HAPPENED TODAY - On August 5, 1958, the pianist and composer Joseph Holbrooke died in London

Dear Maestro Umberto Pedraglio, thank you for agreeing to answer the questions in this interview and for the consideration given to our website.
Can you tell us about your family? Do you have cellists or musicians in your family? Can you tell us something about it? Have you been encouraged by your city, Como, to became a musician? How did you discover of the cello, actual”companion” of your life?.
My parents are craftsmen. My father, a sportsman (former cyclist) who studied by the Brera Fine Arts Academy, was a polishist / painter / decorator and got involved in socio-cultural activities related to the territory as well. My mother, of Apulian origins, has always been a caring person and used to take good care of minimal details, mainly in her work as seamstress. Although not musicians, my parents always gave me the tools to cultivate my great passion: music. From an early age, in fact, I loved spending whole afternoons playing toy instruments and contemplating the world of sounds; my parents first directed me to private piano lessons and then to the local Conservatory of Music, a true musical reference point for the city of Como. It was there that I met the cello, an instrument that I appreciated more and more through my studying and the concerts I frequently attended with my relatives. I particulary remember one among these: it was the spring of 1990 and a string quartet was performing in Como, at the historical Salone Musa. The performers came from abroad and performed music unknown to me, with unusual sounds and dissonant harmonies, which I was listening to for the first time: they were the Arditti String Quartet who proposed a program with masterpieces by Kurtag (Op 28), Bartok (Quartet n. 4) and Ligeti (Quartet 2). Even if I didn’t fully understand, by that time, the meaning of of such a music, I remember that I was very impressed by the sound and the cellist’s performance: I still have the autograph of Rohan de Saram and I think that somehow it was a sign of destiny to meet him.
Can you briefly describe the first period of your cello’s studying? With which teachers and in which Conservatory of Music?.
I started studying cello by the Como Conservatory under Guido Boselli. With him I was able to face an unconventional course of study, often experimenting with the study of contemporary scores, even in chamber formations, since he himself has always been a performer, thus maintaining a parallelism between the traditional and the modern repertoire. At the conservatory I also had the great opportunity to meet the baroque player Paolo Beschi (historical cellist of the Giardino Armonico), with whom I studied quartet for several years, and who taught me to sink with love and passion the roots in the past.
After the Masterclasses and Specialization courses you took part of, who are the the most representative and relevant musical figures who brought you to your professional career ?.
Particularly crucial for me was surely the meeting with Enrico Bronzi, an extraordinary musician with a deep musical sensibility. He represented a turning point for me, stimulating my imagination a lot and giving me the tools to play the cello with ever greater awareness. But I cannot fail to mention the great Giovanni Gnocchi, Stefano Cerrato, Siegfried Palm and Giovanni Sollima, to whom I am particulary attached: with his versatility, and acting as an example himself, he was the first one who suggested to me also to perform my music. I believe that the simultaneous training received as a cellist and composer also influenced my overall maturity. While I was attending a specialization course with Sollima in Brescia, I was also perfecting myself in composition with Azio Corghi, for example. This put me in a privileged position especially in relation to those scores that require a peculiar capacity for analysis and understanding; I mean, for example, scores that have never been performed and never I could have listened to.
You have got several teachers in Composition and of great value: was your interest towards the Composition growing in the same way as for the cello?.
I was lucky enough to study Composition with great names on the international scene (George Benjamin, Azio Corghi, Wolfgang Rihm, Alessandro Solbiati, Ivan Fedele, etc). Without taking anything away from all the others and from my first teacher Carlo Ballarini, from whom I obviously learned a lot, Ivan Fedele was undoubtedly the one who marked me most profoundly, somehow changing forever my life as a musician. Ivan Fedele, with great intelligence, has been been able to fully open the doors to contemporaneity, putting me in contact with a deeper and never explored part of me. Even in this case, however, the aptitude to write for for cello wasn’t born within a single training course. The world of composition and music interpretation merged in me in a natural way, thus leading me to write and perform more and more often scores for cello, even in different formations: solo cello, duo with piano, chamber ensemble, solo cello and strings, cello and orchestra etc. I would say that the writing for cello came out of my personal need to give a single voice to my vision and my musical thought.
