Fabio Furia is an Italian musician, composer and bandoneonist who has been appearing on the most prestigious national and international stages for some time. He is the founder and soloist of the ContraMilonga group and has performed with them all over the world. He is also Art Director of the Sulcis Iglesiente International Chamber Music Festival, the ARTango Festival and the Carignano Music Experience festival. He has obtained numerous awards and recognition at a national and international level, such as the Silver Lion in 2006 and Paul Harris Fellow in 2012. This interview took place during the inauguration of the Course for Bandoneon and for Standard Tango style and interpretation held by Fabio Furia at the Conservatory G.P. da Palestrina in Cagliari.
Music as a route sealed by fate. The bandoneon eased its way into your musical and instrumental kaleidoscope to become the instrument that has shaped your life, giving you a great deal of professional gratification. What does the bandoneon really represent for you? Simply a “device” for work or something more?
The bandoneon is certainly much more than a “work device” for me; it is the instrument that has contributed decisively to making my musical career so fulfilling and enabled me to fully express myself.
And it is precisely thanks to the uniqueness of its tone and technique, and the versatility of its sound making it stand out, that I have found, at last, the way to express myself that suits me best.
With its endless potential the bandoneon has driven me along an in-depth research path leading me to study composition, and leaving a lasting imprint on the course of my artistic development. Initially I began by studying, transcribing and arranging other composers’ works, including of course Astor Piazzolla and other traditional tango writers, but I gradually found my own artistic zone, strongly rooted in the current music scene and open to new trends and mixing of styles … a sort of artistic ‘work in progress’.
Your curriculum reflects an extensive, differentiated musical education. First the clarinet diploma, then the bandoneon and composition studies, not forgetting the accordion and piano courses. How has such an eclectic musical training influenced your work as a musician?
My musical education was very varied. I started as a child with the accordion, at around the age of six. This was entirely self-taught and focused mainly on popular music. As time passed, I decided to follow an “academic” course of the classical kind, which only the Music College could offer. The piano was my passion, but in the end, for a variety of reasons, I obtained the diploma with the clarinet, an instrument that I loved a lot and which enabled me to learn and appreciate a large repertory of pieces. This is how I was able to become a permanent performer with important symphony orchestras all over the world, and to further my knowledge of the whole classical repertory, including chamber music.
Belong to the “academic” world allowed me to acquire the indispensable tools for tackling music and all musical genres: method and precision, at all costs. Fundamental skills that I have applied with discipline to studying the bandoneon and composition, and which have had a considerable effect on my style and musical taste. This imprint can be noticed immediately in my recordings and interpretation of Astor Piazzola, Leopoldo Federico and many other authors. The coherence of the musical statement, the quest for beauty and care for every small detail undoubtedly bear witness to a cultural inheritance with its roots deep in my classical training. On the other hand, this same approach enables me to reconstruct and deeply respect, almost as a philologist would, the innate style of each musical genre I tackle. In this case we are dealing with typical Argentinian tradition, but highlighting the special traits that distinguish it. A research path aimed at giving new breadth and light to music, in an atmosphere of harmony and formal elegance with a strictly “classical” matrix, following my personal style and musical taste.
When and how did you begin to perform with the bandoneon, and how has the image of the bandoneon changed over the years in the collective imagination?
My career as a bandoneonist has escalated continuously up to the present. First of all I played in competitions that were not particularly important and linked solely with the tango, as a dance. I gradually grew closer to circles that were more specialised, such as theatres, classical music seasons and jazz festivals, to then join up and collaborate with well-known colleagues like the violinist Anna Tifu, for example, with whom I performed for several years in the renowned Red Quartet. Then came the leader of the first violins of Cagliari Opera Theatre Orchestra, Gian Maria Melis, who I perform with on a permanent basis in the recently-formed ensemble, NovaFonic Quartet, together with Giovanni Chiaramonte, orchestra professor of double bass at Cagliari Opera Theatre Orchestra, and Marcello Melis, the pianist with a long musical career.
Although it is an instrument with a solid popular origin and descent, the bandoneon has undergone notable development and enhancement over the years. Riding the wave of the outstanding work of Astor Piazzolla, it learnt itself a front-line place in the international music panorama and its success continues to rise.
At first I imagined that the fact that this instrument was not very widespread and was unknown to the majority of the public had the effect of precluding and condemning it from being very favourably greeted by listeners, who weren’t often used to change and innovation. Today, I must say that, on the contrary, the bandoneon – precisely due to its rather “unconventional” and almost eccentric character – is an instrument that opens very many doors. Often, in fact, when I find myself exchanging views with colleagues, teachers and art directors, the ease with which programmes including the bandoneon can be added, even to the best-known concert seasons, clearly emerges. This instrument, thanks to its passionate nature, its popular vein of the past and its constant rise to success, always manages to make itself inroads among event organisers and art directors, constantly seeking appealing, innovative solutions to offer to their audiences.
All this is inextricably linked with the fact that nowadays the bandoneon is in the spotlights of the music world, so it is enjoying a revival of interest, almost as if it were something new.
In this perspective the continuous growing interest, both for the potential and future development of the instrument, surfaces loud and clear.
You work with and are the founder of various instrumental ensembles; which repertories are you perform mainly?
