Maestro Alessandro De Marchi, a cheerful Italian conductor, happily agreed to be interviewed during his 25 minutes interval-break.
In a nutshell, he gives a few landmarks in his musical career:
AdM: I am a harpsichordist. I lived in Germany for 23 years; I was in Berlin as a pianist in the opera and I was an assistant to Daniel Barenboim and René Jacobs. For the last six years he was the Artistic Director of the oldest Baroque festival in Europe, the Altemusik in Innsbrucker, in Austria. And that’s me.
RJ: Is it Baroque music that appeals to you most?
AdM: Baroque music is the music that I did a lot, and it’s a music that I know very well. But that’s not the only music that I do.
RJ: Of course.
AdM: I did a lot of jazz in the past, when I was very young. And the last years I did a lot of Mozart and Beethoven; and especially Rossini. But of course, that’s the music that I know.
RJ: If you had to come back as one of the composers, which one would you like to be?
AdM: Ah, that is very hard.
AdM: That is very hard.
RJ: Any of them.
AdM: There are periods that I think are very interesting, the end of the17th century and the beginning of the 18th century in Rome. That is something that was, in this period, something that was very special. And all the musicians, all the young musicians, were coming to Rome to learn. Rome was very important. It was the centre, and in this time, in Rome were Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, George Friedrich Handel; Vivaldi was sending cantatas to Rome. It was a very special moment. And Arcangelo Corelli, Bernardo Pasquini, a lot of composers that we know so well now – it was really something special. So they are … these people are my idols.
RJ: Of those composers, are there any that you would like to revive?
AdM: Yes I have done a lot for Bernardo Pasquini, for his vocal music, because he is very well known as a keyboard composer for the organ and harpsichord, but his oratorios and operas are not so well known. So I am trying to do as much as possible to revive interest in them but it is very hard because now, especially now, there is a very big Baroque revival, but everybody wants to hear the same. It is always the same music that people play – it is Vivaldi concertos and Handel operas, and there are not so many different things.
RJ: Music critics have praised your interpretation of Juitha Triumphans. Can you tell us something of the process of interpreting music?
AdM: So, we have a score, and we have texts in oratorios and in opera. That is the base, of course. And of course, we know what is in the score; and of course, the composer, while starting, will be composing from the text. So that’s really the base to know what it is about. And the system in Baroque times is to use older techniques that the composer knew to move the feeling of the audience. So, you have to find in each aria, in each phrase, which feeling the composer wants to …
RJ: To stimulate?
AdM: Yes, because they had a brilliant system, a very complicated system, and also in the text the poet uses the same system, in trying to achieve contrasts and different feelings. There is always something melancholic, and then something aggressive, and then again – to do, so to really to push you into all the possible moods. So that’s the very essence.
And then there’s another question, that is really important that the reason why people ask specialists to conduct and to play this music very often. This music, what is written, it is not at all everything that they did. In the scores of the 20th or the 21st centuries, everything is written – all the notes and all the nuances, everything – the accents, everything is written, and you jut have to interpret it – what is written with your own sentiments and feelings. But in Baroque scores, not everything is written; as they were able to improvise a lot of things that now we don’t do anymore. So I have to help the musicians to find the notes they have to add. And that is a big job. And also they never put in the score dynamics – what is forte, what is piano, what is laissez, what is soft, where are the accents, what articulations you have to do – everything. There is nothing written; except the notes, and not all the notes. And that is that is the reason you need a specialist, because a specialist can try to imagine what they did.
AdM: Some people think that the music is what the composer puts in the notes. I think music is what they did. So we have to try to …
RJ: To interpret?
AdM: Yes, to do a sort of reconstruction, with fantasy and knowledge, what they probably did, so that we have something that is more alive
RJ: You adapted this particular oratorio for all-female singers…
AdM: I did not need to adapt it, because the piece was born like that. In Venice, in La Pietá, where Vivaldi had just females to work with.
RJ: Yes, yes, but in productions previous to yours the chorus have had men performing. And you’ve really specialised in all-women ensembles.
AdM: You mean my productions in the 20th century – yes, we’ve got some recordings before my recording that had men. In Baroque times, you sometimes had very young castrati singing the female roles and female contraltos singing male parts. So, it was a completely different system and aesthetic. It’s a little like in pop music now – where you sometimes don’t know if the person singing is a man or a woman. And sometimes the voices are so similar between men and women.
RJ: I noticed that sometimes in this particular production, the chorus come and wrap around the orchestra. They move on both sides of the orchestra and sing with their back to you, is it an extra challenge to you, as a conductor?
AdM: It is very important to have good contact, but it is possible to have a sort of telepathic connection across – of course if you look at each other it’s easier, but sometimes we are there and we just feel, and hear, how it’s going to happen.
RJ: And now you’ve got to run, the show will not go on without you.
He laughs. Back in the packed auditorium we all eagerly waited for the maestro to conduct Act II.