In conversation with Italian pianist Lucia Brighenti

Lucia Brighenti is a young and successful Italian pianist currently touring and traveling in Australia. She has garnered numerous awards and accolades both in her native territory and abroad.

Her comprehensive and ambitious musical training and professional trajectory have taken her from Italy to Mexico, to Germany, the UK, Spain, and now Australia.

Currently working as a collaborative pianist for instrumentalists in the Conservatorio G. Cantelli, Novara, as well as at the Talent Music School Master Courses in Verona, the year 2018 saw Brighenti winning a Charles F. Bruny Fellowship enabling her to participate in the Garth Newel Emerging Artist Fellowship Programme, in the United States. Excelling both in chamber music and as a soloist, in addition to Brighenti's collective and individual endeavours she also regularly performs recitals. She is also engaged in masterclasses, where she interprets the works of various renowned composers.  

Brighenti gave two end-of-year concerts at CO.AS.IT in Melbourne 12-13 December, where she took us on an Italian journey from past to present. While the first concert explored the Italian influence from the Baroque to the 20th century, the second interrelated concert covered Italian music from the 20th century up to the present. Brighenti, a musician who takes her chosen music to new speedy heights, was selected as official pianist for the International Talent Summer Festival & Courses 2018, in Brescia. She has been called 'a thoughtful pianist, who strives to make music with honesty and purity of spirit'. I met her on 13 December - an important day for Scandinavians who celebrate it in honour of Italian St. Lucia, a woman said to bring light to the midwinter darkness.

Lucia, warmly welcome to Australia and congratulations on your successful concert at CO.AS.IT last night. I can only imagine how much hard work goes into preparing these performances where you gave us a classical rundown of Italian music history and included two non-Italian composers connected to Italy through their music (Liszt and Chopin), adding further colour and vibrancy to the night. What made you choose these particular composers for your repertoire here in Melbourne?

I wanted to come here and propose something different from the usual piano program, and as I am Italian I could take the audience on a journey through our country's music and influence. So that's how it started and then that led to two programs. The first concert is a journey through the influence of Italy through the various centuries. So not always the Italian composers have been the most influential on the musical scene - that's why I included Chopin and Liszt because at that time Italy was very known for opera but not much else. But the opera did influence, e.g., Chopin a lot and all the arts, and the Italian culture influenced, for example, Liszt and they are the two greatest pianists of those times. And when it comes to the 20th century there are a lot of composers who are starting to be rediscovered in Italy but are not all that well-known abroad because they lived and worked at a time when they operated in the shadows of Fascism [which restricted their movements]. But at this controversial time there was a whole movement, with Italian composers wanting to relaunch their music, especially instrumental music, who wanted a break from the opera and so they were rediscovering early Italian music. A lot of pieces by Respighi, for example, are 'all'antica' [literally 'in the manner of the ancients', and with that is meant not set within a fixed framework]. Yes, and then we keep going and Italian composers became big on the cinema screen with, e.g., Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone.

What do you think the success of Italian music also abroad is due to?

I think Italian music generally is easy to listen to. There is an attachment to melodies, that comes from opera, and these are some of the traits that makes this music very accessible.

With regard to your concert yesterday compared to the one given tonight, which is more popular with the audience?

I'm not sure actually. In yesterday's concert I think the music was generally very accessible. Today's concert has a few more complicated pieces. They are a bit more dissonant.

Compared to some of the larger concert venues where you have performed in, at CO.AS.IT the room is smaller and more intimate. How does it feel to be playing so close to the audience?

It's different but actually very nice because you feel the energy of the audience closer to you. So, it is two very different venues.

If you yourself could interview any composer through time, who would it be?

I have a great love for Brahms. I am always amazed at how he wrote only three piano sonatas and at the age of 20 and they are so emotionally rich that I am always struck by it. How can you feel so much at 20? It's very interesting.

What first inspired your musical interest? Do your parents come from a musical background?

Yes, I studied piano with my mum from age 5 until 11 and then at conservatory. Well it's a choice and I discovered that I needed music and I couldn't see myself without music and even if it felt it would be hard it was worth it.

What does music mean to you?

It's the place you always go back to, the place that is always there for you. It also allows you to always be very honest with yourself because when you are playing, whatever is inside you comes out. It's almost therapeutic and the excitement and vibes you get in a concert are very special.

How do you keep your tenacity and fitness (e.g. nimble fingers) going?

'Daily practice and throughout the year you build up all your abilities and then when you practise it's this searching for the sounds and the body responds. The variety of sounds starts from there so in some ways it is almost unconscious "and you find a way to make it happen". She adds that as a pianist your mind never rests so she'll be happy to have a holiday.

You have performed in Sydney and leading up to Christmas will be giving recitals in Melbourne and Ballarat. You also have an upcoming Wayville House Concert in Adelaide on 18 December. How does performing abroad differ from working within an Italian environment?