Yes, I have founded various ensembles. My first permanent group, currently the most active one, is the “ContraMilonga”, which originated as a duo with the pianist Marcello Melis. We began by presenting a “reworked” repertory entirely devoted to Piazzolla, a composer I am very attached to and who had, up to that moment, boosted my artistic rise in success as a solo player. Seeing the popularity of this idea, we slowly increased the members of the group, first adding the double bass, then the violin, alternating various musicians, except the pianist and myself, who have always been the core of the ensemble.
The main feature of the ContraMilonga is the variety of repertories we handle. Early on we dedicated ourselves solely to the traditional tango, then tended towards contemporary music, i.e. music written in the period in which we are living. An itinerary to uncover the multifaced potential of this instrument, especially when played in an ensemble.
The result and tangible expression of this artistic tendency towards contemporary music was the recently-formed group, the NovaFonic Quartet, with which I permanently perform, together with the violinist Gian Maria Melis, the double bassist Giovanni Chiaramonte and my long-standing pianist Marcello Melis.
So we might say that the repertory I have performed most up to now has included without doubt Astor Piazzolla’s compositions, the unfailing musical passe-partout, integrated with my own personal arrangements and remakes of famous classics. Among these I like to quote a piece I really love, “E lucevan le stelle”, from Puccini’s “Tosca”, which I transcribed for our quartet, and which is greatly appreciated by all audiences. Finally, there are some original compositions of mine that are enjoying great success.
You have often had the opportunity to play abroad. What sort of audiences do you find away from home and how are they different from Italian ones? Is the Italian concert and music context very different, in your opinion, compared to other European countries?
Yes, I often play abroad and I must say that the audience changes depending on the country I find myself in, but not enormously. I notice that the bandoneon arouses great interest and curiosity everywhere. This warmth is shown in different ways depending on the audience’s temperament, which varies according to the geographical region they belong to. German people, for example, tend to be much more restrained, while the Spanish are more ostentatious in their appreciation. In any case, wherever I perform, the common denominator is always the strong approval expressed by the audience present. In fact, at the end of each concert, many curious listeners come closer wanting information on the instrument and about myself, and even asking if they can contact me through the social networks and, above all, through my website www.fabiofuria.it.
They ask all sorts of questions, sometimes directly concerning the bandoneon, sometimes about the dates of my next concerts. But the most thrilling aspect, which makes me really proud and happy, is to know that some of them, after listening to a concert of mind, decide to take up the study of the bandoneon.
You might say an authentic Copernican revolution is underway.
I think that in Italy the bandoneon is gradually carving out its own path and increasing in popularity. Much more than in other European countries.
But on the Old Continent it is France that is holding the flag high, and this is due to the fact that some of the important “old school” bandoneonists, like Juan José Mosalini, Cesar Stroscio and many others, have lived permanently in France for over 40 years. These contingent factors have meant that proper taught courses could take root at schools and music colleges. This is why bandoneon teaching in France is in great health and already shows a well-structured, definite outline, as well as having achieved true recognition equal to that of other instruments.
Bearing in mind the very recent ascent of this instrument, it is impossible not to notice – on the horizon of the Italian panorama, too – a progressive move forwards with the bandoneon becoming more and more popular.
A revival of interest in the instrument can also now be noticed at Italian factories. There is great ferment between bandoneon makers, even though at the moment their production has not yet, in my opinion, provided satisfactory results. Nevertheless, every effort made towards improving the instrument is positive and of huge importance. Currently it is Germany that has achieved really high levels of results from the makers’ point of view.
Is there an artist who has in some way influenced your particular style?
The artist who more than any other has influenced my style is of course Astor Piazzolla. Bandoneonists I admire in particular include Juan José Mosalini, Julio Pane, Osvaldo Montes and, naturally, the outstanding Leopoldo Federico.
Going beyond the boundaries of the tango, I think of George Gershwin and Aaron Copland, among many others, and with particular interest, in the field of jazz, of musicians like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans.
Can you tell us about your projects for teaching the instrument? You have organised a course (the first in Italy) for bandoneon and for standard tango style-interpretation at the Conservatory G.P. da Palestrina in Cagliari. Did it get a positive reception?
As far as teaching the instrument is concerned, there are great projects brewing. My renowned colleagues and I are developing a new structured taught course to submit to the boards responsible, with a view to future ministerial recognition of the bandoneon at music colleges. This will lead to working out a teaching method to study the bandoneon, aimed at filling the gaps in the existing material, an indispensable teaching aid these days.
As regards the first experimental course for the bandoneon and standard tango style-interpretation which I held at the Conservatory G.P. da Palestrina in Cagliari, I must say that it really was a great success.
I would never have imagined that the first course could have such a following and produce such immediate, rewarding results. In just a few months some of the pupils managed to prepare some easy pieces really well, while the students who already had an advanced level of preparation tried their hand at performing pieces and transcriptions of medium difficulty. The course ended with a final performance by the pupils, followed by a concert at the Electra Theatre in Iglesias, as part of the International Chamber Music Festival, of which I am the art director.
The great appreciation of the audience present gave new lifeblood to this ambitious project, which The Conservatory of Cagliari will offer again for the academic year underway.
Parallel to this you have also been working on drafting new methods that will increase the technical possibilities of the instrument, together with a new type of bandoneon developed in a team with other bandoneonists. Can you give our readers a preview of this … ?
The second part of the interview will look into technical and didactic aspects, with analyses of the different types of instrument linked with their history, geographical origin and repertory, to converge on a sort of “standardisation” which, though in its initial stages, seems destined to mark a historic turning-point for the bandoneon.
(translate by Christine Tilley)
This article is available also in: Italian