AN INTERVIEW WITH ADRIANO
The conductor ADRIANO (known by his first name only) first came to
international prominence in the 1980s as the dedicated and inspirational
conductor of a series on the Marco Polo label. The works featured include
music by Respighi (on whom Adriano
is one of the world's foremost authorities), Pilati and Strong. His
film music discs include scores by Auric, Honegger, Ibert, Bliss, Herrmann,
Khachaturian and Waxman.
The interview is Adriano's most extensive, candid and forthright interview
to date. In it he challenges our assumptions about the conductor and
about music-making. Adriano stands as evidence that there are other
routes to the podium than those we traditionally associate with the
This interview is exclusive to Music on the Web.
It was conducted by Rob Barnett by e-mail during December 2001/January
Adriano in the Bratislava control room during the recording
of his CD with music by Mario Pilati (January 2001, Photo by Fero Horvat)
Can you remind me of your basic biographical details:
I was born on July 10th, 1944; the same day as Carl
Orff and Marcel Proust, two other artists I admire very much. I was
very happy to personally meet Orff in 1973...
Were your parents or family at all musical?
My parents were musical (my mother apparently having
a concert diploma and my father playing the violin) but I could never
see nor hear at home any proof of that; no piano, no recordings, no
concert-going ... For unknown reasons, after their marriage, they had
given up music and that is why perhaps I was not allowed to learn it
myself. When I told them I wanted to play an instrument my parent's
reaction was as if I had asked a thing of which I was not even worthy.
The relationship with my parents was a very difficult one: I had not
seen them until I was 11 years old.
I had grown-up with my grand-parents, to whom I owe
my strong will and artistic habits, my need of liberty and my anti-authoritarian
attitude towards conventional education systems such as schools. As
a boy I knew already that if one wants to learn something, you have
to discover it alone and must take possession of it, to keep it for
life. This no matter in which domain of art, culture or human aspect.
I am aware and proud of the fact that the things I can do best I have
learnt without teachers.
Your education ...
I had to follow my parent's advice and studied at a
technical gymnasium, since I was not allowed to follow a literary direction.
My parents did not want me to study Latin and Greek and it was decided
that I would become an architect. I had much passion for literature
and already at the age of 15 I was reading novels in Italian (my mother-tongue),
German and French, mostly by classic authors or theatrical plays. I
identified myself with Cervantes' Don Quixote, this is the book I have
read and re-read many times. Later on, after I had learnt English without
any lessons at all, I became addicted to Dickens, Wilkie Collins and
to Gothic novels. I had also discovered the American author Charles
Brockden Brown, whose books remain one of my favourites today.
In that respect you are probably better read than
many native English speakers. I am familiar with The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins though I know there are many other substantial novels
by Collins. Dickens is well known but not widely read now. Who is Charles
Bockden Brown? The other names are familiar.
Bockden Brown (1771-1810) was the first American Gothic novelist and
also the very first author who had made a profession from his talent.
He wrote six very impressive novels, among which "Arthur Mervin" and
"Ormond, the Secret Witness" are romances based on the 1793 yellow fever
epidemic of Philadelphia. His masterwork "Wieland or the Transformation"
is a profound psychological analysis of a man, torn between mysticism
and dementia. He is terrorised by an imposter, a ventriloquist, who
gradually transforms him into a madman and murderer of his family, after
making him hear an apparently supernatural inner voice. Brockden Brown's
works are more realistic and moralistic than the works by English Gothic
writers. In a way I still don't understand why he is classified in this
category. These works are not even set in typical Gothic environments
as those by Ann Radcliffe and others. Brown's oeuvre is practically
unavailable today. I was lucky enough to find an expensive 6-volume
facsimile print of 1970, lacking, alas a critical study on this great
author, who was a widely cultured man, interested in politics, medicine,
psychology, sciences and detection. I consider him a precursor of Edgar
Allan Poe, another master in describing the abysses of the human soul.
