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Interview with Fabrizio Paterlini

img  Tobias Fischer

Little steps. That's what Italian composer and pianist Fabrizio Paterlini is taking, both in his music and his career. Seven years ago, Paterlini's debut album Viaggi In Aeromobile marked him as one of the most promising artists of what was generally referred to as the neoclassical wave. While colleagues like Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm would go on to play to sold-out halls and tour the world, meanwhile, the album would turn into a quiet triumph for a small, but highly appreciative audience. Since then, each release has seen Paterlini take on new challenges, always growing, as he has stressed himself, both as an artist and a human being: Autumn Stories featured a string quartet, while Now saw him collaborate with electronica producer London-DC. For his latest effort The Art of the Piano, however, Paterlini has returned to his beginnings and his first and eternal love: The pure sound of his piano. The Art of the Piano, initially recorded over a period of twelve months on a track-by-track-basis, will accordingly feel familiar to anyone who's followed his path so far. And still, it is not a mere retrospective move,  feeding from his recent live performances and expansive experience as a composer. Dealing with the overarching topic of melancholy, the album features some of his strongest pieces to date, from the fragile opener "Somehow Familiar" to the heartwrenching closer "Wind Song". It may not sound like a big progress on paper. But to anyone who's spent some time in this infinitely touching space, it's clear that you can make a lot of progress by taking small steps, too.

The overarching topic of your new album is melancholy. How come?
Someone once said "In a world without melancholy, there would be no place for music". I am completely into this sentence both as a musician and a music lover. Melancholy is anything but a passive state of mind. In fact, it is actually an active, very active, feeling and sometimes, feeling sad has a sort of cathartic effect. After a long session of deep melancholic music, we find ourselves happier.

What have the past years since our last interview been like?
Last time we met, it was back in 2010, when my Fragments Found album had just been published. Since then, besides continuing tp compose music, I spent my time almost fully trying to give my best as a father. My kid is now 4 years old, we are expecting another one in a couple of months and having kids is a great occasion to learn and improve as human being. So, since then, I’ve learned how precious time is - all the parents out there understand this, actually – and how important it is to try and live in the present. I believe these concepts are reflected somehow in the music I’ve been writing so far. I am quite satisfied with the piano pieces included on The Art of the Piano. They represents quite well where I am now, even if I have been writing them almost throughout an entire year. And I think that some foggy shades around my hometown Mantova, can be clearly imagined in this music.

It seems your concert activity has been picking up.
Yes, after years of hard work, something is moving "out there". A couple of months ago, I ended my 2013 with 2 great concerts in Russia - Moscow and St Petersburg - together with Roberto Cacciapaglia, one of my musical heroes! It was such a huge experience! But I would say that I’ll never forget my first international gig in Hasselt at the Piano Anders festival: my son was in the audience and when he saw me on stage I heard "Look, that’s my dad!" My heart exploded and I’ll never forget that feeling!

You referred to the piano as "your voice". Can you put into words why your love affair with the piano started and why it has continued until the present day?
I started playing the piano at the age of 6. At first it was a game, then, when I started my academical studies, it became a commitment. I left it for some experience as keyboard player in several prog/rock bands. But still, the piano was there. I remember sitting in front of it, playing my old classical books, or simply practicing. Then I got back to it later on and it all started again. What I love the most about the piano is how rich its sound is: It's never just the notes you play, but the sound of the mallets hitting the strings, the wood and its smell and, most of all, its resonances. I love, deeply love, this strings resonance with its floating sounds.

I always try to remember this when I play live or I compose some new music. I always try to use every single component of the piano sound and I like the idea of recording them while I am playing.

How does this translate to your recording philosophy and the relevance of sound and space on The Art of the Piano?
The music was recorded in the usual studio where I recorded my previous works. The piano is different - I had a Yamaha C3 for my previous albums - and so is my consciousness of what I am looking for when I am recording "my" sound. I personally play a lot with reverbs - I like the idea of different "settings" even on the same album. "Conversation with myself", for example, sounds far and distant, while "Midsummer tiny song" sounds as close as a microphone could be. So space is an essential part of the whole story and one of my personal favourites. I am already planning my next release and this time I’ll get straight to the point of experimenting in an old church not far from where I live. I am sure you can believe me when I tell you that I really can’t wait to hear my piano in a church!

