Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Few Words with GIUSEPPE ANDALORO, 1st Prizewinner of the 3rd Hong Kong International Piano Competition

1st Prizewinner of the 3rd Hong Kong International Piano Competition

It has been said that the reputation of Italian pianist Giuseppe Andaloro precedes him wherever he competed in international piano competitions. The Hong Kong International Piano Competition, for example, published its list of competitors rather late in the day, because it was feared that other pianists might have pulled out when they saw his name on the list, and felt that they did not have a ghost of a chance winning. A mafia hitman he certainly is not, as the Sicilian oozes a Mediterranean warmth and charm. Several years ago when I last saw him perform, I described him as looking more like a computer programmer than concert pianist, but now having beefed up and putting on some girth, looks more like the part. His dark Polliniesque curls and rimless spectacles give him a serious and thoughtful look, but it is the pianism and musicianship that still stands out.

Andaloro receives the congratulations from the competition jury.

The Sicilian
Giuseppe was born in Palermo, Sicily in 1982 but was brought up in the little town of Delia, near Caltanissetta. His father was a draughtsman, now retired, and mother a director in the local chamber of commerce. Both are great music lovers. He began piano lessons at eight, first under the tutelage of Adriana Mirisola and several other local teachers, and gave his first public recital playing Beethoven and Schubert just six months later in the town square for an audience of 3000! At nine and ten, he was already winning piano competitions, mostly first prizes, in regional towns. He was heard by several important pedagogues, and it was his teacher Paolo Pollice who advised him to study with the great Italian pianist Sergio Fiorentino, who became a major influence in his life and music making.

Growing up in Sicily was simple and leisurely. When asked about stories about the local mafioso, his reply was direct, “I’ve seen all those Godfather movies, and it bears no resemblance with reality. In all my 30 years or so, I never saw any shooting or kidnapping! The Mafia only go for big money, and there is no big money in Sicily. You’ll find them in Milan, or maybe in competition juries!” (Hong Kong excepted, of course!)

Sergio Fiorentino the coke addict
Giuseppe started studying with Fiorentino when he was thirteen. Lessons took place in Calabria at the “boot of Italy”, and Giuseppe and his father would travel by a combination of car and boat from the island of Sicily to the mainland, a trip that would take nine hours each way! This went on weekly or fortnightly for three years, causing him to miss much of local school and academic subjects, which he would catch up by reading and swotting during those lengthy commutes.

He remembers Fiorentino to be very interesting, incredibly deep and extremely funny. “He was the perfect gentleman, who respected every student no matter how good or how untalented. He was never rude or negative about their playing, and was not interested in gossip. For example, he would never allow any student to speak ill about any teacher or school, and if they did so, the lesson was ended,” he explained.

“I always remember him with a Coca-Cola in hand, and cigarette in another (his favourite were unfiltered Stop cigarettes from UK) as he taught. Sometimes he would go for ice-cream. He could never do without these! He cared more about the aesthetics and thoughts about musical performance, rather than the mechanics of playing. He taught on two pianos, demonstrating by playing any repertoire a student may be learning. If it was a concerto, he played the orchestral part perfectly and completely from memory.” Under his tutelage, Andaloro learnt the cornerstones of the repertoire, including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov. “After the lesson, he would unwind by playing for me, for example, an entire Brahms symphony. And of course, it was from memory too!”

After Fiorentino
When Fiorentino died in 1998, Giuseppe was shattered and could not play the piano for several months. He resumed lessons with Vincenzo Balzani in Milan when he was 18. “Balzani was a very sensitive and sensible teacher, who helped me solve technical problems, adopt proper ways of practising and to discover new possibilities in interpretation.” With him, Giuseppe learnt the Chopin Etudes. He graduated with a Diploma for pianoforte after ten years of formal study, the first nine of which was conducted privately. He spent the tenth and final year in Milan's Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, which in any case was happy to claim him as one of its alumni.