You are the Artistic Director of the Polifonie Cultural Association: can you tell us about this association? Which kind of activities do you carry out within your association and which are your competences as coordinator of the same?.
The main objectives of the Polifonie Cultural Association are related to the promotion and dissemination of culture, music and art, among new generations, particularly enhancing contemporary classical music. For this the Association founded an ensemble dedicated to the enhancement of new music, the Appassionato Ensemble. It organizes educational and youth activities, as well as seminars, conferences, international composition competitions and concerts open to the public, particularly dedicated to the 20th century music and world premiere performances. As the Artistic Director of the association I take care of organizing and managing these activities, which are carried out with a great spirit of collaboration by the members, in order to be able to share the results in cultural events of a certain quality, but at the same time accessible to all. Personal commitment makes the difference and, in certain sense, it is salso a social duty. I must say that, fortunately, I am surrounded and helped by very passionate peoplein animated by a great spirit of collaboration.
In the piece “Katharsis” for cello and orchestra (2013)that you perform with the “Orchestra Sinfonica G. Verdi” from Milan – excerpt – despite its brevity, it’s very evident a dominant dark and dramatic sound introduced by flashes of strings appearances.
“Katharsis” for cello and orchestra is the first among two concertos I wrote for cello. It is a very important score for me because it represents me in a dualism that affirms the realization of a dream: being a composer and cellista s well. The path that the cello takes within the composition is a sort of journey into the unconscious that organizes the function of the orchestra in compositional terms, which in fact acts as a resonator. The dramaturgy of the piece, as the title suggests, refers more to a concept of liberation, or if you like, to a principle of liberation of the spirit which, as in a dream, is free to roam in its own inner universe.
Would you like to talk to us about your recordings? Which recording companies have you worked and which are the authors?.
I dedicated a musical interlude in my life, when I was younger, in order to tackle other musical genres, especially jazz music. I took part in several musical projects and concerts and in many of those occasions recording projects have been realized. I remember a recording with Arrigo Cappelletti and Flavio Minardo for MAP Records, where I enjoyed the insertion of unconventional sounds (noises) on the cello. I also recall a very interesting work of musical contamination, performed on music by Bill Evans with the “ Roberto Mattei Octet”, recorded for Abeat Records. By that time, I also had founded a string quartet together with my friend Davide Alogna. Togheter we performed countless times in a café concert by the wonderful setting of Villa D’Este in Cernobbio (Como Lake), having a lot of fun in performing music transcribed by me, time to time, for such the occasion. On that occasion we recorded, togheter with Paolo Tomelleri by the legendary Murec Studio in Milan, a piece commissioned by me for the “Carosello” exhibition at the well known Enrico Fornello contemporary art gallery in Prato.
In your musical orientation, is there an authentic and very strong interest in contemporary music? Isn’t it? Can you explain your strong interest towards the 900? (And towards the 2000?).
I have always been a creative and curious person. I like to explore the world of sounds, looking for new timbres and new forms, discovering new languages and experimenting with them. It makes me feel like a child again, in a way, it’s almost a game. But behind my scores there is always an architecture, another great passion of mine, and a vision, or rather an idea; the writing allows me to communicate my musical thought and to have the possibility of sharing it with anyone, even when I am no longer there, to feel part of a whole. Furthermore I really like playing contemporary music. Being the first to perform (when facing a world premiere) the musical idea of another musician, observing today’s trends, following individual and collective way of thinking from all over the world, discovering how cello’s writing develops and its capability to communicate its wonderful musical potencial, all of this it’s very rewarding to me.
You teach in a Music High School: as a privileged observer and as a part of the teaching, what do you think about teaching music in Italy? For example, regarding the enhancement of the musical heritage, organization, programs, real preparation for a very demanding professional world.
