An Interview with Alessio Averone
By Casey Pukl
Classical pianist, Alessio Averone, may not be who you’d normally expect to see at Anthology on a Sunday night, but as a venue that respects and supports all forms of music, we all thought this would be a phenomenal place to showcase one of San Diego’s greatest pianists. I had the chance to catch up with Averone last week to get the scoop on his upcoming program at Anthology! Read on to find out what he’ll be playing as well as the background on some of the pieces!
CP: I would love to start with your background, for instance, how did you start playing piano?
AA: My family was always music lovers. They weren’t professional musicians, but my father played a little bit of violin and my mother played the piano. It was enough to start me on the keyboard and various instruments, and I chose the piano as my favorite instrument when I was 6 years old. I listened to mostly classical music, a little bit of jazz. It was my inclination to go completely with classical music than other genres. I’m always open to other kinds of music of course. Therefore, when they asked me to play at Anthology, which I know is place that caters to jazz or more popular music, I said, “Well, we’ll see”, but I’m interested because all kinds of music are communicating something, so even a crowd that’s not used to hearing classical music can also appreciate it and be excited over classical music; call it classical music anyway. So I said to yes, to give it a try.
CP: Absolutely. It’s always good to experiment with that. Tell me a little bit about this show and what pieces you’ll be playing.
AA: I’ll give you a little bit of history and at the same time a bit of perspective. It is mostly romantic music, which is going from Chopin to Liszt. I’m not completely sure on the program but I will probably start with a Fantasy by Chopin. It is a piece that is very free, communicative and romantic, not all that unusual considering Chopin. Then I will step to Liszt, who was a friend of Chopin at the end of the 19th century. I will start with “Mephisto Waltz”, which is actually one of the 4 Mephisto Waltzes that Liszt composed, 2 were for orchestra, 2 for solo piano and I will play the first one [for orchestra] which is the most famous one in the classical canon. This one is based on Faust [by Nikolaus Lenau, not Goethe –ed. note], which is very descriptive because the story is that Faust asks the devil to help him conquer a girl he sees in a little village, so the devil possesses a little orchestra that is playing there and plays a magic music that makes Faust able to conquer this lady that he likes a lot [Laughs]. The story says at the end that they disappear into the woods and make love and whatever [laughs].
The development of the piece, along with the difficult piano playing and the spectrum of emotions it presents makes it well received even by people that are not followers of classical music.
After, I will play one of the most difficult piano pieces Liszt composed, maybe one of the most difficult in the literature of piano playing: “Apres une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata”. It was part of the series of pieces that Liszt composed over the years he spent in Italy. It is one of several pieces that he did that he dedicated to Italy. It is based on the Divine Comedy by Dante, actually it more based on a poem that Victor Hugo wrote in response to the Divine Comedy. The first half of the piece is an evolution of [Dante’s] descriptions of the soul as it is falling down through hell, until we come to the second part where it is opening up into Paradise, where Dante goes through accompanied by Beatrice. It is a very complex piece, while also very free, similar to the Fantasy by Chopin.
It also solidified Liszt as a very progressive composer of his time, as he was exploring all these forms and taking them to the limits. This piece can be seen as a sonata but it is more free and complex than just the typical form of sonata that was commonplace at the time.
CP: I’m familiar with some of those pieces and it sounds like you’ve really chosen a very accessible program for this show.
AA: Yeah, I hope they will like it. I’ve played in some places where not everybody is a follower of classical music, and these pieces have the most success involving and fascinating the public. I think they will be accepted pretty well.
CP: Is the music from the Romantic period your favorite to play?
AA: It’s hard to say, I think it changes depending on the stage of your life, what you are studying, what they require you to play at concerts; sometimes I prefer some more Classical music from the 18th century like Scarlatti or Mozart. Sometimes you play something and at that particular moment of your life you don’t find it very interesting but if you study them, and go deeply into researching them you start to love them as well. I would say Scarlatti, Mozart and definitely Chopin are my favorite, going after more modern music like Prokofiev and Rachmaninov.
CP: Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t you working on your Doctorate at USC?
AA: Yes and no, I was doing my bachelor’s when I won a scholarship to continue my doctorate, but I was not able to finish because I went back to Italy. But I did start my doctoral studies at USC.
CP: It’s still very prestigious to be awarded the scholarship, though.
AA: Yes, I was very surprised by it since they normally only give it to Americans, so that was great opportunity that they gave me. And Dr. Gordon, who was the Dean of the Keyboard Department was a pretty incredible person. He studied in Europe as well and was probably one of the greatest pianists of the last century. We clicked actually, and we had a great relationship working together.
CP: What are you most looking forward to coming to play Anthology?
AA: I’m actually very curious since it is not a typical place for me to play. I like new and original places to play. I like the idea of bringing this music to a different type of public and seeing if there are any interesting developments from that.
Special thanks to Alessio for his time! Be sure to come out and experience the beauty of some of classical music’s most impressive pieces this Sunday!