Francesco Libetta : The Italian piano artist explores the current state of the art
Libetta is a musician’s pianist, re-invited year after year to tour venues beyond his home in Italy, where he has made his name as the established artist of the keyboard that he is. His fans worldwide are loyal, devoted and growing.
One of his homes away from home ( an intimate, remote place near Lecche) in the United States is Giselle Brodsky’s Miami Piano Festival, where Libetta is often one of Giselle’s group of handpicked, chosen pianists who not only excel though their superior skills as instrumentalists, but are true artists.
Giselle and Libetta met in 1994, after Giselle heard a commercially produced recording of one of his Chopin performances in Milan, which in her opinion, even though it made her interested in the young Italian artist, did not do his pianism justice. She wanted to see him perform live at her festival in Miami.
“There is an invisible net in the music business and its workings are mysterious. It’s very hard to explain why some artists are successful and others aren’t as much,” says Libetta in an interview in his Hotel off 57th Street, just a minute away from Steinway Hall where he used the practice rooms for his performance in the large scale Italian productions of The Profile, The Life And The Faith Across The Notes by Mario Jazzetti, at Avery Fisher Hall, on May 12th. “Maurizio, as he calls himself, did not study composition, “Libetta explains, “but wanted to write a personal diary, a description of life and love through all their trials. It features a very difficult piano part and the orchestration had to be redone. The whole production became a six part concerto, very passionate and melodic. Sixty years after it was written, the orchestration completed after his death, his widow wanted to hear the whole piece after living with the composer for forty years and knowing he had only worked on this piece his entire life. I found the whole story around it quite touching and agreed to perform it, when his son approached me. “
Libetta continued his train of thought with me“…there are musicians that are praised a lot but don’t sell season tickets and then the opposite is true of some very famous names that are magnets at the box office. I guess it’s a combination of curiosity and fashion. Especially now, with fame not necessarily being created in the concert hall but on the Internet, it is harder to keep an audience interested by a good performance alone and the press is not that interested in writing reviews of concerts. When I grew up, every little town newspaper had its own music critique. If you had a good recital you had a critique, and you had that documentation at hand, something you can’t reliably count on anymore. You can only collect your programs to have the indication that you performed there.” The pianist gets animated and speaks in a charming, heavy Italian accent, as he relates his experiences in the music world and its business aspects. “Someone said to me: ‘The world is great and there will always be a place were you can perform once. But if you are in one season program you will be in others as well.’”
With gusto, he continues, “People like to fall back on names they are familiar with. It’s the same like in the super market. You buy the brand you know. You will go look for a certain product you know already. So, if the newspapers don’t write about a performer and the season’s producer is not brave enough to program an artist, the manager does not want to take a leap of faith…but at the end, what is the real sensor of fame? Some recordings on YouTube get thousands of clicks; others, of truly great artists perhaps a few steady clicks.”
“When Yuja Wang recently performed Bartok’s Second Piano Concerto,” he continues, impassioned, “it was broadcast on Radio. The director, a friend of mine, asked me how I enjoyed it and I told him that even though I did enjoy her – she was very good – in the live performance she did not have enough sound. That’s one of the problems of giving live concerts. You have to be able to adjust your dynamics. In a big hall that requires a lot of sound, but, with compressed sound bites on YouTube, it is not necessary. Therefore, if you just play fast enough you will sound great on YouTube, but it takes a different kind of musician to perform on stage. It also involves the audience in a special way. It appears as if it’s one musician playing to thousands of people, but really it is thousands of people willing to listen to this one musician as well. “
When asked if he often goes to other musicians’ concerts, he tells me honestly, ”I live in quite a remote place and I live alone. The pianist is alone anyway most of the time, so I am always interested in an exchange of some sort with other musicians, but not necessarily going to other’s concerts. Rachmaninov famously said, if another pianist was bad, it was upsetting, and if he was good it was even more upsetting to him.” We laugh.
“It depends what you are looking for. I am not particular interested in the technical capacity – a new piece, I can read myself. Sometimes it can be interesting to pick up on new trends, programming, what’s happening altogether, you can feel things are going in one direction or another. I liked being in Miami, where I met so many wonderful musicians and friends and there is huge talent, like Ilya Itin or Louis Prat. And I enjoy teaching Chamber Music to young students at the State Conservatory. There is a huge discrepancy between the score and the music these days. Almost like in medieval times, when people were illiterate, they knew how to speak but not how to read. I sometimes feel I play for blind people, so few are literate in music and I feel it’s important to bridge that distance. In the fifties and sixties when Richter played, there was repertoire people believed in, they knew what to expect.”And I certainly agree that while today’s audiences may be much more open-minded, few are very music-literate.
Francesco Libetta, good looking and sporty, believes strongly in a good work ethic as the conditioning of an artist, both at the piano and away from it. He likes physical activities along with disciplined work at the piano. “The sound is the shape of your movement. If you control the movement the music comes out naturally,” he explains. “Callas was once interviewed, and asked what she deemed more important, technique or musicality and she said :’What do you mean, without technique there is not a single sound of music?’ Technique, the know how, only gives you the power to say what you want to say. Art is a craft. Virtuosity is the control of the body and soul. It is not a gift.”