Podcast Interview: Robert Poli, Pianist, Teacher and Author

roberto poli

Roberto Poli, Pianist

This week's podcast interview is with pianist Roberto Poli, whom I found via an article about his upcoming book here. (my post is here.)

I was intrigued by something he is quoted as saying, "To understand music, one needs to be more subjective." That quote, and the title of his upcoming book The Secret Life of Musical Notation: Defying Interpretive Traditions, prompted me to contact him for an interview, which he graciously accepted.

The music you hear at the beginning and end is a live recording of Chopin's Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60 from 2007.

Here is is rich and varied bio:

Born in Venice, Italy, Roberto Poli has been portrayed on many occasions as a Renaissance man, enjoying not only an international career as a performer, but also being very much involved in writing, poetry and painting. Some ascribe this eclectic activity to the immense patrimony of inspiration derived from his native city. While he does not dismiss that as a possibility, he mainly credits the irreplaceable experiences of his childhood and adolescence – a period of his life spent in contact with extraordinary artists in various disciplines, and whose influence he deems as fundamental.

It was not until the age of twelve that Roberto Poli started taking piano lessons, when he convinced his parents to rent an upright piano. He was privileged to study for over ten years with Giorgio Vianello, a pupil of Busoni’s disciple Gino Tagliapietra, graduating from the Venice Conservatory Summa Cum Laude and Honors in 1993. His studies continued under Philippe Cassard, Roni Rogoff, Piero Rattalino and Eugenio Bagnoli. Between 1994 and 1996, his main inspiration was his work with Boris Petrushansky at the Piano Academy Incontri col Maestro in Imola, Italy.

In mid 1996, while performing in Japan, Roberto Poli received a phone call that changed his life: he was requested to return immediately to Italy to serve his country, and was stationed at a Bosnian refugee camp at the outskirts of Italy’s border with Croatia, shortly after the war in Bosnia came to an end. It was a period of hardship in which his performing activity came to a nearly complete halt. This hiatus from the concert platform was nevertheless a crucial period of growth in which writing and poetry became an alternative vehicle of expression. It is during this time that his first essays on music and a series of poems depicting the life of the Bosnian refugees and the experiences lived during those months took shape.

As his duties came to an end, Roberto Poli moved to North America, invited by the Gina Bachauer Foundation to participate in their 1998 International Piano Competition. The success at the event prompted an unexpected outcome: on a very short notice, at the end of July of that year he was offered a full scholarship to attend the New England Conservatory of Music to follow the great artistry of legendary pianist Russell Sherman - an unprecedented situation at that institution. In August, Roberto Poli moved to Boston and made the United States his home. Under Sherman’s guidance, he received a Master’s Degree with artistic distinction and academic honors, and the prestigious Artist Diploma – a highly selective degree reserved only to a few select candidates.

After Roberto Poli’s American debut was saluted by the press as "pure magic", similar assessments have been expressed around the world in cities such as New York, Dublin, Rome, Boston, Brussels, Calgary, Seoul, and wherever he travels. Acclaimed as a soloist on both piano and harpsichord, and as a chamber musician and conductor, Roberto Poli has appeared with the Monet Ensemble, the Trio di Venezia, the Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston, soprano Elizabeth Keusch, clarinetist Jonathan Cohler and cellists Sarah Carter and Ronald Lowry. In recent years, he has appeared in extensive and critically acclaimed tours of South Korea and the United States with world-renowned cellist Daniel Lee.

In 2003, on one month's notice, Roberto Poli gave the American premiere of Friederich Kuhlau's Piano Concerto in C Major and Paul Schierbek's The Night for Piano and Orchestra with the Scandia Symphony at Trinity Church in New York City, under the baton of Dorrit Matson. The occasion was a festive one: the concert celebrated the reopening of the sanctuary, which had been severely damaged during the terrorist attacks of September 11.

Over the last fifteen years, Roberto Poli has been an indefatigable proponent of Elizabethan masters such as John Bull, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, programming their works extensively both in Europe and the United States. His interest in resurrecting this repertoire, which was approached at the piano only with caution by Glenn Gould in the 60s and 70s, has developed into a whole new approach to treating the multi-voiced textures of these unique keyboard works as if they were consort music, aiming to illuminate the punctuation of each instrumental line. Roberto Poli is scheduled to record an all-William Byrd album in the fall of 2009, featuring fourteen pieces from My Ladye Nevels Booke of 1591. In addition to reviving Elizabethan music, Roberto Poli is also recognized for restoring original practices of the Classical era in his performances of Haydn and Mozart, featuring improvised embellishments and cadenzas in Concerti and solo works.

Roberto Poli is considered by many a eloquent communicator and a rising exponent of the music of Chopin, which he has comprehensively studied through manuscripts and original editions and widely performed throughout the world. Intended to celebrate Chopin's 200th birthday in 2010, the center of his current interest is the recording on video of the composer’s complete works. The first DVD, titled The Late Works of Frederic Chopin, has been released in 2008 on the Rebus label, and features a live performance of Opp. 58-62. A parallel project, supported by Onclassical, will feature his audio recordings of Chopin's complete works, and has already begun in June 2009 with the release of a first album featuring the Prelude, Op. 45; the Mazurkas, Op. 63; the Barcarolle, Op. 60; the Ballade in A-flat Major, Op. 47; the Nocturnes, Op. 62; the Fantaisie in f minor, Op. 49; and a collection of minor works such as the Cantabile in B-flat Major, the Largo in E-flat Major, the Feuille d'Album in E Major, and Souvenir de Paganini. This project devoted to Chopin also includes the publication of his first book, The Secret Life of Musical Notation: defying interpretive traditions (Amadeus Press, 2009), which presents new insights into the composer's music. Featuring discoveries based on the analysis of Chopin's manuscripts and early editions, this volume on pianistic interpretation provides a new vision of his works that is both scholarly and practical. Additionally, Roberto Poli is the Artistic Director of The Chopin Symposia, a yearly event held at the Rivers School Conservatory in Weston, Massachusetts. The first Symposium, scheduled in June 2009, gathered world-renowned guests performers, pedagogues and lecturers, such as Bruce Brubaker, Jeffrey Kallberg, Elizabeth Keusch and Russell Sherman.

Roberto Poli's critically acclaimed debut recording, Shall we dance..., was released in 2002 by Americus Records, and features his transcription of Maurice Ravel's La Valse for solo piano, along with other unusual selections such as Sergio Fiorentino's transcription of Waltzes from Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier and works by Elizabethan composers. A second album, released in 2008 by Onclassical, features Franz Liszt's Années de Pèlerinage - Deuxième Année: Italie, which he recorded in 2002.

Roberto Poli is an enthusiastic sought-after teacher and lecturer. He holds positions at the Rivers School Conservatory in Weston, Massachusetts, where he is the Artist in Residence, and at the New England Conservatory’s Preparatory School, teaching a select group of talented pupils. He also enjoys a busy schedule of masterclasses and lectures around the country.

Roberto Poli lives in Boston where he continues his work as a musician, writer and painter, in addition to the restoration of his 1850s Victorian house overlooking historic Chester Square.

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