the rationale for its creation?
Musica Fiorita is 21 years old. I founded it in 1990. It is an ensemble that specialises in “ancient” music played on “historic” or period instruments. We have all trained at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (the education and research centre for Early Music situated in the city of Basle, Switzerland). We come from all over the world: I am Italian; there are musicians from Brazil, Japan, France, Germany, etc. We have ten nationalities, but have all studied in Basle and live there now as well.
How did you get interested in Early Music?
My music “career” began in childhood with the recorder (Blockflöte). I come from Sicily, southern Italy. My father was not financially very well-off, as he was a social worker, but he had many children (laughs). The recorder was the ideal instrument, as it was not very expensive. The whole family played in various strengths: quartets, sextets, septets. Of course, the instrument was suited mainly for Baroque music. So that’s how I got introduced to Baroque music. I gradually outgrew the recorder, and I began to look for an alternative. And I found it in the cembalo (harpsichord).
What happened then?
So I went from Sicily to Basle, to study Harpsichord. I then specialised further in Amsterdam, Holland. I played for a decade as harpsichordist, as a soloist. But that was also too limiting. So I began to work in an ensemble setting, to develop more colours, in Baroque music. The harpsichord is a wonderful instrument, but limited in its possibilities of sound. However, from the harpsichord, I can direct quite easily, to give harmonic or rhythmic impulse to the music, and thus lead the group. And this is how it was in the Baroque period. You had the Maestro al Cembalo.
You’ve brought a harpsichord with you on tour…
Yes, it has been built especially for the India tour. It is lightweight, a” travel” size and weight. As you know, a regular harpsichord is big, heavy, and cumbersome. There still aren’t any harpsichords in India. And so I commissioned a harpsichord builder to build a “travel” harpsichord. These existed in Baroque times too.
Your concert features several composers that are not very well-known: Marini, Negri, Merula, Uccellini…
True. But our ensemble is renowned also for bringing long-forgotten composers and their music back into the limelight. I go to libraries and archives and search for old compositions which have faded into oblivion. And there is an inexhaustible collection of such music.
Of good quality?
Yes! Fantastic works! We play them, record them to disc, and bring them back into the public domain. This is now becoming fashionable in the last few years in the music world in Europe, but I have been doing this for twenty years now.
What are your thoughts about the programme tonight?
Well, Vivaldi is obviously a star of Baroque music, that is clear. Among the works on the programme, Uccellini’s Sonata detta “la luciminia contenta” is one of my favourites. It is scored just for one violin and basso continuo (i.e. general bass, just harpsichord and cello). It is small but fabulous.
Do you find takers among the recording labels, or is it a struggle?
As I was saying, Early Music is right now a very big trend in Europe. It has been happening for some time, perhaps thirty years. This is parallel to a perceived “burnout” in what is seen as mainstream “classical” music. So you have concerts, festivals, etc, devoted to Early Music, which give life and vigour to it.
The music you play this evening will be danced to, not only by Il Ballarino but also a couple of Bharat Natyam dancers..
Yes! I was in India last year as well, and we made our first tour. The public was wonderfully receptive. And then I thought: “I want to show not only Musica Fiorito and Il Ballarino, I want more of an exchange, a dialogue with Indian culture”. And so we included two female Indian dancers, and this exchange, the mutual communication we have had on this tour has been wonderful! It is truly a coming-together of two cultures, and far from our music and Indian dance clashing, on the contrary, there were many things in common… the instruments, the dancing gestures. We have this time with us the theorbo, and on our last tour we brought along a psaltery, which shares similarities with the Indian santoor.
This is a fantastic synthesis of the two cultures that I am absolutely passionate about.
(An edited version of this interview appeared in the Navhind Times, Goa India on 22 October 2011)