Another author I like very much is Thomas Preskett Prest (1810-1879),
who was a British journalist and musician, besides being the author
of various Gothic novels. His "Varney the Vampire" is a congenial Vampire
novel, published in 1847, which must have inspired Bram Stoker's "Dracula".
Incidentally, my dream would be to compose a (chamber?)
opera based on Stoker's novel, whose libretto I have already drafted.
It follows faithfully the original story and style. I hope to be able
to accomplish this dream still during this life, but who is going to
commission and finance this? I would need a two-year's sabbatical. I
think previously composed operas on Vampires from Marschner's "Vampyr"
to Robert Moran's "The Dracula Diary" have not come out well, since
they are not based on Stoker's masterwork. Only Philip Feeney's ballet
"Dracula" has found a subtle way to transpose Stoker to music.
Going back to literature do you know the works of H
P Lovecraft - I wondered if those dark fantasies have any echo in the
work of fellow American Brockden Brown.
At present I am reading the collected stories of Henry
James, but Lovecraft is still on my list of writers to discover.
Do you know the gothic novel 'Vathek' by William Beckford
and are you familiar with two musical interpretations of the work? There
are tone poems by Horatio Parker and a very little known tone poem/ballet
by the Portuguese composer Luis de Freitas Branco.
Of course I know and have in my library Beckford's
"Vathek", together with Walpole's "Castle of Otranto" and Polidori's
"The Vampyre". I knew about Horatio Parker's poems, but had no idea
about Freitas Branco's work, another composer I admire very much.
I am sorry. That pleasant excursion was my fault. If
we can return to your family background ….
My father's disillusionment with his son increased
after he came to see me as an anti-militarist. He was a professional
army instructor and had become later a Swiss military attaché.
He had hoped, of course, that I would take this direction too. Last
but not least, my parents had to face the fact that I was homosexual.
I actually never really suffered, nor even felt sorry for having deluded
my parents in such manifold ways. I knew exactly that I was more important
and that, as soon I was away from home, I would start to live the way
I wanted, since I was firmly decided to become an artist, eventually
a dramatic actor.
At the age of 20 I realised also that a musician's
career from an instrumentalist's side would be quite hopeless, since
I had started too late at the Conservatory. I had to finance these studies
by myself, by working as an office clerk. Little by little I realised
that the narrow-minded teaching methods of the Zurich Conservatory clinched
with my tastes, ambitions and my innate impatience to learn as much
as possible in short time and only the things I found necessary. I had
got a bad reputation at that institution anyway, since I was already
composing piano pieces before having basic harmony lessons. But basic
knowledge of musical writing had been already learned by myself before
entering the Conservatory and I already criticised some old-fashioned
notation clichés as, for example, the way vocal parts were written,
making them appear out-of-the musical pattern and phrasing since their
notes were bound together with beams only if two nearby notes belonged
to a same syllable of the singing text (a writing technique I discovered
later on that Arthur Honegger was trying to promote). I also enrolled
in a piano class and my teacher, Prof. Steinbrecher (which means rockcrusher
and quarryman), could not easily crush nor quarry me. I regularly intervened
during theory classes with questions which my teachers apparently had
never heard before, or which were simply regarded as insolent, such
as "why is it forbidden to do this in harmony, why is this piece considered
as weak, why a fugue has to end up like this, or how exactly does music
reach one's heart, intellect and senses etc in order that we get excited
I was the cause of a little scandal when I came into
class one evening with the score and a recording of Ives's Fourth Symphony,
to prove that to write music is like painting, that its creator is absolutely
free to do what he wants as long as he feels it from inside, and that
the use of traditional harmony is a very personal matter. That was around
1966, at a time I had already started collecting LPs and discovering
my love for Russian music. I must admit to having learned my whole musical
culture from LPs not from music teachers, otherwise I would have remained
bogged down in German Romanticism. The next scandal I caused was as
a result of an audiovisual lecture on Tchaikovsky I had arranged at
the Conservatory. It was a kind of multimedia show with music examples,
texts and photographic projections, trying to illustrate Tchaikovsky's
life and tragedy as a homosexual. I went so far to say that if Tchaikovsky
had not discovered himself as a homosexual, his music would never have
embraced such depths. Gosh, was I a militant at that time!