After experiments with electronics and a string ensemble, your new material sees you working with a far more minimal set-up. Why did you decide to return to your roots this time?
After travelling to new places, it’s always good to be home, right? This was the sense of getting back to the solo piano for me. Now was the result of almost one year of hard work, not only because it involved other musicians as well, but also because for the first time I had to manage strings parts, with music scores and rehearsals, etc. I was really happy, at the end it was worth the pain, but composing for solo piano is where I started. This is what I think I can do best, or at least I feel I can do best. So after experimenting here and there, it’s good to remember where I came from and put it into music.

What are the benefits of working with limitations for you?
The benefit is in not considering it a limitation! And I am talking not only about the instrumentation itself. I also aim at making the composing process as "minimal" as possible. This approach helps to leave all the un-necessary behind: 2 and a half minutes of music can be more than enough to communicate a life in feelings.

Aptly, with your music, I very often feel as though it hinges on and is moving towards one key note – one note which is played with just a little more delay or a little more emphasis or a slightly different touch or emotion.
This is my way of improvising: when I sit on the piano and start playing, I work "around" a sentence, it could be a note or a couple of notes and then from there, I move ahead step by step, exploring the direction the music is taking. So, yes, I agree in what you hear, there’s a "core" in my compositions, which is the initial flame. Using this as the point of departure, the music takes shape.

How do you see the balance between spontaneity and using craftsmanship to improve the music after the initial creative outburst?
I am a bit afraid of this question actually! (laughs) I always try to leave every single note  as I originally played it while creating the whole thing – and to keep the refining part of the initial recording to a minimum. This brings huge benefits in terms on the "final result" I am trying to accomplish, which is trying to give pure "images" to the listener. I am a little bit afraid of the consequences that craftsmanship has in the composing process. There's always the risk that what you are playing sounds fake, somehow.

Similar to your previous albums, the tracks on The Art of the Piano are held together by what you've called 'a sense'. How important are concepts and the idea that there is a thread running through all pieces for your album approach?
I am in full resonance in considering an album as a cycle and I like the idea that who listens, clearly feels that. I grew up listening to Pink Floyd, Genesis, The Who and all these great bands who explored the "concept" album in all its aspects. I belongs to the "LP" generation and still, when I buy music, I buy albums and not singles. The format has a key role and so has the artwork. For the first time for me, The Art of the Piano has also been released on vinyl  and I think this product perfectly completes my vision for releasing music.

You've said that it is easier to make a good record than to play it live. In which way?
The first challenge is to actually find a space to perform – we are so many out there, great musicians with great music and finding your "spot" is certainly anything but easy! That said, the audience has a key role while performing. Silence is the eight note and finding a respectful, silent and emotionally involved audience has certainly much more importance than finding a great venue.

You feel very strongly about music and have mentioned that not a day goes by without it. What is the relevance of music – even a non-overtly political one – do you feel? What is your personal sense of mission and meaning as an artist?
True, music is always with me. If I am not playing it, I am probably listening to it, or I have some music in my mind (I am sure this is quite common for a lot of us!). Beside continuing to compose, I feel that my mission right now is to bring my music "live" to as many people as possible. After sharing it through my computer for all these years, I feel it’s now time to share it in person. And I really hope that the near future will help me in doing this. Playing live certainly is the ideal closing of the process that firstly begins when I start composing my music: it’s the natural developing of it and, each time, the audience makes the difference in the final result.

From your experiences over the years, what's your advice for other musicians just starting out their career? 
My advice is do what you love, stay positive and do everything as good as you possibly can. Do not accept any compromises in terms of quality of what you do, give your audience all of yourself while playing live and things will start moving. It’s hard work, believe me.

It's also a question of luck.
Yes, but sooner or later everyone gets their chance to play. You simply have to be ready for that moment at all times.

By Tobias Fischer
Photo by Pavel Procenko.

Fabrizio Paterlini's The Art of the Piano is available directly from his own label as a download, digipack CD or as a limited vinyl edition.

Homepage: Fabrizio Paterlini

You can also read our first interview with Fabrizio here. Or check out our interviews with Ólafur Arnalds and Peter Broderick.