This year, on June 2nd, the Italian Republic turned 70: on June 2nd, 1946, Italians voted in a referendum and chose republic over monarchy as their form of government. To mark this special occasion, the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C. invited Maestro Gabriele Ciampi to perform the premiere of his new musical piece, dedicated to the first 70 years of the Italian Republic, “Trio in B Minor”, at the traditional celebration of June 2nd at the Embassy. Maestro Ciampi received several international awards, to include the “Premio Barocco 2016”; the Italian Senate medal “Eccellenza Italiana”; the Los Angeles Music Award “Instrumental Artist of the Year”; and the PrimiDieci Society award “PrimiDieci-Under 40 2014”. Ciampi was also the first Italian composer to be granted the honor of directing a performance of his own music for President Obama and the First Lady on the occasion of the White House Holiday Tour 2015. We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
Gabriele, how did it feel to play your own music at the Italian Embassy in Washington?
There couldn’t be a better occasion to present to the United States the premiere of a piece I feel deeply about, and that I wanted to dedicate to my beautiful home country. I would like to thank Ambassador Armando Varricchio, the staff of the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Italian Cultural Institute for making this concert possible in one of the most prestigious Italian Embassies in the world. Coming back to Washington, D.C., after performing at the White House, moves me deeply, though this time I feel more at home, as I am going to play for my home country.
What is the significance of the piece dedicated to Italy? The musical piece is inspired by the idea of sending a message of confidence. The melodic fragment that fits into the initial tone, B minor, given the depth of the cello in her low register first – followed by the sweetness of the violin – acts as a beacon of hope. This conversation, dramatic at times, between the two instruments, with the inclusion of the piano to emphasize moments of great intensity, represents the will to overcome a feeling of uncertainty and project oneself enthusiastically into the future.
In what way did your being Italian and your experience of the U.S. art scene influence your work as a composer?
First of all, we need to make a distinction between Italy and the United States. In the U.S., the composer’s figure is often associated with movies, TV, and video games. Thanks to technological tools and computers, today writing music is possible simply using sounds that a software processes to create soundtracks for movies and TV. In California this happens often, and “composers” are actually good arrangers and orchestrators. My job is writing with pen and paper: I studied my whole life to become a composer who can direct his own music. I think we should get back to the origins of music composition, when composers created their own music as a pure art form and presented their work to the public during concerts. But without daily application one cannot obtain significant results, and I don’t think that technology can replace the human mind. Also, over the years I’ve noticed a number of commercial phenomena such as characters that were generated ad hoc for the sole purpose of earning a large amount of money in a short time frame, and had a very limited artistic life. The urge to “make money” that I described above has very serious consequences on the quality of the artistic work produced: too often we see talented performers improvise as composers, later become conductors and at last, writers. The new trend of the “artist-of-all-trades” is creating great confusion not only in the music world but also in the public. It takes many years of study and practice to learn to write, conduct, or perform a musical piece. If a musician practiced his instrument for eight hours a day, every day of his life, I hardly believe that he could find time to master another trade. Composer, Performer, and Conductor are three different jobs, three high level figures travelling on parallel tracks that will never meet. I was lucky to be able to study the great classical music tradition in Italy. At the same time, in the U.S. I learned how to work with music differently, and as a result found some value in a more modern method of writing music as well.
Last December, you played with your orchestra at the White House. What is a lasting impression of that experience?
I learned a lot from the experience at the White House: I learned that, in the United States, anything is possible, if you are committed and dedicated to your work. My relationship with the White House began in 2012, when pianist David Osborne performed my piano and orchestra concert for the President, on the occasion of the White House Holiday Tour. I have always considered the United States as the land of opportunities. But you have to work hard before seeing a small result, and also, you need to take risks: once I published my CD, “The Minimalist Evolution”, in the U.S., I sent it to the First Lady with a note. A couple of months later I received a totally unexpected response, with compliments on my music and with the official call for a concert program for the special evening of December 8th, 2015.
What are your plans for the future?
A new album is ready. It is going to be released after the summer. I plan to present it first in Italy, and then in the U.S. before the end of the year. I am happy and proud to be able to present it in my home country in its world premiere.