Pianist Alessandra Volpi fearlessly took on the piano part last season in Nashville Ballet’s performance of Stravinsky’s Duo Concertant. This weekend she’ll be performing the concerto of another icon: Clara Schumann. While she was in final preparations for the performance she took the time to answer our six questions.
What led you to playing the piano when you first started?
Music has always been a great part of my family life since early childhood. My grandmother was an opera singer in Italy during the Would War II Era and both her and my Great Grandmother would often sing to us grand kids. My mom bought a piano to have in her home soon after she got married and as a kid I’d often go over and play a few notes on it.
One day, as my mother and I were playing at the park, we noticed a piano studio nearby and, instead of playing at the playground, I’d go over to the studio window and watch people play. I was about four years old at the time and my mom decided to give piano a try and start me in lessons. The rest is history.
What is a collaborative pianist, and how did you decide to become one?
A collaborative pianist is, as the word suggests, a field of the piano profession where the pianist has the opportunity to work with other instrumentalists, singers, dancers or any combinations of these. In my opinion, it is one of the most fulfilling and enriching parts of piano playing and truly very unique to our instrument which can often be a very lonely one. By playing with other people we open the door to sharing different opinions, views, knowledge and also we learn how to grow and create together, in respect and communion of interests and intent.
I decided to dedicate myself to this type of work because I love to share the stage with other people, to learn an immense variety of color and nuances that come natural to voice or other instruments but that the piano has the ability to recreate, with a little magic. I am always stunned by how much collaborative work can impact my own playing and I definitely believe it has helped me understand and appreciate my own instrument even more. I do still believe piano is the best instrument out of all though.
Outside of preparing Schumann’s concerto, what project have you really enjoyed in the last year?
I am very fortunate to have plenty of wonderful projects to work on and look forward to here in Nashville. I have really loved playing the Stravinsky Duo Concertant with Christina McGann on violin and danced by the Nashville Ballet. It was a terrific project as we also worked together with Victoria Simon, of the Balanchine Foundation, who had directly collaborated with Mr. Balanchine himself.
We started putting together this piece with the Nashville Ballet very early and watched as the steps and staging unfolded and built in what was the ultimate product which we performed on Tennessee Performing Arts Center stage in the spring. There’s the piano and violin on one side of the stage and only one couple dancing to the music of Stravinsky. The costumes and stage props are very minimal and simple but there is nothing plain or basic about that partnership.
Each night we performed it was a rush of emotions and the connection the four of us felt as we shared the stage in combination of music and dance is still very vivid and dear to me.
When you perform a work by a composer like Clara Schumann, who was also a pianist, do you feel the legacy of the performer who came before you?
Absolutely. Looking over and studying the scores of these great composers gives an immense feeling of humility and awe at the imagination, creativity, virtuosity and genius that came before us. Specifically with the Clara Schumann Concerto there have been many passages where I just couldn’t help but think to myself what a tremendous pianist she must have been and what more she must have had to give. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be able to bring these works to life and give them the attention they deserve. I often think about how many concerts happen all over the world throughout the year and how so many people gather to hear the monumental works of these composers whose works are still very much relevant today and relish in us emotions that are immortal and eternal.
Who is a composer whose work you wish would get more performance time?
I think especially here in the United States there is a great deal of attention to expanding out of the standards and giving time to many out of the box compositions and composers. Nashville is also a very fertile soil for this and I really appreciate how Nashville Opera, Nashville Ballet, the Nashville Symphony and several Nashville based ensembles give room to a lot of new music to be performed. I also find it praiseworthy that the Nashville audience is open to experimenting and supporting this music by going to this events and listening.
I don’t know that I can zero in on one specific composer as I feel that we are really trying our best to combine the old and the new, different styles and mixes to be as well encompassing as possible. I can say though that one of the “older” composers I just can’t get enough of is Francis Poulenc and there’s many new works by Ingrid Stölzel and Jennifer Higdon that I would love to hear more of.
What is a piece that you’ve been dying to play, and for which you’re just waiting for the invitation?
I am always very humbled and grateful whenever I am approached by a new project. I know it gives me a chance to work on myself as I try my best to present it to those who are willing to listen. I’d love to play anything from two piano or four hands repertoire. I absolutely love the sound of the piano and two pianos is just double the joy. I would love the Poulenc two piano concerto or sonata for four hands
Alessandra Volpi performs Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A min, Op. 7 on September 21 with the Nashville Concerto Orchestra.