'I guess [abroad] maybe I feel different because it's somewhere completely new and you don't know people. I feel happy to bring something new here. Yesterday, for example, I played for the radio and they didn't know the piece and it's a very nice feeling to play something that has not been discovered yet or people don't know about it yet'. And she mentions Pizzetti, Rota and Respighi.

Does performing music put you in a different mindset?

At the piano it is always 'the same', but every concert is different as the energy from the audience is different.

Where do you feel more able to explore your musical repertoire: as a soloist or in a chamber music setting?

I can't say, it depends. It is different: chamber music is in a team and so your energy is everyone's energy and when you rehearse it is different as you interact and come up with ideas together; it is an exploring together. So, it is only you and that is also very nice and you decide everything, but obviously you need to do all the work.

What or who are your main musical influences?

Recently I have found a great teacher and mentor who is always going to have a positive influence on me: Roberto Paruzzo, and obviously my mother as I started off with her, as well as some fellow academy friends who do different things but have a very openminded view on music. And there are great performers mainly from the past that I like to go back to, such as Horowitz, etc. You find your own view on things.

You have been called 'a thoughtful pianist' who 'strives to make music with honesty and purity of spirit'. Please elaborate.

I think so but it's also hard to be able to really clearly see something like that about yourself when you play. I do think it's part of my personality and in the end when I perform I want to get the music out there and you have to forget about yourself so whatever comes out is only partly yourself. You are transported into the music.

Part of your repertoire is focussed on the romantic era. What draws you to this period?

It's the period in which the piano was the centre so it's actually really fulfilling to play those pieces and these composers treat the piano very differently; it's very challenging and interesting.

In terms of spectatorship, what does your ideal audience look like?

'What I would like to see is a younger audience taking an interest in culture more than anything else and being curious about all that is around', but she says that, in the end, she is interested in a wide range of audiences.

What do you see as the most important role or function of classical music in society today? And how easy or difficult is it for traditional classical music to retain its space in a world spinning fast, which is inundated by noise and where the public space is often filled with pop and easy listening?  

I think that is the reason why classical music has an access point because there is so much frenzy, and sometimes you want to break from it all and classical music gives you a break from the world at times.

Does piano music benefit our mental wellbeing or have healing properties?

'Yes, music in general. I am taking a bit of interest in music therapy - and she mentions the important link between Parkinson Disease and Alzheimer's and, e.g., memory and dance, play, etc.

What core human values are reinforced through classical music and what makes classical music so evocative?

I think it takes you wherever you want to go according to how you feel at the moment and what's going on inside you. Definitely, it does evoke something that's inside you, whatever it is, which makes it self-reflective and part of a self-discovery.

You have enjoyed many successes on the musical stage and have an impressive repertoire and resume. What is your recipe for success?

I always believe that what can be seen on the outside is just a facade. I think the main thing that people need to remember is that it's just a facade. Underneath we all have a lot of doubts and struggles but the main thing is to keep going and give yourself something to aim for.

How will your many accolades influence your upcoming projects?

I would like to aim for South America next. It's a place with a lot of potential, with a lot of will to discover new things. I have a project with a violist, an all-women program which I would like to take off and then probably plan a recording. Recordings are also controversial; there are so many around that I don't see the point of recording, e.g., Beethoven's sonata and so it has to be new and interesting, kind of like a PhD.

Would you say something is lost in the recording?

'Yes, maybe it's consequence of the recording but maybe it's consequence of our society and so just like photos are photoshopped, with live performance you get all of it; the mistakes, etc. There is this tendency today to have a perfect recording which adds an extra level of stress. If you listen to the old pianists they weren't perfect; you can hear their mistakes and it is amazing anyway. We are not perfect'. And she ponders: 'And what is perfection anyway?'

What performance has been the most fulfilling for you on both a personal and professional level?

'Definitely the time I went to Mexico was a high. I played with a very big orchestra and it was my first time overseas. There was so much adrenaline building up before and when I got there. But then there are also smaller concerts in more intimate settings. I always find it fulfilling when someone comes and tells you that they have been really moved and that's in the end what I'm looking for; that is the point of what I am doing'.

On being a pianist and musician, Lucia says that it is both a selfless or altruistic 'and selfish experience. The selfish part comes from spending a lot of time by yourself searching your inner world and that's something that perhaps other jobs don't allow you to do. And then you get it all back when you perform'.

What would you have chosen as a career if you had not been a pianist?

I would have been a surgeon or architect and I'm pretty sure that if I was born in Australia I would have become a biologist. I'm just fascinated by Australia and the Australian nature.

If you could transport yourself back in time where would you be?

'I think nowhere because given women's situation, I'm pretty happy where I am' [and she laughs].

What is your final message to your Australian audience?

I am very grateful to have been able to perform here. I hope I have brought something new and interesting to the audience that maybe even leaves a little spark for the future, and it's just been a great experience and it will continue to be great until I leave. I am considering coming back to Australia every two to three years.

And a final message to your Italo-Australian audience?

Never forget how much amazing culture we have. We have so much history and we need to keep making history.