The invitation to leave the Zurich Conservatory was
decided upon mutual agreement. I felt free again and decided to go on
learning largely as an autodidact. I did however convince myself to
start taking singing lessons. The two teachers I had were more progressive
than many and helped me very much. I remained faithful to them for 8
years, but I never really wanted to become a professional singer. I
found this orientation too limited for my more creative nature. At the
age of 23 I had pretensions to be involved with music, but had none
of the talents nor the technique one needs to become a so-called professional,
able to wave about diplomas, master-classes and references.
A mentor of mine at that time was Hermann Leeb, a marvellous
and highly cultured musician and the head of classical music at Zurich
Radio. He gave me a lot of courage and admired my highly personal and
passionate way of living music. He introduced me to Ernest Ansermet
and to Josef Keilberth without saying to me that he had already guessed
that a conducting career would be eventually something to try. Both
conductors, whom I deeply admired, allowed me to attend rehearsals and
Keilberth was kind enough to even buy extra pocket scores for me before
attending his rehearsals with the Basle Symphony. The first classical
works I could ever hear and see in a rehearsal were Gluck's "Iphigenie"
Overture (the Wagner version) and Max Reger's "Böcklin-Suite" under
Keilberth's baton. After these encouraging acquaintances, I also met
Paul Sacher, who gave my enthusiasm a first blow when he told me that
in my case it were as if I wanted to become a general before having
finished my soldier's formation. I went home in a crisis, although Keilberth
had already said to me that there were many excellent conductors who
could not play an instrument, and many instrumentalists had become uninteresting
conductors. He also said that it was important to be able to read the
music of a score with the mind and not to play it on the piano, that
it needed a special dimension a vast general culture, of which, at least,
I could already be proud. The relationship with Ansermet had considerably
deteriorated after I had told him that I had become addicted to Arnold
Schoenberg's "Gurre-Lieder" and that I had found in Franz Schreker's
opera "Der Ferne Klang" the meaning of my life.
After both Ansermet's and Keilberth's death I had the
chance to see a few other conductors at work, especially Rudolf Kempe,
but never really was given lessons. In Zurich I was Kempe's neighbour
and he was very nice to me. In exchange for my admiration he used to
lend me scores. In Berlin I was allowed once to attend a rehearsal of
Herbert von Karajan, an event which I will never forget.
As far as composing, I had submitted my primitive piano
pieces and songs, mainly in the style of Satie (another composer on
which I had made an unfortunate presentation at the Conservatory) to
a Zurich resident composer a former student of Aaron Copland, who found
those early pieces somehow interesting but "too romantic". He taught
me following Hindemith's concise book of harmony but at least admitted
that I was free to create my own harmonies. He encouraged me to experiment
with electronics and musique-concrète. Little by little I was
receiving commissions to write stage music of that kind for small theatrical
groups. In the seventies I had already formed an actor's group (apart
from pantomime lessons I had never taken acting lessons), and we performed
plays which I had written and with my music and with me directing and
performing. Since my family background had been quite a grotesque one,
I found myself very much at home in the domain of Ibsen and Strindberg
and discovered the absurd world of Ionesco and Beckett. My plays were
written in that style. We made little tours through Switzerland and
were getting some very bad reviews since an enfant terrible-like
attitude towards theatre by an unknown young man like me was not acceptable
in those days. Only recognised playwrights like Beckett, Ionesco and
Bond could dare to say grotesque and extreme things on stage. I remember
very well the scandalous Zurich première of Edward Bond's "Early
Morning" since in the middle of the play I found myself sitting almost
alone in the Zurich Playhouse, totally fascinated and self-satisfied,
and thinking "yes, if Bond and others like Ionesco use such style, why
shouldn't you use it?" To me it was somehow the same kind of language
which had slumbered within myself since a long time. Still regularly
working as an office clerk, I was already very active at that time and
had also started making ink drawings of rather pornographic content,
but they sold well and I could use the money for other artistic activities.