Andaloro got his wish to perform a concerto with Vladimir Ashkenazy

A life in competitions
Giuseppe won his first international piano competition in Stresa, at the age of 15. It was a small and simple competition where he played for only ten minutes; his Liszt Mephisto Waltz No.1 bagged him the 1st prize. The year 2000 saw successes in Oporto (Portugal, 1st prize), and the Italian Casagrande Competition (2nd prize with no 1st prize awarded). 2001 saw off the Casella Competition (1st prize) and the very prestigious Sendai Competition in Japan (1st prize). The latter has an interesting footnotes as the 2nd prize was won by Korea’s Jinsang Lee (we know him as the winner of the 2nd Hong Kong Competition) while the 3rd prize went to a 13-year-old Chinese girl called Yuja Wang.

In 2002, Giuseppe won 1st prize at the London International Piano Competition, when he played Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall. This reviewer was fortunate to be present at his scene of triumph, having also enjoyed his earlier performances of Ligeti’s Etudes, a Haydn Sonata, Chopin's Fourth Scherzo and Liszt’s coruscating Twelfth Hungarian Rhapsody.

There was the usual flurry of concert engagements, but it all dried up. “By 2004, I performed almost no concerts. Actually there was one concert, but the fee was so small, just enough to pay for a single pizza!” he recounted. In 2005, he was back on the competition circuit, but early eliminations at the Van Cliburn Competition (Fort Worth, Texas) and a competition in Spain left him despondent. The latter was particularly galling. “I thought I had performed well, and asked the Chairman of the Jury what I did wrong. His reply was, “None of us voted for you but we thought you were the best musician. So please come back next year, and I will guarantee you the first prize.” What about now? Thanks but no thanks, I told him!” (Ilya Rashkovskiy was the eventual the 1st prizewinner)

Meanwhile, he was successfully admitted to the historic Busoni Competition in Bolzano and 1st Hong Kong International Piano Competition, but was still in a pall of depression. “I was sitting on the beach, feeling very depressed and sorry for myself. And then an old friend of mine, a chemistry professor, had some words of encouragement, and within ten minutes was totally galvanised to reboot my career. That was just eight days before the Busoni, and I went straight back home to practise." As Fate had it, Giuseppe won the 1st prize and did not make the Hong Kong date (Ilya Rashkovskiy then went on to win that too!)

Giuseppe was done with competitions, but what brought him back into the fray after a six year hiatus? “I’ve always wanted to work with Maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy, and when I saw that he was conducting the final concerto round with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, I decided to sign up. It did not matter whether I got the 1st prize or the 6th prize.” He was directly admitted into the Second Round with a bye, which he accomplished with relative ease, and got his wish granted. As further reward for winning the 1st prize, he also gets to perform Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra at Esplanade Concert Hall under Ashkenazy’s baton on 4 November.

Andaloro and his winner's certificate

A wide repertoire
What concertos does Giuseppe play? He has performed all the five Beethoven piano concertos (including the full cycle over two evenings) and the Choral Fantasia, a number of Mozart concertos, Schumann, Chopin No.1, both Brahms concertos, Ravel G major and the first two concertos by Rachmaninov. He has a special love for Liszt, having won all his competitions (save Hong Kong) with either the First or Second concertos, and also recorded the four Mephisto Waltzes and the Grosses Konzertsolo on the Naxos label. He has also made a recording of baroque and renaissance works on the piano for Sony Classical. Recently he performed Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto and Mozart K.414 with the strings of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Trieste.

He has an ongoing collaboration with the Italian cellist-composer Giovanni Sollima. One of their more interesting projects together is Andaloro’s own transcription of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, scored for two pianos and two cellos. Here they was joined by his wife, fellow pianist Tijana Andrejic from Serbia and Sollima’s fiancĂ©e who is also a cellist. This sounds like a lot of fun, and before long one could even catch it on youtube!

Please visit Giuseppe Andaloro’s website at:

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