Another important reference in my education, even though he is so different from Zadra was, without doubt, Celibidache, a unique orchestra conductor whose performances I lived as the highest spiritual and musical moments I’ve ever experienced.
The first time was in 1979 when I was a student in Germany at the Folkwang Hochschule of Essen, after getting my diploma. Alezander Lonquich, at the time student of Folkwang Hochschule as me, took me to his own concert at Wuppertal. When we got there we realized that the tickets were sold out but we were actually lucky because we got the seats reserved for the choir.
It was an extraordinary experience because the music was directed, other than by his precise gesture, by his particularly expressive facial mimic which followed and anticipated the meaning of a musical becoming. I had a strong feeling that my life was changing but I had to wait for six years before getting the chance to attend one of his courses. I think that his courses of Phenomenology of Music at Mainz University, one of the most important places were one could think about the meaning and ways of creating music.
More than 80 people, student of music, orchestra professors, direction students and concert players from all around the world attended his classes twice a year for 15 consecutive days. Every morning he would arrive before us, sitting in his chair because he was at that time already suffering from gouty arthritis, he would look at his watch and at 10.00 a.m. he would invite the participants to ask questions. The arguments regarded the relations between the sound and human conscience – how do the sounds make an impact on us, the study of conditions through which music can be manifested.
At first I was really destabilized because Celibidache used to put in question, with a superior capacity of thought and sensibility, every “traditional” reference to which every average student relies on starting from the idea of interpretation, technique which often hides nothing but laziness and ignorance.
After a while, I realized with much difficulty that you can renew, consciously, that strain of thought that bought me back to my first, independent approaches with my grandma’s piano, when I was discovering sounds and those dimensions that only music could introduce to me. The Mainz courses gave the opportunity to perform in front of the great Romanian conductor. Soloists, chamber groups and even small orchestras and conductors took turns every evening of the course. It was like a workout room that allowed everyone to improve even more every aspect of the studied matter.
A few days after my arrival in December 1985, with phenomenology themes not yet in my mind, I decided to play the first part of a Mozart’s Sonata. I played with a youthful enthusiasm and a dramatization and accentuation of the contrasts (which is very typical for a Zadra’s student) without paying attention to the poor resources of the piano I was using, or the unfortunate acoustics, decided to show my musicality and my passionate personality.
The result would have put down anyone because he said with a provocative and cutting tone of voice: “You play Mozart as if you were writing a love letter but you’ve put bombs inside of it”. Basically he told me I had no clue and that I showed how one should not play, at least not Mozart. I did not respect not one phenomenological criteria in order to start imposing tempo and the sonority.
At that point I could have done like many others have: observe the type of work he did and leave as soon as possible, convinced, but not completely unrightfully, that what really matters for the musical success is something else, starting from the display of brilliant technique…trying to make an impression. But that’s not what I was interested in.
I kneeled down and stated studying, listening, thinking about everything that I didn’t understand, and there was a lot of things I didn’t understand. Besides, Celibidache had already sent me to a journey of no return. In an interview, he said while talking to his philharmonic orchestra of Munich: “I switch on, I make it incandescent, that desire to interrelate, the desire that is in each and every one of them”.
There, he has placed that wish inside of me too, the desire that has always been there - to find connection and give meaning to everything I was doing. I attended all of his seminars in Germany, Italy and France as well as numerous concert rehearsals and all of that was a priceless testimony of his way of working.
Very different to my previous course, opposed by a close personal relationships with my teachers, I didn’t feel the need to get that much close to Celibidache because I felt that was dangerous. He had an extraordinary charisma and charm, his smiles could destroy any natural psychological defense but when you least expected it, he could devastate you with his cutting judgments.
His closest students were objects of his mood swings and constantly felt the pressure and the responsibility of the role they had. How many times have I witnessed extremely flattering judgments of the Maestro, followed in the next round by severe condemnations of their work.