Musical education in Italy is the result of a reform that tends to align itself with European canons, according to the primary / secondary / university model, but unfortunately it is still incomplete. In fact, we have planned, but active only in the form of sporadic experiments (DM8), specific educational paths for primary schools, but in fact we begin to study a musical instrument in secondary schools, ie at 11 years of age. Too late in my opinion. In my opinion, the preparatory aspect that allows an individual to come into contact naturally with musical instruments, from an early age, offering him the opportunity to develop a logical, expressive and communicative maturity also necessary to guide his own potential is totally missing. In fact, we must not forget that playing a musical instrument is not just a specialization, it provides opportunities for integration and growth even for those who are at a disadvantage, it falls within the sphere of the individual’s global education and offers the possibility of developing a more aware awareness of oneself and of the way of relating to society, in the practice of ensemble music, for example, through the sharing of rules. We have many examples all over the world, but in Italy, unfortunately, music is still seen only as a passion, a hobby, and thus increasingly concerns only the people who have chosen to specialize in music, isolating themselves in spite of themselves. I believe that in this way people are sadly deprived of an indispensable education for the cultural growth of an entire society. Even from an organizational point of view, therefore, the enhancement of the musical heritage and programming, in my opinion, are affected by this serious cultural and educational lack.
G. Sollima will perform your new composition “Prelude and Allemanda”: what can you tell us about this combination and when will the premiere take place?.
Prelude and Allemanda is a piece for solo cello that I recently wrote inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite in G Major BWV 1007. Dedicated to Giovanni Sollima, the piece was conceived as a function of a new recording project by the artist – the integral execution of the six Suites by J.S.Bach, starting from the ‘presumed’ manuscript of Anna Magdalena, with music by other composers related to the Six Suites and involves the use of two different instruments: a traditional cello, and an alternative second cello, or the hay cello by the sculptor Julia Artico. With an experimental and innovative notation, my score represents a transfiguration in a modern key of the ancient Renaissance and Baroque dances from which it takes its inspiration, and is a piece of sound, timbre and aesthetic research. Without disengaging from a personal compositional idea and from one’s own poetics, therefore, it reflects my privileged way of understanding concert today, in a combination of music and other arts that dialogue with each other, between past and present. Unfortunately, the realization of the project is undergoing continuous changes, due to the health emergency situation in which we are, so I cannot say exactly when the first performance will take place. I imagine at this point in 2021.
Another important collaboration is the one with Sandro Laffranchini, as member of “Como Contemporary Festival 2020” (also as Artistic Director). Will he premiere another your pieces?.
Another piece I wrote for solo cello is the one commissioned by Sandro Laffranchini. It is called “Come un commediante” and it comes from a reflection and a request by the cellist from La Scala to “come out” of his role as orchestral player and to explore new musical territories as a soloist. Hence my compositional idea of ‘imprisoning’ the cello and the cellist in a role that, through an almost theatrical writing (not surprisingly Laffranchini works in a theater), can free him from the constraints of the score itself. In the short composition (the duration is about 5 minutes) the repetitiveness and unpredictability of a gesture are related. Here the interpreter is the protagonist of a gradual expressive escalation, which transforms a “tense, almost inanimate” ostinato into a series of almost sudden, noisy and breaking musical gestures. This ineluctable crescendo is counterbalanced by a melancholy song, a sort of crystallized, incessant but at the same time delicate cry, in which the performer can give vent to all his inner lyricism. The song, published by Edizioni Sconfinarte, has been included in the Como Contemporary Festival 2020 programming and its first performance was initially scheduled for June and then in December 2020 but, in compliance with the various DPCM and continuous health restrictions, it has suffered inevitable postponements . It will therefore premiere in 2021.
Can you tell us something about your second concert for cello and orchestra “Drawing of Light”, played by Enrico Bronzi with the “Orchestra Milano Classica”?.
The second cello concert I wrote is entitled “Drawings of Light”. It was commissioned by Enrico Bronzi and it was thought by the artist with the intention to renew the repertoire for cello and string orchestra. My score, which can also be performed without a conductor, is inspired by photography, photographic composition techniques and its processes of musical production explore timbres and registers of cello and strings, particularly focusing on the concepts of vibrato and repetition. The piece is divided into three movements, which retrace, according to my personal interpretation, the process of photographic exposure and development, according for which light is captured and impressed on the film in the most varied ways. In this piece, the cello is treated with extreme sensitivity, drawing fragment of melodies and repeating silences while, in the orchestra, the sound becomes almost dust. The piece, included in the 2018/19 season of the “Orchestra Milano Classica”, was masterfully premiered by Enrico Bronzi as conductor and soloist, on 13th January 2019 by the Palazzina Liberty in Milan. The work is part of a recording project for artist who also provides the performances of other pieces for cello and strings commissioned by other composers of nowaday.
