The protagonist of the week interview is Claudio Jacomucci, an eclectic musician highly respected and well known to the international public. So he told his colleague Samuel Telari …
A natural talent that has brought you to be one of the biggest accordionist in the world. How and what was your study path?
I didn’t follow a strict academic path. I started studying accordion in private schools, for several years I have studied in an Italian Conservatory, I was graduated in France and then I started “following” those musicians I liked mostly in Ukraine, Spain, Bulgaria. I have participated to many international competitions. Much before finishing my studies I started playing with other musicians and ensembles and cooperate with composers since I was 16 years old. I played solo concerts, chamber music and concerts but I also worked in radio, theatre, dance shows, multimedia works and operas, I recorded movie soundtracks, accompanying silent movies, playing classical and contemporary music in weddings and funerals, playing with non-classical musicians (improvisers, jazz, folk and many other musicians). It took quite a long time to understand which was my way. It became clear after years of traveling around, attending a musical and artistic environment and studying, listening and experimenting with all kind of music. Meeting and working with inspiring personalities such as Luciano Berio, György Kurtag, Franco Donatoni, Luis De Pablo and many other composers was very important for my development as musician. It was an enlightening experience as much as studying Carnatic Music (South Indian Classical Music), training as an Alexander Technique teacher and investigating the baroque performance praxis of amazing musicians like Frans Brüggen, Ton Koopman and Anner Byslma.
Since you were young you‘ve showed a particular interest of the “new” music, that has brought you to collaborate with the biggest composers of the second ‘900. What have you motivated and motivate now to find and experiment new technical and sound solutions?
As I told, playing with other musicians I had the chance to work with some composers since I was very young. I was captivated by their curiosity of discovering new sounds, new techniques, so I learned a lot from them, not only about unknown aspects of my instrument but also as regards the ways of making sound and observing how music is created, its compositional processes, choices and research that lies underneath every composition. Looking for new means, experimenting new idioms and it goes together with our individual grow, with our understanding and expressing skill. Every composer expresses his nature, his thoughts and feelings in a unique way; when you acknowledge this nuances your musical imagination expands enormously.
Very interesting is the using of electronics in your performances/compositions. What musical horizons can it open? What’s the audience’s reaction to this kind of pairing?
I’m interested in the space and the movement of sound in space, rather than the digital sound processing and electroacoustic composition in itself. This is the reason I always use it together with acoustic instruments, often located in different points of the performance space, creating a depth acoustic, disorientation and a wide sound movement.
The sounds I use are often concrete sounds of nature (insects, wood, stone, water and various objects) but – because they are recorded in particular ways and filtered – they become almost unrecognizable. I also use electronics to multiply the live instruments as if it was an acoustic mirror. I have experimented – together with some composers – with different systems of live electronics, interactive software (like MAX / MSP), the historical “tape” and with multi-channel supports.
The perception of the public, in addition to the space depth, is certainly evocative, because you can create a more imaginative dimension of what you listen.
In your repertoire there are pieces from the Baroque to Contemporary. Are there some authors you consider fundamental for the growth of an accordionist?
Everyone! Over the years we develop different interests. It is good to gradually discover the music that makes us vibrate something inside and deal with it. In my opinion, the important is not the author but the relationship between us and a particular author.
You could say – it is a commonplace – that Bach is fundamental step to the growth of a musician. But his music could not leave any trace (but I doubt it!) if complicity is not establishing between the inventor of those ingenious inventions and the one who brings them back to life. It may be that minor composers, sometimes represent a milestone for a musician. If we look for it, sooner or later we meet the authors with whom we have more affinity.
Personally, I think that if I had not “met” Bach, Stravinsky and Ligeti I would not have the same “opinion” about music!
What’s the accordion’s aspect you love more?
Its special physical involvement. It is a wonderful thing that from its expansion and contraction produces all this universe of sound. The special and symbiotic relationship between the accordion and its performer makes it a sort of medium, which may evoke and bring to life as many characters, images, atmospheres a performer’s imagination allows. It is really a voice that comes out from our body. As no other instrument, it hugs the performer and its sound resonates in such a close contact with our heart, lungs and viscera that its presence “in corpus” is so incarnated with our physiology and emotions to create an almost sentimental complicity between it and the performer. Also for this reason, I think, the instrument has always had such a deep roots in the spirit of people.
On a more technical level, it is certainly its ability to create levels harmonic and polyphonic that most fascinates me and satisfy me. Not so much not only for how it could do – stratifying the sound – the organ or orchestra, but for that particular ductility to produce subtle nuances of dynamics and articulation of sounds to create the illusion of sound planes.
Moreover a musical research there is a particular interest for an execution aspect often forgotten: the posture. Graduate at Alexander Technique Centre in Amsterdam, you have patented a new attachment of the belts. What are the benefits?
Since I practice and teach the Alexander Technique I have struggled to find an alternative and improved strap system. Standard straps are not conceived for big and heavy instruments but for hanging a light-weight instruments from the shoulders, or even from the neck.
