From the Winter 2017 issue of Classical Guitar | BY BLAIR JACKSON
Alas, the realities of geography and economics—the fact that the U.S. is so far away from Europe and it is very expensive for European musicians to tour in North America—have meant that through the years relatively few Italian guitarists have made it to our shores. This is a real shame, because Italy has long produced exceptional classical guitarists, most of them products of an extensive system of indigenous music programs spread throughout the country, and nurtured and supported through myriad guitar competitions and festivals which draw scant attention across the Atlantic, but which bring Italian players enough attention that they can forge a career primarily from playing around Europe (and teaching, of course).
Take the Vivaldi Guitar Trio, one of the country’s oldest established guitar ensembles—25 years now! They don’t often perform outside of Italy, yet they have established a sterling reputation throughout Europe for their wonderfully synchronous performances and their diverse and highly adventurous repertoire, which spans Vivaldi (of course), Turina, Albéniz, Piazzola, and other “names,” but also features many less-known modern composers and includes numerous special commissions of new trio pieces, most by Italian composers.
Earlier this year I stumbled across a few of their videos on YouTube (now the best way for Americans to stay au courant with European musicians), and when this issue’s Special Focus on “Duos, Trios, and Quartets” came around, I thought the Vivaldi Trio would be a group worth profiling, so I reached out to them by email for an interview to learn more about them. The three players—Enrico Negro, Ignazio Viola, and Mario Cosco—answered my questions as a unit, rather than as individuals; and CG contributing editor Giocomo Fiore supplied the English translations for their Italian answers.
CLASSICAL GUITAR: Why did you decide to form the ensemble originally?
VIVALDI GUITAR TRIO: We met during our studies, since we all attended the Alessandria Conservatory in Northern Italy [about 60 miles east of Turin]—although in different years. All three of us were very interested in furthering our ensemble experience, which we still consider extremely important for a musician, even in a context like the Conservatory, which tends to favor the education of the soloist. So we must thank our common mentor, Maestro Guido Margaria, who advised us and encouraged us to form the Trio. Maestro Margaria was one of Segovia’s Italian students.
After obtaining our diplomas, we individually continued our formative education with world-class artists like Alirio Diaz, Betho Davezac, Narciso Yepes, Stefano Grondona, and Aldo Minella. All three of us lived in villages near Turin, which made it pretty easy to organize rehearsals through the years.
CG: How did you choose the name? Is it because Vivaldi’s repertoire seemed to fit well with a trio approach?
VGT: That’s true, Vivaldi’s repertoire is well-suited to trio transcriptions—as a matter of fact we’ve done our own transcriptions of works like the Concerto RV93, the Op.3 No. 8, and the Trio RV85. However, the explanation is much simpler: We chose this name because our conservatory in Alessandria is named for Antonio Vivaldi. We thought at first it would be a temporary name for us, but it ended up sticking.
CG: It appears to me that guitar duos and quartets are more common than trios, and there have been more compositions written for duos and quartets. Why are guitar trios more rare?
VGT: That’s the same thing we’re wondering about! All jokes aside, the guitar duo is easily the most traditional and established ensemble, and to a lesser degree the quartet, if we think about the great chamber music repertoire. It’s a pity, though, because the trio formation is extraordinarily balanced, while still allowing each part to come through. We should add that in recent years the interest in this formation has grown, and therefore it has become easier to find original pieces for three guitars. We have commissioned several ourselves from Italian and international composers.
CG: How do you decide which part each of you will play when you receive a new trio composition?
VGT: In the early days, the distribution of parts was fairly rigid: Enrico was guitar one, Ignazio the second, and Mario the third. Over time it became more flexible; after having read the music, each of us could volunteer for the part he thought would fit best.
CG: Can you explain a little about what you like about playing in a trio?
VGT: We enjoy the continuing search for dynamic and timbral balance, and especially expressing the same coherent musical “intent” as a trio that a single player would. For us, this is both satisfying and stimulating, and we like to believe that it’s because we all enjoy it so much that the ensemble has lasted for so long.
CG: Do you find that your audiences like to hear unfamiliar “modern” pieces as much as they enjoy Vivaldi or Piazzolla or Turina? Your repertoire is quite adventurous.
VGT: We tend to play a variety of music, and strive to present a repertoire that would please the ears of novices and classical music buffs alike. We also believe that including one or more contemporary pieces in a concert makes the performance more engaging, and stimulates the curiosity of the audience. Furthermore, it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to introduce the audience to a musical language and sensitivity that is closer to us and our world.
CG: Are there other guitar trios you’ve listened to that have influenced the Vivaldi Guitar Trio?
VGT: The performances of the Trio Chitarristico Italiano—the first established guitar trio in Italy [founded in 1970] and perhaps among the first in the world—have definitely been a source of inspiration for us, especially in terms of technical rigor and refinement. We’ve also enjoyed the Falla Guitar Trio, with Dušan Bogdanovic, for inspiring our musical curiosity.
CG:. I like the pieces on your website that also include the singer in the Ensemble Sinigaglia. Is this based on Italian folk music?
VGT: Yes, all the pieces are modern arrangements of traditional Piemontese folk songs.
The ensemble is our trio with singer Paola Lombardo, and it is named after Leone Sinigaglia, an important Torinese composer and ethnomusicologist who, in the early 1900s, collected hundreds of folk songs from the local countryside, eventually publishing several.
Our work with Ensemble Sinigaglia, including the release of the album La Crava mangia ij more (“The Goat eats the blackberries”), exemplifies our interest in traditional and folk musics, which Enrico also pursues in his solo career.
CG: Can you tell me something about the composers Giorgio Mirto and Mario Gangi, whose pieces you sometimes perform? Are they friends of yours?
VGT: Giorgio, also from Turin, is a friend in addition to being a talented guitarist and composer. We’ve been working together for years and he has written two trios for us, the latest of which, Domus de Janas, celebrated our 20th anniversary as an ensemble.
Mario Gangi, who unfortunately passed away a few years ago, was an almost legendary figure in Italian classical guitar. He was a teacher at the Naples and Rome conservatories, and he was one of the first Italian champions of the guitar in the 1960s. He was part of several historic broadcasts for RAI television. It was an honor for us to meet him when we auditioned for him before recording his trio. He was an incredibly personable and humane figure.
CG: What plans do you have for the trio over the next year or two? Will you record a new album? If so, what sort of music will be on the disc?
VGT: This fall we will finally begin to record our fourth album, which has been slowly coalescing in our minds through the repertoire we’ve played in the past years. It will feature original guitar trios from the 20th and 21st centuries, with composers such as Reginald Smith Brindle, Ferenc Farkas, Štepán Rak, Giorgio Mirto, Uroš Dojcinov, and Daniele Bertotto. These are all stylistically different works that nevertheless share a common expressive sensibility.
We will also continue to perform in concert; we are planning to visit several Italian cities in the coming winter and spring.
What The Vivaldi Guitar Trio Plays
“After having used instruments by Ramirez and Italian luthier Luigi Locatto, lately we’ve been playing spruce-topped instruments made by Mario Grimaldi, who is a close friend. His guitars have a remarkable timbral quality, and they allow for an excellent blend in the trio. We use Dogal ‘Maestrale’ strings (Ignazio, Enrico), and Savarez ‘Corum New Cristal’ (Mario).”