The 17th annual Felicja Blumental International Music Festival (May 4 to 9 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art), offers an especially rich program. It includes Baroque music from Italy, fado from Portugal, an homage to Jean Sibelius, Victor Hugo and Dubi Seltzer, the 2014 Rubinstein Piano Competition winner Antony Barishevsky, top artists from Israel and abroad, lectures, panel discussions, music documentaries and more.
Concerto de’ Cavalieri, one of Italy’s leading Baroque ensembles, will make its Israeli debut at the festival. In a phone interview, its founder and artistic director, conductor and harpsichord player Marcello di Lisa talks about Baroque music and his orchestra, as well his own entry into the world of music.
Before establishing his ensemble, Di Lisa received a PhD in philology and Greek and Latin literature at the University of Pisa and did research on ancient philosophy and mathematics.
“I studied piano and later composition from an early age,” he explains, “but already as a child I been fascinated by ancient civilizations, so the choice of studying Greek and Latin was the most natural path to follow. But then music came to rescue. Franco Conti, a physics professor at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, connoisseur of early music, encouraged me to practice on a harpsichord in the Palazzo dei Cavalieri (Palace of the Knights). It was there that I had the idea of forming a period-instrument orchestra and devoting myself to the Baroque,” he recounts.
Why Baroque of all periods? “Renaissance and Baroque culture – and therefore the music – is based to a large extent on a reinterpretation of the ancient world, both of its mythological background and its rhetorical and philosophical tradition. That is why the approaches of the scholar and of the interpreter are often not so different. I am deeply attracted by Baroque culture in general.
I think Baroque is an extraordinary era in which our modern world was conceptually built. My favorite area is the late 17th and the early 18th century music, with particular attention to Alessandro Scarlatti,” he says.
Marcello di Lisa is considered one of the most reputed interpreters of Scarlatti. He also rediscovered Scarlatti’s forgotten works and performed them with his ensemble.
“I originally fell in love with Baroque music just by listening to Scarlatti’s sacred works, which were the subject of my first recording. I am fascinated by Scarlatti’s mental and intellectual approach to music and composition, by the way he could creatively manipulate the structures of music and set himself in a crucial position. Perhaps more than any other coeval musician, he contributed significantly to the musical tradition of the 17th century, greatly increasing its potential and thereby inspiring many composers who would later be the leading artists of their time,” he says.
Switching to his ensemble and the musical concept behind it, Di Lisa says that for him, his philological and historical background are of great help in his music activities.
He explains that “Concerto de’ Cavalieri is a period-instrument orchestra that follows historical approaches and uses stylistic and technical features suitable to each historical and geographic context.
But I also want to examine the formal aspects of the text using critical linguistic methods, focusing on articulation, dynamics and other interpretative devices to highlight these textual nuances. With such an analytical approach, I hope to temper a lively and energetic performance style. It is this combination of passion and reason that, in my opinion, makes music more expressive and intriguing.”
As for the name Concerto de’ Cavalieri, it comes from the place where the ensemble was founded, the 16th-century Giorgio Vasari’s Palazzo della Carovana dei Cavalieri di Santo Stefano in Pisa. In fact, those “cavalieri” give the name to many places of the town, he says.
Repertoire-wise the ensemble activity is focused on late 17th and early 18th century Italian music, in particular Neapolitan and Roman Baroque music, with a particular interest in Scarlatti’s unpublished operatic works. In recent years, Concerto de’ Cavalieri created a recording project on the Italian opera of the 18th century in collaboration with Sony Music and musicologist Mario Marcarini.
“We have explored the operatic tradition of our country, starting from Scarlatti – the first volume was devoted to him – and going on with some of the most significant Italian composers, Pergolesi, Vivaldi and Albinoni, on whose unpublished works a new volume is about to be released,” he adds.
Concerto de’ Cavalieri is also intensely involved in the rediscovery of forgotten works: operas such as the second version of Vivaldi’s Tito Manlio, which the ensemble premiered at the Festival d’Ambronay in 2013, and serenatas such as Scarlatti’s Erminia, which will be recorded for the first time by Radio France next July in Montpelier.
Of course, Concerto de’ Cavalieri also plays the well-known Baroque and early classical repertoire. Being devoted to music that has not been heard before gives them the great satisfaction of contributing to the increase and systematization of musical culture. On the other hand, playing famous masterworks such as The Four Seasons and Eine Kleine Nachtmusikgives them the opportunity to discover new interpretive solutions, he says.
At the Felicja Blumental Festival, the Concerto de’ Cavalieri will present two programs. Israeli early music ensemble Fenix, trumpet player Andrea Di Mario and soprano Claire Meghnagi will participate.