I have experimented with all possible, thinkable “wrapping” and “hanging” methods and I finally designed an ergonomic strap system which provides a greater mechanical advantage, freeing the performer from many physical constraints.
Exactly like the straps for heavy wind instrument, they have a support on the back. This allows a proper weight and force distribution, letting the neck, shoulders and arms free. They may prevent harmful effects which often arise using traditional straps: shoulders pushed forward and down, chest compressed down, floating ribs squeezed, pulling-down of the sides of the chest, sinking down in the hip, “getting heavy” in the lower back.
The ergonomic straps will not allow the instrument to joggle, it will be stable and firm so that the shoulders, arms and the hands are free from having to grip, support and control the instrument.
However, it is necessary to know the principles of the Alexander Technique in order to properly use these straps. Otherwise, they may feel quite uncomfortable at first glance. As they prevent the thorax from slumping forward and sideways, the movement for pressing a chin register, may seem to be complicated.
Your commitments are divided between masterclass and concerts around the world. Is there one of these two side that more reflects you?
Not really. They are complementary as much as transcribing, arranging, studying and composing. I like to play (especially with other musicians or artists) for the indescribable feeling of playing with the intangible and for the resonance that is left after so much preparation and work. When I teach I have to deal with individuals whom I need to understand deeply to be able to convey something really useful and constructive. Very often I realize that I am learning a lot from them. There is a great satisfaction to see young people growing.
Having and intense activity you are often in contact with musicians and students of different culture. How is lived and interpreted music and art in general in spite of Italy?
No countries that I have visited shows such indifference and neglect music as Italy does. Most countries invest in culture, music, in young generations and it is something of which they are proud.
For example, Polish, Dutch, Spanish, German, French, Finnish and Danish colleagues still have a lot of resources (even if they also suffered from big cuts): scholarships, funds from state or foundations that finance projects, festivals, productions, truly accessible to everybody. Just read the biography of the average student in Warsaw or Copenhagen to realize it…
In Italy, while everything collapses, value of merit does not exist, what is left is handled by the same people to do the usual stuff.
My indignation is in seeing our historical, cultural, handicraft, artistic potential – often envied by other countries – to be underestimated and maltreated.
How would Conservatory assist and train their students? Nowadays they can guarantee a good level of teachers so an adequate education to deal with a difficult world as the musical one?
It is a paradox, but I do not believe that schools may form musicians, anywhere in the world. The experience teacher-pupil is important precisely because it is founded on the human relationship. If beside knowledge and skills a teachers is able to encourage students knows and stimulate his curiosity and wish to learn, the student will do much more than following a guided pedagogic path made of studies, exams and competitions; he will look for his own individual path. I think self-teaching attitude is the basis of any (music) education.
Nowadays we have dozens and dozens of graduated students with the same background and the same preparation and they cannot find a way to become musicians. Unfortunately or fortunately, the love for music doesn’t come out from Conservatories and academies. Those who cultivate their own interests and travels through different experiences (including those of studying in some institution if necessary) will develop a personal path and will manages to deal with art world.
But when a student follows the routine, relies on musical institute of his city, studies with teachers that are available, passes all examinations, attends courses, gets diplomas, certificates, that is to say when he attended schools up to almost 30 years old, when he goes out of the academy he will not have any experience, and he will find himself at the starting point.
Recently you have published books, with the collaboration of the most famous accordionist, in which you discuss the accordion’s problems and of its repertoire and there is and “index” of new accordion works. What are today the problems in our world? What kind of renovation we need?
While pedagogy, literature and the quality of instruments have reached very high standards, there still is a big portion of the accordion community that has not completely stepped out of the niches: the tiny world made of club-like communities, confederations, close-circuit societies, championships, cups, trophies, which doesn’t seem to follow the progress and the developments. This cultural provincialism is a big limitation not only for the “evolution” of the accordion but mostly for those students that are trapped in such a narrow-minded world. Many accordionists are attached to the “old accordion world”, living in a condition of cultural closure, isolation, with a lack of aesthetic awareness and artistic taste, ignoring what is going on in the “real” music world.
For this reason, I have encouraged and invited many colleagues performers and teachers all over the world, to reflect upon these considerations. “Modern Accordion Perspectives” (www.modernaccordionperspectives.com) is an initiative that periodically publishes writings about this topics.
The latest publication that I have edited offers a selection of compositions for/with accordion written between 1990 and 2010, because an another issues of the actual accordion situation is that there is a big gap between the extremely rich literature composed for/with our instrument in the last 20 years and the anachronistic and partial programs of academic studies and competitions, between the huge variety of performing projects existing and the lack of vision and creativity of the average accordionist in presenting him/herself on the professional scene.
A lot of your performances are with the dances Kathleen Delaney. So, Is the Art the fusion of several disciplines? How is possible to interact among them?
Even though the single disciplines (dance, music, poetry) may easily express themselves, their fusion, may create multilayers work (like the Greek theatre), which may be perceived by more senses. The multidisciplinary composition is very interesting and very complex because these idioms cannot travel on separate tracks. There are different approaches if you want to avoid playing for a ballet or dancing a choreography on a piece of music.