What direction did this take?
In 1977 I had enough funds to finance a couple of chamber
music recordings on an own label and that was the launching of Adriano
Records, another idealistic enterprise of mine trying to promote obscure
repertoire. That caused me a lot of envy over here, including some anonymous
insult letters. Anyway, everything I was doing during those wild years
seemed shocking to the petty bourgeois Swiss world. I think this was
because I had the courage to do so without any traditional musical background.
The first LP of Adriano Records was a world première, Joachim
Raff's magnificent Piano Quintet and the second Respighi's works for
violin and piano. I had bought Revox Studio equipment and was doing
a producer's and sound engineer's work without even having consulted
a professional. Within 10 years I built-up a catalogue of 9 LPs which
were followed later by 3 CDs, after I had also bought an early Sony
PCM digital processor. From time to time I was also hired as a sound
engineer to record studio sessions or live concerts, or as a sound reprocessor
of historical recordings. On my own label I had reissued historical
recordings with composers Ottorino Respighi and Franz Schreker as performers,
reprocessed from rare 78rpm discs from my collection. What I am telling
here is but a part of the period between 1964 and 1979.
1979 was an important turning point for me, since my
activities became oriented towards Respighi, in connection with his
Centenary. I won't repeat here all what was done, since it can be read
in the Respighi Homepage on the same MUSIC ON THE WEB link. Almost ten
years of my life were dominated by researching, studies and promoting
activities of Respighi's work. In 1987 the final another turning point
followed, enabling me finally to make my dream true by mounting the
podium of a symphony orchestra and conducting.
Can you tell us more about your musical training?
As far as instrumentation technique is concerned, I
learnt this not only from various textbooks (including a huge 4-volume
treatise by Charles Koechlin) but I also took care to stand by every
kind of musician at work. I spent ages sitting besides instrumentalists
rehearsing their orchestral and solo parts, in order not only to learn
instrument technique, possibilities and colours, but also musical interpretation,
phrasing and dynamics. I went to dozens of chamber music and concert
rehearsals and, since I was already a singing student, another concern
was to find music's breath and organic connection with the human body.
I went to occasional dancing and pantomime classes to study rhythm in
connection with body expression and was always fanatically trying to
find out the mechanism of music, i.e. how it came that it had to be
written down like this and how the steps between a musical piece as
a score and its interpretation could be explained. I had of course struggled
myself through Ernest Ansermet's study "The foundation of music in human
consciousness", one of the most important books on music after Busoni's
"Aesthetics of Tone-Art". In the early seventies I had also met with
H.H. Stuckenschmidt, one of Germany's most famous and cultivated musicologists
and attended some of Willy Reich's lectures on contemporary music at
the Zurich University. In 1968 I become a close friend of Dino Ciani,
one of Italy's greatest pianists who tragically died in a car accident
This way of getting into music, is, I think a much
satisfactory and productive one than to sit during years in Conservatory
classes. This free, very personal system of learning is the best, I
think, to avoid learning to hate music. Having still maintained contact
with some Conservatory students, I really got the impression that music
remained there an absolutely technical, dry thing, and how could one
ever love, or learn to love such a thing? Nowadays, Conservatories have
more modern and attractive systems I hope, but at that time, in Zurich,
it was dreadfully uninspiring. I still feel a bit queasy walking by
this grey and heavy building sometimes today. Funnily enough, when I
enter the main doors of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory or the Gnessin
Music school where I had made the acquaintance of many interesting professors
and students, I feel totally at home ... I am a fervent opponent of
all kinds of school systems anyway and I still feel frustrated for having
been compelled to squander my best younger years, by systematically
having to learn so many unnecessary things, especially after I was not
interested in them at all, and could not learn those I really wanted.
Not to speak about religion and philosophy, two absolutely ridiculous,
even impertinent subjects the school direction had imposed on us "technical
section guys" a few years before our graduation, in order eventually
to put us on a higher level.
Continued in part 2....