You have also written pieces for piano: “ 3 Pieces”, for solo piano (excerpt), performed by Maria Grazia Bellocchio. Can you tell us about these pieces and in wich occasion were they composed?.
The “3 Pieces” for piano were conceived on occasion of a summer masterclass that I attended in 2010, held by the extraordinary composer and teacher Alessandro Solbiati. The 3 pieces represent a snapshot of the unforgettable suggestions I had during my journey by the Caetani Castle in Sermoneta (Lt), in the heart of a quaint medieval village perched on top of a hill along the Appian Way. The sensation I felt when I saw the plain below, from the top of the castle walls, gave me the inspiration for the compositive idea of the last piece, built on an intense and repetitive gesture as a sort of peaceful ritual. The work opens with an iconic image of the village, where the houses are set as in a fortified fairytale landscape, in which the sound material is clearly dislocated in two contrasting registers. The second piece (the one to which the sound extract refers), quick and light, represents a passage between these two worlds.
What cello do you play ?.
I play a Pierre Auguste Mauchand cello, constructed in the small village of Mirecourt (France) at the end of the 18th century. It is a cello to which I am very fondly attached because it has an ancient and elegant sound. It is always surprising me because of its voluptuousness, even when I play contemporary music and when I look for harsher sounds.
You hold Courses and Masterclasses in Ochsenhausen: how is the “mood” in this German school and where are the differences about the teaching in Germany and Italy?.
In Germany there is a totally different approach to music and culture in comparison in our country. From an educational/didactic point of view, and from an artistic/production point of view, the musician plays an important role within the society and obtains a totally different consideration in comparison with the one that a musician in Italy receives. In Germany due to the fact that musical training is cultivated and guaranteed since the early years of school, there are proportionally only a few people who choose to continue their musical career up to university. By the wonderful “Landesakademie für die musizierende Jugend” in Ochsenhausen (where I have been going for years), I have often attended to young people concerts with students enrolled in high school of music, performing (both as soloists and orchestra members) pieces such as F.B. Mendellshon’s Double Concerto for example, in front of a paying audience of 400 people. What’s wrong? That the performers were not good at all, and neither was the orchestra, but the students were performing together, with great passion and commitment, in front of a large and attentive audience, thus having the opportunity to live an incredible cultural and educational experience first on a human level. Indeed, realizing the very high interpretation/technical difficulties that the world of music brings with it, in itself, a lot of young people choose other paths than music, even if continuing to attend the world of art and culture as spectators, being certainly very much cultured and interested. Therefore, only the most passionate talents continue their training at the university, where they can specialize with the great masters.
Edizioni Sconfinarte: can you tell us about this publishing house and which kind of relationship do you have with it?.
The cooperation with “Sconfinarte” started in 2016, when I received a commission from the “60th International Festival of Contemporary Music La Biennale di Venezia” to write a piece for cello (“Casualmente”) that was recently recorded by the cellist Fernando Caida Greco for the Tactus publishing house and ready to come out in a few months. Since our professional relationship has consolidated more and more, the possibilities to cooperate are multiplying as well the opportunities for publishing and recording my scores. This is the case, for example, of “Incanto” for string quartet, commissioned by the “Indaco Quartet” and by Edizioni Sconfinarte for the realization of a special recording production dedicated to the 7th Anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death (the piece will be recorded in January 2021 by Sconfinarte Edizioni Discografiche). Same situation of “On the tracks of a ghost” for string trio, written and dedicated to the great Ilya Gringolts, Lawrence Power and Daniel Haefliger. Or even “Portrait” for violin and orchestra, that will be premiered by the extraordinary Marco Rizzi. Furthermore, new projects with Fulvio Liviabella (Teatro alla Scala), the Choir of Milan Cathedral (a work based on text by Alessandro Quattrone, E. Montale’s prize), the “Duo Tubi & Corde” and the above mentioned “Appassionato Ensemble”. Shortly, I really believe that there are conditions for a prolific relationship and I also hope it will last.
Dear Maestro Pedraglio, heartfelt thanks for your availability, all the best for your career and any other aspect of your life!.
Thanks to you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts.
Art is life!