At the beginning, Kathleen and I, have worked out a work by John Zorn RoadRunner using J.M. Basquiat’s images associated to the choreographic scenes of an accordionist and a dancer. We presented the musical-dance theatre versions of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Eliot’s The Waste Land an others. But then we felt the need of creating our own works, right from the beginning of the compositional process, creating syncretic compositions, where music, dance, video, electro-acoustics have an interactive role. Our main projects are: Infernal Circles (a work inspired to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, premiered in the S. Patrick Shaft in Orvieto, (60 meters underground), Cool Memories (an homage to the French philosopher and photographer Jean Baudrillard), Aracne (a work inspired by the ancient possession rite of “tarantism” from the South of Italy, and based on the original film by Gianfranco Mingozzi and Ernesto De Martino), Tensegrity (a piece where 4 dancers literally “play” the 8-accordions ensemble, placed at the perimeter of the stage, and musicians react to the dancer’s movements in space by performing precomposed sound modules and variating the parameters – dynamics, pitch, speed, duration).
I think that accordion and dance are truly complementary, they may have a primitive relationship and at the same time very contemporary.
In the tv show “C’è musica e musica” with Luciano Berio, he used to ask to his colleagues “Why music”. So, why music?
Life without music would be a mistake.
He graduated with honors from Grenoble Conservatory (France) in 1992.
He was also graduated as an Alexander Technique teacher from the Alexander Technique Centre in Amsterdam in 2000. He studied Southern Indian Music (Carnatic) at the Sweelinck Conservatory of Amsterdam.
Winner of international contests such as Grand Prix International d’Accordéon in St. Etienne (1988), Trofeo Mundial de acordeón (C.M.A.) in Cuenca (1990), Premio Città di Castelfidardo (1990) and Arrasate Hiria (1994).
He has premiered a number of new works collaborating with composers such as Luciano Berio, Franco Donatoni, György Kurtag, Luis De Pablo, Boris Porena, Mario Pagliarani, Lucio Garau, Gabriele Manca, Dimitri Nicolau, Miguel Ruiz Gil, Fernando Mencherini, Giorgio Tedde, Carlo Crivelli, Akemi Naito, Francoise Barriere, Maxim Seloujanov, Oliver Schneller, Paolo Marzocchi, Riccardo Vaglini, Daniel Glaus, Rico Gubler (who often dedicated their work to him) and as a composer himself.
He has been performing in Europe, USA, China, Mexico, Russia in many festivals and institution such as Cornell University (USA), Berlin Philharmonic, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Salle Messiaen in Paris, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Gaudeamus Foundation in Amsterdam, Synthese Festival in Bourges (France), Nuova Consonanza in Rome, GoG/Teatro Carlo Feilce in Genova, Sala Chavez – Unam in Mexico City, Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Beethoven Haus in Bonn (Germany) to name a few.
He is running an intense pedagogic activity developing and promoting an original approach in teaching based on the principles of the Alexander Technique.
He is the founder and teacher of the Italian Accordion Academy in Urbino and he holds masterclasses all over the world: Paris Conservatory of Music, Royal Academy of Music of London, Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Danish Royal Academy of Music of Copenhagen, Chopin University Warsaw, Conservatory of Barcelona, Yoliztli Academy in Mexico, Tianjin’s Conservatory (China), “Santa Cecilia” Conservatory in Rome, Conservatory of Enschede, Tilburg and Arnhem (Netherlands).
He has taught accordion at the “Luisa D’Annunzio” Conservatory in Pescara (Italy) from 2011 to 2014.
He has also played with Francesco Dillon, Joel Rubin, Stefano Scodanibbio, Prometeo String Quartet, Michel Godard, David Moss, Terry Riley, Kálmán Balogh, Pierre Favre, AlterEgo and as a soloist with the Orchestra of “La Scala” Milan, Haydn Orchestra Bolzano, Filarmonica Marchigiana, Sinfonietta del Teatro Lirico Cagliari (Italy), Ostrobothnian Chamber Trio (Finland), Romanian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Since 2002 he works with Kathleen Delaney (choreographer and dancer) exploring the frontiers of dance and music creation in its diverse aspects: live interactions, electroacoustic music and video-dance.
His CDs are published by Schott Wergo, W & B Music, Bridge Records, Stradivarius, Rivoalto, StileLibero, Musica & Poesia, Ema Records, Adatto, Blowout Records. His performances were broadcasted by Radio3 RAI, ORF, DeutschlandRadio, RNE2, Vatican Radio, SFB, RSI, Radio Unam-Mexico, RadioFrance.
He is regularly invited as a jury member by international accordion competition such as Castelfidardo, Klingenthal, Arrasate and Moscow.
His book Technique I for button accordion about the modern accordion technique is published by Bèrben.
The book Mastering Accordion Technique: a new approach to accordion playing based on the Alexander Technique written together with Kathleen Delaney has been recently released.
He has edited the publication “Modern Accordion Perspectives” (2013) and “Critical Selection of Accordion Works, 1990-2010” (2014), coordinating an international expert panel of the leading classical accordion performers and teachers.
This article is available also in: Italian